Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Does God spit lukewarm Christians out of His mouth?



In the first few chapters of the book of Revelation we find God addressing seven different churches that were active during that day. God had a certain message for each church, but the most concerning message for many Christians throughout history has often been the message God gave to the church at a city called Laodicea.

In this blog I want to take a moment to explain exactly what I think God was trying to say when He gave His message to the Laodiceans and see how the wisdom of this passage applies to our lives today. The beginning of this passage goes like this:

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!" (Revelation 3:14-15)

Here we find God, our "faithful and true witness" giving His message to the "angel of the church in Laodicea." Now some have jumped to the conclusion that these messages were given directly to the church members in Laodicea, and I believe the message was certainly intended for the members of the Laodicean church, but the passage shows that the message was given directly to the "angel of the church in Laodicea." Now the Greek word for "angel" in this verse means literally "messenger," and the most reasonable understanding of this passage over the centuries has been that the angel was to be taken as the primary human leader or "messenger" of that particular church (similar to our modern day pastors and elders), not an actual angel. So it's safe to conclude that God was addressing the church leadership, who would in turn make personal adjustments, and then address the church.

It's worth noting that in this passage God's demonstrates His perfect wisdom through a timeless principle, that in order for the church to grow, leadership has to grow first. Another point that we need to take into consideration is that God specifically directed this message to the "messenger" of the church in Laodicea. This implies that He intended for this message to be given to the church members as well. I think the fact that God addressed this message specifically to church leadership first, exemplifies the importance of leadership leading by example. If the message were to be given to the members of the church without the leadership being responsive to its content, the church would most likely revert back to the way it was before the message was given.

The first remark that God makes to the church in Laodicea is that they "were neither hot nor cold." I have often heard this verse to be interpreted in a religious sense. That is, to be hot means to be doing all the right things and to be cold means doing all the wrong things, but I don't think this is exactly what it being said. What God is sternly addressing here is an attitude of indifference toward Him and His gospel. Let's take a further look at this:

"So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:16-17)

So what was powering this attitude of indifference toward God and the gospel in Laodicea? It was wealth, prosperity, and the riches of this world. The Laodiceans had allowed the material things of this world to put them in bondage to a self-gratifying attitude. This bondage was causing them to take on an attitude of indifference toward God and the gospel. Now let's define indifferent in a detailed manner. Indifferent means to be marked by impartiality, believing a thing is of no importance or value one way or the other, indifference is marked by no special liking for or dislike of something, it's marked by a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern for something (Webster’s dictionary).

So the Laodiceans had come to a point in which they were no longer actively pursuing the call of advancing the great commission or actively pursuing God at all, but they also were not actively prohibiting others from the advancing of the great commission or seeking God either, they were simply involving themselves in their own personal ambitions in an attempt to achieve self-gratification. I'm sure the Laodiceans thought of themselves as blessed Christians who had attained a state of favor with God, but Jesus had a stern rebuke for them in exposing that they were pursuing life, liberty, and happiness through worldly wealth. Does this sound like a familiar group of people? I admit that this sin is found among many of God's people around the world, but I contend that America has fallen into this trap more than any other nation of modern times.

God is saying that there is no middle ground when it comes to His calling. We need to either be pursuing His will for our lives if we love Him, or not be associated with Him at all if we are only pretending to love Him. It's a grave transgression to profess Christianity without actually demonstrating its power in your everyday life. Christ likens it to lukewarm water that causes a nauseating feeling; He is disgusted by an indifferent believer to the point in which He stands ready to take harsh action against them. I think that God goes to the extent of saying "I will spit you out of my mouth" because He realizes the repercussions of pursuing self-interests and wants to express how seriously He will have to deal with us in order to get us back on track, as Paul wrote "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10)." Does this mean thst we will lose their salvation when we go astray? Not necessarily. When God said He will spit them out of His mouth He was using an analogy to express His disgust at their attitudes, it's unlikely that God was somehow saying that to be "in His mouth" means to be saved and to be "out of His mouth" means not to be saved. What it does mean is that there will be consequences for our actions when we become indifferent, and the discipline God gives us will not be pleasant in the least bit.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:18-19)

