August 15, 2018

Today you should read: Revelation 2:1-7

Today we begin a section of Revelation where Jesus addresses seven churches. The ESV Study Bible reveals a helpful pattern to understand while reading these “letters” that will be helpful as we unpack each one over the next few days:

  1. The royal author describes himself in terms from chapter 1.
  2. “I know” introduces his diagnosis of the church’s condition, both positive (except for Sardis and Laodicea) and negative (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia).
  3. Comfort and commands flow from the diagnosis.
  4. All of the churches are commanded to hear and heed all of the letters (“what the Spirit says to the churches,” 2:7, etc.).
  5. A blessing is promised to “the one who conquers,” foreshadowing the final visions in chapters 21–22.

Today, we are reading about the church in Ephesus. What does Jesus say about this church?

Positively, Jesus commends them for their endurance and desire for doctrinal truth.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. (ESV)

This church is commended for their desire to know what God’s Word says, and they were not easy to give up. But they had a big problem: they had lost their love.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (ESV)

 What this shows is that you can have the best theology in the world, but if you lack love, it doesn’t matter. The passage doesn’t specify if the church had lost love for God or for people, but it doesn’t matter because they are synonymous with one another—if they don’t love Jesus, they won’t love people; if they don’t love people, it’s because they don’t love Jesus.

As serious as this warning is, there is hope! Jesus tells them they can repent from this sin and return to the love they had at first. But Jesus also warns them: if they fail to repent, he will “remove their lampstand.” This means that their status as a church would be lost.

This passage should serve as a challenging and encouraging warning to us. Challenging in the sense that we must continuously keep the main the main thing, which is our love for Jesus! It is easy to lose focus on Christ and allow worldly things to begin to creep in. But this passage is also encouraging because Jesus reminds us that we have the opportunity to repent and turn back to Him when we stray away.

Can you say that Jesus is your first love? Are other things distracting you from loving Jesus supremely? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice

August 14, 2018

Today you should read: Revelation 1:9-20

Back in my teenage years, a mentor of mine helped me process the idea of prophetic literature in the Bible. No, he didn’t tell me exactly how to interpret it (literal or figurative). But he did make me think of the big picture. Here’s what he said to me:

“In the Word, when God gives us glimpses of the future, it is always meant to inspire worship and obedience in the present.”

This struck quite chord with me. I had always been so caught up in what was going to happen when, that I never stopped to think about that idea. God wants us to see Him as Lord, sovereign over all things, fulfilling all things in Christ more than He wants us to figure out how every second of the end times plays out. I’d encourage you to espouse this idea in your own reading. Sure, you can dig deep and try to reconcile a timeline of how things will go, and you can try to determine which millennial view you most closely align with, but do not miss the forest for the trees. Let the grandeur of the book of Revelation cause your view of God and worship of Him to increase.

And as you read today’s passage, that’s exactly what you’ll find: John was struck with absolute awe by what he saw.

How have you viewed apocalyptic literature in the Bible? How can you view it differently in light of these thoughts?

By: Todd Thomas — Worship & College Pastor

August 13, 2018

Today you should read: Revelation 1:1-8

Today we’ll start a nearly 2 month Jumpstart series on what’s probably the most controversial and confusing book of the Bible. As Cornelis Venema from Ligonier Ministries said,

“The interpretation of the book of Revelation has often proven difficult throughout the history of the Christian church. Though it is little more than a piece of scholarly gossip, some have even suggested that the Reformer John Calvin, one of the best interpreters of the Scriptures the church has known, shied away from writing a commentary on the book of Revelation for this very reason.”

You can imagine my confidence in giving my own interpretation and commentary when John Calvin, who wrote one of the greatest commentaries, didn’t. Add the fact that I hold to a different end times view than the majority of modern American Christians and this should really be fun. 😉

None the less, here’s a great introductory video to the first eleven chapters by the Bible Project:

Let’s dive into the first eight verses of chapter one.

In the introduction to the book, the apostle John makes it clear that he received a revealed vision from God of what’s to come, including the end times, final judgment, and consummation. He received this vision while exiled on the island of Patmos. Most scholars believe that John was the only Apostle (outside of Judas) who was not martyred for his faith, but instead God brought him to this island for this revelation and for all to read and know what he wrote to be blessed (v. 3).

John then mentions that he is writing to seven known churches at that time, warning and encouraging them and us, for each instruction is relevant to churches today. More on that content later next week. He makes a beautiful Gospel statement in verses 5-6 and in verse 8 he mentions, for the first time, that God is the Alpha and Omega, something that is repeated three more times in the book and extremely appropriate for a book revealing what a God who has no beginning or end will do in the end times and in the final judgment.

As controversial and confusing as the book of Revelation can be, I’m very excited to study it with our church the next few months, because we know it’s not only God’s inerrant Word, but it gives us a beautiful picture of a new heavens and earth when Satan is defeated once and for all.

What are you excited to learn about from this book? What are you most confused about concerning this book? Comment below and maybe we can attempt to help answer some of those questions and concerns when we reach some of those chapters and verses.

By: Erik Koliser — West Campus Pastor

August 11, 2018

Today you should read: Philippians 4:10-23

As Paul sums up his letter to the Philippians, one of gratitude but also correction, he does so with an amazing lesson for us all. Although Paul is thankful for the gifts he has received from the Philippians, which is the primary occasion for the letter, the church had some struggles. It seems from 3:18–19 that the Philippians misunderstood grace, thinking it to mean they can do as they please. Paul encourages them in a few ways, 3:17 says, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Also, in 4:9 we see yet again, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It seems that although many of the Philippians were givers, they struggled with gratification. The grace and provision of the Lord is not a license to continue living in unrighteousness (see Romans 6). Paul states clearly twice in the immediate context of our passage today, “Follow my example.” In our passage today, we see one more example from Paul the Philippians should follow.

My love language is gifts—I love getting gifts because I feel loved by the giver. It seems Paul feels somewhat the same, but his concern runs much deeper. Verse 11 begins an odd idea for someone sending a thank you note. Paul thanks them for the gift, but sort of says, “I didn’t really need it.” The famous verse in this passage is 13, “I can do all things,” but from the context it is clear Paul says that the “all things” refers to contentment in either poverty or abundance. It is not his power, but the power of Christ, in which Paul finds his strength. However, although Paul says he didn’t need the gift (17a), he was grateful because the Philippians shared in his affliction (14), and it was profitable for them to be givers (17b).

What is the cure for those who seek gratification? The answer, at least in part, is giving. For all of us, it’s hard to put others first. Giving is a tangible way of sharing in the suffering of others and turns our hearts outward, away from ourselves, toward the world. Giving is profitable for the giver because, as Paul says, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Additionally, Paul wants the Philippians to follow in his example of radical contentment. Paul was thankful for the Lord for every single breath—whether that breath is the air of a prison cell, the sea air of a prisoner transport ship, or the aroma-rich air of a banquet hall among friends, Paul was thankful. The key to contentment is gratitude, and the key to generosity is contentment. Simply put, a discontent person will never be a generous person. But sometimes, the way to learn contentment begins with generosity.

Questions for reflection:

Are you grateful to God for every gracious gift in your life?

Considering your attitude over recent weeks, has it been marked by contentment and gratitude or by frustration and self-focused want?

Our giving is basically limited to our time, talent, and treasure, in what ways have you been generous or selfish?

Where is God calling you to be content? Where is He calling you to give?

By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate