Postcards From the Edge | A Letter to Weary People | Rev 3:7-13 | Week 7

William Cimillo, on March 28, 1947, woke up and went to work like he did every other day.  He was a bus driver in New York City.  This day was a little bit different.  William started out on his normal route, and instead of making his first stop in New York City, he just kept driving.  He went to New Jersey and had a sandwich in a café for lunch, then he just kept driving more.  Driving and driving.  Eventually he got to Washington, D.C., in his RTD bus.  He got out, took a look at the White House and decided to keep going.  He traveled down the East Coast, from New York City to Hollywood, Florida, where eventually he ran out of money and gas.  He went for a night swim, camped that evening, and in the morning called his “former” employer.  He told them where he was and what he needed.  They sent the FBI to come and investigate—it was a state bus.  No one was able to drive the bus, so William had to drive the bus back to New York for them.  He did.  By the time he got there, word had spread about his little meltdown.  He was so popular that he was too popular to actually fire, so they had to keep him on staff.  They asked him what had happened, and he said, “I was just tired of it all.  I felt like a squirrel in a cage, just running around and around, and I guess it got the better of me.”  I think he was greeted with such fanfare when he got back to New York because EVERYBODY has thought about doing the same thing.  Haven’t we?  We’ve been on our way to work or an appointment and thought, “Heads: California, tails: Carolina.”  Right?  It’s just too much.

I think a lot of our lives we feel like….{Ryan blows up a balloon}….we’re full and life’s good.  Sometimes, because that’s the case at points in our life, we expect that it’ll be the case at every point in our life.  But we all know that that’s not true, don’t we?  There’s things that we walk through that sort of take the air out of us a little bit.  Some of you, in the last few weeks, have gotten a diagnosis from the doctor that you weren’t hoping to get and. . . . .{Ryan releases air from the balloon} it’s taken the air out of you.  Some of you in this room are single parents.  You’re working and holding together a family {Ryan lets out more air from the balloon}, and it feels like you’re on life support.  Like the waves are beating against your boat and when is it going to stop.  Some of you have some things that have happened in your past.  Maybe it’s abuse or maybe it’s bad decisions you’ve made, and anytime you let your mind relax, instead of disciplining yourself not to think about that. . . . .{Ryan releases more air out of the balloon} that’s what you think about.  I don’t know about you, but it can feel like {Ryan releases remaining air out of balloon and it’s deflated} the life that we were suppose to live that is full, and meaningful, and vibrant, is elusive.  We live in a day and time where we are more disconnected from the things that fill our soul than any generation in any time has ever been.  We are entertained, but we’re not enriched.  We’re busy, but we are not full.  Our schedules are jammed packed, but our souls are on life support.  We can look at a picture like that and go, “That looks about right.”  Especially after a week like, as a nation, we’ve walked through.  We can go, “It feels like we’re running on empty.”  It’s a condition we would call weariness, or a tiredness of soul, not just body, but soul, where we know that if we cut things out of our schedule, it doesn’t solve the problem.  If we go on vacation, it’s still there.

Jesus has words for us, words for weary people.  How many are glad that Jesus has words for weary people?  I am!  That’s the letter that he writes to the church of Philadelphia.  If you have your Bible, will you open with me to Revelation 3:7.  We’ve walked through five other letters; we have one remaining next week.  The letter to Philadelphia is letter number six.  Here’s how Jesus starts it:  And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write….  We’re going to stop there, because as it’s been the case, if you’ve been with us the last few week, you know what Jesus says and the way he addresses each church in his letters is meaningful based on their history, based on their culture, based on their economy.  Jesus cares about it all and all of it matters.

So let me tell you a little bit about Philadelphia.  Philadelphia is roughly 80 miles inland and 26 miles southwest of Sardis.  It didn’t have a port, obviously, so commercial trade wasn’t a huge deal for Philadelphia.  It was the newest of the seven cities that Jesus writes to.  It was planted intentionally by a prominent pilgrim, a ruler, from Pergamum, who moved to this area, planted the city of Philadelphia so that it would be a missionary city.  Their goal was to spread the Greek culture, to spread the Greek way, hellenism, to take over this area and this region. Surrounding it is Mysia, Lydia, and Phyrygia; it did such a great job spreading the Greek way, that Lydia ditched their language and started speaking Greek.  It was considered to be a “Little Athens,” so it had a number of different temples around.   It had paganism that was rampant in this city.  That’s what the followers of Jesus were up against.

The most defining characteristic about Philadelphia though, was that in AD 17, they had lived through, or suffered, one of the worst earthquakes in this region.  It was so bad that the people who were living in the city of Philadelphia moved out of the city and into the countryside.  Listen to what one Roman historian writes:  “The actual town has few inhabitants, for the majority live in the countryside.  One is surprised even at the few, that they are so fond of the place, when they have such insecure dwellings.”  Everything was falling apart to the extent that people said we should camp, we should backpack.  Let’s not live here because we might die.  They moved to the countryside.

Being a follower of Jesus in Philadelphia would have had a different dynamic with it also.  The Jewish population in Philadelphia really felt like if you were a follower of Jesus, that was all fine and good, but first you needed to become a Jew.  They were called Judaizers.  If you were a man, you needed to have a little minor surgery called circumcision.  You needed to go through the ritual cleanings and washings, and you needed to follow Torah, AND you could follow Jesus.  The followers of Christ said listen, we’re all about Jesus, so they were kicked out of the synagogue.

That was the condition that Jesus finds this church in and he starts writing to them.  Listen to what he says:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, {You could read that as genuine, to his core he is who he is.} who holds the key of David.  What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.    Literally, in the Greek, it’s I know you have no dynamin.  It’s where we get our English word dynamite.  It means power, it means strength, it means you’ve got wind in your sails to continue to live another day and go to work, and love your spouse, and do all the things you need to do.  Jesus is going, “I know.  I know that you are barely hanging on.”

Now, if you were with us last week, you studied with us the letter to the church at Sardis.  It was interesting because, in it, Jesus comes at them with this tone…..wake up, you guys, you’re asleep.  Like, people think you’re alive, but you’re dead.  Strengthen what remains.  He’s like COME ON!  Poking them along.  The letter to Philadelphia is almost so starkly different that we could assume they were placed right next to each other to draw out a contrast.  There’s no condemnation in the letter to Philadelphia.  No. . .Come on, you guys, get with it.  It’s all promises.  It’s all Jesus saying here’s what I’m going to do.  Here’s what I’ve done, here’s who I am.  Weary people, people with little strength, powerless, listen to what I say.  Here’s what he said:  I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  Those that are against you, I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you.  I will keep you.  I am coming soon.  I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God.  I will write on them the name of my God and I will also write on them my new name.   I will, I will, I will.  I have, I have, I have.  I KNOW.

Here’s my question:  Is the church in Philadelphia perfect?  No.  Here’s how we know that—they’re humans.  They’re human beings.  They’re imperfect.  And yet, there’s no place in this letter that Jesus says, “Come on.  Step it up.  You’re doing this wrong.”  I started to ask myself why not?  He could have said that to them and it would have been true, so why not say it?  I studied this letter more and more, and I studied these seven letters in Revelation,  and you just get the sense as you study them, that Jesus meets people exactly where they are, not where they should be.  Jesus doesn’t just say true things to people, he says true things that are helpful for them.  He says true things that they can receive.  Let me just step back a moment and say, “As followers of Jesus, I think that maybe, from the outside looking in, that people have the perspective of us that we just say things that are true.”  We say it because it’s true, without ever thinking about is it helpful.  We have a word for this. . . . .when we say something that’s both true and helpful, it’s called wisdom.  Anybody can say true things.  It takes wisdom to say something that’s true AND helpful, which is why Jesus comes to weary followers of his way and says I will, I will, I will, I have, I have, I have, I am, I am, I am, not what are you guys doing.  Because he knows that’s not what they need.  Here’s what he says to them:  I have, I have.  I will, I will.  And he makes promise after promise after promise after promise because he wants to point out that when you have little power, you still possess great promise.  When you have little power, you still possess great promises.

I’ve thought about that and the week that we’ve had, and I’ve lamented, even in this service, so God, what does it look like to have little strength but great access to you?  What does it look like to have little power but great promise?  How do we live in this tension of both hope and hurt, of both God you’re up to something, yet there’s a reality that my feet are firmly planted in and I refuse to ignore that the world is broken and not as it should be?  What’s God’s word to the weary?  Is it try a little harder, do a little more?  You’re weary because you’re not trusting enough.  You can hear that some places.  There are times maybe that it’s true, but the majority of the time, it’s that the pain and sorrow of life is just getting real.  So to this church Jesus doesn’t say you’re not doing enough, step it up, get with it.  He goes I will, I have, and I am.  I think David knew this; all the things David went through—on the run, hiding—he still comes back to this place and says this:  My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (Psalm 119:28)  Like, God, tell me something.  Tell me you’re up to something.  Remind me that you’re in this. God, tell me something that’s true.  Don’t tell me something cliché like, well, everything happens for a reason.  Which isn’t true!  God, tell me something that’s true, like you’re in this with me, like you love me, like you’re good.

It’s the stuff that Jesus shares with this church in Revelation because they’re weary and he’s got a word for the weary.  Let me show you what it is in Revelation 3.  I’m jumping up back to the beginning because we skipped over a portion of this that’s really, really important and here’s what it is:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.  What Jesus is doing through the Apostle John is referencing on Old Testament prophetic verse, Isaiah 22:22.  I’d encourage you to write this down and sometime this week to go read it.  It’s in that passage that God (Yahweh) promises his people that a man of integrity would replace a corrupt government.  This person would be in charge of the city, they’d be in charge of the temple, they would be in charge of making sure the court system (justice) was executed.  This idea started to gain steam over centuries and centuries.  People who read Isaiah looked at it and said that it was talking about messiah, when the savior/redeemer comes.  Jesus goes you’ve got it.  I am he.  I have those keys.

Verse 8 –  What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before yo an open door that no one can shut.  Remember, Philadelphia was planted intentionally as a missionary city, to spread the Greek way and Greek culture all throughout the region, and it was successful at that.  But Jesus is saying that what was originally intended to spread Greek culture is going to be used to spread Gospel culture.  That what they planted in order to spread the Greek way and all sorts of polytheistic ideas, and rampant sexuality, and temple prostitution, and all those things. . . . . God is going to redeem that and he’s going to use this strategically planted city as an open door for His redemptive goodness, wholeness, and love for his creation.  Here’s the way we see it in Acts 14:27, this same phrase that’s littered throughout the New Testament:  On arriving there, {This is Paul.} they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  Here’s what Jesus is saying to this weary church. . . . .there’s a promise, and the promise is that even though they have little strength, they have great access.  They have access to opportunity in the midst of adversity.  Even though they’re short on strength, they are strong in spirit.

