VIDEO Making Sense of It All – Sheltering Under Pressure

Making Sense of It All

By David Jeremiah

The past twelve months have been tough on all of us—on me, on you, and on our families. I don’t suppose any person on earth has been untouched by COVID-19 or its repercussions. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions battled the virus, and billions suffered emotionally and economically. If you own a small business, work at a restaurant, serve as a health care provider, play music, or teach in a local school, you have your own stories of stress and strain. How my heart has hurt for the disabled and for those in nursing homes, for single parents, and for those who’ve lost their jobs!

Nor has it been easy for pastors, church staffs, and Christian leaders. Speaking personally, there were moments in 2020 when I struggled to know what to do. I think you know my heart when I tell you I’m a pretty resilient person, yet I had some rough days navigating the times, especially as the pastor of a church. The last few months have challenged almost every Christian church, school, and ministry around the world.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He is not shaken. His work is unstoppable, His wisdom is unsearchable, and He knows each step we take.

SHARE ON:It’s not just the pandemic, of course. What a divisive political year we’ve had in America and all over the globe! People are angry, and many of them are increasingly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Society seems out of control. Add that to all our typical problems—natural disasters, illnesses, financial shortfalls, and traffic mishaps—and we have a perfect storm. If you’ve never felt overwhelmed at times, you’re a rare individual.

But the rarest of individuals is never overwhelmed. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He is not shaken. His work is unstoppable, His wisdom is unsearchable, and He knows each step we take. When we arise, He is there. When we retire, He’s alert and awake through the night. He knows what 2021 holds, and He holds us in His hands.

That’s what kept me going last year, and that’s what keeps me going now.

Let me tell you something. Back in the fall of 2019, we planned a three-month campaign for the spring 2020 issues of this magazine. We settled on the topic: “Facing Uncertain Times.” The Lord surely led us to that because none of us at Turning Point could have imagined what the year would bring.

This year, our spring theme is “Making Sense of It All: Seeing the World With a Biblical Perspective.” During the next three months, I want to look at the world through the lens of Scripture as we learn to overcome our fears, stay strong, and stay the course. There are areas of life that can blur our vision if we don’t look at life through God’s optics.

If we see things as our Lord does, we’ll live with power, security, purpose, and hope.

SHARE ON:In this issue of Turning Points, and in the March and April issues, I’ve prepared a series of Bible studies to help us face the unfolding year. Instead of our usual stand-alone articles, the next three issues will deal with three topics by giving you an ongoing series of Bible studies to help you develop a biblical perspective on three levels.

This month we’ll go through the Bible and learn how to rise above our circumstances. You’ll find articles in this magazine about putting life’s circumstances into focus, seeing them clearly, and making sense of them. The Bible is full of information about this, and I can’t wait to show it to you.

Next month’s issue will focus on overcoming our fears. And in April, we’ll wrap up our Making Sense of It All campaign by learning what the Bible says about staying strong and staying the course. All this will reinforce my three-month-long radio series of messages, Making Sense of It All.

If we view this world through our own eyes, we’ll be riddled with fear and doubt. If we see things as our Lord does, we’ll live with power, security, purpose, and hope.

We have an advantage shared by no one else. We have our Lord and His infallible Word, which gives us a divine lens for seeing life. We can’t make sense of life without a biblical perspective; but when we think biblically, life makes perfect sense because of our perfect Savior.

I hope you’ll invite a friend to join us as we turn to our Lord, who alone can make sense of it all and turn it all for good.

This article was first published in Turning Points Magazine & Devotional. Learn more about the magazine and request your free issues today!

Sheltering Under Pressure | David Jeremiah | Psalm 142

A Word From A 2700 Year Old Pastor

By Lance Witt on Apr 16, 2021

Replenish Ministries

Pastors listen to other pastors.  We listen to other people in ministry who are down in the trenches doing the hard work of leading others.

Jeremiah was one such person.  And he was given a very tough ministry assignment.  God let him know in advance that he would not pastor a megachurch. 

Pastor Jeremiah has a good word that is timely for those of us leading the church in the 21st century.

This is what the Lord says…
Stand at the crossroads and look.
Ask for the ancient paths
Ask where the good way is and walk in it
And you will find rest for your souls
Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)


If you’re going to take the road that leads to spiritual health, you have to stand.  Implicit in the word “stand” is that you have to “stop”.  Stopping and standing go hand in hand.

