Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The message is not, "You need to try harder." No. The message is, "You need Jesus."

Dannah Gresh: When you hit the hard times, that is no time to back off. That is when a woman of faith finds herself in a place of standing in faith, because faith is believing what we can't see.

Mary Kassian: Wrong thinking leads to wrong living. Right thinking leads to right living. Sound doctrine is a critical foundation for living a godly life.

Robyn McKelvy: If you want a godly, Christian home, you want to be sure that you are training your children to understand the entire priority of my life and their lives is Christ.

Susan Hunt: My confidence is, even if I outlive my love for Jesus, I will never outlive His love for me.

Betsy Gómez: Hope in Jesus. Set your affections on things above. Let eternity be the fountain for your identity.

Dámaris Carbaugh: Why am I doing it? Is the underlying desire behind everything I say and everything I do that you would think more of Jesus?

Leslie: Your small group can walk through Titus 2:1–5 with these women when you get the Adorned Small Group Kit. Each week you’ll watch one of these speakers give a twenty-minute talk on DVD. You’ll also have discussion questions to follow and some follow-up questions to help you dig into Titus 2. This would be a meaninguful study for your group to embark on. Get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Wednesday, November 15, 2017.

It seems like everyone has an opinion about problems in the Church, but you really only need to listen to one person—Jesus. He knows what the Church needs. Nancy’s been exploring His messages to the churches that launched the book of Revelation.

Today she begins the final series in that study. It’s called, "What This Church Needs."

Nancy: You’ve probably heard about some department stores that hire mystery shoppers. You know what those are? They come in and nobody knows that they’re really working for this company that’s checking out how things are going in that store and checking on the employees and whether the right practices are taking place.

Restaurants do this. They bring in undercover diners to rate their food and their service; they’re mystery diners.

Well, I read an article not too long ago from the Wall Street Journal about a mystery worshiper. It’s about a man named Thomas Harrison who’s a former pastor from Tulsa who is a professional mystery worshiper. The article said,

Mr. Harrison poses as a first-time churchgoer and covertly evaluates everything from the cleanliness of the bathrooms to the strength of the sermon. This summer Mr. Harrison scoured a mega-church in Cedarhill, Texas and jotted down a laundry list of imperfections: a water stain on the ceiling, a stuffy odor in the children's area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink, and a sullen greeter who failed to say "good morning" before the worship service.

Pastors say that mystery worshipers like Mr. Harrison offer insight into how newcomers judge churches—a critical measure at a time when mainline denominations continue to shed members and nearly half of American adults switch religious affiliations.

Mr. Harrison grades the churches on a wide range of categories, and he uses a colored-light system [in these different categories to say how the church is doing].

Green means you’re doing a good job. Yellow means caution; there’s an issue here. And red means you’re in trouble.”

On this particular church in Texas, he wrote up a sixty-seven page report. A gave the church a green light for the preaching. That's a good thing. And they got a green light for the tissue boxes placed neatly at the end of each row. But there were some problems.

He gave them a yellow light for their sidewalks. He said, "The brick paved island at the front of the arena needs attention. Some weeds are growing through the cracks."

He gave them a yellow light for the parking lot greeters. His comment was, "From the parking lot into the church, I was not greeted by anyone. Upon leaving church and returning to my car, I was greeted by a very friendly man who wished me a good day."

Then the church got a red light for greeters in the sanctuary. Mr Harrison's comment was, "I was not greeted upon entering the seating area in either service. In the second service, I even moved to a second area of the auditorium about ten minutes into the service, but still no greeting."

Well, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Harrison. It makes me wonder what kind of report do you think Jesus would write if He were to visit our churches as a mystery worshiper. The fact is, Jesus is in our churches and not just occasionally in a few churches here and there as Mr. Harrison is. But Jesus is in all of our churches all the time and not just on Sundays.

