Rev 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
As I look back over the many years that I have been living for God, I have observed many wonderful things such as; the harvest of souls, signs, wonders and growth within the church. These things are happening everywhere, right now in our world, in our lifetime! However, while revival is happening in some churches there is also a sad reality; some of God's people live among "wandering captives" of unbelief, programs and dry services.
By no means is this study a vehicle to exploit the negative side of church life. However, within this article is a message of hope for those who find themselves struggling to live for God in a cicumstances that just isn't what it should be.
A DESIRE FOR THE THINGS OF GOD
Any hungry person who has truly found God through repentance, water baptism in Jesus name and the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38) is going to love and desire God in a deep way. A true born again believer is going to keep hungering for the supernatural promises of God, miracles, signs, wonders and most importantly, the winning of lost souls. The desire of a hungry saint of God will compel them to endure hardship, tribulation and the sanctification process that God sometimes puts them through.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
But, what happens if a saint of God finds themselves in an assembly that has lost its anointing? What do they do when leadership has failed to lead them to the promise land? And more importantly; how does a saint deal with an assembly that becomes dead and dry or has become a social club or social gospel?
A church in captivity is something that is very real in our day. And it is no marvel; it even happed in the old and new testaments as we are about to read. It is with a heart-felt concern that what I am about to say should help anyone who finds themselves in a situation that seems hopeless. However, just remember that you are not alone, and if God has placed you in a particular place, there must be a reason. Don't be dismayed... Joshua and Caleb are perfect examples of saints enduring a wilderness walk of captivity!!
THE WAYS OF GOD
It is often quoted many times by leadership and saints alike, "God is the same yesterday, today and forever." And, we all agree by saying, "Amen!"
Yet, I hear saints of God profess that God doesn't deal with the church as He dealt with Israel in the Old Testament. Then they turn around and say that the Old Testament was for our example and admonition; it seems like a paradox to me. We know God doesn't tolerate sin, yet He has provided a way of forgiveness for us. However, written throughout the entire Bible are clear indications of how God deals with a group of people who do not obey His words, and the process by which God deals with every generation is simple to understand.
God is very long suffering. He pleads; He sends prophets and teachers to warn us of pending judgments. He did it with Israel and He still does it today! God dealt with Israel in the wilderness, He was very longsuffering before allowing Israel to go into captivity in Babylon. He wrote to the seven churches to correct some issues they were having and warned some of them that He would chastise them. And Paul wrote and said in Romans 11 that we must take heed lest we be broken off because of the same example of (Israel's) unbelief.
It has often been said, "that God is forgiving and will not bring judgment." And yes, He is loving and longsuffering and He often spares us from some punishments. However, anyone who says such a thing and disregards His judgments does not know the way God works. Because for some reason, God does rectify some problems by chastising us. Some think of judgment as what He did to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) who were killed for lying about selling their land. And yes, that was a New Testament judgment on them!
But, Paul also stated that when I am judged of the Lord, I am chastised of the Lord. Chastisement is a form of judgment from God. It isn't always harsh fire and brimstone from heaven or death. But sometimes we will experience punishment, dry seasons, spiritual captivity, and affliction by the enemy, or destruction to get us turned back around. God has many ways of dealing with us. Even though He corrects us in love, sometimes He may allow individuals or groups of people to go "captive" for a season.
When attending a church assembly, a saint may find themselves in a situation where the church as a whole has to be chastised by God. That saint of God may then find themselves going into captivity with them. But, rest assure, if a saint is not personally being chastised, then God will see them through the captivity!!
WALKING WITH THE WANDERS
Moses calls the elders together and chooses twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan. As Joshua and Caleb are carrying a cluster of huge grapes, they hear a little murmuring among two other brothers in front of them. They hold their peace as they are excited about what God wants to do for them.
When they all get back and stand in front of Moses, ten of the spies expressed that the land is good, but they are not able to go in and conquer the land. This discouraged the people of God greatly. And even though Joshua and Caleb tried to comfort the people, God became angry because of the unbelief that had gotten a hold of the assembly. God had to deal with the situation by allowing the assembly to wander for 37 more years until the unbelievers all died.
