Thursday, February 25, 2016

Touching Base, Part 298

28 Feb 16
Series - House on Fire! Part 5 -
You Do not Realize…

This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching in this series is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

The Big Idea this week: "Insight into God leads to Trust; insight into ourselves leads to Humility".

I started Revelation and reading the 7 letters with a bad attitude, but, at least partly, came round. I started to see them as short stories – which I like – since they seemed to fit everything necessary into a short space. They have an economy of words, fitting all their theology into a few verses.

Insight in medicine is defined as “having a correct attitude towards morbid change in oneself”. If you have a stroke, you don't at first have full insight; it's only little by little that you live into your new self and its deficits, and fully understand and appreciate. “I realize I can’t quite play the guitar like I used to” or “I notice certain words are hard to say when I get tired.”

What about the opposite? What about having insight into something great and faultless? If the Laodiceans had had full insight into the 3 attributes of Christ listed at the beginning of this letter, they would have trusted Him; they wouldn't have remained complacent, half-hearted, and lukewarm. He is the Amen, the true and faithful witness, and the starting point of God's creation. These attributes emphasize Jesus' role in creation and his work on the cross – in the past.

At the end of the letter, there is a startling promise for the Christians who "overcome" or conquer: to sit with Christ on His throne – in the future. If the Laodiceans had had insight into the future triumph of Jesus, they could hardly have remained complacent either. Once again, insight would have led to trust.

In between the introduction and the conclusion, we have the body of the letter. Here Jesus tells us that insight into who God is, is not enough. We need insight into who we are as well. Remember the stroke example? You need to know your deficits. And this insight into ourselves leads not to trust, but to humility. "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."

Often non-Christians believe in the same ethics as Christians. Or, Christians themselves are on different sides of ethical debates. What then are Christian ethics? What's so important about the Christian religion? The one piece of Christian ethics that hasn't caught on with society-at-large over the last 2000 years is humility. And this letter hinges on those words, "but you do not realize..." They did not have insight into themselves. No insight, no humility.

The Laodiceans weren't rebuked for any specific theological heresy. They were probably good citizens, well-off, upstanding, and ethical. How were they distinguished from others? They probably weren't.

We must be distinguished not merely by "adherence to moralistic norms but a life lived in view of the Christ event in the past and the victory of God in the future". If we had insight into what God is up to past and future, we would be a people trusting in God; if we had insight into who we are, we would be a humble people.

And trusting God while practising humility is a known cure for lukewarmness.

Eric Prost

Check out and be sure to come to Unleashed, today (February 28th) at 4 pm in the Upper Room.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Touching Base, Part 297

21 Feb 16
Series - House on Fire! Part 4
When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching in this series is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

As we come to our fourth church in this series John hangs picture number four right smack dab in the middle of this church. Like the other three, it is a picture of Christ. If a picture is worth a thousand words then this one is perhaps worth ten thousand words. Maybe this is why this is the longest letter of the seven letters.

Text: Revelation 2:18-29

What are the key aspects of this picture?

Son of God - What does this title say about the identity of Jesus? Check out Romans 1:1-4.

Note that the next two titles both point to brilliance and light. Note how v.23 gives further understanding of eyes and feet with these qualities. It would seem that this is a picture of the omniscience (all-knowing) and omnipotence (all-powerful-bronze picture of strength) of the Son of God.

So how does this picture of Jesus impact what John writes to this church?

One clear implication is that God Sees My Story! He sees their story, He sees my story. There is nothing hidden, nothing in the shadows, nothing unbeknownst to the Son of God about their story.

God Sees My Story.

What does he see?

He knows where I have been in my story (v.19)

Notice the key words that describe a little bit of their story up to this moment in time. Two key statements are,

“patient endurance” - The capacity to bear up under difficult circumstances. As Jesus sees their story and where they have been he sees that they have been bearing up. But notice the next statement.

“your latter works exceed the first.”- In bearing up they have grown. Jesus is looking at their past compared to the present and sees growth. They have been to the school of “hard knocks”, and for many they have grown. It has been difficult, but the trenches have helped them grow.