This is a critical word for people with healthy souls.

Jesus regularly took time to stop, to be quiet, to spend time with his father.  You can’t live life at warp speed without warping your soul.  It is so easy to fill our lives with frantic activity only to lose our bearings in ministry and forget “why” we do what we do.

It’s healthy for us to regularly stand and look at our lives… and consider where we are headed. We are so pre-occupied with everybody else’s sanctification that we forget that our sanctification is still a work in progress.

You have to stop running long enough to make an informed decision about which road you will travel.

Proverbs 14:8  says “the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways… but the folly of fools is deception”

Give thought to your ways.  Are you living the life God intended for you?  Or, are you so busy, you have little time to stop and reflect and consider the roads that are in front of you.

An old Chinese proverb says, “If you don’t change the direction your going, your likely to end up where you are headed.”  Look ahead. If you stay on the road you’re traveling today, where are you going to end up?

Let me ask you a question… “if we could plot the trajectory of your soul, where does it end up?”

Maybe right now you’re at a ministry crossroads. Perhaps ministry and life haven’t turned out like you’d hoped. Maybe today you find yourself empty and drained from the demands of ministry.

There is hope. There is a different way . . . a better way. But you are at a crossroads and you have to make a decision about the path from this point forward.


The past is a friend. Many people have walked the road before us, and we can learn a lot from them. This isn’t about something new but rather something ancient. It’s about following the footsteps of those who’ve gone before us.

There are some disciplines and practices that people have used for generations to stay connected to Jesus… things like fasting, solitude, reflection, scripture memory, Sabbath keeping, prayer, confession, personal worship.  How are you doing at integrating these into your life?

Your highest calling is to love Jesus… not pastor a church. 

Just a few chapters later in Jeremiah, we read these words…  9:23-24

23 This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
or the powerful boast in their power,
or the rich boast in their riches.
24 But those who wish to boast
should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
who demonstrates unfailing love
and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.

What if we really believed that?  How would it change our ministries and our churches?


It’s not the fast way. It’s not the busy way. It’s not the successful way.  It’s not even the leadership way that Jeremiah tells us to ask for. It is the good way. God wants you to have a “good” life—a life that is emotionally healthy, relationally satisfying, and spiritually life-giving.

But it’s not enough to identify it, know it, teach it, or preach it.  We must walk in it.  There have been seasons in my life when I was so focused on “leading” that I neglected my own “living”.  We must live well so that we can lead well.  And the order is important.  My leading must flow out of that which I am living.

Then, there is a surprising punch line to the verse.


I thought Jeremiah would complete the verse by saying “and you will find success for your ministry” or “you will prosper in all your ways”.  But the goal of standing and asking for the good way and walking in it is that I would find rest for my soul.

This week I have been reflecting on the word “rest”.  What does it mean to operate from a place of “rest”?

Rest is…

  •   relaxed trust
  •   low control
  •   calm in the midst of chaos
  •   recharging
  •   not striving… not stressed
  •   not frantic

So many of us in ministry are in need of rest for our soul. Could it be that this is what I really need most and even most deeply long for? Could it be God’s first priority in my life is a connected and joyful and refreshed soul? Could it be true in my ministry that his “yoke is easy and [his] burden is light”?  Could it be possible to find the kind of rest for my soul that leads me to say, genuinely, “Jesus is enough”?

Scriptures: Jeremiah 6:16Proverbs 14:8

Lance Witt (website: Replenish Ministries)

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church.

Atheist let Bible sit for 7 years until she finally opened it

February 9, 2021 By Stephen Lahood

For seven years, Julie Mellor left the red New Testament on the top shelf untouched. When the Gideons Bibles was dropped off in her classroom, Julie was hostile.

“I was an atheist; I didn’t have any time or need for God,” she says on a Jesus Peeps video. “I thought the Gideons were taking up my class time and I thought spreading fairy tales amongst the kids”

Julie, a native of Melbourne, Australia, was a highly educated schoolteacher. She got her Master’s degree from Cambridge University in England.

While she didn’t believe in God, she did explore the New Age Movement.

But then trouble came into her life.