Most think of "unbelief" as doubt; which it is in a broad sense. But, real unbelief is "refusing to believe" what God has said. Real belief in God makes one step out in faith based on Gods word and His timing! When He says go... you go!
God had to deal with the entire congregation because of ten spies who would not believe. As they wandered in the dry desert, all they encountered was problems, thirst, hunger, rebellion and death. They went around the same mountain many times, around and around in circles they would go.
You could hear Caleb say to Joshua, "Man, I just don't get it. How come our brothers just couldn't believe God? God is well able to help us! Now look at us Joshua, we have to wander with these unbelievers because of other men's decisions. It just doesn't seem fair." Joshua answered, "Don't worry Caleb, God will honor our faith. We just have to stick around and endure. We might as well make our minds up for the long haul. Anyways Caleb, when we do get to the promise land, you are going to get your reward!" "You think so Joshua?", Caleb answered. "Yes, I feel like God will keep us through these wanderings if we just do not faint in our faith!"
I can picture it in my mind, Joshua and Caleb having to wander in the wilderness because of other men's decisions. What a test of faith to have to endure!! They had to decide to stay put and walk with this congregation even if they were going through the dry wilderness too.
As is the case with Joshua and Caleb, saints of God may end up among unbelievers when it comes to conquering the promise land. Maybe leadership has done you wrong or they can not bring the church to a higher level in God. Your promise land may be; harvesting souls, miracles, financial blessings or other great things, but what if God is preparing you for something that you may not be aware of?
Sticking around a dry, un-anointed church is not easy to do because your heart beats for revival and all that God has promised! You may come home from a service saying to yourself, "Why do I stay here... it is so dry!!"
What would of happened if Joshua and Caleb decided to leave the assembly (church) and go get their promise land now? Would God of blessed them? I don't think so because God had a plan for Joshua to be the next leader after Moses was gone. What would of happened then?
Was the wandering painful? Were they discouraged at times? Did they ever think of running away? Did they battle anger towards these ten spies? Yes!! They were human like us. But, their faith repeated the sentiments of Moses, "I would rather suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season."
It was through the wandering in the wilderness that Joshua and Caleb were trained in endurance, faith and patience. Did it all work out in the end? Yes it did!!
THE CALL TO TURN AROUND
Since the beginning of time in the Old Testament up until now, God has always had a voice in the world and to His people. He is ever calling, pleading and entreating men and women to obey His sweet voice. He often will entreat us for very long periods of time to help us get things right.
The office of a prophet is not anything new to the old and new testaments. God has always used men to speak to His people. The prophets of God are sometimes men who you would not think to be anything special. Lowly, humble men who have to stand on spiritual words that do not always come to pass until years down the road.
Jesus, the church and His prophets of today still speak! The gospel and the preaching from many pulpits give clear signs to leadership and believers what can happen if we do not obey God's word and His will for this generation.
Many churches, leaders and saints have been warned by God to accomplish His will in certain ways using scriptural principles and "words of the Lord" from the prophets (preachers). However, some churches, leaders and saints will "despise prophesying's" as they did throughout history. Some prophets were stoned; some prophets of today are not heeded to. And some of them are rejected by assemblies.
After Israel entered the promise land, Joshua warned them to keep the law of Moses or else God would remove them from their promised land of Canaan. Joshua then later died and the people were governed by God alone.
As a few years went by, Israel fell away from God. God would send judges and prophets to get the people to do things right. Thus, we have the Judges, Kings and history of Israel's ups and downs.
This process went on and on in Israel's day. They would have one good king and then one bad king. The bad kings often would bring the people of God down. This is true today! Leadership is very important to the health of a congregation. The condition of a congregation is usually determined by the love, sacrifice and obedience of the leadership. Sometimes leadership needs to be admonished by God too and it is their obedience to instruction that God blesses. If leadership is self-willed and wants to do things their way, then there will be problems in that church. We all must obey God!
After years of warnings and pardons by God; God had to keep His own word and remove Israel from their land. It still works the same today. God's longsuffering does run out and He has to do something to chastise or even bring harsh judgement to His people. And what usually follows is not always good for the people of God; chastisement, captivity, punishment or even death. Most of the time God just withdraws His presence and we end up with dry services. Does God enjoy these kinds of things? Of course not, it hurts Him to chastise us. But God is just and He has to allow things to happen to wake us up!