He knows what’s going on in our churches Sunday through Saturday, all week long, twenty-four / seven. And he has written up a report. We’ve been looking at that report in some detail over the last several weeks, several months. It’s found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

We know that Jesus thinks about our churches. We know what His concerns are.

In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter what Thomas Harrison thinks about your church or mine. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks about your church or mine. And it doesn’t really matter what we think about our churches.

What really matters, ultimately, is what Jesus thinks.

Now, as we’ve been looking at these letters to the seven churches over the last several weeks—some of you thought this series would never come to an end. We actually started recording it many months ago. It’s been an incredibly wonderful journey for me as I’ve looked at the green lights, the yellow lights, and the red lights that Jesus gives in His report on the churches.

Now as we said, these letters, these seven letters, are not just independent letters addressed to independent churches. They are that, but the letters form a whole unit. Each letter is addressed to all the churches. This unit of letters, Revelation 2 and 3, falls in the context of the whole book of Revelation. The book of Revelation falls in the context of the entire redemptive story that we read from Genesis to Revelation.

So for today and for the next couple of programs, I want to step back. Now that we’ve looked in minute detail with a microscope at these letters—and I say minute detail. There’s lots more there that we haven’t covered. But we’ve looked at these letters under a microscope, and now I want us to step back and look at the big picture, to look at the forest.

So for a few programs where I want to do a wrap up of this series on the letters to the seven churches—a bit of a review, an overview just looking at some key themes that have emerged through this study. As I’ve been teaching, because I didn’t have all of this series prepared when I first started teaching it, there are several general observations that have emerged.

I just want to leave you with some reflections that have been on my heart in relation to these letters.

Now the book of Revelation that is the context for these chapters and for these letters to the churches is a great cosmic drama. I love the whole story. That’s why at least once a year, sometimes more often, I try to read the whole book of Revelation. I often do that at the end of the year. As the year comes to a close and as the new year approaches, I want to just get the picture of God’s whole story, what He’s about, what He’s doing here on this earth, and how what’s happening in this earth today is just an itty bitty part of a great big story that God has already written and that we are privileged to be living in the midst of.

Now if you look at the whole book of Revelation, you remember that in chapter 1 the apostle John who is in exile for his faith on the island of Patmos sees a vision. His vision is of Christ, Christ who is the resurrected, ascended, reigning Savior and Lord. It’s an awesome picture. It’s one we need to look at more often.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face that is as the sun shining in full strength. You can’t look at the sun without getting blinded. And you can’t look at Jesus without being changed.

Look at Jesus. Behold Him. Gaze upon Him. Fix your eyes upon Him. This is what John does in the first chapter. It’s the Christological vision. Christ the Savior, the Lord of this earth—that’s chapter 1.

Then in Revelation chapters 6–22, the last chapter of the book, we see this story unfolding of a great cosmic conflict between God who is seated on His throne and Satan who wants to be seated on His throne, Satan who is trying to take God’s place. There is a huge battle going on. There’s a war going on.

There’s this build up between chapters 6 and chapter 22 as Satan strikes and then God strikes back. And then Satan counter-attacks and then God counter-attacks. You see this battle going on, this war. There’s this buildup, this escalating movement of the anti-God forces, and God saying, “This is what I think about all of this.”

You see mounting tribulation through these chapters. The tribulation is intense suffering; it’s increasingly intense suffering that is an expression of God’s righteous judgment and wrath. God is judging sin on this earth.

Initially those judgments are intended to be redemptive. He wants people to repent. He wants people to turn from their sin, to turn from their rebellion. But as the story unfolds you read again and again and again, “They refused to repent. They refused to repent.”

So you have men on earth who are just representatives of Satan here on earth who are hardening their wills. They’re stiffening their necks and their backs, and they’re saying, “No God. We will not have You to rule over us.” They dig in their heels, and they get more intense.