Julie Mellor Gideons Bibles

“I went through a traumatic period in my life, and I thought my life was ruined and beyond repair,” she says. “I was actually considering suicide. God I’m going to believe and pray to you for a month, and you got to show me the goods.”

She remembered the shelved and neglected New Testament. At least, she hadn’t thrown it out.

“I must have been touched somewhere in my soul,” she says. “I took one of their red testaments and I put it on my shelf, and it stayed there for 6-7 years untouched.”

In her “no-obligation 30-day free trial,” she thumbed through the verses that can be found at the back of the Gideon’s New Testament. Every single one ministered to her.

atheist came to christ through Gideons Bible

“The list just jumped out to my heart,” she says.

Intrigued, she delved into the Gospel of Matthew.

“These were the words I exactly needed someone to say to me, so reassuring,” Julie says. “I instantly understood that Jesus was what everybody is searching for.

“Here I was, I found Him. I mocked Him my entire adult life and yet He yanked me out of this dark place!” she says.

Today, Julie is married to Australian international healing evangelist John Mellor, who first went to the aboriginals in the hinterlands and prayed and fasted for miracles to validate his message. An outpouring of supernatural healings brought revival to the region. Even the local witch doctor admitted he was outdone.

They have also ministered in Scotland, where they witnessed an eruption of miraculous healing that caught people’s attention and brought hundreds to Christ.

The couple have written books and now minister out of their Christian Outreach Centre based in Buderim, Queensland.

Stephen Lahood studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

Christ and the Churches: Part 5 (Revelation 3:14-22)

Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr .

Today, we are looking at Christ’s seventh and final message to the churches. This message from our Lord is certainly relevant to the church today!

Laodicea, the Lukewarm Church (Rev. 3:14–22)

Jesus is the truth and speaks the truth. He is “the faithful and true Witness.” The Lord was about to tell this church the truth about its spiritual condition; unfortunately, they would not believe His diagnosis.

“Why is it that new Christians create problems in the church?” a member once asked me.

“They don’t create problems,” I replied. “They reveal them. The problems have always been there, but we’ve gotten used to them. New Christians are like children in the home: they tell the truth about things!”

The Laodicean church was blind to its own needs and unwilling to face the truth. Yet honesty is the beginning of true blessing as we admit what we are, confess our sins, and receive from God all we need. If we want God’s best for our lives and churches, we must be honest with God and let God be honest with us.

The church at Laodicea had become lukewarm. The believers did not stand for anything; indifference led to idleness. By neglecting to do anything for Christ the church had become hardened and self-satisfied, and it was destroying itself. Christ would discipline this lukewarm church unless it turned from its indifference toward Him. The Lord demonstrated four areas of need in the church at Laodicea:

1. They had lost their vigor (vv. 16–17)

Some believers falsely assume that numerous material possessions are a sign of God’s spiritual blessing. Laodicea was a wealthy city and the church was also wealthy. But what the Laodiceans could see and buy had become more valuable to them than what is unseen and eternal. Wealth, luxury, and comfort can make people feel confident, satisfied, and complacent. But no matter how much money you and I possess or how much money we make, we have nothing if we do not have a vital relationship with Christ.

In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32); a cold heart (Matt. 24:12); and a lukewarm heart (Rev. 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need. The church at Laodicea was lukewarm, like many people today.

We enjoy a beverage that is either hot or cold, but one that is lukewarm is flat and stale. That’s why the waitress keeps adding hot coffee or fresh iced water to our cups and glasses. Unless something is added from the outside the system decays and dies. Without adding fuel the hot water in the boiler becomes cool; without electricity the cold air in the freezer becomes warm. According to the second law of thermodynamics, a “closed system” will moderate itself, so no more energy is being produced.

The church cannot be a “closed system.” Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Laodicean church was independent, self-satisfied, and secure. “We have need of nothing!” But all the while, their spiritual power had been decaying; their material wealth and glowing statistics were nothing more than grave-clothes hiding a rotting corpse. Their Lord was outside the church, trying to get in (Rev. 3:20).

2. They had lost their values (vv. 17–18a)

In contrast to the church at Smyrna, who thought itself poor when it was really rich (Rev. 2:9), the Laodiceans boasted they were rich, when in fact they were poor. Perhaps we have here a hint of why this church declined spiritually: they had become proud of their ministry and had begun to measure things by human standards instead of by spiritual values. They were, in the eyes of the Lord, “wretched, miserable, and poor.”

