Tuesday, June 25, 2019

“Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 2) (June 25, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 2)

(June 25, 2019)


          In verse 9 of Revelation chapter 2 we notice the harsh words spoken by Jesus referring to “Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  This shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who rejected Christ were just as much followers of Satan as pagan idol worshipers!  He even uses the word “blasphemy” which is a very strong term usually reserved for the very most hostile acts/words against God.  This was severe!  Unbelieving Jews were regularly known to chime right in with pagans accusing Christians of several things such as Cannibalism – based on a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus had referred to His body and His blood which they twisted to make it sound like the early Christians were engaging in grotesque acts.  The early Christians were also accused of immorality based on the perverting of the “holy kiss” believers often greeted one another with.  They were accused of breaking up homes, based on when one spouse became a Christian and the other did not it often caused great conflict in the home.  The early Christians were accused of “Atheism” because these believers rejected pagan deities and worshiped a God they could not see.  They were also accused of political disloyalty and rebellion based on the fact Christians refused to offer the required sacrifices to the emperor.

          With hopes to destroy the Christian faith altogether, some of Smyrna’s wealthy, influential Jews reported these blasphemous false allegations to the Romans.  These “haters” of the Gospel were referred to as a “Synagogue of Satan,” meaning they assembled to plan attacks on the church, thereby doing Satan’s will and work.  In Smyrna, the hostile Jewish population poisoned public opinion against the Christians.

          Persecution against the church at Smyrna reached its peak 50 or so years after this letter was written with the execution of the aged pastor of the church at Smyrna, Polycarp.  The unbelieving Jews played a big role in this.  Polycarp writes extensively about knowing the Apostle John personally, when he was a young man.  Foxes Book of Martyrs tells of how Polycarp was martyred in A.D. 155 at the age of 86.  He was brought before the Roman proconsul at Smyrna who demanded that Polycarp take an oath renouncing Christ and placing his trust in Caesar.  He refused and he famously said “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Jesus; He has been faithful to me.  How can I now be faithless to Him and blaspheme the name of my Savior.” (Polycarp; 155 A.D.)  Even under the threat of being thrown to wild beasts, he calmly replied he would not.  Ultimately he was burned at the stake.  His dying words were “O Lord God Almighty, Father of the blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, I thank you for giving me this day and this hour, that I may be numbered among your martyrs, to share the cup of Jesus and to rise again to life everlasting.” (Polycarp [dying words]; 155 A.D.)

          This tribulation against the church went on for several decades.  The “10 days” seen in this passage is widely seen as a figurative number signifying a short period.  However, some see it more as though “10 days” refers to short pockets/periods of time; perhaps 10 outbursts of persecution that was to come upon them.  The last part of verse 10 speaks of a martyr’s crown (witness).  This is a special reward/crown received by some.  Revelation 4:10 tells of how the crowns received will be cast at the feet of Jesus, the only one who is worthy.  Verse 11 goes on to say “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (Rev. 4:10)

          Jesus makes a promise to this congregation.  Faithful overcomers need not fear death because earthly death is going to happen one way or another.  Death is a doorway.  It is either the entryway to eternal bliss/comfort/joy, or to eternal misery/pain/suffering.  This is the “second death.”  This “second death” is what awaits unbelievers.  No believer will experience the second death; the overcomer will suffer no loss whatsoever.  There is a promise to the believer who is faithful even to the point of death (the promise in vs. 10).  For Christians, there is not only deliverance from the second death, but an experience of life to a rich degree.  In John 10:10 Jesus declared “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b)  Jesus offered words of encouragement to this church at Smyrna in the midst of what must have seemed like a dark and difficult time period. God’s perspective was perhaps different than their own.  Someone has said “It’s not the load you carry that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” (unknown)  Even in the darkest and most difficult hours of our life, God is still alive and well and suffering persecution of any kind is small potatoes compared to the hurt of “the second death.”  Do not waste time fearing the first death, only make sure you avoid the second death!

          God loved this church in Smyrna and He loves us so much that He offers these words of encouragement.  If we know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we have reason to be encouraged today!


