Welcome to Leaving LaodiceaThe Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church
As the Christmas season is winding down, it would be appropriate for us to look at the greatest gift we have ever received from the greatest Person we have ever known— our Lord, and to give Him praise for that wondrous gift. And for me, I find that gift revealed to me in Colossians.
Let’s look at this gift together.
No Longer Alienated and Enemies of the Lord
The Scriptures say that I, and all who are called by His name, are no longer “alienated and enemies” of the Lord. Look at this marvelous gift found in Colossians 1:21-22:
And you (your name), who once were (past tense) alienated (apallotrióō – to estrange, alienate entirely) and enemies (echthrós – hatred, hostility, enmity) in your mind by (what) wicked works, yet now (present tense) He (Christ’s actions) has reconciled (apokatallássō – the restoration of a relationship of peace which has been disturbed) in the body of His flesh (how) through death, (why) to present (paristánō – to cause to stand near or before) you (your name) holy (hágios – set apart, sanctified, consecrated, a saint), and blameless (ámōmos – unblameable, without spot or blemish) and above reproach (anégklētos –unreproveable, not merely unaccusable but unaccused, free from any legal charge) in His sight (presence, before His face).
But there is more. He keeps us from stumbling and presents us faultless before His glory. Amazing. Read it yourself in Jude 1:24.
Now to Him (Christ) who is able to keep you (your name) from stumbling (áptaistos – falling), and to present you (your name) faultless (where) before the presence of His glory (how) with exceeding joy (agallíasis – extreme exultation, exuberant joy),
And how do we respond to this incredible gift? Read the next verse.
To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.
I pray you will begin the next year with the same praise and passion for your Lord that you ended the last one. And you can do that by realizing what a great God we serve and what a great gift He has given us in His Son. Will you join with me in exalting His Name? Then keep listening.
One of the major failures of the church today is to downplay the place of Christ when we come together to worship. Yes, you heard right. We, hopefully unknowingly, often relegate Christ to the back pew or the second chair. And who do we elevate in His place? Usually the pastor or, often, the worship leader.
And when we come together as a church we have a tendency to preach on the “what’s” and “why’s” of the Scripture and seldom the “how’s”. Think about it. We know we are commanded to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” ( ), but are never told exactly how to do that. Did you ever wonder why?
We are commanded to “walk according to the Spirit” ( ), yet are never instructed on how to do that. We know what it means and why it’s important. But for some reason, our pastors fail to take our hands and show us exactly how to accomplish this command. Why?
Is it because practical Christianity is not in vogue today? Or could it be we have become a church made up of those who can tell us what to do but have never experienced it themselves? Are we more like cowboys driving cattle from the rear than a shepherd leading from the front?
What are we to do?
Seven Things the Church Failed to Teach Me
Recently I was reading a blog that shared these seven things the author said the church never taught him. And I couldn’t agree more. Consider the following:
- How to practically live by the Christ who dwells inside me.
- How to practically learn how to hear the Lord’s voice beyond “pray and read your Bible.”
- That church-as-we-know-it is drastically different from church-as-God-would-have-it.
- What the gospel of the kingdom is and how radically it can alter a human life.
- How deep the tentacles of the world system go and how to break free from them.
- That God’s presence is extremely subtle most of the time.
- How to find Christ in the Scriptures, including the entire Old Testament.
So in 2019, I have committed to teach the church I pastor the “how’s” of the Christian faith and to answer these, and other, practical questions about living for Him. Will you join with me as we explore the breathtaking view of our Lord together?
The following are a few 2019 Bible Reading Plans from various sources. Make a commitment today to faithfully read the Scriptures more next year than you did this last year.
After all, the mantra “no pain, no gain” also applies to spiritual disciplines.
Genesis Through Revelation Bible Reading Plan
Read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with daily readings of three to four chapters. From www.heartlight.org.
52 Week Bible Reading Plan
Read through the Bible in a year with daily readings from the Epistles, the Law, History, Psalms, Poetry (Job, Proverbs, etc.), Prophecy, and the Gospels. From www.bible-reading.com.
Chronological Bible Reading Plan
Read through the Bible in chronological order. This is one of my favorites. From www.esv.org.
Duration: One year | Download: PDF
Historical Bible Reading Plan
The Old Testament readings are much like the order found in Israel’s Hebrew Bible and the New Testament readings are in the order in which the books were written. From www.blueletterbible.org.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan
This is the classic M’Cheyne Bible reading calendar that will let you read the New Testament and Psalms twice and the Old Testament once. From www.edginet.org.
5 Day Bible Reading Program
Read through the Bible in a year with readings five days a week. From www.BibleClassMaterial.com.
For a little Christmas cheer, I’ve listed below the latest actual pastor criticisms from church members. And a special thanks to Thom Rainer for these.
