Rest

En Gedi, Israel

God knows we need rest. He made the whole world in six days and rested on the seventh. Even the God of the universe rested. En Gedi is an oasis in the Judean desert east of the Dead Sea. David rested there when he was running for his life from King Saul. I rested there. After climbing a rocky mountain path, the cool splash of a waterfall refreshed me. The sounds of children’s laughter ignited joy in my heart. Like David, I wanted to stay. I wanted to hide in this high mountain paradise.

David used metaphors from En Gedi to describe his refuge in our Lord. “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).

Have you ever felt afraid, overwhelmed or in despair? Sometimes God provides a mountain top hiding place to refresh you. Maybe it’s an oasis like En Gedi. Maybe it’s a spiritual awakening or an emotional peace. David left the sanctuary of En Gedi to become king of Israel. God wants us to move on too–to serve Him and others. Is there someone you know who needs refreshment or encouragement? Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Will you tell somebody?

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the rest and peace we have in you. Help us not to linger in our rest, but to use it to renew our strength to do what you have called us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Crushed

Garden of Gethsemane, Israel

Olive trees are harvested for food, oil for light, healing and anointing. Before the olives are useful, most of the time they have to be crushed. During the time Jesus was in Israel, the olive presses were in the Garden of Gethsemane, located at the base of the Mount of Olives. It is also the place He was crushed for our transgressions–our self-centeredness, selfishness, self-indulgence; the choices we make for ourselves and not for God. Our selfish pride takes us away from God, away from His presence and fellowship. Outside of God’s presence, we are left on our own to struggle and strive. We choose stress instead of God’s peace. We are not alone. Many take this path to loneliness, despair, anxiety, anger and fear, not aware that they are on a highway to hell unless they find a place to turn around.

God never gives up on His pursuit of us. He continually stands at the door of our hearts waiting for us to receive Him. Some may think their heart is not a place for God–that it is too dark, too messed up, that they are not worthy. They are right. No one is worthy, but in His mercy God offers forgiveness and new life through His Son Jesus. We don’t have to stay stuck in our self-indulgence. Wrapped in the arms of Jesus, we will have peace that passes understanding, abundant life, and new blessings every day from the hand of God.

For this to happen, Jesus had to be crushed. He knew the day was at hand and took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). He went a little farther to pray. When He returned to His friends, He found them sleeping. These were fishermen, and they often worked all night for a catch. Not this night. They slept.

Jesus was arrested in the garden and led through six fake trials and finally to the place of His crucifixion. “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:1-5). When you believe He did this for you, admit your need of His amazing love, and confess Him as Lord before others, you will receive nourishment for your soul, healing for your sickness; comfort and counsel in times of trouble. You will have His peace in place of anger or anxiety.

Then you will be His light in this world. He rose from the grave, but before He did, He said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put in on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

PRAYER: Father God, thank you for Jesus. Help us to live in the light of our salvation. Empower us to shine your light of love and compassion to those who need it in our midst. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Compromise

Solomon temple model, old jersualem city,

Some people consider Solomon’s wisdom and the fact that he had a thousand wives to be an oxymoron. How could a wise man have so many wives? When would he have time for each one of them?

Yet Solomon followed his father, David, on the throne. God asked him what he wanted most and he replied “wisdom” so he would know how to govern the people of Israel. God granted Solomon his wish as well as wealth and health and power. Solomon completed the building of a temple with his father David’s wishes and design. God said to him that he should not intermarry with women of other nations because they would turn his heart away to follow other gods. However, Solomon loved many wives. His first intent was to take wives from the surrounding nations to make political alliances with the Egyptians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. Amazingly he had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 (concubines) from ordinary birth.

Later in life Solomon was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. He followed Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians–people had sex with the priests to satisfy her; and Milcom, the abhorrent idol of the Ammonites. He built a high place for Chemosh, the abhorrent idol of Moab and another for Milcom where worship involved child sacrifice. All this Solomon did on a hill across from Jerusalem (most likely the Mount of Olives)–in a clear view of the temple he had built for the Lord his God, a model of which is pictured above (1 Kings 11:1-13).

We might think from reading this story that Solomon became disobedient in his old age, but he disobeyed God first when he took the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh to be his wife. After that he took on more foreign wives. It started with one compromise and then another and another all through his life.

Because of Solomon’s disobedience, he ruined his reputation, and his life became an example to God’s people of the consequences of compromise. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken down walls, he cautioned those who returned with him from exile not to make the same mistakes Solomon had made (Nehemiah 13:26-27). Let this be a lesson for us too. Compromise might serve us well in our relationships with others but not with God–not with His commands. His commands and disciplines are not meant to be burdensome but are to protect us from sin’s destruction.