Friends, will you lean in for just a moment?  We typically look at our surroundings, we look at our circumstances, we look at our resources, and we decide what God might want to do with our life. So, God, I have this and I have this and I’m here, therefore, boom! you might want to do that.  You do know that that’s not the way God works, right?  He’ll often ask you what you have in your hand and where you are standing, but sometimes when he asks you what you have in your hand it’s so you can throw the stick down and it becomes a snake.  (Exodus 3)  It’s Paul in prison in AD 62, on house arrest and here’s his prayer.  His prayer is one of opportunity in the midst of adversity.  Pray for me, also. . . . .pray for me.  I’m on house arrest in Rome, but will you pray for me?  Will you pray that I get out?  That’s not what he says.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Eph. 6:19-20)   Here’s what I think Paul recognizes:  Even though this door is closed, the door that leads to my freedom, there’s a number of doors that are NOT closed.  There’s people coming in every single day.  They’re bringing in my food, they’re caring for my needs, and they are a captive audience.

I think there’s a lot of times in life, you guys, if I can just speak really honestly about my life and what probably happens in yours. . . . . .where we get a few doors shut—–that job didn’t work out, that relationship didn’t work out, the health thing didn’t work out.   We get a few doors shut and our assumption is that every door is shut. What’s fascinating to me is that Jesus does not come to this church and say, “I have opened ALL the doors.”  He doesn’t.  Read it, it’s very specific.  He says, “I have opened door.”  So when all the doors are shut in your face, or you feel like they are, will you just know that there’s at least one that’s open by his grace.  There’s at least one.  We can get so discouraged.  Man, we have a litany of things in our past that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to, right?  It can take the wind out of our sails, or the air out of our proverbial balloon.  Here’s the picture of disappointment—-driving forward but constantly looking in the rearview mirror.  God, I wish you would have, but you didn’t and I don’t know why.  That causes us to miss the fact that man, even though things aren’t exactly the way that I would design them, there’s still an opportunity there.  Even though the marriage is on the rocks, there’s still an opportunity there.  Even though things didn’t work out the way that you wanted them to, in whatever situation you carry in this room, {you’re welcome to carry those things in, please do} there’s an opportunity that’s still there.

Jesus doesn’t just leave it there and say, “Look for the open doors.”  He tells this church HOW they continue to walk through these doors.  Look at what he says right after “you have little strength” —- Yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.   Jesus is saying that this church at Philadelphia recognizes that disappointment is not an excuse for disobedience.  Because God doesn’t come through in the way we think he should, it doesn’t give us the opportunity to say, well, God, I trusted you for this and I thought you were going to do this, and this is how you’re asking me to live, and I don’t wanna live that way anymore, and since YOU didn’t come through on your end of the bargain, I’m not coming through on mine!  Please don’t tell me I’m the only one that’s thrown that childish temper tantrum to God.  If my spouse doesn’t treat me the way I think they should then I’m not going to treat them the way God tells me to treat them.  But don’t we play that game?  God, you didn’t come through, therefore I’m not going to.  Cold war, God.  God’s like no, no, no, no, no.  When you say I’m disappointed therefore I’ll be disobedient, you miss the opportunity that God wants to bring into your life in the midst of the adversity.

Jesus says to this church, man, stay with it, you guys.  I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Rev. 3:11)   If you’re thinking about tapping out because you’ve lost someone you love, and it’s God’s fault, or you blame God, don’t tap out.  Stay with it.  If you’re thinking about saying, “I’m done with this because progress isn’t being made in the midst of the pain,” stick with it.  YET you’ve kept my word.

Here’s the way Jesus goes on (verses 9-10) — I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, {These are the Judaizers, these are people who have kicked the followers of Christ out of the synagogue, and now they’re exposed to persecution in the Roman empire.  They were under the covering of the Jews before, but they’re no longer there.} who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have love you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.  What’s fascinating is that tribulation did come.  It came hard and it came strong, through the Roman empire, and Philadelphia was one of the churches that continued to stand.  It continued to stand, not just through that persecution that Jesus is referring to, but persecution from the Ottoman empire, persecution from the Crusaders as they came through.  This church was so resilient, and Jesus told them they would be.  Hold on, you guys.  He makes this statement:  I will MAKE people acknowledge that I have loved you.  Jesus is saying that one of the promises that holds us is that we have access to affection in the midst of affliction.

Think about this, the word to the weary, up to this point, is two things.  One, there’s still opportunity, which answers the question when we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death: God, are you up to anything in this?  He goes, oh yeah.  The second statement Jesus makes, “I will make them acknowledge that I love you,” is the second question we often ask God when we’re walking through the valley.  God, do you love me?  What Jesus wants to reaffirm to this church is oh man, I loved you, and I have loved you, and I will love you, and I will not let you go.  I think there’s this allusion, not so subtle, to Genesis 37.  Joseph has this dream that all of his brothers are going to bow down and worship him.  He has this dream and goes to his brothers the next morning and says, “Hey, guys, good news!  You’re all going to worship me some day.”  They’re like, “Good news, you’re on a train to Egypt!”  They sell him into slavery and there’s all these things that happen in Joseph’s life.  Eventually, there’s a famine in the world that Joseph, because of a dream he gets from God, sees coming, tells the Egyptians to hold and store their food so they have enough to sustain them.  His brothers need food, they come to him, and they bow.   They bow because they see the goodness of God that’s stamped on his life.  They bow because there’s something because of the way he’s followed Yahweh that has created a storehouse from which people draw from.  I think Jesus is painting the same picture — They’re going to see that my fingerprints are all over you.  They’re going to see that I’ve blessed you.  As John says in 1 John 3:1-2, when He is revealed, we will be revealed with Him.  People will go, oh, I didn’t see Paulson like that when he was here.  So there’s this ‘both-and.’  It’s an eschatological picture Jesus is painting, but also a very everyday picture.

He gives them this promise in verse 12 that’s fascinating, in light of their history.   The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will they leave it.   What Jesus is doing is making a not-so-subtle, to the first century reader, reference to the fact that when the earthquakes hit, everybody did leave the city.  Because it was insecure.  Because it was falling down around them.  Years and years and years later, the only thing standing in Philadelphia was these two pillars that held the Byzantine church that was there.  That’s awesome!  Jesus is saying that the love that I’ve placed on you, the affection that I’ve covered you with, will sustain you, will hold you, will carry you, will keep you, even when it feels like all the world is crumbling down around you.  So for weary people this morning, can I just tell you He’s for you?  That He loves you.  That He’s good.  He has not let you go.  That the book of Romans 8:38-39 says:  ….neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   NOTHING!!  He’s going, you’re going to stand in that, for all time.

Here’s how he ends it:  The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will they leave it.  I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.  If our question is, God, where are you in the midst of this?  He goes, there’s still an open door.  And if our question is, God, do you still love me even when it feels like everything in life is just exhausted and exhausting, and painful and sorrowful?  If our questions then are God, is this ever going to change?  His answer to the first is there’s opportunity.  His answer to the second is there’s affection.  His answer to the third is this promise that in the midst of despair there is a hope in destiny. {Slide: Access to destiny in the midst of despair.}

He says it in two ways.  One, you will have written on you the name of your God.  In the ‘prosperity gospel stream,’ there’s this idea of ‘name it and claim it.’  You see it, you want it, you tell God, it’s done.  What God is saying to you is I have named you and I have claimed you, and you are mine!!  My name is on you to signify it, to make you remember it, for ALL time, that you would be carrying my name.  What’s fascinating is that the city of Philadelphia, before Jesus wrote this letter, had gone through two different name changes.  After an earthquake, they were restored by Tiberius, so they called the city Neoceasarea, the new Ceasar city.  A number of years later, they were restored by Vespasian, so they named the city Flavius, after that.  {Can you imagine the branding nightmares?!  I just got this Flavius tattoo and now we’re back to Philadelphia?  Whatever!}  So when Jesus tells them this, they know what that looks like, they know what that means.  He’s going my name’s never going to change.  My name’s on you.

We all have a choice between two approaches in life.  We can either work at earning a name or we can posture ourselves to receive a name.  But it’s only those two choices.  Sometimes we’re named by our accomplishments, and sometimes we’re named by our failures, and sometimes we’re named by our relationships—-somebody might call you son, or daughter, or dad, or grandpa, or uncle, or aunt.  Most of the time, we’re riding one achievement to the next in order to say this is who I am.  Jesus wants to speak into that fog and say no, no, no, no, your destiny is as MINE, as MY children, as carrying MY name.  But this you know, the prophet Isaiah says, This is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

The second thing he says, because that’s part of our destiny, but it’s not the whole picture, is oh yeah, let’s not forget I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem.  You need to flip over a few chapters in Revelation in order to get a picture of what Jesus is talking about.  This is way too good to just point you to it and tell you to read it at some point if you ever get a chance.  This is a picture of our destiny.  So our question, as we started and entered into lament, is God, where are you in this? and God, what are you doing?  Sometimes the answer to that can be slippery, but here’s how followers of Jesus answer the problem of evil and suffering and pain in our world.  God does not ignore that; God does not stand at a distance, but he enters in.  He entered in to the depth that he took the most vile expression of that evil, and of that violence, and of that heartache, and of that pain, and he took it on the cross and he took it into the grave and into the depths of hell.  He buried sin and he buried death and he buried evil, and he walked out the other side with the hope of glory.

Revelation 21:1-5 — Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”   Here’s what Jesus is saying:  There’s a time limit on your disappointment.  There’s a time limit on your weariness.  Even now, God is working and weaving and making all things new.  There’s a time limit on wondering God, where are you? because the day is coming when resurrection will be a reality, and the new creation that Jesus began when he walked out of the grave, will be complete.  Now we stand with our feet in two worlds—one of reality and one of hope.  One day those will come together.

So what does this mean for us as a church?  It means we’re going to be a harbor for weary people.  If Jesus cares about the weariness of the soul that people carry, we should too.  Isaiah 50:4—-I pray it before I preach, every single week.  God, give me a word for the weary.  If you’re weary, you’re welcome here.  If you don’t have it all together, you don’t have to pretend like you do.  Sometimes the reality is life feels {deflated, limp} and we don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t.  So we’re not going to beat people down with religion — you gotta do this, you gotta do that.  We’re going to introduce people to Jesus.  We believe that when we see Him we’re changed. We’re going to provide opportunity and point it out.  We’re going to affirm God’s affection for people and we’re going to point people to THAT day that Jesus referred to.