- “You didn’t send me a thank you note for my thank you note.” Thank you.
- “You are too happy!” I’ll make a point of being a total grump around you.
- “I will leave the church if you don’t put tissue seat covers in the bathrooms!” Please flush on the way out.
- “I would be happy to take your wife to the store to help her select some appropriate clothes.” Please do, but don’t return.
- “I guess I have to die to get you to wear a suit and tie to church again.” The pastor did so the next Sunday. He’s waiting on the member to hold up his end of the deal.
- “Every sermon you preach is better than the next one.” Thank you . . . no, wait.
- “Why do we have to follow something an apostle wrote 2,000 years ago?” Yep, that Bible is overrated.
- “The VBS hot dogs are too cheap.” What? We got them at LifeWay!
- “You don’t tell enough jokes when you preach.” Yes, I do. I mentioned your name in my last sermon.
- “You need to stop talking about making disciples.” Yes, that criticism came from an elder.
- “When you changed the name from Sunday school to small groups, you took Jesus and the Bible out of the church!” I agree. Read Hezekiah 4:11.
- “You didn’t give good advice about the family vacuum.” Now, that’s important.
- “I heard you are going to cancel Christmas.” Yes, I consulted with the Grinch.
- “I don’t like the color of your beard hair.” Thank you. I plan to dye it pink.
- “Your hair color is too dark for someone in your profession.” Don’t worry. The more I hear from you, the grayer it gets.
- “Just because it’s in the Bible, you don’t have to talk about it.” I try to be selective.
- “Your wife used the wrong spoon in the coleslaw at the church social.” Thank you. She has agreed to be in timeout from church for one year.
- “We need to throw out the guitar to the streets. The piano is the only instrument that belongs in the church.” Yep, that’s what the Apostle Paul said.
- “You ended a sentence with a preposition in your sermon.” What is this criticism good for?
- “Your pregnant wife is faking morning sickness.” I would be happy for you to watch her throw up.
You can read more of Thom’s church wisdom at his website, www.thomrainer.com.
When we look at the turmoil in the world and the lukewarmness of the church, sometimes it feels natural to get depressed and throw up our hands and see the problem as too big and the solution as too small. We long for others to step up and stand in the gap against the rising tide of sin in our land. And we’ll gladly support those that do. But they seem so few and the enemy seems so many.
What are we to do?
One Man is All God Needs
But there are some encouraging words for us in the Proverbs. Consider the following:
Proverbs 28:2 – Because of the transgression (rebellion) of a land, (result) many are its princes (ruler, official, chieftain); But (what) by (through) a man (one, singular, individual) of understanding (biyn – to discern, to pay careful attention to, to consider diligently) and knowledge (yāḏa) right will be prolonged.
Did you catch that? It only takes one man, one single man of understanding and knowledge for God to prolonger what is right in a land. Just one man. That’s why the Lord continually addresses the remnant in His letters to the church at Thyatira and Sardis.
Revelation 2:24 – “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira (the remnant), as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.”
Revelation 3:4 – “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments (the remnant); and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”
Do you want to be part of the remnant? Do you want to be the man, the single man the Lord can use to change the face of our culture? Do you want to know Him more than you do today? Then keep listening.
The Lord said some rather horrific things about the church at Thyatira. In fact, His words to this sinning church should strike fear in all of us who have leadership positions in our own church. Consider the following:
“Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23).
The Sin of Thyatira
So what was the sin of Thyatira? Was it Jezebel, or the teaching of Jezebel that led God’s people into sin? Or was it the sin itself? Was it the sexual immorality and idolatry the church freely embraced?
No, as sobering as it sounds, the sin in Thyatira was not Jezebel. It was the church, and the leadership of the church, that allowed the teaching of Jezebel into the church. They were asleep at the wheel. There was no watchman on the wall. No guard at the gate of the church. No protective shepherd watching over the sheep. Nothing.
So what does this say about our leadership today that allows all sorts of sin and false teaching into the church just to give the appearance of growth or vitality or acceptance by the culture? What does it say about the prosperity gospel or multi-campus mega-churches or rock concerts disguised as worship experiences? Where do we fit into all of this?
If you are concerned about how this letter to Thyatira applies to the church of today, then keep listening.
Faith is not free. In fact, faith costs everyone associated with it something. No, I’m not talking about saving faith or salvation. But even then, salvation has a cost. It costs Christ His life and the Father His only Son. And it costs each of us who embrace saving faith the one thing we hold most dear. Us. Salvation costs each of us who we are.
But the faith we are talking about is the Hebrews 11 kind of faith. It’s the faith defined as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). It’s the faith that made the notable men of the Scripture, notable. And it’s the faith that helps us answer the why questions in life.
The Why Questions
Why does God allow bad things to happen to people who love Him?
Why does God allow innocent babies to die?