In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 1) (June 19, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Smyrna: The Persecuted Church” (Pt. 1)

(June 19, 2019)


          Since the inception of Christianity, it has not been unusual for Christ’s followers to experience various levels of persecution.  It has/does range from the relatively minor to the major.  Each of us has probably experienced some level of minor persecution at school, at work, among our family, and among our friends.  In America as a whole, animosity and hostility is being ramped up quickly against Christians.  A few years ago one of the biggest news stories was that of the IRS targeting conservative political groups and also auditing Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family, Samaritans Purse, and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Many view this, myself included, as a for-shadowing of things to come.

          Things we are seeing today, at least thus far, pale in comparison with what they were in the days of the early church and even what they are right now in other places around the globe.  Apart from America, where we have been relatively sheltered, there have been more Christian martyrs in recent years than there were during the first century.  According to a study by Regent University, nearly 164,000 Christians worldwide were martyred for their faith in 1999.  In 2000, that number rose to nearly 165,000.  With each passing year, the number of Christians who face death for their beliefs increases.  It has been estimated that since A.D. 70, over seventy million Christians have been put to death for refusing to renounce their faith.

          Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) came to be known as the “Persecuted Church,” because of the horrible difficulties it faced and also the fact it was addressed the way it was, here in Revelation by the Lord Himself.  Smyrna was an important seaport about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus.  The city received its name from one of its principle products – myrrh.  Smyrna probably goes back to about 3000 B.C.  It was destroyed at one point, and laid in ruins for over 3000 years but was rebuilt in 290 B.C.  It was a noted center of science and medicine according to various writings from the period.  The city was claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, the great epic poet of The Iliad and The Odyssey.   The city is the only one of the 7 churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3 that still exists today.  Today it is the Turkish city of Izmir.

          Jesus’ words are primarily words of comfort to the church in Smyrna.  He had no rebuke like what He did for Ephesus.  This church had power and purity on display.  Persecution had purified and purged it from sin and affirmed the reality of its member’s faith.  John MacArthur writes “Hypocrites do not stay to face persecution, because false believers do not want to endure the pain.  Trials and persecution strengthen and refine genuine saving faith, but uncover and destroy false faith.” (John MacArthur; New Testament Commentary; Revelation 1-11; 68)

          Christ is described to this congregation as “The first and the last, Who was dead, and came to life.” (vs. 8)  “The first and the last” is an Old Testament title for God, used about 3 times in Isaiah. (44:6; 48:12; 41:4)  Christ’s equality and very nature are affirmed as being equal to God the Father.  The “Resurrection” is affirmed as John reminds them Christ was dead but now is alive.  This was a quick and to-the-point reminder of Jesus to help encourage them in a time of suffering and uncertainty.  It is a sort of reminder He is eternal, while their suffering is only temporary.  It is so easy to lose sight of the big picture and get mired down in the cares of the moment and our suffering.  One can easily get bogged down and focus on the details of the moment and forget about nearly everything else.  This is true even of the things we hold most dear.  To illustrate this consider with me that when you are hungry, food may be all that is on your mind.  When you are really sleepy and tired, rest/sleep is about all you can focus on.  When you get really good news or really bad news your mind dwells there and you can hardly think about anything else.  The church at Smyrna had been dwelling on their present suffering/persecution and had not been dwelling upon Christ!

          Jesus offers encouragement for this congregation.  He assures them He knows what they are going through.  He is saying to all of us today “I know what you are going through, and I care.”  Jesus never tries to tell the people at this church, it is not as bad as it seems.  He just tries to help them keep it all in perspective.  Jesus frames their difficulties with hope in the broader picture.

          Jesus knew all about their work, the tribulation they were experiencing, and the physical poverty they were going through.  He reminds them though they are spiritually rich.  The word “tribulation” means “pressure.”  They were under enormous pressure!  In Acts 14:22 we are told “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God.”  In John 16:33 Jesus spoke “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  Every day of our lives we need to remember we have genuine reason to be of good cheer.  It is because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has overcome the world!