Laodicea was a wealthy city and a banking center. Perhaps some of the spirit of the marketplace crept into the church, so their values became twisted. Why is it that so many church bulletins and letterheads show pictures of buildings? Are these the things that are most important to us? The board at the Laodicean church could proudly show you the latest annual report with its impressive statistics, yet Jesus said He was about to vomit them out of His mouth!

The solution? Pay the price to get true “gold refined in the fire.” This suggests the church needed some persecution; they were too comfortable (1 Peter 1:7). Nothing makes God’s people examine their priorities faster than suffering!

3. They had lost their vision (v. 18b)

The Laodiceans were “blind.” They could not see reality. They were living in a fool’s paradise, proud of a church that was about to be rejected. The Apostle Peter teaches when a believer is not growing in the Lord, his spiritual vision is affected (2 Peter 1:5–9). “Diet” has bearing on the condition of one’s eyes, in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one.

These people could not see themselves as they really were. Nor could they see their Lord as He stood outside the door of the church. Nor could they see the open doors of opportunity. They were so wrapped up in building their own kingdom that they had become lukewarm in their concern for a lost world.

What was the solution? Apply the “heavenly eye salve.” The city of Laodicea was noted for its eye salve, but the kind of medication the saints needed was not available in the pharmacy. The eye is one of the body’s most sensitive areas and only the Great Physician can “operate” on it, making it what it ought to be. As He did with the man whose account is told in John 9, He might even irritate before He illuminates! But we must submit to His treatment and then maintain good spiritual “health habits,” so our vision grows keener.

4. They had lost their garments (vv. 17–22)

These Christians thought they were clothed in splendor when they were really naked! To be naked means to be defeated and humiliated (2 Sam. 10:4; Isa. 20:1–4). The Laodiceans could go to the marketplace and purchase fine woolen garments, but that would not meet their real need. They needed the white garments of God’s righteousness and grace. According to Revelation 19:8, we should be clothed in “fine linen, clean and white,” and this symbolizes “the righteous acts of the saints.” Salvation means Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, put to our account; but sanctification means His righteousness is imparted to us, made a part of our character and conduct.

There is no divine commendation given to this church. Of course, the Laodiceans were busy commending themselves! They thought they were glorifying God, when in reality they were disgracing His name just as though they had been walking around naked. The Lord closed this letter with three special statements:

a) Explanation: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19a). He still loved these lukewarm saints, even though their love for Him had grown cold. He planned to chasten them as proof of His love (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–6). God permits churches to go through times of trial so they might become what He wants them to become.

b) Exhortation: “Be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19b). The church at Laodicea had to repent of their pride and humble themselves before the Lord. They had to “stir up that inner fire” (2 Tim. 1:6) and cultivate a burning heart.

c) Invitation: “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. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:20–22). We often use these verses to lead lost people to Christ, but the basic application is to the believer. The Lord was outside the Laodicean church! He spoke to the individual—“if any man”—and not to the whole congregation. He appealed to a small remnant in Sardis (Rev. 3:4–5) and now He appeals to the individual. God can do great things in a church, even through one dedicated individual.

Christ was not impatient. He “knocks” through circumstances and He calls through His Word. What is He appealing? For fellowship and communion. He is appealing for the people’s desire to abide in Him. The Laodiceans were an independent church that had need of nothing, but they were not abiding in Christ and drawing their power from Him. They had a “successful program,” but it was not fruit that comes from abiding in Christ (John 15:1–8). It is only through communion with Christ that we find true victory and become overcomers.

As we have seen in this 5-part message the letters to the seven churches are God’s X rays, given to us so we might examine our own lives and ministries. Judgment is going to come to this world, but it first begins at God’s house (1 Peter 4:17). In these letters, we find encouragement as well as rebuke.

May the Lord help us to hear what the Spirit is saying today to the church and to the individuals in the churches!

Christ and the Churches: Part 4 (Revelation 3:7-13)

Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr.

We are still listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say to the churches. This message from Christ certainly applies to the church today!

Philadelphia, the Faithful Church (Rev. 3:7–13)

As most people know, Philadelphia means “love of the brethren.” Certainly, brotherly love is an important mark of the Christian. We are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9), but it is not enough to love God and our fellow believers; we must also love a lost world and seek to reach unbelievers with the Good News of the Cross. This church had a vision to reach a lost world and God set before them an open door.