God knows their story. As God looks at your story – where you have been – would he see growth? In what way has bearing up under difficult circumstances helped you grow? What has been the difficult circumstance and in what way did you grow through it. God knows your story!

He knows where I am in my story (v.20-23)

One thing that is true about the nature of the church and the members that make it up is that our stories are complex. While Jesus saw that many were bearing up, some were falling down. While some had held fast (see v.24), some had found themselves in a compromised position. What is true about the corporate reality of the church is also true about the individual reality of the believer. We live with the good and the bad all mixed in to our story. That is what was happening in Thyatira.

Note the compromised nature of the church by discussing the key words like tolerance, Jezebel and seduction.
Does where they are in their story have any bearing on where we (the Church of the 21st century) are in our story? Discuss the following.

According to a George Barna report,

“The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.” The result? “A Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.” The postmodern mantra, “true for you but not for me,” has infected our churches. The majority of Christians do not think Christianity is objectively true—true for everyone whether they believe it or not.

The following definition of tolerance may be helpful in your discussion.

“Tolerance used to be the attitude that we took toward one another when we disagreed about an important issue; we would agree to treat each other with respect, even though we refused to embrace each other’s view on a particular topic. Tolerance is now the act of recognizing and embracing all views as equally valuable and true, even though they often make opposite truth claims.” (Wallace, Cold Case Christianity, page 142)

He knows where I am going in my story (v.24-29)

Said succinctly,
He will restore all things and we will be part of that restoration story.
This is what we need to keep our eyes on.

As a group you will need to do your homework on this section. On Sunday, I did not have time to develop. The following are some helpful notes.

V.24 - Mystery cults stressed deep secrets shared only among the initiates.

V.25 - until I come - the Greek implies an uncertainty when that will be.

V.26 - Christ promises believers who are faithful that they will join Him in His millennial rule (Ps. 2:8–9; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4–6).

Note: Someone who did not know the Old Testament would have applied this description to the Roman emperor; Revelation declares that Jesus is greater than the most powerful emperor the world had ever known.

V.27 - “rule” (“poimanei”) means “to shepherd,” indicating that they will not simply be administering justice but will also, like a shepherd using his rod, be dealing with his sheep and protecting them as well. Though Psalm 2:9 refers to Christ’s rule, John’s quotation of it here relates the ruling (shepherding) to the believer who overcomes. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (1 Cor. 6:2–3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4, 6). Christ received this authority from His Father (cf. John 5:22).

V.28 - The morning star, Venus, heralded the dawn, and great people could be compared to it as well as to the sun shining in glory (Eccles 50:6; cf. Revelation 22:16). Because most of the Greco-Roman world believed that life was ruled by the stars, to be given authority over one of the most powerful of stars (a symbol of sovereignty among the Romans) was to share Christ’s rule over creation (2:26–27).

Is there mystery in these words and images?

Do we have everything figured out as we look to where our story will end up?

Thank the Father for giving us Jesus the head of the church. A church filled with stories of people that contain the good, the bad and the “Jezebel” (very bad). A church whose Head knows our story, because He is the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. He will make all things well and we who hold fast get to be part of that radical transformation, that we start now as we live out a story submitted to Him and see completely realized when He comes.

Check out and be sure to come to Unleashed, today (February 21st) at 4 pm in the Upper Room.

Mark Kotchapaw

Friday, February 12, 2016

Touching Base, Part 296

14 Feb 16
Series - House on Fire, Pt 3
Who Wields the Sword?

This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching in this series is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Take a moment and review the two portraits John has hung in the hallway of each church thus far. Check out Revelation 2:1 and 2:8. Note how each portrait is intimately tied into what John proceeds to say to the church. In a sense, he is fleshing out the portrait in what it is saying about Christ and the implications for that particular church.

In your group, take a moment and talk about memorable portraits - perhaps a picture of a jaw-dropping scene in nature, or perhaps a highly sentimental picture of a family vacation. Talk about feelings and memories associated with that portrait.