God sends greater judgments and greater wrath. There are bowls and there are trumpets and there are woes. There are all these mounting tribulations where God is giving men time to repent. You read about these tribulations and you say, “What kind of God would send famine and pestilence and sword and war and would wipe out whole huge population centers of the earth?”

These kinds of eschatological parts of Scripture have led some people to say, “We don’t have any interest in that kind of God. That’s a cruel God.”

The fact is those judgments are a sign of a merciful God, a God who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He’s giving them time to repent, but they refuse to repent.

So by the time we come to chapter 18, God says, “That’s it.” The cup of His wrath is full; it overflows. And God says, “That’s it. The day of My mercy, the day of My grace is over.”

We see the downfall, the destruction, the obliteration of the kingdom of man. And when it happens, it happens quickly. You read in Revelation 18 in an hour, in a day, in an hour this great Babylon that thought she was so great, this great commercial enterprise of the world, this great political system, this great worldwide religious system, it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. It’s built on a house of sand; it cannot stand.

And then when the kingdom of man is destroyed, we see the return of Christ, Revelation 19. The man on the white horse who comes from heaven with the armies of heaven behind him. He’s clothed with a robe dipped in blood. We see the return of Christ to this earth to establish His kingdom (see vv 11–16). The kingdom of this world has become kingdom of our God and of His Christ and he shall reign—how long? “Forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

He establishes his kingdom and then He brings about—we read this in chapter 22—a new heaven, a new earth, the holy city, the new Jerusalem where there is no evil, no pain, no sorrow, no death, no sin, no brokenness. All is righteousness and holiness in the presence of the Lord forever and ever and ever. Amen.

End of story except there’s no end. It goes on forever.

Now that’s what we see in chapters 6–22. In a nutshell that’s the story. What happens between chapter 1 where we have the vision of Christ and those chapters 6–22 where we have this mounting, escalating cosmic conflict that ends in the reign and rule of Christ forever?

In between that we have chapters 2 and 3, which is a message from Christ to the churches who live in this period from the time of Christ until the consummation of all things. They live in this world where there is pain and sickness and death and persecution and evil. And there’s conflict between Satan and God.

He wants them to see that their lives, their well-being, is tethered to who He is. That’s what they see in chapter 1 and also in chapters 4 and 5 where we have the picture of Christ and God seated on the throne, the Lamb of God in heaven. They are tethered to Christ, and then they are tethered to God’s great, eternal redemptive plan, which we’ve just described in chapters 6–22.

The beginning of each of these seven letters has a description of Christ. Most of those descriptive phrases are drawn from the vision of Christ in chapter 1. At the end of each letter is a promise to those who conquer, to those who overcome, to those who are faithful in following Christ.

And each of those promises, which we’ve looked at in some detail over these last weeks, each of those promises anticipates something that we read about at the end of the story—the consummation, the glory that we see unfolded in chapters 20–22.

So what is the significance of the placement of these letters in chapters 2 and 3 in this whole backdrop of Revelation? It tells us that our Christian lives are lived and our churches function in the here and now, this broken, fallen, prodigal planet.

But our lives and our churches are linked to both past and future realities. We are able to survive and not just to survive but to thrive as we live in light of who Christ is and what He has done, as we are anchored to Him, as we see Him in chapter 1 and chapters 4 and 5.

Then we survive and we thrive as we live not only anchored to Christ but in anticipation of His ultimate future victory and triumph.

You've to to keep your eyes on Christ. You've got to keep your eyes on the end of the story. It's not just that God is writing the final chapter—He has written the final chapter. We can read it. We know who wins—the Lamb wins! 

So we survive and we thrive as we stay anchored to Christ and anchored to the anticipation of His future victory.

We're in the midst of a cosmic conflict. We live in a fallen world that opposes Christ. We're awaiting the fulfillment of His promises, He final victory over sin and Satan and the consummation of His eternal plan.

What is going on down here on this world in our churches and in our relationships as believers is all part of a bigger picture. It has eternal implications. It plays into the story of God's great, eternal, redemptive plan.