Jesus Christ presented Himself to the church as “He that is holy.” Jesus Christ is holy in His character, His words, His actions, and His purposes. As the Holy One, He is uniquely set apart from everything else and nothing can be compared to Him. He is also the One who is “true”—that is, genuine. He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days (1 Cor. 8:5–6), but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God. It is worth noting that when the martyrs in heaven addressed the Lord, they called Him “holy and true” (Rev. 6:10). Their argument was because He was holy, He had to judge sin and because He was true, He had to vindicate His people who had been wickedly slain.

Not only is He holy and true, but He has the authority to open and close doors. The background of this imagery is Isaiah 22:15–25. Assyria had invaded Judah (as Isaiah had warned), but the Jewish leaders were trusting Egypt, not God, to deliver the nation. One of the treacherous leaders was a man named Shebna who had used his office, not for the good of the people, but for his own private gain. God saw to it that Shebna was removed from office and that a faithful man, Eliakim, was put in his place and given the keys of authority. Eliakim was a picture of Jesus Christ, a dependable administrator of the affairs of God’s people.

In the New Testament, an “open door” speaks of opportunity for ministry (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). Christ is the Lord of the harvest and the Head of the church, and it is He who determines where and when His people will serve (Acts 16:6–10). He gave the church at Philadelphia a great opportunity for ministry. But could they take advantage of it? There were at least two obstacles to overcome.

The first was their own lack of strength (Rev. 3:8). Apparently, this was not a large or a strong church; however, it was a faithful one. They were true to God’s Word and unafraid to bear His name. Revelation 3:10 suggests they had endured some special testing and had proved faithful. It is not the size or strength of a church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord. God’s commandments are God’s enablements. If Jesus Christ gave them an open door, then He would see to it that they were able to walk through it!

The second obstacle they had to overcome was the opposition of the Jews in the city (Rev. 3:9). Of course, this was really the opposition of Satan, for we do not battle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). These people may have been Jews in the flesh, but they were not “true Israel” in the New Testament sense (Rom. 2:17–29). Jewish people certainly have a great heritage, but it is no guarantee of salvation (Matt. 3:7–12; John 8:33).

How were these Jews opposing the church at Philadelphia? For one thing, by excluding Jewish believers from the synagogue. Another weapon was probably false accusation, for this is the way the unbelieving Jews often attacked Paul. Satan is the accuser and he uses even religious people to assist him (Rev. 12:10). It is not easy to witness for Christ when the leading people in the community are spreading lies about you. The church at Smyrna faced the same kind of opposition (Rev. 2:9).

The believers in Philadelphia were in a similar situation to that of Paul when he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:9—there were both opportunities and obstacles! Unbelief sees the obstacles; faith sees the opportunities! Since the Lord holds the keys, He is in control of the outcome! Nobody can close the doors as long as He keeps them open. Fear, unbelief, and delay have caused the church to miss many God-given opportunities.

The Savior gave three wonderful and encouraging promises to this church. First, He would take care of their enemies (Rev. 3:9). One day, these people would have to acknowledge the Christians were right! (Isa. 60:14; Phil. 2:10–11) If we take care of God’s work, He will take care of our battles.

Second, He would keep them from Tribulation (Rev. 3:10). This is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation John described in Revelation 6–19, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” This is not speaking about some local trial because it involves “them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The immediate reference would be to the official Roman persecutions that would come, but the ultimate reference is to the Tribulation that will encompass the earth before Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. In many Bible scholars’ understanding, Revelation 3:10 is a promise that the church will not go through the Tribulation, but will be taken to heaven before it begins (1 Thes. 4:13–5:11).

The third promise to the Philadelphians is God would honor them (Rev. 3:12). The symbolism in this verse would be especially meaningful to people who lived in constant danger of earthquakes: the stability of the pillar, no need to go out or to flee, a heavenly city that nothing could destroy. Ancient cities often honored great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed on them. God’s pillars are not made of stone because there is no temple in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:22). His pillars are faithful people who bear His name for His glory (Gal. 2:9).