You might be asking what do I do with that this week?  How does that impact my week?  What can I do to drive that deeper into my soul?  What if this week, you asked someone how they were doing, and then you really listened to what they told you?  And when they said things are going good, and you had this sense that maybe they weren’t, you pushed a little bit further and said, “Hey, you know what?  If it’s not going okay, I’d love to talk to you about it, and I’m here for you.”  That’s birthed out of the training we had yesterday, People Welcoming People workshop.  If you missed that I’m sorry for you.  We’ll try to do it again.  It was awesome!  But really listen.

What if this week you memorized Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says this to his followers:  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, {He wants us to learn how to carry the burdens of life.  They’re not going to go away, but you can carry them a little bit different.}  for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

We’re going to close our time with a prayer and a song.  But there’s two words I have on my heart, this year, for us as a body.  One is attentive.  I want us to be attentive to what God is doing in our midst.  The second is responsive.   I’d like you to ask yourself this question:  Is your soul weary?  Are you exhausted?  Schedule’s full but your soul is parched.  You’re entertained, but maybe you’re not enriched.  You’re busy, but you’re not full.  If that’s you and you’re sort of running on empty, will you raise your hand?  So Father, with all these hands raised, I pray that your Spirit would minister.   That you’d strengthen, that you’d raise up, that you’d remind us of the opportunities that are still in front of us in the midst of adversity.  That the affection that’s for us in the midst of affliction, and the destiny that you have purchased, even as we walk through despair.  Would we be people who set our mind and our hope there.  I pray over my friends who are weary today.  By the power of your Spirit, would you strengthen us?  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Postcards From the Edge | A Letter to Weary People | Rev 3:7-13 | Week 72020-08-20T15:14:15-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Stuck People | Revelation 3:1-6 | Week 6

The words from God to this nation were “keep going.”  But they were words that were built on a story.  They weren’t just said in a vacuum.  See, this nation of roughly 2,000 people found themselves in a valley, and they heard those words from God, but BEFORE that, they’d seen the hand of God.  It was God who’d led them out of 400 years of slavery into freedom, but he led them to this place where they were on this peninsula.  Water surrounding them on three sides.  Miraculously, the Red Sea parted and they walked through on dry ground.  But he didn’t stop there.  Every morning when they woke up, there was a little bit of bread they called manna that was lying on the ground, just enough to get them through the day, and the next day it was there again.  Sometimes, quail came in, so they got a little meat in their diet, but not regularly.  They had just enough.  They were in the wilderness and walking through the desert and they had no water and God told Moses to hit a rock with a stick, and the rock turned into a well and water just started flowing from it.  They’d seen unbelievable things:  their clothes didn’t wear out, their shoes stayed good, they saw God’s gracious hand of provision all along the way.  He said to them, “Keep going.  Keep going.  You’re out of slavery, you’re in the desert, but I’m leading you to the Promised Land.  Don’t stop here.”

They were sent to spy out this land.  A land that they found was flowing with milk and honey.  They brought back grapes for people to taste.  Evidently they were amazing grapes!  They said, “Yeah, there’s milk and honey.  It’s unbelievable!  It’s wonderful!”  God said, “Keep going.”  But they said, “There’s also giants in the land.”  I don’t think you understand, God, or maybe you do, but we’re sort of like grasshoppers and they’re sort of BIG and if you really wanted us to keep going, you should have made us a little bit stronger.  So they stopped.  A people created for the Promised Land found wandering in the desert for 40 years.  Because God wouldn’t force them to take that step.  He gave them every resource they needed; it was right in front of them and they said, “No, thank you.”  People created for the vast horizon, for the expansive landscape, for the milk and honey of the Promised Land, SETTLED for the desert.

I wonder how many of us here this morning have settled.  Have just gotten stuck.  I’ve talked to a lot of people and sometimes it’s the pain of our past and it just sinks an anchor down.  We’re like, God, this is not something I can get beyond.  Or maybe it’s the pride of standing on the top, and we go, God, me continue to move forward?  Is there still ground left to take?  Maybe some of us, it’s just this narrative we have in the back of our head, this insecurity that just plays, over and over and over again—if I take that step, if I make that effort, if I go that direction, I know the bottom’s going to fall out from underneath, so it’s just easier to build a camp, even if it’s in the desert, than it is to follow God into the Promised Land.   Can anybody relate to that?  I can.

In contrast to that mindset, we have the Olympics.  Has anybody stayed up way too late watching sports that they didn’t even remember existed unless it was four years ago?  Around the same time?  Now we’re all in on the luge.  I will not think about luge again until February 2022, I promise you, but right now, I will die for our team winning the luge, right?  We’re sleep deprived because we’re in on it, right?  I’m amazed at the stories they tell in between.  Stories of people like Lindsey Vonn, who destroys her knee, shatters her leg, breaks her arm, suffers with depression and divorce—she even dated Tiger Woods—and she’s there!  She pushes through.

What is it about some people that get stuck in the desert and other people push into the Promised Land?  What is it about our God that He believes about you and knows about you because He’s wired it into you?  He’s a forward-facing God and we are designed to be forward-moving people.  Growing.  Changing.  Maturing.  Walking with Him, but sometimes we lose sight of that.  This church that we’re going to read about today in Revelation 3 got stuck.  If you’ve ever gotten stuck, this letter’s for you.  If you’ve thought, “God, there’s something you’ve wired me for, but I’m in this place, I’ve settled down instead of being a pioneer,” this letter’s for you.

Remember, we’re studying the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, over these last few months, and we’ve been looking at different letters that Jesus writes, through the Apostle John, to the churches and to us.  Here’s what he says to the church in Sardis:  And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: “The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”

As we’ve been doing every week, I just want to tell you a little bit about Sardis.  It’s important.  I think it’s actually most important that we understand the context of Sardis, because I think there’s more allusions to their culture in this letter than in any of the other letters.  It’s fascinating!  Just a little bit about Sardis:  1) The people in Sardis were called Sardines!  No they weren’t.  Sardis is just inland a number of miles from Smyrna.  It was at this crossroads of two different roads, so it was a vibrant trade city.  It was known for developing a way to make garments out of wool, so that was sort of the calling card, in a commercial way, of this city.  They were known as a clothes-producing city.

Maybe the most famous part about Sardis is that it had this 1,500 foot peak that was in the back of the city.  If Sardis were ever under attack, they would retreat and go up to the top of this mountain.  There was a fortress built on top of it with a temple inside of it.  It was thought to be impenetrable. . . . .until it wasn’t.  It was around 500 BC that Cyrus and the Persian army gathered around, they sat in that valley near Sardis.  They were looking for a way to attack Sardis and they couldn’t find any way.  Until one of the guards, who was on the watch, had a helmet that fell off of his head.  It went rolling down the side of the mountain.  This guy went and traversed down the mountain on a ‘hidden’ path that the Persians couldn’t see.  And they went, ah, duly noted.  So that’s how you get up to the top of that fortress.  Wonderful!  The next day, they came up to the top of the mountain and they attacked.  They found all of the guards sleeping.  Wiped the city out without even having a fight!  Two hundred years later, the exact same thing happened again.  The Syrians attacked and found all of the guards asleep.  This impenetrable fortress, because the guards fell asleep, was taken down not once, but two times.  It’s like the Titanic sinking.  This is the most powerful place they can be, and yet, their security lulled them to sleep.  File that away because it’s going to come back around.

Sardis was also the place they found gold for the first time.  Gold was coming out of this river that ran through the city.  It was a wealthy city.  They started to mint coins.  One of the coins that was floating around, at the time Jesus writes this letter, is a coin that was commissioned and designed by Domitian.   The coin had a picture of his son.  His son was surrounded by SEVEN stars.  It was to depict Domitian, his kids, and his family standing above, even the cosmos, in control of it all.  So when Jesus opens his letter to the church of Sardis, The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars, he’s going, “There’s a new ruler in town.”  There’s a new invitation.  There’s somebody who doesn’t just want to be in charge and in control of the cosmos, but there’s somebody who IS.  And Sardis would have gone, we see what you’re doing here.

Listen to what Jesus says to them.  (Revelation 3:1b-2)  I know your works.  {Just a quick timeout.  In most of the other letters, Jesus is going to give a commendation like, you guys are nailing it.  You stuck the dismount, good work!  But not to Sardis.  No ‘good job, Sardis.’  He just says, I know your works.}  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.    So, church at Sardis, you have this reputation—you started off good, you started off alive, you started off with my Spirit (because that’s what breathes life), you started off with communion with Me (because that’s what brings life to the follower of Jesus), you started off with this purpose for existing (because that’s what brings life), but somewhere along the way that life turned into ‘reputation management.’  Reputation management is exhausting.  They’re trying to put up a façade of ‘this is who we are,’ when deep down inside they know it’s not true.  They’ve been hollowed out, and we don’t know why and we don’t know how.  We just know that they’re not the church they once were.

Here’s what Jesus says to them:  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  I’ve been calling you to move forward.  I’ve been calling you to advance.  I’ve been calling you to grow.  I’ve been calling you to change.  I’ve been calling you to develop, but you’ve just set up camp and you’re staying there.  This word ‘unfinished’ (incomplete) is the Greek word pléroó.  It means “to fill to the brim, to fill to capacity.”  Jesus says, “That’s what I’ve designed you for.”  That’s what I long for you to step into—individually as a church and corporately, but you’ve resisted.  If you were in Sardis, you could have seen a picture of what Jesus is calling them to, every single day.   They had this temple to the goddess Artemis. It wasn’t as famous as the temple in Ephesus, that was the preeminent one.  This one was secondary, but it had a distinguishing figure about it.  The temple of Artemis in Sardis was only partially done.  It had been half-finished for one hundred years.  They meant to go back and continue to carve the inlays into the pillars, but they never got to it.  Some of them were finished, some of them weren’t.  Anybody have a project around the house that you’ve got most of it done, but didn’t quite finish it?  That’s the picture.  Anybody have a book that they’ve read half of?  We can relate to this picture that Jesus is painting.

He’s saying this subtly, but to the church he’s saying, “I’ve designed you, I’ve wired it into you that you would be different people than you were last year.”  It’s why every year, around the first of the year, we make these New Year resolutions, we sign up for gym, and it’s why this point in February most of them are back to normal.  Because we want to grow, but sometimes we set up camp in the desert instead of moving to the Promised Land.  Jesus is passionate, not about his church being perfect, but about his church being persistent.  He’s passionate about you—not picturing your life like there’s some destination or arrival point that you need to get to and then you could go, “Alright, nailed it,” but that your entire life would be a journey, that you would be moving towards growth, that you would be moving towards life, that you’d be moving towards vitality and wholeness and goodness.  That’s his invitation to us.  But, so much of the time we settle.