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Recommended Reading Winter/Spring 2019 (Pt. 2) (June 11, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading Winter/Spring 2019 (Pt. 2)

(June 11, 2019)


          Cell phones have changed our lives.  One could argue for better or for worse, but there is little doubt they have changed us, and the world in which we live. Tony Reinke has written a fantastic book called 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.  I found this book among the most fascinating reads of late.  He argues we have become addicted to distraction; that we devalue, perhaps even ignore flesh and blood in a way previously unknown; that we crave immediate approval through social media; that literacy to a large degree is being lost as people skim and speed-read in a way never done before; that we are losing a sense of true meaning; that we are lonelier now than ever before; that much of the clear sense of right and wrong we once knew is being lost; that we are more harsh to one another; we are more comfortable than we have ever been before in secret vises, and much more.  Before reading this book, I assumed I had a good grasp of the problem, but Reinke really made me think about many things.  Put this book on your “must read” list.

          Some books just make you say “Wow,” and that is the case with author Melvin Tinker’s book That Hideous Strength: How the West was Lost: The Cancer of Cultural Marxism in the Church, the World and the Gospel of Change.  Tinker explores how the worldview behind the attempt to build the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is the same one that influenced Karl Marx and his socialistic descendants.  In recent decades we have seen a drastic change in western culture in how truth is viewed.  The secular worldview, sexually promiscuous, pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, anti-family mindset of today undermines the very idea of “truth” itself before any thoughts or ideas are shared!  Tinker writes this book in the backdrop of C. S. Lewis’ classic work That Hideous Strength where Lewis saw with remarkable precision and clarity where the thinking of even 70 years ago would take mankind.  Melvin Tinker’s book is pointed and eye-opening!

          Concerning the subject of church history I really enjoyed, and learned a lot from A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation by Justo L. Gonzalez.  The book traces the development of Sunday (The Lord’s Day) as the day of Christian worship moving from the Jewish Sabbath on the 7th day of the week.  Many think this was simple, with only a few lingering issues, but it was not so cut and dry.  There are several intriguing historical truths of which I was unaware until I read this book.  Gonzalez takes one through the middle ages, through The Reformation, and shows how the reformers felt about The Lord’s Day. Gonzalez then moves on to the Puritans, and then up to the more modern issues concerning the day of worship. 

          The Five “Solas” or “Sole authorities” coming out of the Protestant Reformation were the sole authority of Scripture alone; Faith alone; Grace alone; Christ alone; and by God’s Glory alone.  Jason K. Allen is the editor of a great new book that came out earlier this year called Sola: How the Five Solas are Still Reforming the Church.  A handful of authors write each chapter and give a great overview of each of the 5 solas.  It is a great introductions for those new to the subject and a great reminder for those who hold these near and dear.

          David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was perhaps the most amazing Bible expositor of the 20th century.  He preached with passion and precision to spellbound audiences.  I was blessed and inspired, while reading Steven J. Lawson’s book The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  This book is somewhat biographical but focuses mainly on the different aspects of his stellar preaching. 

          J. I. Packer has done a lot of research on English Puritanism and his writings celebrates these towering figures we know as “the Puritans.”  I enjoyed reading Packer’s book Puritan Portraits: Selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics.  A handful of key Puritans are covered with a bit of biography and a summary of their major works.  This book is a great introduction for someone wanting to know more about the English Puritans.

          On the subject of prayer I was blessed by re-reading Alone with God: Rediscovering the Power and Passion of Prayer as I prepared to teach through the book on Wednesday Evenings.  John MacArthur gives many wonderful quotes from famous preachers and writers of the past concerning prayer, offers deep and heart-rendering insights, and gives wonderful explanations to the phrases found in the Lord’s Prayer/Model Prayer.  Another related book which both helped and challenged me was The Essential Guide to Fasting: What it is, How to do it, and Why it Matters by Elmer Towns.  Fasting may not get the notoriety that prayer gets but it is vitally important, biblical, and useful to our spiritual development.  Towns gives great insight into this oft neglected spiritual discipline.