In a very real sense the church today is like the Philadelphian church. God has set before us many open doors of opportunity. If He opens the doors, we must work; if He shuts the doors, we must wait. Above all, we must be faithful to Him and see the opportunities, not the obstacles. If we miss our opportunities, we lose our rewards (crowns) and this means being ashamed before Him when He comes (1 John 2:28).

In Part 5, we will look at Christ’s message to the church at Laodicea, the lukewarm church.

Christ and the Churches: Part 3 (Revelation 3:1-6)

Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr.

Churches are people and human nature has not changed. As we continue our study, we must not look on these letters as ancient relics. On the contrary, they are mirrors in which we see ourselves!

Sardis, the Feeble Church (Rev. 3:1–6)

Sad to say the city at that time was but a shadow of its former splendor and the church, unfortunately, had become like the city—it was alive in name only. The message to Sardis is a warning to all “great churches” that are living on past glory. Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the “monument” stage.

But there was still hope! There was hope because Christ was the Head of the church and He was able to bring new life. He described Himself as the one possessing the seven Spirits and the seven stars. There is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4), but the number seven demonstrates fullness and completeness. The Holy Spirit gives life to the church and life is exactly what the people at Sardis needed. The sevenfold Spirit of God is pictured as seven burning lamps (Rev. 4:5) and as seven all-seeing eyes (Rev. 5:6).

All of the church’s man-made programs can never bring life, any more than a circus can resurrect a corpse. The church was born when the Spirit of God descended on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and its life comes from the Spirit. When the Spirit is grieved the church begins to lose life and power. When sin is confessed and church members get right with God and with each other, then the Spirit infuses new life—revival!

Christ also controls the seven stars, the messengers of the churches (Rev. 1:20), referring most likely to the pastors. Sometimes, it is a pastor’s fault that a church is dying and the Lord of the church must remove the star and put another in his place.

The problem in the Sardis church was not heresy, but spiritual death. The church was infested with sin. Its deeds were evil and its clothes soiled. The Lord has no words of commendation for this church, which looked so good on the outside, but was so corrupt on the inside. Nor is there any mention of opposition or persecution. The church would have been better off had there been some suffering because it had grown comfortable and content, and was living on its past reputation. There was reputation without reality, form without force. Like the city itself the church at Sardis gloried in past splendor, but ignored present decay.

In fact, even what they did have was about to die! Why? Because the believers had gone to sleep. It is when the church’s leaders and members get accustomed to their blessings and complacent about their ministry that the enemy finds his way in.

The assembly in Sardis was not aggressive in its witness to the city. There was no persecution because there was no invasion of the enemy’s territory. No friction usually means no motion! The unsaved in Sardis saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable. They were decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry.

Our Lord’s counsel to the church began with, “Be watchful! Wake up!” (Rom. 13:11) The people were asleep! The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong. When an organism is alive, there is growth, repair, reproduction, and power; if these elements are lacking in a church, then that church is either dying or already dead.

The Lord warned the Ephesian saints He would come and remove their lampstand if they did not repent (Rev. 2:5). He warned the church at Pergamos He would come and make war with the sword of the Spirit (Rev. 2:16). If the believers at Sardis did not follow His orders, He would come as a thief, when they least expected Him; and this would mean judgment.

However, a remnant of dedicated people often exists in even a dying church. The Christians at Sardis had life, even though it was feeble. They were working, even though their works were not all they could have been. The Lord admonished them to strengthen what remained and not to give up because the church was weak. Where there is life, there is hope!

What was different about this dedicated remnant? They had not defiled their garments (Rev. 3:4). The remnant in the church at Sardis had not compromised with the pagan society around them, nor had they grown comfortable and complacent. It was this devoted spiritual remnant that held the future of the church’s ministry.

“Wake up! Be watchful! Repent! Remember the Word you have received and obey it!” This is the formula for revival. It is good to guard our spiritual heritage, but we must not embalm it. It is not enough to be true to the faith and have a great history. That faith must produce life and works.

Is there a warning here that a true believer might lose his salvation? I don’t think so. Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 suggest the names of the saved are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world—that is, before they had done anything good or bad. By God’s grace, they have been chosen in Christ before the beginning of time (Eph. 1:4; Matt. 25:34). They are enrolled in heaven because they have been born again (Heb. 12:23) and no matter how disobedient a child may be, he or she cannot be “unborn.”