ENDURING THE CAPTIVITY
The time had come to an end, God had to do something to chastise the people of God. He had warned and warned the leadership and the people, but to no avail! God raised up a northern army to conquer the people of God and take them into captivity.
The Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem for two years and cut off their food supply. The congregation became weak and could not win any battles over the armies. The king was taken and his eyes were removed. The people of God were carried away to Babylon!
What a sad day. The house of God was destroyed and the people of God became captives because they did not obey God's word and His will. They were subjected to a life without God's blessings. People often fail to remember, this was God's doing, not just a work of the enemy (devil). Their worship died down; they were in a strange land serving worldly masters.
We also read about a few great things that happened to the people of God in Babylon; Esther, Mordecai, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And what about the prophets that had to endure the sins of others? Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the others all had to live in captivity because of the sins of the people.
These people made their stands in Babylon. These all had to stand against the ungodly, whether they were heathens or their own people; they all stood like rocks! They didn't run, but stayed put. They endured the dry times of captivity!
This is what spiritual captivity is like! When churches, leadership and saints do not do things the way God wants them done, God will often withdraw His glory from the assembly. Thus, dry services and troubles in a church. Miracles cease, deliverance ministries fail to deliver anymore, the Holy Ghost doesn't fall like it used too and church leaders and members begin to fall back on church mechanics, which then makes them formal and dead. And, if they are not careful, a deceitful spirit will come in that simulates the Holy Ghost and makes them believe everything is all right! They will feel goose bumps and thrills, but deep inside, they know that something does not seem right.
NOAH, DANIEL AND JOB
There is this awesome but sobering scripture that reads, Eze 14:14 "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD."
During the captivity in Babylon, the condition of the people of God had decayed so much that the Lord said that only Noah, Daniel and Job would deliver their own souls by their righteousness.
That reminds me of the scripture that says, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Pet 4:17, 18)
Noah, Daniel and Job were very righteous men. When you read about them you can not but help see why. Noah stood patiently (120 years) and believed God's word. Daniel refused to stop praying and refused to defile himself. Job, endured personal pain and suffering. These three men believed in God against all hope.
Why did God mention Noah, Daniel and Job like this. Because they stood in the midst of corrupted, dead and carnal people. They stood when they felt all alone and forsaken. The hardest thing to stand against is to make your stand in the midst of sinful environments.
THE ISLAND OF PATMOS
All alone on an island, stood a mighty disciple of Jesus Christ gazing at the beautiful sunset as he wondered why all this is happening to him. He leaned on the chest of the Lord. He was loved by Jesus in a deep way. He had the Holy Ghost and walked in power. Yet, he now feels forsaken.
However, in time, the power and prophecy of Jesus Christ totally enveloped John as he now found himself in the Spirit on the Lord's day!!
We wonder what it was like for John to receive the revelations that we read today. Many debates are still going on over the words he was told to distribute to the seven churches. We almost pray that we could have a revelation like that too. However, we forget the lonely hard times John had to endure on the island of Patmos to get those revelations. History says that he probably was the only apostolic saint on the island. He spent hours upon hours thinking about his exile. But in the face of ungodly persecutors, John stood for his God!
Sometimes we may have to stand totally alone on an island of isolation from others. It will rip your heart out and cause you to doubt who you are and even if you are in the will of God. You will be acquainted with grief and your faith will take some hits. But stand strong, endure the desert, overcome the ungodly environment you find yourself in!!
THE SEVEN CHURCHES
In the book of Revelations, John was given some revelations that he was to write and send to the seven churches. I find it interesting that five of the seven churches were rebuked for their problems and Jesus demanded some change. Also, notice that to each of the seven churches, Jesus encourages believers to overcome. I am just going to cover each church briefly.
1) The Ephesus church worked patiently for the Lord. However, they left their first love. So, it is most likely that they had church mechanics, but did not love God like they should of. Jesus told them to repent or He would remove their candlestick. Jesus was saying, repent or I will let your church die and close! But, Jesus did say to those who would listen, anyone who overcomes will eat of the tree of life freely.