          Christians believe a lot of lies that they think are either Scriptural, or nearly Scriptural.  However, many of the views held are nothing more than “urban legends.”  In his great book 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth is Infinitely Better, author Shane Pruitt dispels some of the most common of these lies.  These include such misconceptions and “one liners” as “God won’t give me more than I can handle,” “God gained another angel,” “God just wants me to be happy,” “I could never forgive that person,” “Just follow your heart,” “God does not really care,” “Believe in yourself,” etc.  This book will help you separate fact from fiction in your own life and help you help others shine the light of Scripture by dispelling falsehoods and “old wives tales” about the Bible.

          Believers are well aware that the normalization of homosexuality, and even same-sex marriage, has come in like a flood and radically changed the culture right before our very eyes!  We have heard so much rhetoric and many have suspected that much of what they were hearing was not true but they did not have the knowledge, in many cases, to really say for certain this rhetoric was not accurate.  One of the most popular practices of our day by the political left is to revise history, which is easily done with the help of the internet. What is the actual truth concerning  the historical view of homosexuality?  Authors S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams have compiled an enormously helpful resource in their book Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition.  The research for this 402 page book is extensive and thorough.  They trace and extensively quote ancient writers, philosophers, Jewish Rabbis, consult early church confessions, the Protestant Reformers, up to modern writers and theologians to show how the church, and society in general has always stood opposed to homosexual practice. The authors also examines many Scriptures that speak about homosexuality and show what they mean, and what they have been understood to mean historically.  They also spend significant time quoting and commenting on revisionist writers who have tried very hard to re-interpret the Bible to fit their lifestyle or simply accommodate the culture.  This is, by far, the most thorough treatment of the subject of homosexuality I have read to date.  I highly recommend all believers read this book.

          Abortion has been a hotly contested issue for a long time and figures to be for a long time to come, even though polls are showing a decline in the number of supporters.  Lives are at stake!  Believers must be educated on the issues in order to be able to argue the case for life.  John Ensor and Scott Klusendorf have done a great service by writing their book Stand for Life: A Student’s Guide for Making the Case and Saving Lives.  The book is heartfelt, challenging, and educational as it explores the abortion issue and offers suggestions as to how to get involved in this battle for life.  Another great book I read recently on this topic is Randy Alcorn’s book Why Pro-Life?  Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers.  It can be read quickly, but offers a great challenge.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, June 10, 2019

Recommended Reading Winter/Spring 2019 (Pt. 1) (June 10, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading Winter/Spring 2019 (Pt. 1)

(June 10, 2019)


          I have been privileged to read some great books over the past Winter and Spring and want to share with you some of the best titles from among that group.  Hope you are able to find, at least a few of these helpful for your ongoing study!

          Evangelism, like the “Old Gray Mare” of song lore, ain’t what she used to be many long years ago!  I really enjoyed reading Evangelism After Pluralism: The Ethics of Christian Witness by Bryan Stone.  This is not a “how to” book, but a book that explores what is ethical and right in a very complicated world.  Stone deals extensively with issues such as evangelism and competing world views, the difference between “empire” building and biblical evangelism, and the right and wrong of linking evangelism to church growth.  He devotes significant space to the difficulty of the position of military chaplain in these days and offers suggestions as to how one can carry out their duties and still honor Christ.  He also examines evangelism from the standpoint of beauty rather than simply a means to an end as Americans have typically come to see it.  The most interesting chapter in the book to me was a chapter called “The Pluralism of Consumer Culture” which explores how American Christians tend to mesh together their faith, and the evangelistic aspects of it with patriotism.  In an epilogue Stone deals with “The Meaninglessness of Apologetics” which is an interesting discussion about the place of apologetics in our modern era.  An overall helpful book.  Another great book I read on the subject of the Gospel, and how we present it to a changing world, that stood out was Ken Ham’s book Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant.  The basic premise of this book is that evangelistic efforts assume the Acts 2 model where we simply just share our faith with people; however this model assumes they have enough of a foundation to hear it and receive it.  Ham proposes what he calls the Acts 17 model which helps to establish the foundation they need.  This model is based on Paul’s encounter with the philosophers at Mars Hill where he took them back to the beginning as their starting place.  Ham believes that our present culture is without a biblical foundation and if we are going to build one, we have to be willing to go back to the beginning in Genesis.