I read this study that came out a number of years ago.  The book was written in 2007 by a Stanford-trained psychologist, named Dr. Carolyn Dweck.  She wrote about two different perspectives that you and I can have about life.  One perspective is called a ‘fixed mindset.’  It means that you are what you are.  You have the intellect that you have.  You’re only going to get up to a certain point or grow up to a certain point, and most of us, if we have that mindset, believe we’re already there.  On the other hand, she said that it’s possible to have a ‘growth mindset.’  That we can continue to grow, continue to develop, continue to become the people who God says we are.  Listen to what she said in summary of her research:  “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.  It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

Let me throw a few things out there.  When you encounter resistance, what’s your initial response to it?  Do you keep going, or do you go, well, that’s not for me?  When you get feedback from somebody, do you receive it as a gift, or do you defend your ground and say that’s not true of me?  I’m convinced, that as a parent, one of our main jobs is to teach our kids to have a growth mindset.  Everything around them is pushing them towards a fixed mindset.  For example:  They lose a basketball game and whose fault is it?  The ref’s.  He comes off the floor saying, “Those refs were terrible.”  The refs were terrible in both directions.  The refs did not lose the game, right?  We need to press on our kids to develop what we call ‘grit’ because we are in a ‘make it comfortable for them’ society.  So we need to challenge them.  Because challenge does something in our brain.  It rewires things to give us a vision of the way things might be.  Did you know that God wants you to grow?  He designed you with the capacity for it, with the Spirit in you He’s moving you forward.

I love modern psychology, I really do.  I think there’s some fascinating things that are coming, some breakthroughs that are happening. I love it even more when modern psychology reinforces what the Scriptures have been saying for years.  The author of Hebrews writes this (5:12) — For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food.  Why does he say that to them?  Because he knows that everything in them wants to move forward, everything in them wants to grow, and they’ve sunk anchor in the same spot.  He’s going, I’ve got more for you guys.  Some of you maybe need to jump out and lead a small group.  You’ve been in one for years, maybe it’s time to lead one.  Some of you have been mentored by some great people, and now it’s time to turn the other direction and see who’s coming alongside of you that you may be able to be a mentor to.  Because God’s designed us to grow, and a growth mindset is not optional to following the way of Jesus.  It’s not.  A growth mindsetis essential to a life of discipleship.  When it’s easier to quit, as followers of Jesus, we have to choose to develop grit.

Jesus says, “You’ve stopped.”  You’ve started to manage your reputation instead of taking ground. You’ve turned into a fortress, Church, when I’ve designed you to be a movement.  He’s like, come on, you guys.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  Our church is unfinished.  It’s unfinished and it always will be.  Until Jesus comes back.  We will continue to pray, “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We will continue to raise our hand to say, “God, we want to be a part of that mission.”  The church that stops moving forward, first stops expecting that God will move.  Let me say that again.  The church that stops moving forward, first stops expecting that God will move.  I love the way that Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:  “The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself.  It, too, is based on a lack of faith.  We must learn that to trust God with the expectation that he will do everything while we do nothing, is not faith, but superstition.”

Boredom in the church should be an oxymoron.  God is moving us forward.  We’re still praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Listen.  You can be a part of a church that doesn’t change.  You can.  But you cannot be part of a church that does not change and is alive.  Because living things change, living things grow.  If you want to be a part of a church that doesn’t change, you have to be part of a dead church.  And then you’d better be careful that you don’t bring the Spirit of God there because He’s going to stir things up and do something different.  So we’re a church that is and will be changing.  We’re hosting this ‘People Welcoming People’ workshop next Saturday, because there’s a thousand people moving to Denver every month.  You know it and I know it—the freeways are more crowded than they’ve ever been.  We can lament that or we can see God, there’s an opportunity here.  What would you have us do?  How would you have us respond.  We want to spread our arms open wide and say the gospel’s too good that we would stand in the way of anybody coming to know him.  Join us.  We have a refugee workshop coming up.  We did a class that trained on the refugee crisis in America, as it is now.  This next workshop—you can find information on it in your service guide—is designed to say how do we put boots on the ground, because we believe that God is bringing people to our door that we need to spread our arms wide open to in love, in the name of Jesus.  That people need to know how to do real simple things like go to the store, or pay their bills, or interact, or go to the DMV, or all those nightmarish things we do and just know how to do, they don’t.  God’s moving us in this.  There are 80 to 100 people every single Sunday morning who link hearts and arms and serve our kids, and our welcome area, and our students, and prepare coffee and donuts, and unlock doors, and do all sorts of things.  Because they believe God is moving this church forward.  To reach more people with the good news of Jesus.  There’s a group of people that gather every single Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. to pray, because they believe God is on the move.  He’s not done with us, you guys.  If you love this church the way it is, I praise God for it, but we’re moving forward into what God would have us move forward into.

{Look up at me for a moment.}  We’re not done as a church and you are not done as an individual.  You are a person in process.  {Would you look at the person next to you and say, “You’re a person in process.”}  It’s true of all of us.  We need to be people who have a growth mindset.  God, we’re not done, and you’re not done with us.  We are not done, because God is not done with us.  I don’t care how old you are, how long you’ve been following Jesus, God’s not done with you.  I just saw Edith, 96 years old, and she’s leading a Bible study in her assisted living home!  That’s awesome!  Because she’s not done.  I think so many times we let pride and insecurity get in the way of growth.  Maybe there’s things you’ve believed that are shaping who you are becoming.  There’s things in your mind that make you think you’ll always be that way.  Or it’s just who I am.  Or it’s their fault, or his fault, or her fault, it’s not my fault.  I’m convinced that the life we long to live is on the other side of the obstacle that stares us in the face.  So the question we have to wrestle with is will we continue to follow the God who says move forward with me, or will we say here’s good, we’re content with just staying in the desert?

The question becomes—and Jesus wrestles with this—how do we become the kind of people who follow him into the life he has for us?  Remember, he’s not calling us to perfection, he’s calling us to persistence.  He’s not calling us to some destination out there, he’s calling us to walk the journey with him.  It’s life long and it never ends.  He unpacks for us what it looks like to walk with him.  Here’s the way it continues (Rev. 3:2) —- Wake up  Okay, stop there.  Is the church really, literally asleep?  No.  He’s pointing back to what they’ve walked through in their history.  He’s using it as a metaphor to paint a picture that there’s things happening all around you, he says, and you’re just not aware of them.  You’re not willing to open your eyes to go with me, to walk with me.  Two times in Sardis’s history they’ve been attacked because they were literally asleep, but he says to the church, you’re figuratively sleeping through this life that God’s called you to live.  You’ve sunk an anchor down where God’s called you to be a movement…..WAKE. UP.

In 2016, there was a shepherd in a little village in Spain.  He was on his shift and around 4:30 in the morning, he fell asleep.  Unfortunately for him, he was watching 1300 sheep, that eventually got out.  He got a phone call at 7 a.m. from the police officer in this little town in Spain.  Hey, buddy, are you missing anything?   That’s 1300 sheep loose!  That’s crazy!  And he had no idea!  The picture Jesus is painting for his church is: You have no idea what’s going on around you, because you are so either consumed with self, or you’re consumed with pain, or you’re consumed with pride, that you’re missing what I’m doing.

Not coincidentally, the church in Sardis is one of the least persecuted churches in this area, in this time.  You cannot find anything in this letter that even alludes to the church being persecuted.  Did they fall asleep?  Were things just so easy for them that they just started to put it in cruise control?  I think this letter to this church is maybe the most applicable letter to the church in America today.  It’s easy for us, you guys.  Paul will write to the church at Rome:  Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. (Rom. 13:11)

The great news is that if you want to be alive. . . .you can be!  It takes intentionality, but Jesus wouldn’t command it, Paul wouldn’t command it, if it weren’t possible.  So how do we do it?  Waking means that we honestly acknowledge reality.  We step back from our lives long enough to say, “There’s some things here that I’d change.”  Maybe it’s saying out loud, for the first time, I’ve got a drinking problem and I need to address it.  Maybe it’s saying for the first time:  This isn’t somebody else’s fault.  This is my issue and I have an anger that’s just in the depths of my soul that I can’t seem to let go of.  It springs out in areas that I never know when, but I know it’s there.  Maybe it’s actually saying:  This marriage feels cold.  We need to move forward.  Maybe it’s, for the first time, being honest enough with God to say, God, I’m really upset, I’m mad at you that things didn’t happen the way that I thought they would.  I thought we had a deal and you weren’t good on it.

People who honestly acknowledge reality, sometimes it’s helpful (because a lot of these are blind spots) to ask others to speak into our lives, to tell us what they see that maybe we missed.  Maybe we take that step and go see a counselor to have someone help us unpack what’s going on in the depths of our soul.  Or maybe we decide that we’re going to start going to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesdays, to say, I’ve gotta honestly acknowledge that things aren’t the way that I long for them to be and God designed them to be, and I’m going to do something about it.  See, Nehemiah never rebuilds the wall around Jerusalem if he doesn’t first acknowledge that it’s laying in rubble.  For us to move forward, we have to acknowledge and accept what is and ask that God would move us forward.

Here’s what Jesus says second:  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.  He’s going, Church, there’s something going on here.  There’s something that’s still alive.  It’s like a little wick that’s barely flickering, but it’s there.  It’s there!  This is a really practical command, because Jesus pushes back against our nature.  Our nature is when things are going bad to just the notice the bad.  When things are going bad, we notice more and more bad.  When things are bad at work, everything that coworker says ticks us off.  When things are going bad with your kids, they can do no right.  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no.  Come on, if we want to be people who have a growth mindset and discipleship rests on that, we’ve got to be people who see these things that are barely alive. . . .and we cultivate them and we breathe life into them.

When I was first reading this this week, I thought, “Oh yeah, I remember that.”  It’s a scene from “The Princess Bride.”  They carry Wesley into this room and he’s on this primitive form of life support.  The doctor (Billy Crystal) looks at them and says, “Your friend here is only mostly dead, but mostly dead is still slightly alive.”  Jesus is saying the same thing to the church.  He follows it up with is intentionally feed life. Those things that are just barely hanging on. . . .instead of looking for all the things that are going wrong, and for all the things you wish you would have done, and the pain that you’re carrying, he’s going okay, okay, that’s all a reality, but something’s still burning, something’s still alive.  That kid that can’t do anything right, probably did something right this week.  Maybe!  You can find it.  What Jesus says is whooooo, fan that flame.  In your own heart, in your own soul, there’s things God is doing.  You may be in a dry season of life, but there’s things that God’s doing.  Be a detective, find them and then fan that flame.  What if we learned to be the kind of people who, when marriages were difficult, or friendships were difficult, or relationships were difficult, we intentionally fed life?  It would change things, you guys.  Vitality requires intentionality.  I think this is why David says in 1 Samuel 30:6 — I encouraged myself in the Lord.  I fanned that flame that was barely hanging on in my heart.  Some of you are here today—-and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say—-you’re not yet followers of Jesus, but you just sense that this God who’s moving you forward is drawing you in.  Don’t leave without responding to that little flicker.  Respond.  Be attentive and respond to what he’s doing.