These two verses give us hope for when we have strayed off of the path of pursuing God's purpose for our life. Christ stands ready to forgive us and fill us with true joy in His presence if we repent. Here God makes a statement that helps the Laodiceans realize that the "riches" they are pursuing are not the true riches of a life in Him. They had left the elementary truth of scripture that says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:20)." How pitiful we must look to God when we are investing ourselves in a primary goal of attaining wealth in this life. As God gazes upon us from eternity it breaks His heart to see us missing out on the true treasure that He wants to bestow on us at the resurrection. This is what I believe compelled God to rebuke the Laodiceans in the manner that He did saying, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17)." As God sees us from eternity, we are most poverty stricken when we spend our life away pursuing things that will eventually be destroyed when Christ replaces the current universe with a new Heaven and a new Earth.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:20-22)

In this final group of verses Christ makes two explicit and encouraging promises. First, if the Laodiceans repent of their indifference and self-ambition He will reestablish His communion with them. When we get caught off into a pattern of sin, it breaks our fellowship with God. When we sin it does not cause us to lose our status as God's children, but we do lose the unmatchable privilege of communing with God whom we were created to love, and this is a miserable state. Second, God promises that if the Laodiceans conquer this situation of sin and move on totally, that He will grant them a special privilege in eternity. This goes along with what we discussed in the prior paragraph about "storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:20)." Christ affirms a gracious truth to the Laodiceans, that He still loves them and desires to bless them with true blessings despite what they had done to sin against Him.

This message to the Laodiceans applies to many Christians in various points of their lives, including myself. We need to avoid foolishly pursuing worldly wealth and prestige, and embrace the wisdom of living a life that is FOR God and His purposes. By this we store up for ourselves true riches and treasure that will last for eternities to come. Being hot, rather than lukewarm, primarily means to realize and embrace the greatness of living a life surrendered totally to Jesus, a life committed to seeking Him and pursuing His will, which is spreading the gospel. We live in such a way that the great commission takes precedence over all other ambitions we may be tempted to pursue. This means devoting our time to using our spiritual gifts to strengthen and cause greater health to the body of Christ, which is God’s tool to reach the world. If you are reading this I hope you will take some time to look into yourself and ask God to reveal where you need to grow, make adjustments, get more involved in seeking Him, and participate in His body to advance to the great commission. I can tell you that studying this passage has caused me to do some introspection myself. I pray that God will give you true riches and stir up the flame of His love deep within your heart! May God bless you and keep you in all that you do!

Written by: Kyle Bailey, M.Th.

For more inspirational content SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel.

photo credit to: http://deliverawaydebt.com/debt/discipline-your-way-out-of-debt/

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Is it ok to let your kids believe in Santa Claus?


"A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head, soon led me to know I had nothing to dread."-Twas' the Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore

As a kid I was taught that Santa Claus was going to bring me the presents I wished for on Christmas morning. I watched movies and cartoons about Santa riding his sleigh with gifts to give to all of the children around the world. Some of the stories depicted Santa as giving coal to bad kids and toys to good kids and I was told jokingly by my parents that I would "receive coal if I was bad," but it was never made to be a serious threat. Up until around the age of seven I really believed that Santa magically came down the chimney and left presents for my brothers and I, and it never caused me to have any resentment toward my parents for telling me he was real. I saw it as my parents wanting to give me a fun Christmas adventure, a magical experience that my brothers and I could use our imagination with. As I learned that Santa was not real, I still pretended he would come each year just to have fun with the tradition, I learned that ultimately Christmas was about Jesus.

As I became an adult and had three sons of my own I began to ask myself what I should tell my children about Santa Claus. After all, the memories of believing in him were fond and magical for my own childhood. I decided to be honest with my kids about who Saint Nicholas is, a generous man who died long ago. Knowing how fun it was to expect gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas morning I also decided to allow my kids to "pretend" he was real. I explained that Santa is not alive anymore but we can still believe in him for fun. This gives them a chance to use their imagination and enjoy the suspense of going to sleep awaiting presents on Christmas Eve. I may joke around about Santa bringing my kids coal if they are bad but it's all in fun, I make sure they don't take me seriously and they ultimately will know the gifts came from Mom and Dad. As of now I have an oldest son of six, a younger son of two, and a youngest son of one. My oldest son already knows that Santa is not real but pretends he is for fun, my two year old isn't old enough to explain Santa to yet so he just believes in Santa for the moment, and of course my youngest son is just having fun pulling ornaments off of the Christmas tree and unplugging the Christmas lights from time to time, so we'll talk to him about Santa later.