Now, I want to make several observations about these letters, things that have stood out to me as I have lived in these letters over the last months. First—and this doesn’t sound profound—but it’s the fact that the Church matters. We see in these letters the crucial, central role of the local church.

These letters are not addressed to individual believers; they’re addressed to local churches. The Scripture has no concept of lone ranger believers. Our identity as individual believers is linked to that of the local church.

And the church is not just a human institution. It is central to what God is doing in the world. It is through the Church that God intends to show the world what His kingdom looks like, for us to be a visual, visible representation of that kingdom.

God intends for our churches to make real to the world these spiritual, eternal realities that the world cannot see apart from looking at us. We’re supposed to be carrying out on earth the will, the wishes, the agenda of Christ our risen Head.

We’re a Body. There’s no concept in the Scripture of you and me being separate entities apart from the local church. What affects one member of the Body affects the whole Body.

That’s why you see, for example, that when there’s false doctrine in a little pocket of the Church it affects the whole Church. Jesus says to the whole Church, “You’ve got to deal with this,” or “You’ve got to deal with this immorality in the church.”

You can’t just stick your head in the sand and say, “Oh, that’s going on over there.” It affects us all. We’re in this together. God intends that we should be Christ-centered, Christ-loving, Christ-exalting communities that are joined together in the mission of making Christ known to our world. So the Church matters.

Second, I see that Jesus has a heart for the Church. It’s His Church. He loves it. The first time John saw the vision of Jesus in chapter 1, where was Jesus? He was among the seven lampstands, in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.

We learn at the end of Revelation 1 that those lampstands symbolize seven local churches. And then chapter 2, verse 1 tells us what He’s doing among those lampstands. He’s walking among the seven lampstands. He is active and alive and walking in and among His people and the churches.

We learn that He holds in His right hand the angels or the messengers or the leaders of those churches. Jesus has a heart for His Church.

Now church life, as all of us know, can get messy. And it does get messy at times. Five of these seven churches had serious issues in them. One of the churches Jesus said, “You make me sick.” I mean, there were serious problems in the churches, messy stuff.

In this past year as I’ve been studying and preparing this series and teaching through it, I’ve been personally exposed to some difficult situations involving local churches. I’ve grieved and at times wept over what I’ve seen going on in local churches. I have to confess to you that there are times when I have wanted to run, to chuck the whole thing. I say that to you because we get letters from listeners saying, “There’s this situation going on in my local church or this church that I’m aware of. What do I do about it?”

We find a lot of twenty and thirty-somethings today who are saying, “I’m out of here. I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore.” And I have had some of those thoughts myself over these past months.

But as I’ve been in this series I’ve been challenged, deeply challenged, by the love Christ has for His Church. The fact that He stays engaged, that He’s there, He’s present. He doesn’t abandon the Church. He doesn't forsake it, and neither can we.

You can’t love Jesus and not love the Church. His heart, His burden, is for the Church. It is His Body here on earth.

I was thinking last night of that hymn written by Timothy Dwight in the late 1800s, where he said,

I love the church, oh Lord.
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, oh God! 
Her walls before Thee stand, 
Dear is the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, 
For her my prayers ascend.

Listen, when you struggle with the Church, first of all realize that we are all part of the Church, and more often than not, we are part of the problem. We need to become part of the solution. How do we do that? You say, "I don't have any say. I don't have any influence." Yes, you do. "For her my tears shall fall. For her my prayers ascend."

Oh ladies, we need to get on our knees and cry out to the Lord and say, “Lord, have mercy. Revive Your Church. You love Your Church. You’re walking among the seven golden lampstands, and I want to stay engaged and involved and plead on behalf of our local churches.”

Then we see thirdly that Christ knows our churches intimately. He says, “I know your works.” Over and over again He says, “I know your works.”

Like Thomas Harrison, that mystery worshiper, Jesus inspects details that no one else is paying attention to. He notices and He points out things that we’ve become accustomed to or we fail to see any longer. He encourages and points out things that are pleasing to Him.