Here’s how Jesus ends this section.  First, it’s wake up, become more aware, self-aware, aware of the reality around you.  Second thing, feed life.  Do some work that leads you to self-care, to growing as a person, because there’s some things that are still alive.  Then he finishes it by saying. . . .Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  He goes listen, you’ve been a part of the story.  The story started with you in brokenness, drenched in grace.  It didn’t start because you were awesome, it started because God was amazing.  Go back to that spot.  Go back and stand under that waterfall.  Go back and be a part of that love, again and again and again.  When you fail and when you nail it, return to that spot.  Consistently return to love.  Because all growth as a follower of Jesus is grounded in the grace that started you.  All of it!  Paul will write to the church at Galatia (Gal. 3:1-6) — Who has bewitched you?   Who’s bamboozled you?  Who’s just throwing wool over your eyes?  You started with spirit, you started with grace, now you’ve transitioned back to law?  No, no, no, no, no.  Return.  Return to love.

Jesus ends by saying this:  Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments {Which, quick timeout, would have been a fairly applicable allusion for a town that specializes in wool.}   and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.   {Just a quick timeout.  During the Persian and Seleucid reigns, their empires had their bookkeeping and administrative hub in Sardis.  Sardis literally housed the census and the book that included all the citizens in it during those times.  When someone was going to be executed, they would literally go in and erase their name, they’d blot it out.  Jesus says, oh, you’ve seen this.  But for those who walk with me, those who are awake, not perfect, but those who continue to be persistent because that’s the way of discipleship, that’s the way of Jesus, God is a God of moving people forward and he says….} I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Let me close by giving you just a few implications for South.  First, we are a people in process, therefore we have grace for those who are not as far along.  This is a safe place to be imperfect, because we are all imperfect.  Be first in line.  Secondly, we don’t expect perfection, therefore we can celebrate growth and progress.  We’re not waiting for you to arrive before we acknowledge what God is up to in your life.  Because you’ll never quite arrive.  But we’re going to celebrate the growth, we’re going to celebrate the change, we’re going to celebrate the freedom, because that’s what God has wired us for.  Third, we are alive, therefore we will change.  It’s inevitable for living things.  It’s healthy for living things.

How might you apply this letter to your life this week?  Let me give you three things, but my encouragement to you after the end of each of these messages is to ask God what is one thing he’s stirring in you?  Maybe this week you say, I’m going to put my faith to my feet and I’m going to step and do the ‘how’ of being a disciple by doing one thing this week.  These are just options, but my encouragement is do something.  Maybe you sign up for the “People Welcoming People” workshop.  There’s information in the lobby.  It’s designed to help you grow.  It’s designed for us, as a community of faith, to continue to follow God as he moves us forward.  I’d love for you to be there.  I’d love to link arms with you as we learn to better welcome the thousand people who are moving to the Denver area every month.  Second, maybe you finish a project that’s been looming over your head.  Not because you necessarily want to finish the project, but because you want to remind yourself that you’re a person who’s in process.  Is there something around the house?  Is there a book that’s half done?  Is there a honey-do list?  Third, and this is the most risky, why don’t you ask someone you trust and who loves you for feedback. . . .are there things you see in me, areas that may be dying or dead or on life support, that God may awaken?  We’re going to sing a song in just a moment and I’d like to encourage you to right down what you’re planning on doing this week to practice the way of Jesus.  The song the worship team is going to sing is called “Reckless” and it’s the way God practices this pursuit.  I’m going to let anything stand in between us, I’m going to keep going.  As we sing this song, my encouragement to you would be to ask yourself the question: God, how do you want me to keep going?

I read a story this week about Harriet Tubman.  She was born into slavery.  She was an amazing woman who ran out of slavery and started to develop the Underground Railroad, where most people think she rescued anywhere from 70 to 300 people from slavery.  She was called ‘Moses’ because she led people to the Promised Land.  But it wasn’t an easy journey.   As people started to grow tired, as they started wanting to check out, she had a saying, “Dead folks tell no tales.  You go on, or you die!”  The same is true for us, friends.  God’s pulling us forward and life depends on us saying, God, I’m with you.  Let’s be a church that lives that life.  Will you stand with me as we close our time, remembering that that’s in the nature and character of our God?

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Stuck People | Revelation 3:1-6 | Week 62020-08-20T15:15:16-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Apathetic People | Rev 2:18-29 | Week 5

Do we have any foodies in the house?  I’ve changed, dramatically, the way that I’ve been eating the last couple of months, but for some reason I’ve become addicted to watching travel food shows, where people go to other countries and eat what I can’t eat right now.  My favorite new show is called “Somebody Feed Phil,” about a guy named Phil Rosenthal, the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  He travels around and experiences the cuisine from all of these different cities from around the world.  What’s really interesting is that he bears a remarkable resemblance to an older Ryan Paulson.  {Shows picture}

He (Phil) goes and explores all these different cultures and different foods.  I love that too.  If I’m traveling and I go to a city, the first thing I do when I get to my hotel is to open up my favorite app, which is YELP.  I look to see ‘what is this city known for?’  A lot of larger cities are known for food or drink.  If I say Chicago, what comes to mind, food-wise?  Pizza.  Hot dogs.  New York?  Pizza.  Seattle?  Coffee.  Philly?  Philly cheese steaks.  Highlands Ranch?  {Laughter. . . . Chick-fil-a}

Have you ever thought what your city was known for?  Have you ever thought about what your family was known for?  Have you ever thought about what your church was known for?  In the last several weeks, we’ve been in this series called “Postcards From the Edge,” and we’ve been journeying through Revelations 2 and 3.  These are the seven letters to the seven churches from Jesus through John to the churches and to us.  We’ve been learning some real unique things about those cities.  Our hope isn’t that we have just a bunch of knowledge about these cities, but that we could learn about the city and the church and figure out what does God want to say to the church at South today? A dedicated server is itself, the physical piece of hardware that your hosting provider rents to you. It has its own processor, hard drives(s), Random Access Memory (RAM) and bandwidth capability. Your website and its associated software will be hosted exclusively on this dedicated server’s hard drives. custom dedicated servers for windows allow you to install and run almost any program. They additionally allow other users, whom you have given access, the ability to connect to your dedicated hosting server and use those same programs at the same time you do. This has made dedicated servers very popular amongst internet gamers. Dedicated gaming servers offer all the same features of regular dedicated hosting servers but they are intended for less serious pursuits. But what are the other benefits of utilizing dedicated servers? That’s certainly a valid question considering that dedicated server hosting costs significantly more than shared or virtual hosting plans. But with the increased cost comes features and benefits that are significantly worth it. There are many benefits of using dedicated server hosting for your high traffic, software intensive website or gaming application. We’ve listed the most important below to steer you in the right direction. A best dedicated hosting company provide you plans that allow you to fully customize or build your own dedicated server. You can therefore select and pay for only the features which you will require. You often will get your choice of operating system software (Windows Server Edition & Linux Redhat being the most popular options). Your choice of such software should be informed by considering which system your web applications will run best on. A major selling point with dedicated hosting plans is also which control panel to use. Plesk and Cpanel control panels are the most popular choices. Both will allow the hosting of multiple domains and websites but Plesk control panels have proven more popular largely because of their ease of use and their ability to facilitate event management, Postgre SQL, Support Ticketing Systems, various Language Packs and advanced dedicated game server hosting.

Today we’re diving into what is the longest of these letters.  One person said it was to the most obscure church; it’s the longest and harshest letter of them all.  It’s to the church at a place called Thyatira.  It’s a city that’s in modern-day Turkey, called Akhisar.  It sits about half way between Pergamum and Sardis on a broad fertile plain.  It was an ideal place for being a commercial center.  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of farming, there was a lot of trades.  In 200 BC, it was set up as a protective outpost for Seuleucus I, to protect from an invasion of his kingdom.  What’s odd and interesting about that is usually when you set up a protected place you want it to be in the mountains or with some kind of natural fortification.  There was no natural fortification in Thyatira, it was out on an open plain.  If you didn’t want people to invade you, it seems crazy that you would go to a middle of a field and say, “Haha, can’t get me now, suckers.”  Right?  What’s cool is that the people of Thyatira took real seriously their responsibility to protect the city, as citizen soldiers, if you will, to keep the bad things out while still allowing trade to fertile in the city.

Roman rule brought a lot of stability, it brought a lot of money, and it brought trades to the city.  There were all kinds of trades.  A lot of people in the city were trades workers, like woolworkers.  Or people that died fabrics, or made outer garments, or leather workers, or tanners, or potters.  One big thing they were known for was being bronzesmiths.  They were also known for their purple dye.  As a matter of fact, if you remember in Acts 16:14, Paul meets this woman named Lydia who was from Thyatira, dealing purple dyes from Thyatira.

So trade was a big industry.  In any city where it’s a big industry, a great majority of the people that lived in Thyatira, worked in the trades.  It was a way of life.  As a matter of fact, today, Akhisar is one of the dominant, trade-leading cities in its region.  Still, after all this time.  With the trades thriving and a majority of its citizens operating in the trades, they formed labor guilds.  They were part of the hub of city life.  As a matter of fact, the trade guilds followed a lot of the religious practices of the day.  It was a very syncretistic city, which means instead of just saying, “We have one God,” we take from a lot of different traditions and this is our religion.  It’s like a melting pot.

The trades followed that tradition.  A lot of trade guilds met in a temple.  The locals honored this god named Tyrineus, which was a combination of characteristics from various different gods of various different cultures.  The guilds would meet in these temples of pagan worship.  They would have their meetings, but it wasn’t following Robert’s Rules of Order.  They partied!  And when I say party, I mean they got down. . . . hard.  They ate a lot.  Then everyone slept with each other after the meal.

So religion and work were inseparably linked.  The people that worked did these practices as part of the melting pot of the religion of the day.  It’s into that world that this new church was planted, the church of Thyatira.  If you were a church planter, can you imagine saying, “Here’s what I know about this city:  everybody sleeps together.  Religion and work is all sort of blended together.  Let’s go plant a church.”  It’s really cool to know that that budding community that was planted in the first century, existed all the way up until 1922, when Orthodox Christians were deported.  That’s cool.  Can you imagine South Fellowship, 2000 years from now, still being here?

It’s in the middle of all that that we imagine being a Christian in the first century.  So now let’s make it personal.  You’re a follower of Jesus and you’re a person who attends the church at Thyatira.  Chances are you work in the trades.  In order to work in the trades, you had to be a part of a trade guild.  That’s how you made your living, that’s how you provided for your family, which meant that you had to make a choice — do I engage in the guild or say I’m not going to be a part of it, and risk losing income and provision for your family?