The warning here is that we not grow comfortable in our churches, lest we find ourselves slowly dying. The encouragement is that no church is beyond hope as long as there is a remnant in it, willing to strengthen the things that remain.

In Part 4, we will look at Christ’s message to the church at Philadelphia, the faithful church.

Before we say, “Here I am. Send me.” – A reflection on Isaiah 1-6.

Sim Chen Xing  November 21, 2019

Preparation is important. Answering God’s call when we are uncertain of our faith and when we have no knowledge of the world we live in might bring unnecessary harm to the work of the gospel.

Just to be clear, when God called Isaiah to “go for Him” (ref: Isaiah 6:8), the message God had for Isaiah was to tell the people that they will not be healed (ref: Isaiah 6:9-10). It was a message of judgement not blessing. It was a message of terror, not well-being. It was a message of destruction, not prosperity. It was not the gospel.

Sure, you might argue that the sign of the coming Messiah was mentioned in Isaiah chapter 7, but that’s not the point, is it? We have got to understand the context behind why the message was given to Isaiah at that particular instance. To understand this, we must relook the first five chapters of Isaiah.

Background of Isaiah’s Visions

Isaiah started off his book by stating that Israel does not know God (ref: Isaiah 1:3). Israel has persisted in rebellion and had been severely injured as a result. Yet, God in His unwavering love cared for her and pleaded with her to repent (ref: Isaiah 1:5-6Isaiah 1:18-20Matthew 23:37). Though outwardly the people are worshipping God, they were legalistic in their approach, ritualizing their worship so that they appear outwardly righteous but are inwardly full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Ref: Isaiah 1:11-17Matthew 23:27-28). So God reasoned for them with a way out. He will provide them with a way out and will thoroughly purge away their sins and have all their impurities removed. Though their sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. He will restore them as in their days of old; glorifying them to be called “the City of Righteousness” and “the Faithful City” (ref: Isaiah 1:18-1925-27).

At this, God continued to show Isaiah the future event that is to come: the gathering of the nations at the mountain of the Lord where people will learn the ways of the Lord so that they will walk in His paths (ref: Isaiah 2:3). There will be a Unified Kingdom in the last days whose goal is to provide the welfare for the entire world and to submit to the authority of God (ref: Isaiah 2:4). At this, Isaiah invites the house of Jacob, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (ref: Isaiah 2:5).

But not everything was peaches and cream. Judgement must be done to humble the proud. All that humanity built will be destroyed and all idols will disappear (ref: Isaiah 2:82:12-18) when the dread of the Lord and the splendour of His Majesty shakes the earth (ref: Isaiah 2:102:21). He will do these through the creation of loopholes in governmental systems, allowing immature boys to rule over them; children to govern them (ref: Isaiah 3:4). Immaturity and bad management will cause oppression amongst the people and consequently, the failure to respect elders (ref: Isaiah 3:5). Policymakers will go from house to house to pick people who will lead them, not knowing that the nation has already been thrown into chaos and no one is capable of leadership (ref: Isaiah 3:6-7).

However, the people were not repentant. They continue their pride parades and their marches for “freedom” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). They do not know the Lord. So the Lord let them enjoy the fruit of their labour — youths oppress the people and women rule over them (ref: Isaiah 3:12).

Now God takes His seat and judges the people saying that “it is you who have ruined my vineyard”. The people have plundered the poor, crushing the people, and grinding the faces of the poor (ref: Isaiah 3:14-15). The women were prideful in their actions, using their newfound stature and wealth to flirt with men around them (ref: Isaiah 3:16-17), so the Lord will take all of these away (ref: Isaiah 3:18-24), wipe out the men in battle (ref: Isaiah 3:25), and reinstate within them the desire to be loved (ref: Genesis 3:16). On that day, these women will look for love and it will not be found, they’ll desire a home but it will not be given (ref: Isaiah 4:1).

The days of darkness will not be long, though. The branch of the Lord will grow and be beautiful and glorious. The fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors. All who remain faithful will be called Holy. God will wash away all our sins and cleanse our wounds by the Spirit of Judgement and the Spirit of Fire. He will personally lead His people by a cloud of smoke and a flaming fire. It will be a shelter for the people from the heat of the day and a refuge and hiding place from storm and rain (ref: Isaiah 4:2-6).