Prayer: Father God, teach us to resist any temptation to compromise your will for our lives. Help us to live according to your plan and purpose. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Two Things Amazed Jesus

Synagogue in Capernaum

Have you wondered what might amaze Jesus? One time when Jesus was in Capernaum a Roman Centurion asked Him to heal his servant who was sick and paralyzed. Jesus was ready to go to his house but the centurion said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, He was amazed and said to those following Him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done as you believed it would,” and his servant was healed at that moment (Matthew 8:5-13).

Peter lived next door to the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus healed his mother in law of a high fever. He raised the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, from death to life. Jesus also healed a woman of perpetual bleeding and a paralyzed man in Capernaum. He performed more miracles here and in the surrounding area–Chorazin and Bethsaida–than anyplace else.

The Pharisees came to Jesus and asked Him for a sign. This amazed Jesus because it was the place of so many of His miracles–what more could they want? He replied, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it” (Mark 8:11-12). Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of His miracles had been performed because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on that day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24).

Would you like to amaze Jesus? I pray that it would be with a faith like the centurion rather than the lack of faith of the Pharisees.

Prayer: Thank you Father God, for Jesus, His teaching and miracles. Incline our hearts to you so we might hunger and thirst for the springs of the living God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Disgusting Church

temple view of the laodicea ancient city

Ancient Laodicea was a very prosperous city. It was known for the salve made there to heal people’s eyes. The people who lived there, even the Christians, were rich and could buy whatever they needed or wanted. They had a big problem though. The water. Their water was not cool and refreshing like the water from the springs in the nearby city of Colosse. It was not healing like the water from the hot springs in Hierapolis. If you were to drink the water in Laodicea, you would spit it out because it was lukewarm and full of mineral deposits.

Jesus had this to say about the church in Laodicea: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and don’t need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:14-20).

The people in Laodicea were blinded by their wealth, but Jesus wanted them to buy from Him gold refined in the fire so they could have true (spiritual) riches, and white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness (unrighteousness), and real salve to open their eyes to the truth of His amazing love. He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door (of your hearts) and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.” Jesus wants to be our friend. He wants to be with us as we eat or sleep or sit or walk along the roads–real friendship. Will you open the door and invite Jesus into your life?

The church in Laodicea made Jesus sick. It was disgusting to Him and He had the strongest rebuke of all the seven churches for this church. I hope the description of the Laodicean church does not describe you or your church. If so, repent. Today is the day of your salvation. Admit your sinful lifestyle (life without God). Believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for your forgiveness and new life. Confess Him as your Savior.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for His amazing love and the sacrifice He made for a life with Him. In His great name, Amen.

The Faithful Church

Built in the name of Ioannes, one of the apostles, St. Three of the feet belonging to the St. Jean Church are in good condition. The height, thickness of the piers and their connection to the arches give the impression that it was a magnificent structure.

Alasehir is the modern city over the the ancient church of Philadelphia, the sixth church mentioned in Revelation. Philadelphia was established by Eumenes II of Pergamum and named after his brother Attalus II, nicknamed Philadelphos, which means brotherly love. It was built with Greek architecture and culture and is often referred to as Little Athens. It was on the King’s Road at the borders of three countries: Phrygia, Lydia and Mysia. This was earthquake country and possessed rich volcanic soil–perfect for growing grapes. Christianity clashed with the polytheistic worship of several gods. The most popular god was Dionysus, the god of wine.

This is what Jesus had to say about Philadelphia: “These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:1-9).

Jesus speaks of Himself who is holy and true. He refers to Isaiah 22:22, speaking of the High Priest Eliakim, who held the key of David–what he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one an open. The open door refers to Philadelphia’s strategic location of being a missionary city. In the midst of Roman culture and worship, the Philadelphian church remained faithful to God. Jesus has no rebuke against this church; only encouragement when He says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10). Could this mean that the faithful believers in Philadelphia and everywhere will be saved from the Great Tribulation? This is what I want to believe. However, could it mean that God will keep us strong in the midst of the trials of the tribulation? We are here for a purpose–to bring about the salvation of many people. Redemption of God’s own will happen in our day and in the tribulation. Will you accept Jesus’ commands in either case?

Prayer: Father God, raise up your people! Empower us with your truth. Write your word on our hearts. Speak through us. Let your love and compassion flow through us like a river to those who need it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Dead Church

Birds eye view of the ancient temple of Artemis at Sardis. Turkey

Ancient Sardis was built at 1500 feet above sea level and was fortified by a wall that went up the mountain behind it. It was the capital of Lydia. The people who lived there became careless and overconfident because of this fortification. However, the wall was breached twice in its history. The worship of Caesar, Apollo, Artemis and many other gods and goddesses impacted the economy and way of life in Sardis. Into this mix Paul introduced the gospel of Christ.

Jesus had this to say to the church in Sardis: “These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and His angels” (Revelation 3:1-5).