In 2008, I moved to Chicago, and I had an experience I’ve never had before.  One day, I was driving through this neighborhood where a new housing addition was being built.  There was an huge inflatable rat on the street corner, and two guys sitting in chairs with protest signs.  {Shows picture}  I didn’t know what it was, but as I was examining the situation, I realized the two people sitting there were part of a local labor union who had been sent out, paid, to protest that the builder who was building the homes in the housing addition was using non-union workers.  Their hope was to influence people, the builder, to use union workers only, or to convince people not to buy from the builder because he was using non-union workers.

I had a friend who was a paint contractor who was really, really good at what he does.  He would bid on lots of jobs and get all the way through the bid process. . . .he had the best prices, great references, all this kind of stuff.  They’d get to the end of the process and the other side would say that they wanted to sign a contract with them, but when they found out he wasn’t union, they would say, “I’m not going to get a rat outside my store, man,” and not hire him.

So you can imagine how difficult it would be for a Christian in the first century — having to pay for groceries, food for their kids, having to provide for their family and having to make a terrible choice.  Do I fully participate with what’s happening with the union, or do I not participate and risk losing it all?  That’s the world with the church in Thyatira.  With that, let’s take a look at Revelation 2:18-29.  To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.  Nevertheless, I have this against you:  You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead.  Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘”I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.”  To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Wow!  That is some nice, light, easy reading, huh?  {Next date night, just an idea, open a bottle of wine, start a fire, and read this together.}  He started off with some very recognizable language in the very first part of this.  He says three things that kind of stick out to me.  The first one that first century readers would recognize is this idea of ‘eyes like blazing fire.’  It was a biblical reference to the book of Daniel.  It was Daniel having this image of a future messiah to come with eyes like this.  He was claiming a little bit of messiahship, which he does later in the letter as well.  He also uses the phrase ‘Son of God’ not ‘sons of gods.’  It was common in the first century for many people to believe in this idea that the rulers of the day were sons of gods.  Jesus was saying he was the Son of God.  The last thing he does is call out to ‘feet like burnished bronze,’ which would have stuck out to everyone because bronze making was a huge part of the culture in that day.

Jesus started out this letter basically saying, “I need you to understand that it’s not the local gods, it’s not your business, it’s not all these other things that have authority, I’m the one that has authority.  Then he praises them for what they were doing that was great.  I have to be honest, when Ryan asked me to teach this weekend I thought, “Cool, let me go read it.”  I started off the first verse and thought, “Okay, claiming his authority.  Not a problem.”  Second verse, he’s like, “You guys are awesome.  You’re doing this awesome stuff.”  Then he goes on to say, “You’re growing.  You’re getting better than you were in the beginning.”  I’m like, “I can preach this.  This is really good.”  Then I read the next verse and I’m like, “I do NOT want to preach this.”

So he lodges this complaint about this person Jezebel.  It’s probably not true that Jezebel was the name of this person, but she was doing things a type of a person we see in the Old Testament. . . . .Jezebel was the wife of Ahab.  She led her people, and Ahab, to worship the god Baal and to turn their backs on God.  Clearly, there was some woman in the Thyatira church who was abusing her leadership power to convince some of the people of Thyatira to go ahead and do what everybody in the guilds were doing.  The reason she was able to justify this (and this is what I think her teaching was) was because of this Gnostic idea.  It was a heretical early concept in the church that basically said your body and your spirit were separate.  Meaning—do whatever you want in your body, it doesn’t affect your relationship with Christ.  She was saying, “Go into the temple, it’s okay.  Eat food sacrificed to idols, have sex with other people, just don’t mean it in your heart and it’s okay.”  And that’s what she was telling people.

So then as a response, we turn a corner and we see some of the harshest language we see, in the New Testament, from Jesus.  Essentially, by using language like ‘I’m going to throw her on a sickbed, I’m going to put an end to her and kill her children,’ he’s basically saying he’s going to put on end to her and the fruit of her work.  I’m not going to allow it to happen anymore.  Then he encourages those who hold fast not to give over.

The big question in all of this—it’s a heavy chapter, there’s a lot of content there—is what’s really happening here?  At first glance, it would be easy to look at and say it’s clearly about sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.  That seems obvious.  But let’s look back at verse 20 and see what’s really going on in this letter.    I have this against you:  you have tolerated that woman Jezebel, who is a self-anointed prophetess and who misleads my followers to commit immoral sexual acts and to eat food prepared for idol worship.

So were sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols a problem?  Of course.  Were they mentioned?  Yeah, but they were way down in the text.  Notice the key word here—tolerate.  It’s that the people of the church tolerated….  Another way to say it is that they have such apathy.  The church was filled with apathy {toward what?} towards a leader who abused her influence {to do what?} to lead people astray {astray into what?} into compromising their faith {why?} so they would fit in.  That’s what’s going on in this passage in this letter.  This leader led people into stuff that Jesus knew would ultimately hurt them and move them away from wholeness.  And that’s what he had against them.  What we see is this harsh reaction and I think we see such a harsh reaction because Jesus had to step in because they failed to step in.

He knew they made two critical mistakes by not mirroring the heartbeat of God.  I think their first mistake was that they failed to realize that the mission of Jesus. . . . .as Jesus was calling people to himself. . . .why did he do that?  To move them toward a wholeness—we might call that discipleship.  If they had been committed to the wholeness of everybody in their community, they never would have tolerated someone making choices and getting led astray into stuff that would lead them toward a path that’s not wholeness.  I think their second mistake and why Jesus had to step in was because they didn’t work to keep things out that could bring shame upon the church or cause the church to lose its voice at such an important time.  They were apathetic, they tolerated it.

To frame the rest of our discussion, I’m going to give you the big idea and suggest you write it down, because we’re going to talk about this over and over.  I think it’s important because it reflects the heartbeat of God, but it also should reflect the heartbeat of us and our church as well.  Jesus is fiercely committed to the wholeness of His people and the influence of His church.  That means that Jesus is committed to helping people move and grow toward being in his image.  He’s also committed to the Church being the vehicle of carrying the gospel message and for transformation.  For the church to be a light shining in the darkness and He will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.  I think we see that clearly in this chapter.  That’s our starting place and that’s the framework we’re going to unpack together in two parts.

The first half:  Jesus is fiercely committed to the wholeness of His people.  Remember at the end of Matthew, what’s commonly called “The Great Commission?”  What was that all about?  Jesus was telling the disciples, I want you to go to the ends of earth, I want you to make disciples of all nations, and teach them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.  What’s the point?  I would argue that the point of all that is wholeness.  It’s a person becoming a whole human being.  In fact, one thing we learn from the incarnation was Jesus showing us how to be a whole human being.  There had been brokenness introduced into humanity and Jesus was showing us the picture of God, and the picture of his desire to pull us toward being like Himself.

Sometimes, I think we mistake discipleship for accumulating information.  I’m a learner type.  My wife gets on to my that I have way too many books.  I love to learn.  My office here at church is right next door to another nerd-learner.  We have a lot of books.  In my 20’s, my expression as a pastor was running people through Bible studies, teaching them to memorize Scripture, having conversations about what the Bible says, theology.  I have two Masters degrees in theology, I’m a nerd.  I think I mistook information for transformation.  It became a problem for me when I did all this work and someone would come to me and their marriage was in trouble, or their life was still a wreck.   What happens when our model of discipleship is teaching people all these things, but it doesn’t change them on the inside?  I’ve come to realize that it’s a pretty narrow view of discipleship.  I think the pattern we see from Jesus is inviting people into something way deeper.

One of the most beautiful pictures I think we see in the Gospels is this moment when Jesus meets with this Samaritan woman at the well.  Remember this story?  Jesus asks this lady to give him a drink.  What’s really interesting is this woman had turned to all the wrong things, to try to meet her need inside.  She’d had many husbands and was divorced and was living with this guy, and by all accounts, her life was in trouble.  So Jesus sits with her and what does he do?  Well, you guys know the story:  He launches a Bible study and he gives her thirteen passages to memorize….  Then he took an offering.  NO!  That is NOT what he did.  He said this to her (John 4:13-14) — Drink this water, and your thirst is quenched only for a moment.  You must return to this well again and again.  I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity.  You will never be thirsty again.  He didn’t invite her to just serve him and keep coming back to the well, he invited her to partake of living water, which was himself.  Instead of beating her up and shaming her and guilting her, he spoke to the truth, didn’t he?  You say you have no husband; that’s true, you actually had five husbands.  Then he called her to something even better, which was a picture of wholeness.  I’m going to help you become like me and you won’t need this water, you’re going to have life for all eternity.  That’s beautiful.  He called her to take steps toward wholeness.

What is wholeness?  One way you might look at it is this model where wholeness is someone who’s becoming healthy and whole physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally.  I would even argue financially and vocationally.  People who spend thirty years working a job they hate aren’t growing in wholeness in that area and living out obedience to Jesus even in their work.  When we talk about discipleship and helping others, I think we make a big mistake when we don’t take the whole person in to account.  I think we should be discipling the whole person and inviting them to be transformed by the Gospel in such a way that they’re growing in all of those areas.  The big $10,000 seminary word that describes all of this is sanctification.  That means you’re becoming more like Jesus.  Who is Jesus?  A whole human being.

We as Christians have to look at other people and our starting place has to be Genesis 1 and the early part of Genesis 2.  Often I think the church gets it wrong by focusing exclusively on The Fall.  A term I don’t like is ‘original sin.’  Even though I know it’s true that sin was entered in to all humanity, I don’t like it because we’ve forgotten, in the first part of Genesis, that God created all these things.  And he said, “It IS good.”  It’s a huge theological mistake, in my opinion, to start with how we see other people with original sin and forget about original blessing.  For us as a church, as the people of God, we have to start with this mindset that yes, the person in front of me might be presented as a broken person.  Who’s not?  But is that the end of their story?  Is that what we saw Jesus do?  Absolutely not.  Jesus called that person toward wholeness.

Here at South, we say this a lot:  What are we all about?  We’re all about helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  What is the end result?  Wholeness.  That’s why we do what we do.  That’s why we have gatherings like this.  That’s why we have students’ and children’s ministry and why we put a lot of money into serving people around the world.  It’s not just so that we can feel good about having a big church.  It’s because we really, really, really care about this idea of helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  We so closely want to mirror God’s heartbeat on this that we are organizing everything we do around this.  I think it’s things like that that keep us from being an apathetic church.  If our starting place wasn’t this, if we lose this, we’ll end up in the same place Thyatira does.  An apathetic church that doesn’t give a rip.

It’s interesting that I don’t think we have to look too far in our culture right now to see examples of what happens when apathy towards leaders abusing their power.  We don’t have to look very far.  Unless you’ve lived under a rock the last six months, or you were wise and you’ve said you’re not watching the news anymore (which I’ve thought about giving up numerous times), you would have seen it.  We’ve all seen these horror stories in the news these past several months, of powerful leaders who abuse their power to sexually harass and abuse others.  It’s everywhere from the entertainment industry to politicians to athletes to. . . . .   The last three or four months, it seems like every week I find another teacher that was sleeping with their student.  Here’s what blows my mind about this, in most of these cases, not all, there were tons of people that knew what was going on and they weren’t surprised and they didn’t say anything.  I just have to say, as a pastor, to myself and to this church and to the Christian community, what kind of culture do we live in where women have to sleep with their boss to keep their job, or fear losing their job, and a lot of people know about this and no one says anything?

The apathy of Thyatira happens when people are apathetic towards leaders that are doing their own thing and abusing their power.  You may not like this but when the church is silent, and when people are silent, and organizations are silent, movements spring up, like #metoo movement.  What we women saying this has got to stop and this can’t happen anymore.  What’s really interesting about this is, by and large, the church has been silent on these issues.  I don’t understand that, because I think rooted in the Gospel, and rooted in the leadership. . . .leadership isn’t just a bunch of paid people on staff, it’s you and me, it’s our church. . . . .this is what I know to be true, unhealthy leadership leads people toward pain.  Healthy leadership leads people toward wholeness.  My conviction is that Christians should be the loudest voices in our society, holding up a banner saying, THAT’S not okay, but YOU are okay, because people matter.  They matter to Jesus and they should be advocates.  Instead of abdicating our responsibility, we should advocate and love, and show people what wholeness looks like and be a positive, healthy voice for Jesus to pull people in that direction.  That’s my conviction.

We have to start with dignity and Jesus’s desire for the wholeness of others, and when we don’t do that, we run the risk of other people becoming objects to us, or dehumanizing them, or condemning them because they aren’t like us.  And that leads to apathy, and when we’re apathetic it leads to hurting brothers and sisters and ignoring them, or judging them, instead of lovingly coming alongside and pointing them toward the better story, pointing them to wholeness.  The way that we avoid that is we start with this view that people are made in the image of God.   And although they might be broken and though that image might be somewhat distorted, they’re worthing of love and taking steps towards wholeness.

A few months ago, we had Dr. Jeff Brodsky come, and he was sharing about these girls that he’s working relentlessly to get off the streets.  The reason he does that is because he starts from this premise that they’re beautiful and made in God’s image.  I love that.  I love that there are people at South that so firmly believe that people are made in God’s image and deserve a chance to move towards wholeness that they’re willing to foster conversations about refugees.  I love that there are people at South that give of their time and their energy and their money to serve in our city and to partner with other organizations that believe in human dignity and are holding up a banner for wholeness and orienting their lives around helping people take steps in that way.  I think about the people of South who give up vacation time and money to travel around the world, to meet with cultures, that are very different from them, to remind them that they’re made in God’s image and to call them to take steps toward wholeness and becoming who God created them to be.

I had someone come up to me after the last service, and share a little business-sized card that says ‘You Matter’ on it.  She gives them out all the time—at restaurants, or the person serving her.  She says she’s literally seen people burst into tears.  Sometimes that’s the only time they hear those words.  To me, why not let us, as the church, as followers of Jesus, start with wholeness and make that our hashtag #youmatter?  To tell people you matter, your life matters, Jesus died so you could have life because you matter.  Why?  Because remember:  Jesus is fiercely committed to the wholeness of His people.  My prayer is that we never lose sight of that.

Let’s talk about the second thing Jesus is fiercely committed to.  Jesus is fiercely committed to the influence of His church.  Imagine if you had discovered a cure for cancer, in a pill.  Not only is it a cure for cancer that is existing, it’s a vaccine against cancer.  That’s kind of an amazing deal.  Out of your heart, you wanted to give this to all of the people in the world, and give it away for free.  You were strategizing how you could tell as many people in your country about this all at once.  You kind of know there’s a big game on tonight (Super Bowl).  Imagine if, during the Super Bowl, your strategy was, “I’m going to put all my eggs in this basket and I’m going to spend the gazillion dollars it is to get a one minute ad.  I’m going to tell everybody I discovered the cure for cancer or a vaccine to keep you from getting it, all you have to do is to take this pill.  It’s for free and all I need you to do is go to my website.”  Imagine if that was your strategy, and when it was time to air, a group like Anonymous or some other hacking organization had hacked your website and put up a splash screen that said ‘Gotcha Suckers!’  How’d you feel about that?  Not very good!  I would be really angry because I put all my eggs in the basket, I was offering life to people, and someone sabotaged that.

I think it’s important to remember that Jesus’s vehicle for the expansion of the Gospel was a church-planting movement, starting with the twelve disciples that he sent into all the nations.  He didn’t want ANYTHING to get in the way of the church having a voice for the Gospel in the midst of a broken society.  We see this when he says to Peter:  This is why I have called you Peter (rock):  for on this rock I will build My church.  The church will reign triumphant even at the gates of hell. (Matt. 16:18)    Think about it.  Jesus’s the heart is the church would be filled with whole human beings who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and invite others to live in the way of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus.  The problem in Thyatira is that they didn’t really care about wholeness all that much, obviously, they tolerated this.  But the ultimate consequence of that, and Jesus knew this, is that by letting it fester it could ruin the voice of the whole church.  Make sense?  Outside people who are trapped in this cycle would look at the church and would see that there wasn’t anything different about those in the church.  Jesus wasn’t okay with that.  At first glance, you might go, well, it’s just a few people in the church, not a real big deal.  Jesus understood that sometimes just tolerating those little things could blow up and could rob a church of its influence.

When I was in high school, I went over to some friend’s house from the youth group.  We sat down and started watching a Mel Gibson movie.  There were probably 15-20 of us crammed in the living room watching this movie.  There were a number of swear words in the movie.  The dad, who was there, came in and listened for a couple of minutes and he walked right over and turned off the TV.  He said, “You guys aren’t watching this anymore.”  It kind of ticked us off.  Hey, man, this is a good movie, why can’t we watch it?  He answered, “I’m not going to have all these young, impressionable minds in my house watching a movie with all these swear words.”   It’s just a handful, it’s not a big deal.  He thought for a moment and said, “Let me ask you a question.  If I baked a pan of brownies, how many of you would eat those brownies?”  Absolutely, we’ll eat those brownies!  He said, “If I went outside and picked up three or four dog turds and put them in the brownies, would you eat the brownies?”   NO!  “Okay, how about I just put in one or two, would you eat the brownies?”  No!   “What if I just pulverized them a little bit and just added a light dusting, would you eat the brownies?”  No!    Why?  Because it ruined the brownies.  It’s kind of a funny story, but it’s stuck with me for over twenty years; this idea, that a little bit of unhealthy stuff could ruin the whole batch.  And the church of Thyatira wasn’t willing to speak up to that and had lost their voice.

Another way we see that causes the church and Christians to lose their voice is because they’re known more for what they’re against than what they’re for.  Let me give you a great example of this with this picture.  It’s a church in Kansas (Westboro).  How many of you have seen the news reporting on these guys protesting at soldiers’ funerals or churches?  We had a security alert email about three months ago that they were coming to Denver and picketing three different churches.  They use very harsh language:  God Hates Adultery.  God Hates Fags.  You’re Going to Burn in Hell.  All these sorts of things.  I want to tell you, I really don’t know what they’re FOR, but I can tell you really quickly what they’re against.  But if I put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know Jesus, who desperately needs someone to put them on a path towards wholeness, does this church have a voice in their ear?  No.  What do people think when they see this?  Hate.  Is that the image and reflection of Jesus?  When I hear news media reporting on Westboro Church, I want to go on TV and say, “I’m a follower of Jesus and I have absolutely nothing in common with these guys. THIS is not an image and reflection of Jesus.”  I want to hear more of us saying things like that, because we lose our voice when we do that.

If we’re going to be a church that has a voice, I’m going to give you three things we should do to be a church that has a voice, that does not become apathetic, that does not turn into the church at Thyatira.  The first one is that we’ve got to be a safe place for broken, hurting people.  That’s really important.  Some churches make it really uncomfortable for people who are hurting or far from God.  Maybe it’s the way that they dress, or their language, or talking a lot about Hell and sin and how bad people are.  I was at a church a few years ago with my family and they were having children being baptized, which is a real special thing.  I love the format they did.  They brought these kids in and had recorded them telling their journey, why they wanted to be baptized.  Then they baptized them in front of the church.   That’s a beautiful thing. . . . .in theory.  But out of three or four of these 5-, 6-, 7-year-old kids, the common theme was this:  I’m a bad person and I want Jesus to take the bad away, that’s why I’m getting baptized.  It broke my heart.  I don’t want my kids listening to that theology every week. . . . .that they’re bad.  I want it to be where we know we’ve got our challenges, but the church throws their arms wide and says to people, “We love you for who you are and not for who you’re suppose to be.”

I love that South is a welcoming church.  I love that on Tuesday nights we have Celebrate Recovery.  It’s just an environment for people with hurts, habits, and hangups to take steps towards wholeness, in community.  I love that there are churches that work hard with people who fall in ways and have a hard time.  They don’t say to them, “Oh, let me judge you and kick you while you’re down,” but say, “Come on, brother (or sister), come back.  Let’s move toward wholeness.”  I love that churches like Saddleback Church in southern California advocate for people with mental health issues.  They’re not running from them.  Historically, the church has put that at arm’s length.  They’re pioneering ways to help people with mental health issues.  I think that is absolutely beautiful.  Listen to this—Saying, “We love you as you are, not as you should be” is one of the most powerful messages we can communicate.  I think that’s what we see in Jesus with the woman at the well, with the woman caught in adultery, who everyone wanted to stone.  Consistently the message of Jesus is “I love you as are, not as you should be, now come with me and let’s take a step toward wholeness.”

The second thing a church can do to be a voice that makes an impact and has an influence is to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice.  Isn’t it interesting that there’s been such an absence in the American Christian church, for some reason, speaking to these issues and reminding women that they’re valued, and that they are made in God’s image, that they mattered.  I had two young ladies come up to me after the first service and thank me for speaking about this and reminding people that they matter.  Why aren’t more people doing that?  It shouldn’t be like a foreign thing, right?  There are people who don’t, for whatever reason, have a voice.  The church that has influence is the church that gets up and speaks for the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed.  An unbelieving world looks at things like Westboro and are turned off, but they look at a church that has the guts to stand up and speak God’s truth and to call people toward wholeness, and they listen to that voice, because it’s so unusual for them to hear that.