The vision could have stopped here. But God continued to express His love and exasperation for His Creation. He’s planted a vineyard – a vineyard whom He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:1-2Matthew 21:33). But the tenants caused it to yield only bad fruits (ref: Isaiah 5:2-4). So, in His anger, God vowed to destroy the vineyard of the One He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:5-7). He will bring about judgement to those who cared only for themselves rather than the work of God’s hands (ref: Isaiah 5:8-12), humbling them and exalting Himself through His justice when He shows Himself by His righteousness (Isaiah 5:15-16). Judgement in the form of man-made and natural disasters will happen on the surface of the earth till the entire planet is covered with smoke and the light of the sun cannot pass through (ref: Isaiah 5:30).

It was on this note that God revealed His heavenly position to Isaiah. It was only after all of these visions that Isaiah saw God seated, high and exalted, on His throne (ref: Isaiah 6:1). It was on this note when Isaiah penned down the famous vision we can all memorise. It was on this note when God called out, “who can I send?” It was on this note when Isaiah replied, “here I am. Send me.”

How are Isaiah’s Visions applicable to us in modernity?

Understanding Isaiah’s vision will give us a clearer understanding of the world we live in today. We know this because contextual prophecies in the Bible will never be a one-time off thing. When God shows us a certain societal trend in the form of a vision or a prophecy, it’ll have an immediate fulfilment as well as a future (or repeated) occurrence. After all, nothing is new under the sun (ref: Ecclesiastes 1:9). That said, I’m proposing that all of the prophecies concerning societal trends that were the result of sins are applicable to modern times.

For example, when God makes boys the people’s officials and mere children their governments (ref: Isaiah 3:4), we might relate it to how meritocracy allows people who excel in their studies to take up high ranking positions in the civil services. The young will rise up against the old (ref: Isaiah 3:5), resulting in a form of oppression that was never expected in the two or three generations that preceded them. When considering how people rise up against one another to oppress each other, have we considered how chaotic the world is? Like Hong Kong in its current state? Consider also how “women rule over people” (ref: Isaiah 3:12). Doesn’t this sound like feminism? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposing equality. I’m just opposing the ruling over part. It’s feminism on drugs that led to women being “haughty” (ref: Isaiah 3:16). How about LGBT pride parades? How about arts and entertainment productions that glorify detestable behaviours in the sight of God? “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). How about capitalism at the expense of oppressing the poor? “Woe to them who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left. They live alone in the land” (ref: Isaiah 5:8). They will be brought low and humbled (ref: Isaiah 5:15).

What does that mean to us?

Knowing these gives us the awareness of God’s calling. It gives us the awareness of the gravity of God’s calling. It reminds us that we are “a person of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips” (ref: Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah was reminded that he was in a way or another, related to all the people that he saw in the visions earlier. And this realisation caused him to repent for the fear of the Lord. He realised that he’s not worthy to be where he was and he could have died standing before the face of the Lord.

Isaiah had the contextual knowledge for the call that was placed ahead of him. He’s seen it, not just through the vision, but through his daily living. He’s evaluated the society as he knew it and must have prayed for it on a daily basis. It is through this knowledge and the assurance that his sins (past, present, and future) were atoned for that he so willingly replied, “Here I am. Send me!”

Likewise, having the contextual knowledge of God’s call gives us a perspective of the severity of the work that is laid before us. It prepares us psychologically for what is ahead of us, allowing us to plan our moves according to the nature of the message and the knowledge we have gained about our audiences. On top of this, we are to ensure that we are sure of our faith. We need to rest on the assurance that our sins, however large, were atoned for. If we are uncertain of what God had done for us, how can we lead people into the faith? If we are uncertain of our future, how can we speak of life eternal?

In all that we do, we must know that we are representing a living and loving God who is always longing for the return of humanity back to His Arms. From the very beginning until our current day and age, He has never given up on us. But because of sins, the mystery of existence will be hidden from the people we are tasked to speak to. They will hear and never understand, see and never perceive. Are we ready to preach the Word knowing we will face all sorts of obstacles? Are we ready to preach the Word with such cultural sensitivity that we speak not to the person but to his spirit?

I think, before we say, “Here I am. Send me,” we will need to ask ourselves if we have seen all that Isaiah saw. Are we assured of our eternal salvation in Christ? Don’t dive into deep waters without knowing what is in store for us.

Are we ready?

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
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