As we come to the third church in our study, House On Fire, we come to the third portrait.

Text: Revelation 2:12-17

Is this a comfortable, or a troubling, portrait?
What image comes to mind?

We see several times in Scripture (i.e. Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12,13) how the word of God is compared to a sword. As we proceed into the letter, we will see how the two-edged sword operates in the local church.

Question: How does the two-edged sword operate in the local church?

To help answer that question, we not only will look to the rest of the text, but also to 2 Timothy 3:16 -
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Note how the function of the word of God in 2 Tim is illustrated in our text.

TEACHING - Refers to instruction, meaning “to impart knowledge”. The word informs but it never does so in a vacuum and thus it often creates tension. Note the context.

V.13 - This third church was in Pergamum or Pergamos, about 20 miles inland from Smyrna. Like Ephesus and Smyrna it was a wealthy city, but it was wicked, being a major stronghold for Emperor worship. Furthermore, Pergamum was also a center of pagan cults of various deities. Like Baskin and Robbins, Pergamum had “31 deity” flavors - Asclepius, Zeus, Athene, Demeter, and Dionysus…

Yet how is the church described in 13b? What do we learn about the church?

The teaching component of the word sometimes puts us at odds (to say the least!) with our culture.
Where do you sense tension between the word and our culture?
Can you relate to “holding fast”?
What does this look like in your life, practically-speaking?

REPROOF - In v.13, the word is creating tension and dissonance with culture, thus the need to hold fast. Now in v.14 and 15, in the context of the local church, the word is creating tension and dissonance between the church and God. The word “reproof “means to rebuke or refute, to state that someone has done wrong. Christ is angry with some of them and he is stating what is wrong!

Here is a little history lesson:

Balaam was a pagan prophet hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon the invading Israelites. God prevented Balaam from doing so, and instead caused him to issue a blessing on them (Num. 22:5–24:25). However, Balaam subsequently devised a plan (in continued disobedience to God), whereby some of the Moabite women would entice the Israelite men to “defect from the LORD” (31:16), by fornicating with them and joining with them in the worship of their pagan gods (25:1–3). This plan proved successful, and God punished the Israelites for their idolatrous involvement.

So regarding the Nicolaitans, some speculate that it could merely be another name for the Balaam sect.

Perhaps some who had at one time held fast (v.13) to “my name” had gradually “slip-slided away” to the point that they were now holding to the teaching of Balaam (v.14).

Ever experienced or watched this slippery slope?
What can cause this to happen in peoples’ lives?

Discuss the following - “Adultery doesn’t just happen. It is the result of many mini decisions.”
How does this relate to what is being discussed? What are the many mini decisions people make that move them from holding fast to the word to holding to different teaching?

CORRECTION – v.16 Notice how John’s letter progresses from reproof “I have a few things against you” to correction, “repent”. Correction builds on the idea of reproof. It means to offer a new path, to replace a mistake. Jesus, through the pen of John, is asking them to repent, to choose a new path, to replace a mistake, to walk in a new way.

How does repentance work in your life?
How does repentance correct and offer a new path?
How does repentance keep you on the new path?
How hard is it to stay on that new path?

TRAINING - The final key word in 2 Timothy, that parallels our text, is “training”. This word represents the idea of forming new habits. It is a word that speaks of the fruit of repentance. As we accept God’s correction and repent we then begin to walk it out. V.17 gives us a picture of this formation of a new habit. Note the action on the part of the listener (“let him hear”); note the voice of the Spirit and note that these are the words of God to the church. As we train, we need to be attentive and pay close attention to the voice of the Spirit which helps us apply the word of God. This describes training - proper habits.

Describe this Christian habit in your own life. What hinders or helps this habit?

Note finally that this is the kind of Church that God wants to bless. Two phrases illustrate this as we conclude.