Living as Christians was difficult in Sardis because of its exclusivity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). The systems of Satan created such great pressure that many of the people decided it was best to “just to get along,” which killed the message of its power unto salvation. Jesus accused them of having soiled their garments. Their collaboration with false gods is what stained them.

We, too, live in a “get along culture” where people do not believe in an absolute truth–where it’s okay for them not to accept the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ. Even though the ways of the world change, God’s word does not. Jesus is still the only way, the truth and the life. Don’t be misled by the deceitfulness of Satan.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the truth in Jesus, our Savior. Thank you for the freedom that comes in the absolute truth of the gospel instead of a polytheistic form of religion. Help us to focus on your word and live in the light of our salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Tolerant Church

Ruins of Byzantine basilica in Thyatira ancient city in the modern Turkish city of Akhisar. In classical times, Thyatira stood on the border between Lydia and Mysia.

Akhisar, Turkey is built over the ruins of Thyatira, the fourth church mentioned in chapter 2 of Revelation. However, the ruins of the Byzantine basilica still stand, pictured above. Thyatira was not a big important city like Ephesus or Pergamum. Residents were most likely blue collar workers who worked in the trading industry. Lydia, who met Paul in Philippi, was from Thyatira and she produced purple cloth. The people who worked in the trade industries belonged to trade guilds, which were like our unions. These guilds had a great influence on how people lived. Most guild members worshiped Apollo, the son of Zeus, also called the son of god. Since Christians believed that Jesus was the Son of God, it was hard for them to live as Christians in this community. Those who worshiped Apollo practiced child sacrifice and sexual immorality.

This is what Jesus had to say to the church in Thyatira: “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations–that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ — just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star” (Revelations 2:18-29).

The name Jezebel in this Scripture is most likely symbolic of Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. Her name represents powerful and evil women. The church in Thyatira tolerated the worship of Apollo and the immorality of Jezebel. While they reached out to their community for Christ, they became more like the people they witnessed to.

God does not tolerate sin. Churches today can learn from the church in Thyatira. Jesus loves the sinner but not the sin. A good example is the woman brought to Him who was caught in the act of adultery. He accepted her but did not condone her lifestyle. He said, “Go and sin no more.” His acceptance did not mean approval.

Jesus gave Jezebel time to repent, but she refused. Like her, when we refuse to repent we will experience the consequences of pain and suffering. Friend, God loves you and wants the best for you. Will you respond today to His amazing love and abundant life? Admit your sin and that you need a Savior. Confess Jesus as Lord and leave your life of sin to live for Him and serve others.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for Jesus, for His sacrifice that brought us salvation. Make us like rivers of your love that flows to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Compromised Church

Ruins of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon. UNESCO world heritage in Turkey

High on a hill in Turkey, about twelve miles east of Ephesus, is the ancient city of Pergamum. “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne, Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the the days of Antipas, my faithful witness who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Barak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:12-15).

This Scripture is filled with meaning. Emperor worship was practiced and emperors judged with swords. “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” signifies that the judge of the world is our Lord. The throne of Satan is believed to have been in the Temple of Zeus. Antipas was most likely the Christian priest of Pergamum, not Herod Antipas. The teaching of Balaam had to do with eating food sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality. As Christians we cannot participate in the life of Christ and of demons at the same time. We cannot say we are Christians and act as if we are not.

It was not easy to live as Christians in ancient Pergamum because of the prevalence of idolatry and emperor worship. The satanic influence has lived down through the ages. In 1889 the altar of Zeus was taken from Pergamum to Berlin, Germany, the same year Hitler was born. In 2008 the stage for Obama’s campaign looked like the altar of Zeus. All this proves that it is not any easier to live as Christians today. However, the darkness cannot overcome the light of the gospel. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let your light shine through us so that others might get a glimpse of your amazing love. Our world needs You as much today as when you were on earth. Empower us to live out our faith for your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Persecuted Church

Agora of Smyrna in Izmir City, Turkey

The ruins of Smyrna, the second church John wrote to in Revelation, are in Izmir, Turkey today. Located on the west coast of Turkey on the Aegean Sea, Izmir is a big port city. Pictured above is part of the agora or the town square of Smyrna.

John had this to say to the church: “I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:9-10).

Believers are not exempt of earthly trouble or suffering. John warned those in Smyrna that some of them would be put in prison and persecuted but their suffering would last only ten days. God would put a limit of time on their persecution, but He commanded them to be faithful, even to the point of death, and He would give them the crown of life–eternal life with Him. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both the soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Suffering is not easy, but it is a part of life. Friend, if you experience sickness or persecution, don’t lose heart. Know that God is in control, and you can trust Him to carry you through the darkest valley. He will never leave or forsake you. He is available in the dark of night or the light of day. He never sleeps or slumbers. He loves you with an everlasting love, a love deeper and more amazing than we can imagine.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray for the persecuted church and for those who suffer from sickness and pain. Comfort them with your presence and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.