Now His intimate knowledge of us can be comforting as when He said to the church in Smyrna, “I know your tribulation,” or to Pergamum, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is” (2:9 & 13). He’s aware of the suffering of His people and the challenges that we face in a hostile environment.

So it can be comforting that He knows our works, but it can also be threatening. He says to the churches, “I know the compromises you’re making. I know the things you need to repent of.”

Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire. They are penetrating, omniscient. There is nothing hidden from Him. Everything is made known to Him. He knows the condition of each church and each church member. He knows that things we've hidden from view—the things we don't print in our annual reports. He points out those things, the specific besetting sins of each church. He’s honest. He’s truthful.

He doesn’t give us a whitewash idealized picture of how we’re doing, the picture we’d like everyone to see. He shows us the reality of drifting, backsliding, half-hearted believers, professing believers who have no heart for God at all.

And so if we want to know how we’re really doing, if you want to know how you’re really doing, we need to get to Jesus. We need to get to His Word. He is the One who can correct our mistaken notions about ourselves.

We think we’re poor. He says, “You’re really rich.” We think we’re rich. He says, “You’re really poor.” Jesus is the One who knows what’s going on in the churches.

Oh Lord Jesus, I pray that You’d open our eyes to see what You see, to agree with You about the condition of our churches today. I just want to thank You for Your heart for the Church. Thank You Lord Jesus that You haven’t run from us, that You are in heaven but you are walking among those seven golden lampstands and You are engaged and You are interceding at the right hand of God the Father.

We just join You today in saying, “Oh Lord, would You revive Your Church? Would You revive our hearts that we may be in this world the light that You intend us to be?” I pray in Jesus’ holy name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Do you have a burden for the Church? After that message from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, I would suspect many people are coming away with an increased burden.

Today’s program begins a series called "What This Church Needs." It’s the final series in Nancy’s study of the letters to the churches in Revelation.

God can use teaching like this to make a big difference in the lives of women. Nancy’s here with an example.

Nancy: It really does, Leslie. I'm thinking of a mom who was really worried about some bad choices her son was making. She said,

I wanted to control, tell him what to do, etc., but several wise Christian mentors were telling me the same thing over and over: to keep seeking the Lord, to live out His truth, and to let our son see that example.

But that was a problem, because this listener wasn’t sure she was living a life worth following. Not long after that God got ahold of her heart and helped her truly understand the gospel. He used Revive Our Hearts in that process. She said:

I was listening to a broadcast on Revive Our Hearts on Titus 2:1–5. It was like God hit me right between the eyes. My calling is to seek Him with my whole heart and live out godly, biblical womanhood. And that needed to start with my relationship with my husband and kids. I sought the Lord’s forgiveness for not seeking Him the way I should have been. I asked His forgiveness for pride, selfish motives, a critical spirit in my heart in my marriage and toward my children. This is not a ‘one and done.’ It’s a continual challenge and way of life.

I’m so grateful the Lord used Revive Our Hearts to help this woman find greater freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. I can only image what story God is writing in the heart of her husband and children as a result. You are part of that story if you’ve ever donated to Revive Our Hearts. We couldn’t share this kind of truth with a mom without those who support the ministry financially.

This week, when you make a donation of any size, as our way of saying "thank you," we'd like to send you our 2018 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The theme this year is “The Truth That Sets Us Free.” The design and the quotes will remind you of the truth of God’s Word as you use the calendar month by month throughout the year ahead. This is a one-of-a-kind calendar you can’t get anywhere else.

Ask for the wall calendar when you call with a gift of any size. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your gift today.

Leslie: If you walk through any Christian bookstore, you’ll find critiques of the church’s activity and theology. How do you discern what the church really needs in the middle of so many opinions? Nancy will tackle that question tomorrow. Please join us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to strengthen your church. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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