Hidden Manna - There is lots of speculation at what the writer is getting at. Perhaps this is contrasting the food eaten in idolatrous worship compared to God nurturing his people and using the imagery of manna that would have reminded these Jews of God’s provision to the people years ago.

White Stone - A white stone was commonly associated with a vote of acquittal (cf. 4 Maccabees 15:26; Acts 26:10) or a favorable vote. Conversely, a black stone indicated guilt

What is the admonition to the church in Pergamum? How would we sum up all that Jesus is saying to this church? SURRENDER TO THE SWORD!

As we surrender to the sword, he will light our house on fire!

Check out and be sure to come to Unleashed, starting today (February 14th) at 4 pm in the Upper Room.

Mark Kotchapaw

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Touching Base, Part 295

07 Feb 16
Series - House On Fire! Part 2
The Stretch!

This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching in this series is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

What might be five or six words that could describe the stretch in your life these days? We all experience stress, troubled waters or challenging paths - I call this the “stretch” - experiences that challenge our resources, drain our energy and perhaps rock our faith. There are words that help express what it feels like or what the tribulation actually is.
What is it about being “in the stretch” that can cause us to lose our focus on Christ?

In part 2 of House on Fire we come to the Church in Smyrna. This was a church that is not rebuked but encouraged and instructed as they face the stretch in ways that perhaps we will never face in our lifetime.

Smyrna, a large and wealthy city 35 miles north of Ephesus. Like Ephesus, it was a seaport. In contrast to Ephesus, which today is a deserted ruin, Smyrna is still a large seaport with a present population of about 200,000. The name of the city, Smyrna, means “myrrh,” an ordinary perfume. It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle, and in embalming dead bodies.

Read the text (Rev 2:8-11) and pull out the words that describe their stretch.

Note what they are presently suffering through, and what they can anticipate in suffering.

Note: 10 days

“Some have taken these words “for 10 days” as a symbolic representation of the entire persecution of the church; others think it refers to 10 persecutions under Roman rulers. “The most probable meaning is that it anticipated a limited period of time for suffering” (cf. Walvoord, Revelation, pp. 61–62).

Notice that John wants them to READ THE RECORD IN THE STRETCH. In verse 8, he makes a Christological statement and then he applies Jesus’ record to their situation.

V.8 - What is John saying about Jesus?
What was he stating about Christ’s character, identity by referring to Him as the first and last?
Note that His death and resurrection demonstrate His unique character and identity.

Now work through the text and look again at the words describing their stretch, and the encouragement John gives them in light of who Christ is.

For example – v.9 - they are experiencing tribulation and poverty ( the Greek here emphasizes extreme poverty). However, because Jesus is the first and last, because this is Jesus’ record, how does that impact how they are to truly see themselves?

Note: “that you may be tested” What is John getting at? Certainly he is not referring to a “works” kind of salvation - “Grind through this tough time and earn your way, pass the test and you will be saved.”

I think what John may be getting at is that, when we go through trials of all sorts, they can test (reveal, expose) the certainty of our faith, the maturity of our walk and our trust in our Saviour. The difficult path can expose our vulnerabilities and at the same time be a source of strengthening and growth. Only Jesus who is the first and last can take our trials, our difficult path, and use it for the greater good in our lives.

How do you keep your eyes on Christ and His record when going through tough times?

How do you process the tension of a sovereign God allowing you to go through trial?

What have you learned about God and yourself (tested) in seasons of tribulation?

Imagine a church like this, facing tribulation but allowing the record of Jesus to shape our response. Perhaps the testimony of the church, the passion of the church is most powerfully seen, not when all is well, but when life is hard, the cost is high. That’s when the world will truly see our passion, fire, and conviction! A House on Fire!

Our first Sunday (Feb 14) of Unleashed, our prayer focus, is all centered on the character of God. Not on asking, requesting, or bringing our list, but thinking and reflecting and worshiping who Christ truly is. Reading His record! It is His record that instills passion and fire into the heart of the church.

Check out and be sure to come to Unleashed, starting on February 14th at 4 pm.

Mark Kotchapaw