Why does God allow drug addiction and abortion and rape and child abuse and starvation and disease?
Why, oh why, oh why?
Get the point? But having the faith to trust God’s answer to these questions will cost you something. Why? Because it costs Abraham and Noah and Jacob and Moses and many, many others what it will cost you to know the truth. Are you willing to understand the cost of faith? Do you want to know the answer to the most troubling questions in the Christian life? If so, then keep listening.
In our Lord’s seven letters to His seven churches, He says both good and bad things about three of the churches (Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira). Two churches have only good things said about them (Smyrna and Philadelphia) and two have only bad (Sardis and Laodicea). And when we look at how these seven letters lay out for us church history in advance, we would assume the church that represents the Medieval church, the church of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church, would have only bad things said about it.
But that’s not what happens. In fact, incredulously, the Lord says some pretty good things about the church at Thyatira, which represents the Catholic church (along with some pretty bad things too). For example:
“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” – Revelation 2:19.
Note this is the first time the Lord commends a church for their love (agape). Love? How can He say that about a church known for corruption, false doctrine and the Inquisition? And then He says the church that represents the Catholic church is actually getting better. After all, our Lord says, “I know your works” and “the last are more than the first.” Really? How can that be?
How can the Lord have anything good to say about a church filled with so much corruption and have nothing good to say about the church (Sardis) that shed their own blood to remove themselves from that corruption? How is that possible? Is there something we’re missing?
I think so. To find out more, keep listening.
Some of the hardest questions in the Christian life have to do with God not answering our prayers— no matter how much we pray or how much faith we can collectively muster. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Why didn’t God do what I prayed He would do? Why doesn’t God love me? Because if He did, He would not have let happen what happened? Where was God during my time of deepest need? I prayed to God for ________ and it did not happen.
Which inevitably leads us to ask this: Why God? Is the problem with me? Am I not doing enough to get my prayers answered? Or is the problem with You? Are You showing favorites and am I on the bottom of Your list? What’s the problem? Help me understand this, God, because this is hurtful and doesn’t make any sense.
You’re Right, It Doesn’t Make Much Sense
And the reason for that is our reliance on Cliff Note theology. We grab a few Scriptures, usually out of context, and hold on to them like a life preserver vainly trying to get them to say something they don’t. Consider these:
1 John 5:14-15 – Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
Did you notice something? The key, according to this verse, is praying “according to His will.” When that happens, badda bing, badda boom, prayers get answered. But when we ask for something not according to the will of God, all bets are off. The answer will be, “Not today, not ever.”
Matthew 18:19 – “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
First, this statement by our Lord has nothing to do with prayer, but with dealing with a sinning believer. And even if it did give us a prescription for prayer, can two people agree for world peace and the end of all wars, and it be a guarantee from the Lord? I think not. Why? Because God has already revealed to us that in the future we “will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). God has already spoken prophetic truth to us and won’t violate His Word because of our prayers.
Do you want to know the reason God often doesn’t answer our prayers? Because the reason will change the way you look at God and prayer from this point forward. If you want to know more, then keep listening.
You want some great advice? Good. Then “do the next right thing.”
When we’re faced with depression, chilling disappointment, or numbing loss, what are we to do? What happens when all our dreams come crashing down around us like Jenga pieces scattered on our dining room floor? What happens when the intimacy we once felt with our Lord evaporates right before our eyes— and we don’t know why? What do we to do when the only voice we hear is our own doubt and paralyzing fear? What happens when our pain compels us to sleep 18 hours a day, and we forget who we are and Who we serve? What are we do to then?
“Do the next right thing?” Simply stumble forward.
Do you realize that if your goal was to run 5 miles and all you could do was stand and then fall flat on your face, eventually you’d get there. One body length at a time. That’s exactly what our Bible heroes of old did. They stood on their feet and did he next right thing. They chose to not doubt in the dark what they believed in the light. After all, truth doesn’t change. But our circumstances do.
What did Moses do when decades passed and it looked like God had forgotten and forsaken Him? He did the next right thing. And remember Elijah, who was struggling with self-doubt and depression to the point he wanted to die. What did God say to him as they met at the mouth of the cave? Essentially this, “Do the next right thing.” How about David when he learned his son was dead due to his own sin with Bathsheba? What did David do? The next right thing.
The Scriptures are full of those, just like you and me, who stumble forward in the dark faithfully doing the next right thing, even when we don’t know why or how. They just did what was right. And they made sure it was the next thing they did. Do you want to know more about putting one step in front of another and doing the next right thing? Then keep listening.
Something About Us
This is a collection of the many questions I have struggled with and the answers I have found regarding the relationship between authentic faith in Christ and much of what is portrayed today as Biblical Christianity. Especially with the coming darkness looming over all of us, including the church.
Come with me. It should be a wild ride!
To find out more about us and what we believe, just continue reading…