The intimate walk with God that has been offered us cannot be done unless we stay close to Him. Jesus said, the closer we stay to Him, the more fruit we will bear. Some might ask why it is so necessary to bear fruit? Isn’t it enough for us to just live normal lives and let life unfold however it happens? Is it not God’s will for us to get the most out of life and enjoy it?
God does intend for us to enjoy life, in whatever station of life we are in. From my study of Biblical characters though, the real joy in life comes from serving God in whatever capacity He has given one to serve. And, this joy in life is not dependent on life’s circumstances. For most of us in America, even the poorest of us all, we are still in much better circumstances than most people in the world. Yet, we are the ones that sometimes complain the most!
God does not ask us all to be preachers. He doesn’t call many apostles or prophets. He also doesn’t call all that many to be teachers. It really is a good thing! He does however expect us all to be fulfilling the “Great Commission” found in Mark 16: 15-20:
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe; In my Name they will drive out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’ After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.”
I ran into a quote that I found somewhere but don’t know where. Some excellent points are made and It is pretty direct. I pray that it is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.
“Many thousands of Christians including many believe, Peter and Paul, died martyr’s deaths under Roman Emperor Nero and the Caesars who followed. They faced gladiators, bears, and lions in the Roman arenas to entertain Caesar and his mocking friends. Many Christians were set on fire and used as torches to light the night skies for the various sporting events. It was the bloodiest time of Christ’s church. Thousands found shelter and safety in the catacombs, the underground tunnels that were Rome’s cemeteries. Drawings on the catacomb walls tell a story in the most literal sense of the word.
It is sad to have to say that while many of us here in the west will not let ourselves be inconvenienced enough to read our Bibles and pray, thousands of Christians are still laying down their lives for the Lord Jesus. According to the “Ethics and Religious Liberties” commission, more than 200 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide; they are brutalized, sold as slaves, imprisoned, tortured, threatened, discriminated against, arrested and killed–solely because they refuse to renounce or hide their faith in Jesus Christ. But, the long history of persecution that continues into our time will soon enter the darkest, most vicious era since man has been on this earth.”
It is sometimes good for us to read or see things that present us with some sobering facts–things that may be disturbing, and quite often uncomfortable. I have run across many Christians that avoid portions of the Bible because they are not “happy” passages. Yet, the same people will watch the most disturbing demonic TV programs and movies at the theater. People watch horror movies of all kinds and call it entertainment. One of the most popular shows on television today is the series, “The Walking Dead.” If people knew that what is being depicted in the show may become quite real, maybe they would not be so quick to allow themselves to be entertained by it. There are signs of these things beginning to crop up in different places already.
Most churches don’t want to touch certain of Jesus’ parables, or parts thereof because they are “uncomfortable.” I wonder what it is that is the matter with us? I know the subject of this series has to do with intimacy with God but I believe you’ll find this to fit in quite well as we follow the train of thought through to the end.
As you have read above, there are hundreds of thousands of believers around the world that are being brutalized and murdered for their walk with God. More people have been martyred for their beliefs in our world since the year 2000 than since Jesus was crucified! I have had the honor of speaking with some of the folks on the phone who have seen much of this and endured much of it themselves. Because of my connection with an underground ministry based in the Middle East, I have been receiving calls nearly every week for two years; out of one nation or another. For the last year the calls have come out of Syria. I can’t even tell you how many times I have shed my own tears with a missionary pastor, who was sobbing over the newest volunteer missionaries that had been either shot, stabbed, stoned to death, beheaded, or worse–often much worse. This includes some of his own relatives. I spoke with one of the volunteers late last week (mid-February 2014), who had been a Muslim sheik for over twenty years until he was reached with the Gospel of Jesus through House Of Blessing. This man, whose name I will not use here, described the conditions for me as well, including finding people’s bodies in the ground that had been buried alive for their beliefs. There are also countless cases of Christian women being brutalized in the most unspeakable ways, descriptions which I am not willing to into print here, although there would probably be some value to skeptics in doing so.
The reason I am going into this much detail while discussing something so satisfying to the soul and spirit, as an intimate walk with God, is because it is out of this generation–our generation, that the Lord is going to call us home out of. What most in the western Christian world, especially America, are reluctant to accept is that it may not just be the “third world” that is going to experience the things described above. We think that we may be excused from the difficulties of representing the Name of Jesus. Really! I wonder what makes us think this? Could it be that the traditional painting of Jesus Christ in our liturgical religious world is the one with Jesus with the beautiful long women’s curls, with a perfectly shaped soft beard, feminine features, with eyelashes that look like the kind that movie stars glue on? The face that has no blemishes, no cuts, no evidence on his face of the long hard walks for tens of miles a day at times to get from one city or village to another? I’m sure this most inaccurate representation of Jesus has at least a little blame attached to it. It is “religion” that cursed us with that painting! It is not accurate! Whether America will experience persecution like much of the world or not, only God really knows, but II would like to digress a little further…
The Hollywood actor who produced the movie, “The Passion” made some extraordinary comments when he was interviewed about the making of this movie. He was asked about the brutality he brought into the final script and filming. He was asked if he had not overdone it. Some might be surprised at his response. Mel Gibson said that in his extensive research of Roman crucifixions, and particularly the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he found that he had to pull way back from what the historical records tell really happened. Mr. Gibson said that if he were to show it for what it really was, very few would be able to stomach watching the movie and it would defeat the whole purpose of producing the movie. He wanted as many people to see the movie as possible, but he also wanted it to be as accurate as he could make it. He also said that he had decided he could not produce this movie without identifying himself in the process of murdering Jesus. Many have no idea that the man holding the hammer that drove the nails into the hands of Jesus, was the actor / producer Mel Gibson, himself.