One point I would make to start would be the issue of allowing Christmas to become all about Santa. I think we are missing out on a powerful opportunity to teach our children reverence for Jesus if we allow our Christmas to be centered primarily on Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and the others. A good question to ask ourselves around Christmas time is "how often have I mentioned the birth of Christ over Santa this Christmas?" It may be prudent to have a special tradition of some sort in which you share the story of Christ's birth with your children during the Christmas season, and echo that sentiment throughout the weeks leading into Christmas. Each year we visit a local nativity scene and take time to tell our kids (mostly my oldest son, and my two year old) what Christmas is really about. I make it a point to differentiate between the "cartoon nature" of Santa, Frosty, and the others, and the reality of Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh and has literally been resurrected from the dead. If we make it a point to do this early on it will be beneficial in guarding our children from placing Jesus in the "cartoon category" as the others are. We want them to know that God is real and He is actively pursuing their obedience and faith throughout life.

An interesting thing you can do regarding Santa Claus is to explain who Saint Nicholas really is. According to most historical traditions, Saint Nicholas was a man who lived sometime between 300-400 a.d. He was renowned for being a cheerful giver. According to tradition Saint Nicholas lost his parents at a very young age and he received a large inheritance. Instead of using the money for his own selfish interests he was said to have bought many gifts for children around his community. There is also a very moving tale surrounding one occurrence of generosity in which Saint Nicholas is purported to have paid the wedding dowry for a few women who were facing the possibility of being sold into slavery if they we unable to raise the funds. Knowing this, it is easy to see the reason why the Catholic Church canonized Nicholas as a "saint" (although Biblically we are all "Saints" through trusting the work of Christ on the Cross). Over time the mythology of what many believe to be Germanic and Dutch folklore began to be weaved into the story of Saint Nicholas. This is where the magical aspects of the story such as Santa "coming down the chimney," "traveling through the sky," "being assisted by multiple elves to build toys," etc. came from. For more information on the development of our modern Santa tradition visit: http://pastormark.tv/2011/12/21/who-was-saint-nicholas

Many Christian bloggers have gone to great lengths to demonize Santa and speculate as to why Santa should be "exorcised" from society as a pagan folklore invented by godless heathen. They argue that Santa is stealing glory from the Lord during the Christmas season, and in many respects that may be true, but demonizing him will not cause people to disown him. I would like to take another approach. Perhaps we should tell the real story, a story of a generous man who is believed to be a Christian from the early 300's. The truth will set us free, speculating as to whether Santa is of demonic origin will not. Most people realize that 99.9% of Americans who follow the Santa Claus tradition do not do so to affirm the beliefs of ancient pagan societies, even if some of the aspects of our modern Santa figure bears similarity to some pagan myths. If anything, Santa can prove to be a distraction to the real meaning of Christmas if we are not careful, which is Christ and His generosity. Giving is founded upon the greatest gift ever given in all of history, which is Christ as the payment for our sins. It would be wise to draw the parallel between the giving nature of the historical Saint Nicholas, and the source from which people are inspired to be generous. That source is our wonderful Father God who gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16).

So, is it ok to let your kids believe in Santa Claus? The answer is yes, Saint Nicolas was a real man! But should we teach our kids that Santa is still alive? No! It's always safer to be honest with your kids so that the foundation of trust is there for other things you tell them. Most kids do not resent their parents for telling them that Santa is real, but the principle of honesty will ensure that resentment is off the table for good, and from a Christian perspective we are to avoid lying in order to exemplify Christ who never lied. The real Saint Nicholas is an example of what we should do with the possessions that God gives us. Saint Nicholas prioritized giving to others who had less than he did, and that attitude resembles God. Is it bad that your kids want to use their imagination to have fun at Christmas time? No! But let's be careful to instill the true meaning of Christmas, making the reality of Christ of utmost importance. Is it bad for our kids to watch Santa Claus movies or movies about other Christmas characters? No! But let's make sure that we incorporate movies and stories that instill the reality of Jesus into the hearts and minds of our children. We need to explain that Jesus is not a cartoon; He is the One true God who loves them dearly, and Santa is a holiday traditon based around a man who died long ago. Jesus is alive and He interacts with us in a tangible way! He pours out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit! He redeems us from sin, He gives us both material and spiritual gifts, He gives us wisdom in life, He gives us hope, joy,  life, love and so much more! Santa isn't a threat if we learn to tell the real story about Saint Nick's generousity, but Santa becomes even less of an issue if we prioritize the realest story, the story of Jesus, our God, King, Savior, and Friend. God bless, and have a very Merry Christmas!

Written by: Kyle Bailey, M.Th.

For more inspirational content SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel.