I was working in the garden a couple of months ago and began thinking about some passages of scripture that led to what I’ve outlined below. I wrote it at the time as if I was going to speak it in a congregational setting more just to clarify it for myself. I felt it might, however, be an encouragement to others, so here goes.
I want to talk today about the days we find ourselves in. If you’re watching or listening to this, you’re probably part of the end times church. I think most Christians recognize the current era as the “end times”. It has all the characteristics of the Biblical descriptions of the events we’ve seen unfold. This message is not intended to be an eschatology lesson or a timeline of end-time events, but simply an encouragement for the church, the Christians that are wondering what on earth is going on.
I’ll start by looking at Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Here we see messages given to seven churches, messages about the end times. There are commendations concerning some aspects of the life in these churches, but also warnings about how they have fallen short. I don’t intend to go into a full exposition of all of this; just to look at the areas of lack. See whether or not you can identify with any of them – I certainly can, and it’s a big wake-up call for me!
You have left your first love. I can remember when I was first saved, and the excitement of reading my Bible, discovering what God was like, the words coming to life as I spent hour after hour. And then there was prayer – what a privilege! Spending time talking and listening to the Creator of the universe. They were wonderful days – I couldn’t wait to tell people about Jesus. I won’t say I’ve lost all of that, but the forty-plus years since then have taken a toll. I’ve had some amazing experiences, but I’ve fallen short many many times. Now, I want to get back to that “first love” experience again. And Jesus tells us to consider how far we have fallen, repent and do the things we did at first.
• You have embraced false teaching. This refers to many of the compromised messages we hear today – messages that seem to allow us to keep right on living a life of excess and sin because the grace of God covers it. I’m sure that most people serious about serving God don’t believe this. The remedy – repent!
• Sexual immorality. Need I say more? We live in a world that accepts – and even encourages – all kinds of loose conduct and perverse sexual practices. The remedy – wait for it – repent!
• You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Tough one, this – we can have all the appearance and say all the right things, but be stone dead to the spirit of God on the inside. We can even convince ourselves that all is well – but can’t escape a nagging doubt. That’s another I have been able to identify with at times. You can fool the people, and even yourself to a degree, but you can’t fool God. So you might as well be honest – your eternal destiny may depend on it. The remedy – wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Remember what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.
• You are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold. The Lord finds this condition particularly distasteful. Probably a bit similar to the last one in some ways. We look at the externals, and we see ourselves as rich and in need of nothing. God sees us as wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. Not a great testimony. When you think about it, this life is an opportunity to accrue spiritual riches – the only kind that we can take to heaven with us. The remedy – in God’s words, “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.” What does that mean? I think it’s related to the next verse: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” Better to undergo God’s loving discipline in this life than judgment in the next.
All of which sounds pretty daunting – but it’s the love of God in action, pointing out exactly how to remedy things that are lacking. The words above are, in each case, placed between affirmations on what the churches have done that pleases God, and the promises He gives to those who change their ways and overcome.
So, if you’re like me, and I suspect many of you are, one or more of these points has hit a nerve. What does it all come down to, really? It’s simple – read the Bible, do what you read, and PRAY. Prayer is our communication with God – listening as well as talking. It’s a massive subject, but in essence that’s what it is. I confess to having long periods in my life where prayer was either non-existent or mechanical. It’s not pleasant, especially if you have memories of vibrant, living prayer times when you could almost touch God, it was so real! If ever there was a time in history to reconnect with God, it’s now.
I want to talk about some passages of scripture that I felt God was impressing upon me while I was weeding the garden – maybe there’s a message in that, as well 😊.
Firstly, I’ve had a song on my mind for two or three days now; one I used to sing back in the early 80s. It’s “Christ the Rock” and it was sung by Craig Smith from the USA. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and can only remember the first verse and chorus. That, however, is enough for what I want to say. Those lyrics are as follows:
“As predicted through the years
A mighty wind is blowing
Shaking everything that can be shaken
To destroy the things of man
So the things of God can stand
On Christ the Rock, our only firm foundation
This could a new beginning
A chance to go, let Him lead you by the hand
When we see the church emerge triumphantly
Then at last we’ll understand”
There’s a bridge between the second chorus that repeats:
“There’s a wind, a holy wind
And it’s bringing the church to life again”
I’ll look at a couple of things related to this:
Hebrews 12 follows Hebrews 11 – see, I told you I was deep….. Chapter 11 is the renowned “Faith Chapter”, which many of us have taken encouragement from at times. One thing to note, of course, is that we don’t always see or receive what we are believing in faith for. That’s a fact of life – but it doesn’t mean that our faith is misplaced if that happens. Hebrews 11:13 says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
Hebrews 12 then goes on to talk about how we should live, in light of the testimony of those who have gone before us. It talks about perseverance, discipline, hardship, and endurance – the kind of things you won’t often hear in many church buildings, where God’s grace and personal prosperity are the main diets, along with an ever-increasing “multi-faith” emphasis.
Then, after all of this, it goes on to say in verses “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
What we do in this life, what we build, will be shaken and only that which has eternal value will prove to be worth anything.
Two other scripture passages I’d like to look at:
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, very dry bones.
He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.
I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophecy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into this slain, that they may live.’
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’
Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD when I open your graves and bring you up from them.
I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”
There’s the church, dead and dry, down in the valley. Not much good to anybody – themselves or anyone else. The word of God comes to them, and they are restored to life by the breath of the Spirit. I prophesy as I am commanded today so that the wind of the Spirit of God will restore life to those who are in a dry valley, and spiritually dead, will find new life once more, and take their place in the end-time army of God.
These are most certainly troubling times, and it is quite ok to feel concerned, uncertain, and outright fear, as long as these things are given to God so that they may be replaced by His strength and courage. It’s been exacerbated by the dystopian rules that have been enforced in many places, preventing Christians from gathering together to worship. The loneliness can be crippling and overwhelming. The truth of the matter is, you’re not alone.
Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place because the Arameans are going down there.”
So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king so that he was on his guard in such places.
This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
“None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
“Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.”
Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.
Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.
After they entered the city, Elisha said, “LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.
When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?”
“Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.”
So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
The point I’m making, of course, is that there are far more for us than there are against us. One very bad mistake being made by those who persecute the church, in this or any other age, is assuming that they have the upper hand. When people who are sold out to God are placed under pressure just for being Christians, things happen. The church has a habit and a history of growing rapidly during persecution and when they call out to God for help, His responses can be powerful, to say the least.