The prophet Isaiah gave two descriptions that don’t fit our traditional view of Jesus, either off of the cross or on it. In Isaiah 53: 2b-3, we are given this short description:
“…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
In Isaiah 52 we actually have a passage that fewer people are very familiar with because we don’t quite see all of what is being said. Verses 13-15 read like this:
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness–so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings and shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”
Most, when they read this passage, read right through it without really thinking about what they have just read. In one phrase it says that He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Then, in the next phrase, it described how people would be appalled at Him. Why? It is because of His appearance. The description goes on to say that His form would be marred beyond human likeness! In other words, it would be difficult to recognize that the disfigured form on the cross was of a man hanging there! Jesus had not only gotten a most horrendous beating before being crucified–more than Pilate had planned for Him, but something else happened while on the cross. Jesus’ main purpose of being crucified on the cross was to pay the price for mankind’s sins and broken relationship with God that no one else could pay for. But, He also paid the price for the physical fall of man and death itself. The Bible tells us in the writings of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 that Jesus was the “second”, or “last” Adam. What the first Adam lost as a result of his disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, the last Adam reversed. The process of doing this though left Jesus hanging on the cross with every conceivable disease, sickness, and evil, including death itself tearing his flesh apart–to the point as Isaiah said, He was totally disfigured! We dare not ignore such a high price paid for our freedom. There is not another man that has ever lived, no matter how holy he may have claimed to be, that could pay the price necessary for the liberation of the human spirit. Only God could pay the price–and thank God, He paid it for you and me!!!
I have often tried to imagine what I will do when I see Jesus face to face for the first time. You know, I can’t imagine doing anything more than falling on my face on the ground in front of Him, wrapping my arms around His ankles and kissing His nail scarred feet, and worship Him!
In order to get back to discussing “intimacy with God” as is the intent in this series, I would like to point us in the direction of a scripture found in Revelation 2:1-5:
“…these are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. remember the height from which you have fallen. repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place…”
Ephesus was one of the three most important cities in the Roman Empire at the time this was written. The empire was large; it was very powerful, having one out of every four people in the world under its control. The Roman Empire was decadent, very wealthy, and hedonistic. It was known for its tolerance of every belief system except for Christianity.
When I read this passage I picture a Church that is functioning, and seemingly very much alive. This is a church that was planted by the Apostle Paul and later governed by the Apostle John, who likely had his last home in Ephesus.
Jesus recognizes the fact that these people were working hard for the Kingdom. He also mentions in this scripture that He sees that they were persevering and enduring hardships for His Name. In fact with all the hard work they were doing, they were not even growing weary. It seems that they were living up to another scripture in God’s Word which instructs us not to get weary in well doing! Then Jesus mentions that these believers were also not too easily fooled by those that made great claims about themselves but were just full of themselves. Yet, after all these things, Jesus rebuked them! How is that possible? In “our great humanly wisdom,” we might be tempted to accuse the Lord of being rather unfair! We would be patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves! But, somehow Jesus sees things differently. Let’s take a closer look.
It is important for us to remember that scripture is quite often written in layers. This is especially true with prophecy. The same prophetic scripture can quite often happen more than once and even in different locations. Here in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we have some very specific things said to seven different churches. All seven churches were located in what is now the nation of Turkey. The island of Patmos where the Apostle John was kept as a prisoner by the Roman Empire is also just off the west coast of Turkey.
Not only did all seven of these churches literally exist at the time when John was writing the Apocalypse, now that we can look back through the last 2,000 years of history, we can also see that all seven church ages have and are being represented in real history. Each church is represented by an age, successively as they were recorded. It is not difficult to put fairly accurate years to when each individual age began and finished. I would make one possible exception to this, and I readily admit that not everyone may agree on this point, but as I study history and watch current events, especially as church history unfolds, I believe that the Church of Philadelphia and the Church of Laodicea overlap each other. They are both still represented on earth in our day. Very soon however, the Church of Philadelphia will not be represented on the earth due to the Rapture or “harpazo” as it is called in the original Greek. The Church of Philadelphia according to God’s promise will not have to endure the Great Tribulation. It is my strong opinion that this is very possibly within months of this writing.