          There are many books on tithing and/or stewardship.  I have read many of them but I recently read a book that helped me put it all into a new perspective.  I would argue that this book actually laid out for me the actual “New Testament” perspective more than any book I have read on the subject.  The book is God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer.  These young men, only in their twenties, are wise beyond their years.  Both are exceptionally bright graduates of Harvard Business School and they could not help but notice many principles they learned concerning economics are highly applicable to Christian Stewardship; not only that, but are more in line with New Testament principles than the vast majority of books that address the subject.  The American mentality seems to be spend on yourself, save for yourself, financially plan and strategize for yourself, and even give money away essentially for yourself and your own satisfaction.  This book challenges that thinking by presenting a strong case for how Christians should view money and wealth in Kingdom perspective. The first part of the book presents foundational principles for stewardship and management of wealth.  The second part of the book lays out a framework for how people can become investors in the Kingdom of God rather than in themselves.  The third portion of the book gives many practical way a person can demonstrate true stewardship in their communities.  The book gives many real-life examples of those who have put the principles outlined in the book into practice.

          Books related to hermeneutics are needed for most Christians.  In fact, no one ever really gets to the place where these type books are not helpful.  I really enjoyed The Story of Scripture: How We God Our Bible and Why We Can Trust It by Robert L. Plummer.  It is short, straightforward, and easy to understand.  It can serve as a great reference for the average layman.  I also enjoyed a book called Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward.  He raises and answers many questions related to this standard, and trusted translation of the Scripture.  Ward helps one consider, in what I believe to be a fair way, the strengths and weaknesses of the King James Version of Scripture.  Another great book in this area I benefited from was How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss.  It is a great tool to help the reader wade through much of the confusion concerning the multitude of Bible translations available today and know what strengths and weaknesses to look for in each.

          I enjoyed reading through Fatal Flaws: What Evolutionists Don’t Want You To Know by Hank Hanegraaff.  It is a quick and easy read but touches on many of the major issues where modern scientists/evolutionary theory and Scripture conflict.  It is a great beginners guide toward exploring these issues.

          One of my very favorite recent reads was a book called The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski.  The author describes himself as a “Secular Jew.”  He holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and has written books on mathematics and Newtonian Physics, as well as served as a professor at various institutions.  He is a fellow at the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and frequent writer for scientific journals.  Berlinski makes no claims to even being a Christian, but does two important things in this book.  First, he decimates contemporary Darwinists and their writings by exposing their fallacies, bias’s, unscientific conclusions, preconceived notions, arrogance, and pretentious attitudes.  Second, he shows how faith in the God of the Bible is quite reasonable in light of what we do know about life and the universe.  His perspective is both unique and interesting.

          Many Christians trust the Bible without being ready to defend the Bible in a highly skeptical age.  In recent decades there have been a flood of books published to defend the Christian faith to skeptics and strengthen the beliefs of the saints.  When we understand the reasons for our faith and why we can trust the things we believe we tend to be much more motivated to serve, witness, disciple others, and walk day by day with God.  Peter J. Williams’ book Can We Trust the Gospels? is a great tool to strengthen your faith in the 4 Gospels in particular.  I was expecting a review of what I already knew and believed, but Williams gave several new arguments, evidence, and information I had never really thought about in chapters such as “Undesigned Coincidences” and “Who Would Make All This Up?”  He takes you inside a thought process that I had never quite reached before, which led me to a greater and deeper understanding of these foundational documents of the Christian faith.

          Certainly one of the most intriguing books I have read recently was a book by author Timothy Dailey called The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens, and Mysterious Beings.  I must confess that at a few points, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck while reading this book!  There are many unexplained things but it is important to understand that many things are simply in people’s mind; however if we do not grasp the fact that demons are hard at work in this world we will not get much of what is going on.  This book gives a number of historical case studies with bizarre endings.  Dailey does very thorough research and is an excellent writer.  This book will keep you riveted.


In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor