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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Forward! In God’s Favor

This message and excerpts from other plenary messages can be viewed at AGTV.

Dr. George O. Wood, chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, delivered the following keynote address Feb. 6, 2011, at the World AG Congress in Chennai, India.

We begin this World Assemblies of God Congress with the theme “Forward! Vision AG 2020!” Our prayer is that over these next 10 years the Assemblies of God will grow from 335,000 churches to 500,000, from 63 million believers to 100 million.   

But this must not be our most important goal. Our central and main mission is to please our Lord and to walk in God’s favor.

What does Jesus want from the Assemblies of God? What will bring Him joy? What is on His heart as we enter this second decade of the 21st century?

I find the answer by going back to the Early Church at the end of the first century. The first three chapters of Revelation record Jesus giving both His approval and disapproval to seven churches. Those seven churches were less than 50 years old when Jesus gave them a checkup.

We learn from these letters to the seven churches what pleases Him, what it means to be a church that lives in God’s favor. So, as we begin this World Assemblies of God Congress, let’s ask: “What does it mean for the Assemblies of God to go forward in God’s favor?”

1. Love Jesus passionately! We learn that from His concern for the Ephesian church (Revelation 2:1-7).

Jesus had observed them closely, as He does all churches today. There was much to praise in this church. Jesus notes they had worked hard, had endured hardship and had not grown weary, that they had tested those who claimed to be apostles and had not tolerated wicked men.

Certainly, Jesus sees the same things in our churches today. In many countries our believers face fierce persecution and even martyrdom — but they persevere knowing that the crown of life is waiting. In Western countries, believers are increasingly facing marginalization and disdain because of our commitment to Christ being the only means of salvation and our commitment to morality.

The Pentecostal Movement also continually must deal with false teachers who claim all kinds of titles and privileges, who abuse the people of God and teach things neither Jesus nor the apostles ever even thought of. The Lord looks with favor on the Assemblies of God as it tests false teachers, as we hold true to the faith.

But here was the problem Jesus saw with the Ephesian church. They were passionate to do His work, passionate in rejecting false doctrine, even passionate to suffer for Him — but they had left their first love for Him.

The Ephesian church shows us the danger of doing the work of the Lord without love for the Lord!

Think of the young bride. Every morning she greets her husband with an embrace. She goes about her duties of the day thinking of him, longing to see him when work is done. She meets him again with an embrace in the evening, and they share their experiences of the day and their love for one another. But days, weeks, months and even years go by. She becomes occupied with the duties of life and caring for the children. She has changed her habit of embracing her husband when they part in the morning or when they meet again at night. Her duty as a wife is fulfilled, but her first love has been left.

This is the problem with the Ephesian church. They no longer loved the Bridegroom, Jesus, with passion. The Christian life had become a duty rather than a delight. They had fallen out of love with Jesus.

Let’s learn from their example. Let’s keep our first love for Jesus. After all, He has never lost His first love for us!

2. Stay true in times of suffering. We learn that from the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11).

One of the more well-known early Christian martyrs was from Smyrna — Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle. He had led the church in Smyrna, and as an old man was put to the stake in the stadium. The Roman authority offered him one last chance to renounce his faith in Christ before they set him on fire. Polycarp replied: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

In the past few years we have seen a tremendous upsurge in the persecution of followers of Jesus Christ, many of whom are Assemblies of God pastors and people. In numerous countries it is a crime punishable by death to become a Christian. During these next 10 years, should Jesus delay His return, it is sobering to realize how many from our Fellowship will lose their lives or suffer for the cause of Christ.

The Lord did not promise the church at Smyrna that He would remove their difficulties. He offered no earthly solution to their suffering. But He did promise the crown of life to those who stay true in times of suffering.

3. Reject compromise with the world. We learn this from the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17).

The believers at Pergamum lived in a demonic environment with powerful pagan temples and Caesar worship. Jesus says, “I know where you live — where Satan has his throne” (Revelation 2:13, NIV). Both believers and the devil lived in the same place. But the church had held up against the outward pressure of paganism even in the face of the recent martyrdom of Antipas.

The church’s downfall was that it tolerated a minority within its own ranks who “held to the teaching of Balaam.” Balaam was the prophet who induced the Children of Israel to immorality.

We must be on guard lest we tolerate a minority in the Assemblies of God who say, “We can go to church on Sunday but live as we please during the week. We can pay our tithes but be crooked in business. We can love Jesus and live immorally.” We must be on guard against those who want all the benefits of grace but none of the cost of discipleship. God has also called us to be a holy people — to follow in Christ’s steps and live a life worthy of Him.

4. Keep making progress. We learn this from the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29).

Jesus says to this church, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are doing more than you did at first” (v. 19). What a great testimony ­­— that as the church grew older, it grew better!

In actuality, the town of Thyatira was the least important city of the seven. It was a military town at the junction of two valleys, and its function was to delay an invading army long enough for Pergamum in the northeast to ready its defenses.

But, amazingly, the church in the least important city received the longest letter! The town was a doormat for invading armies, but the Lord promised the church in that town would have authority over the nations and that they would have the Morning Star! (The Morning Star is the only one still shining when all the other stars are gone. There are great preachers, great missionaries, great teachers, and they are all wonderful stars in God’s constellation of heroes. But there is only One Great Savior; He is the Morning Star!)

There are numerous small AG churches and national bodies all around the world. The promise made to Thyatira is also a promise made to you. You will have authority over the nations! How? From your midst will come missionaries who will bring the gospel to areas where others cannot go.

For the Assemblies of God to reach forward in “Vision AG 2020!” every missionary-receiving country must also become a missionary-sending country. The Lord is calling us to pray and work so that this new decade will be one of great progress!

5. Treasure the true riches. We learn this from the church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6).

Jesus says to this church, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (v. 1).

Sardis is a church whose reality does not match its reputation. It has a reputation for being alive. Perhaps it has a large membership, a beautiful sanctuary, strong finances. Maybe it was even doing some good in the community for other people.

But when the Lord examines it He doesn’t give it a single compliment. He says, “It’s dead.” There is almost nothing better organized than a graveyard. And, organization, as good as it is, will not save the Assemblies of God.

What was lacking at Sardis was God’s presence. Here was a church operating without the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s possible for a church to exist for a period of time on the momentum of a past generation, to stay organized, and to appear alive. Sardis is a sobering example that it takes only one generation for a church to become spiritually dead.

We sometimes falsely think that if we could just go back and be the Early Church, all would be well. But here is a church in Sardis that has a living apostle, John, but yet is essentially backslidden. The Lord doesn’t even have a single good word to say about it.

How fast can a church depart from Christ? How fast can the Assemblies of God depart from Him? In one generation, if we are not watchful.

We must continue to move forward as people of the Spirit. Our true riches are what we have in Christ. We must not rely upon our reputation, our history, our education, our organization or structure. We must continue to rely upon Christ, and receive the Spirit, which He has poured forth from the Father!

6. Respond to opportunity. This is what we learn from the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).

The city of Philadelphia had been founded to spread Greek language and culture to the East. The Lord sees that the church in Philadelphia had little strength; nevertheless, the Lord told the church there that He had set before it an open door. In other words, the city had spread Greek culture; now the church was to spread the gospel.

In the decade ahead, we need to get aside and spend time with the Lord to discern where the door is open. As Spirit-filled people, we can never be satisfied with things as they are now. We are not called to rest on our accomplishments, even though who would have believed even 60 years ago that the then 1 million Assemblies of God people would be more than 63 million today?

We are grateful to God, for this is His doing. But we must not rest there. We must not sit back, fold our hands and say, “We’ve done enough.” A church that walks in God’s favor keeps praying for, searching for, and walking through the open door. We will never walk through an open door unless we are willing to leave wherever we are comfortable, unless we are willing to be people who move in faith.

More than 2 billion people have never heard the gospel. Several months ago, I was in a city of 17 million that has less than 1,000 followers of Christ. We must hear the heart of God for that great city and for the great cities of this world — for the towns, the villages, the farming areas.

7. Satisfy the thirst of Jesus. We learn that from the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).

The city of Laodicea had a problem with its water supply. A town not far away was known for its hot sulfur water, providing refreshing baths for weary and hurting people. Another town in the opposite direction was known for its cold water. The church at Laodicea was like its town’s water supply — neither hot nor cold. It did not satisfy the thirst of Jesus. Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matthew 25:35). How do we satisfy Jesus’ thirst?

Clearly the Laodicean church had resources — it was rich and increased in goods and felt it had need of nothing. But it offered no cold water to the spiritually thirsty or hot water to the spiritually weary. It had not satisfied the thirst of Jesus. What is that thirst? Whenever we minister to others in the name of Jesus, we satisfy His thirst.

The letter to the Laodiceans closes with an amazing observation. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Certainly, we can apply these words to salvation, but that is not the original context for these words.

The context is this: The Laodicean church had actually put Jesus outside His own church, and He is forced to stand outside and knock to gain entrance. How gracious He is to still stand there rather than bang the door down or just leave. Jesus — standing outside His own church! How unthinkable! May that never be the case within the Assemblies of God!

When we minister this gospel by all means to every person in this whole wide world we are satisfying the thirst of Jesus, and Jesus opens doors for ministry when we are intent on satisfying His thirst.

With all our shortcomings and failures, Jesus is seen as walking among the golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12,13). Five of the seven churches had deficiencies. Jesus had nothing good to say about two of the five, but He still regards all the churches as “golden.” He is walking among us as He walked among them.

As we begin this World Assemblies of God Congress, I urge us to go forward in God’s favor: To love Jesus passionately, to stay true in times of suffering, to reject compromise with the world, to keep making progress, to treasure the true riches, to respond to opportunity, and to satisfy the thirst of Jesus.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God and chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship.

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