There is however a third fairly obvious application we find in the things that Jesus said to each of the seven churches. Everything He said applies specifically to the lives of millions of Christian people who have lived from the very beginning of the Church at Pentecost until today. All of us, if we are honest, can find ourselves represented within the comments made in these two chapters of the book of The Revelation.
Now, to get back to what seems so terribly “unfair” in Jesus’ comments. He said this: “I hold this against you; you have forsaken your first love!” Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first…!
It is important to keep in mind, the message to the Church at Ephesus was the message to the church that was birthed at Pentecost! This is the first century church. This church grew very fast. Peter’s sermons alone reached many thousands of people in a very short period of time. According to the book of Acts, it did not take long until even many members of the Jewish priesthood were coming to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. As the church grew, more and more work needed to be done. This is evidenced by the church being organized into a system of elders and deacons, in order to get all the things taken care of that needed to be done. Stephan, which the Bible shows to have had a very powerful ministry had the position of deacon. Stephan, as we well know, was stoned to death. Not long after, the first martyrdom of an apostle happened–James, the brother of John, having been beheaded. The persecution only got worse from that point on.
It is easy to see how Christians who have a relatively easy and blessed life can get to the place to where they lose their first love. It is however more surprising to see how this could happen during such a rapid expansion of the Kingdom of God, especially in light of the worsening persecution. Yet, as we read what Jesus said, it happened even then.
I would like to apply this to both the western and eastern church in our world today. It is easy to see how this has happened in the western church because I live right in the middle of it. It is not as easy for me to see this happening in the eastern church, where the worst of the persecution is happening–except for the example given right here by Jesus Himself.
Could it be that even in the most difficult of circumstances, that God’s people get so busy preaching, teaching, and ministering in the Name of the Lord that we don’t take enough time to get our cup refilled? Could it be that when there are so many people needing to hear that we find ourselves preaching and teaching the same things over and over and over again, without us ever going any deeper in our intimate walk with Christ? When the needs are all around us, from early morning until late at night, how can we ever manage to get some “alone” time with God? Yet, it is an absolute must or we become dry. Soon, we become guilty of doing little more than going through the motions of the “ministry.”
A good example would be the life of Jesus while He was ministering for the 3½ years after John the Baptist baptized Him. It did not take very long after His temptation in the wilderness that multitudes of people followed Him everywhere. The disciples would more often than not, find Him up way before dawn communing with His Father. This is where Jesus had His own intimate walk with the Father. He had to make the time to do so, even if He missed some much needed sleep. He saw the need for His intimate walk with the Father much more important. So must we.
In the western church, I am afraid that most have fallen into such a complacency that we don’t even recognize how far we have fallen from where we may have been at one time. There is always an excitement when we have found the answer to life and its true meaning. For those that have been forgiven of much, it seems to mean more. Here in the west, we are plagued by too much entertainment and materialism. A passage of Scripture that puts its finger right on the problem with many of us is found in Matthew 24:12, which reads like this in the NIV:
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
The problem is that most of us do not recognize where we really are–or are not! Everything demands our time, and most things that we take time to do are not evil in themselves. Yet, Jesus, when speaking to the Church of Ephesus commended them for all the good they were doing, but still accused them of having lost their first love! How can the two be said to the very same people?? Luke 14:33-34 says this:
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”
Matthew 10:37-42 adds this:
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
God sees things much differently than we do. We would be wise to pay close attention to how He sees things and how He says we are expected to live, if we are truly His disciples. There is no such thing as “part-time Christianity.” If we are not sold out, Jesus says emphatically to “Repent”, as He told the Church of Ephesus. If Jesus said this to the first century church, where does that leave us in the decadent age of Laodicea? Even to the righteous Church of Philadelphia, Jesus said, “Make sure to hold on to what you have and don’t let anyone steal your crown!”
John the Apostle wrote this in 1 John 2:15-17:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the father but from the world. the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
Unfortunately, too many in the “church” do their religious duty by going to church, putting on a good show, dropping a few dollars into the offering plate, piously singing the songs and listening to most of the sermon while playing with our smart-phones. Then we go home and the things of God take a back seat to “life.” This scares me for most of those who claim to be “Christ-followers.” It is easy to claim the Name but not so easy to keep the connection vital as it needs to be.
I am convinced that God has such a deep love for His people that He will allow the facades around us to be shattered so that we will really make a quality decision whom it is that we are going to serve. Will it be God, or will it be a religiosity of our own making? Many will hardly give God the time of day, yet think that they will be strong as an oak tree if and when things change for the worst. I wonder what we base this on? Most Christians in the west are too lazy–or spiritually obstinate to even pay attention to how Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled right before our very own eyes! Oh, it’s too controversial, we say! There are too many opinions, no one really understands it! Try telling God that! He wrote the Book! He was the One that commanded us to Watch! He was the One that told us to read it. He was the One that told us to be aware and not caught off guard as the rest of the world would! Yet, most church leadership in the west avoids it like the plague. Most Christians live lives too full of “other things” to seek anything deeper with their God!
It is about to change, and drastically so…
Continued in Part 4