2) The Smryna church was a poor persecuted church that had false Jews among them. The Lord told them to endure the tribulation even unto death and they would receive a crown of life. And to them who overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death.
3) The Pergamos church held to the name of Jesus even among false prophets. But, Jesus rebuked them for tolerating them who hold to the doctrine of Baalam and Nicolatians. Jesus told them to repent or He will come and fight with them. He told them, that they who overcome will be given a new name, white stone and hidden manna.
4) The Thyatira church had works, faith, charity and the last to be more than the first. A good church! But, Jesus rebuked them because they tolerated the spirit of Jezebel to influence them. He encouraged those that did not hold to that doctrine to hold fast and endure. He that overcomes will get to rule nations.
5) The Sardis church had a name (reputation) that they lived by, but are dead. Jesus tells them to repent and strengthen what remains. This obviously was a prideful church. But, Jesus told those who attended; he that overcomes will I give them white raiment and will not blot out their names from the book of life.
6) The Philadelphia church had little strength and did not deny the Lord's name. Jesus opened to them an open door because of their patience. He told them to hold fast and they would be kept from the hour of temptation. He that overcomes will I make a pillar and give them a new name.
7) The Laodicean church was a lukewarm materialistic church. Jesus told them to repent or He would spit them out of His mouth. He that overcomes will get to sit on His throne.
So, we can see that five of the seven churches had some issues that Jesus wanted changed. He also states that, them that overcome these spirits and false doctrines will be rewarded.
Each church in the world today has issues from time to time. The reason being is that humans have faults and infirmities that make up the church. All Jesus tells people to do is repent and overcome these issues. He knows there is a devil out in the world trying to destroy His people. We just have to be mature and face these issues and overcome them!!
AN EXPECTED END
One of the things that someone has to keep in their mind is the fact that all things work for good to them who love God. Situations that we may find ourselves in, sometimes look totally unproductive to us. The people of God experienced these feelings while living in captivity. They felt that God had forgotten all about them. They were longing to go back to Jerusalem where the house of God used to be.
In Jeremiah 29:4-14, God spoke to Jeremiah and had him send them this letter, "(4) Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; (5) Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; (6) Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. (7) And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (8) For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. (9) For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. (10) For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. (11) For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (12) Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. (13) And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. (14) And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive."
This prophecy was to let the people know that they were to live their everyday lives and that once the captivity had been accomplished after 70 years, then God would visit them again and return them back to their homeland. They were to seek the peace of the city and pray for the peace of it. They were to stay living for God and stay close to Him. God also warned them of false prophets that would try to get them to disobey Him. He let them know that there will be an end to this captivity!
WILL I MAKE IT?
Okay, so you may find yourself in a situation just like I described above. "So, now what am I supposed to do", you may ask. Well, that all depends on what God's will is for your life. You have to pray and ask God for direction. He may have you move on, but, if you get no direction to move on, stay put for the ride. There may be things God will show you or have you do. Who, knows, He may even call you to intercede in prayer for the sinful condition of the church. God does do that and needs men and women who are willing to pay the price to stand in the gap.
If you find yourself in a church that is going through trouble, don't be dismayed! AND DON'T QUIT!!! God is well able to see you through. He can do things with you to make you the person of God that He desires. Wisdom awaits any person who can endure afflictions with the people of God.
Look at Jeremiah, he had to prophecy to those people and look what they put him through. Thrown in a pit to die, fed bread and water, mocked; and his written prophecies were ripped up and burnt with fire. He could of easily ran away and be offended, but he loved these people. And not to mention, he had a word and burden from the Lord that he just couldn't let go of.
Most people view church as a place that is supposed to be perfect. And holding such an idea is self-deception and will bring heartache. If Jesus was rejected and understands human weakness, then surely He can help us with any problems we may face; whether it is a church or individual problem; He knows all about it!
Sometimes living for God will include living your life with wandering captives and unbelieving saints of God. Saints that should know better are sometimes going to disappoint you because maybe in their life, their faith has taken some hits and they have picked up a spirit of unbelief.
If you really love and long for God's anointing in your life, you may have to endure people who just do not believe God. Joshua and Caleb had to wander with unbelievers. But just remember, they were used by God to go in and conquer the promise land!! And who knows... maybe God will use you to bring change! You can make it!