I’m impressed by some people I know who are leading the church to have a voice around the fact that there are Christians in northern Iraq and Syria who are in prison camps and there life is awful.  They’re reminding us—you, me, and the church—that we should be for these people and do something about it.  I have a friend who goes into all these countries (some Communist countries even) to advocate for the rights of people who are oppressed, even by their government.  He’s been arrested countless times, but he’s doing his best to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice.  I think credibility in the church is when the church will stand up and speak to injustices that they see.  But the problem is if all we ever do is speak to those injustices and we don’t ever speak to what’s good, people don’t want to hear us.

And that leads me to the third thing we can do to be a church that has a voice—-Call out goodness and beauty when we see it.  There are a lot of churches that call out what’s wrong with culture.  I used to attend a church  with my family, and it felt like every sermon the pastor would have this refrain—We see it in society and culture. . . .culture and society.  The big bad ‘society and culture.’  It’s almost like some people think we should just hide in a cave and just wait for Jesus to come back, that culture’s just awful.  That’s the dominate narrative for some people.  I get the need to lovingly show people ‘don’t do this, this is not what you should do.’  I get it.  But I think it’s also real important that we have an eye towards what’s good and what’s beautiful.  I wonder what it would be like if you and I got out of these church walls and we got involved in the things that made up the heartbeat of our city.  Things like education, or the arts, or local food, or the neighborhoods we live in.  Instead of simply being known as that church that complains about everything that’s wrong in culture and society, instead of seeing those things as a nuisance, what if we started having eyes toward God’s goodness and beauty being nestled right down in the middle of it?

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to go to Bangkok, Thailand to serve a church that was struggling, for about eight days.  Before I went, I had a whole bunch of people come up to me and say, “Wow!  I’m going to be praying for you.  Bangkok’s such a dark, dark place.  You can feel it.  It’s like a thick blanket of sinister oppression.  There’s nothing good about Bangkok.”  In some ways they’re right, there’s a lot of darkness in Bangkok.  You may not know this, but there are thousands of women entrapped in the sex trade in Bangkok.  But I chose to go with a different set of eyes, because I wanted to see where God was moving in the midst of it. I couldn’t imagine that there was just a pocket in the earth that was the Gehenna that we’d throw our junk in and forget about.  That couldn’t be true.  So I chose to go looking for the goodness and beauty of God.  I had a completely different experience than many of the people who talked to me.  Everywhere I looked I saw God’s goodness and beauty in the midst of some dark places.  I saw this little bitty church of 50-100 people that was having a huge impact of loving the neighbors in their city.  I saw this woman from Shawnee, Oklahoma, who was 40 years old.  She’d chosen not to marry, had ran from her life here to start this ministry in Bangkok.  She started a coffee shop to get ladyboys out of the sex trade, and to give them a skill, and to give them a chance to start a new life and move toward wholeness.  I saw musicians playing on the street corners, and I saw artists painting in beautiful places.  I went to the slums in Bangkok, where the king had given these people property to live on.  They had nothing. . . .ZERO.  They had little shanties, little shacks that they lived in.  I was struck by the idea that they were happier about life than I usually am.  God was in their midst.  I saw a restaurant owner from America who started a restaurant—cooked really great food, created a really great experience—just so people could experience goodness and beauty.  I think if it’s true what the Scriptures say that every good gift comes from the Father, then that must mean that all those good things—even when they seem little at the time—must be from God.

I think the church that has influence DOES speak to injustice.  But that also doesn’t mean that we throw people who are committing injustice just under the bus as ‘there’s no good in you either.’  They also have a plan; Jesus wants to pull them toward home too.  It’s also means that the church is calling out goodness and beauty, where we see it, and helping people tell a better story.

Imagine if we were the kind of church made up of people who actively supported local businesses.  What if today, instead of going to the chain restaurant, you went to a little mom-and-pop store and supported those people today?  What if we got involved in our local city?  What if we started mentoring young leaders? Most importantly, what if in the midst of all that, we surprised people by celebrating where we see God’s goodness and beauty shining brightly?

An experience I don’t like very much is when I’m out and about and someone asks, “What do you DO?”  I don’t like that moment because the word ‘pastor’ is very loaded for a lot of people.  I once heard someone say that telling someone you’re a pastor is like telling them you’re a cannibal and inviting them over for dinner.  A lot of people, by default, assume I’m one of those Westboro-type, judgmental Christians who’s waiting to pounce.  I’m just a guy who loves Jesus and believes Jesus wants to work in their life just as much as mine.  I’d rather talk about what’s good and call people toward wholeness, and people seem real surprised when you start doing that and they listen.  Here’s the thing: the only way we can have a church that is not apathetic, that honors wholeness, that honors the impact of the church in the city, is by us ALL committing to co-creating this together.

Remember, the way Thyatira protected their city is they locked arms together.  But it wasn’t so locked that things couldn’t come in.  Remember, they were one of the leading trade cities in the region, so they had to let what’s good in, but they kept what was bad out.  I think that’s a great picture of the Church.  I think yes, we have to keep the things that can hurt the church out, but we must never do that at the expense of letting people who desperately need Jesus in.  And at the expense of us going into the city to be a voice of hope.  We can’t hide in this room.  It’s recharging our batteries in here and we’re reaffirming our commitment to the wholeness and the dignity of people being made in the image of God, then we go.  We love our cities.  If we see our brother or sister making a misstep, I would love outsiders see us lovingly pulling them along. . . . .not kicking them when they’re down.  I would love it if we see things in our culture that are injustice—-leaders abusing their power—-that we would stand up and say, “It’s not just you, we’re with you.  Why?  Because you matter.”  I would love to see a church that’s committed to calling out goodness and beauty when we see it.  Friends, THAT’S the kind of church that has a voice in our broken world today.

I want to remind us of our big idea and I want to add one piece to it.  Jesus is fiercely committed to the wholeness of all people, or his people, and the influence of His church.  I want to amend it by tacking on one last thing—And we should be too.  We should care about the wholeness of people and the impact of others because Jesus cares.  That’s what we take away from Revelation 2 and the letter to Thyatira.

Imagine if every person who attends this church took this seriously.  There’s not enough paid staff to go around.  Imagine if we all took this seriously and started really focusing on calling people toward wholeness, who God made them to be, and we co-create it together.  We work to co-create this church that was the kind of church people want to attend but also is a voice of love and grace and truth in the midst of a city with hurting people.  Imagine if I did my part and imagine if you did your part, what it might do to the marriages among us, what it might do to the families, and the careers, and the neighborhoods, and the businesses in our city, and on and on it goes.  Imagine if we took our personal responsibility seriously, what it would to the people God’s placed in our path.  And imagine if got involved in the cities God’s placed us in, and we started looking with fresh eyes and we started calling out goodness and beauty where we see it.

So that brings me to this question:  What about you?  We’ve been ending our study of each letter with just a handful of practices to actually help us to take what we learn and to put it into some kind of action, so what I’m going to ask you to do is to put your hands out in front of you and hold them open.  It’s really hard to hear what the Spirit might be saying when we have clenched fists.  With your hands open, I want you to look at these three (practices) as I lay them out and ask God, “What practice do you want me to put in place this week?”  For some of us, it’s being intentional as we encounter people this week to remember that they’re made in God’s image.  For some of us, what if that was our thought as we looked at the person who was our barista, or at our children, or at the person in the cube next to us at work, or the person that cut us off in traffic?  That’s hard.  But what if our attitude this week was I’m going to try to live with eyes of encountering people with that quick reminder that they’re made in God’s image?  For some of us, that’s the practice.

For others, it’s the practice to look for goodness and beauty in our surroundings.  Maybe it means that on your way home today, you drive a different route.  Instead of the well-worn path you take and tune out, what if you drive through a neighborhood you’re not use to driving through?  What if you drive through the downtown of your particular city?  What if you eat lunch at a different place and you say to your server, “Here’s what was great today here.”  What would that do as you learn to call out goodness and beauty?

Finally, for all of us to give some thought to what our part is to making this a life-giving community for those who aren’t here yet.  Over 1,000 people a month are moving into this area.  We want to be that kind of church with our arms open wide saying, “There’s a place for you.”  So the question is:  What’s your part and what’s my part?

We’re going to move into something that I think is one of the most beautiful pictures of what the church should look like. . . . .that is communion.  What a better way to remind us that Jesus came and died for all and was committed to wholeness than to gather around his table.  I love this table because it’s all different kinds of people.  Different backgrounds.  Different skin color than you.  They grew up on the different side of the tracks than you.  But I love that we all get to gather around this.  I want you to look around this room.  Look at the people in this room.  This is your community.  This is the church at South.  Listen, some of these people are like you.  Some of these are not like you.  Some of these people DON’T like you!  But I want to tell you that what’s common about all this is that we are all made in the image of God.  And the heartbeat of Jesus Christ is to pull people toward wholeness.   {Pastor Larry leads into communion instructions.}

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Apathetic People | Rev 2:18-29 | Week 52020-08-20T15:16:19-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Compromising People | Revelation 2:12-17 | Week 4

This morning, we’re going to be looking at the third letter in our series of these letters Jesus sent, through the Apostle John, to the churches in the book of Revelation.

I’ve had a love for coffee ever since my days in college.  I actually worked for Starbucks while I was in college.  This year, my obsession has grown a little bit.  I’ve crossed over into ‘craft’ coffee now.  Basically, it means I’m a snob, and I’m proud of it.  (One year, I gave up coffee for Lent and I never felt so far away from Jesus in my life!)  I was a few months into my “craft coffee” stage when I noticed my coffee tasted a little bit different from day to day.  What was going on was I didn’t know exactly how many beans to put in my coffee; what the bean-to-water mixture should be.  #thestruggleisreal   I was lamenting this to my wife Kelly and she was looking at me like I’m growing a third eye.  She just Keurigs it and she’s done in one minute.  But for me, this is a whole process.  I’ve had a number of friends tell me I should buy a scale so I can weigh my coffee beans and water, so I can make sure I’ve got the right combination of water and coffee beans.  I hopped on Amazon and two days later my scale was there in the mail.  Every morning I use it, my wife makes fun of me.  But I’ll tell you what, I’ve got the right ratio now of beans to water.

As a follower of Jesus, we live in a world where it can be hard to know how much of the world is infiltrating us and how much of the world we’re infiltrating, can’t it?  It can be hard to know, in a myriad of different thoughts and different ideas, how much of it’s seeping in and how much of it’s being kept out.  Sometimes the Bible is really clear on ‘this is how to live and to follow the way of Jesus,’ but sometimes it’s a little bit murky, isn’t it?  If we try to align ourselves and our lives with the way of Jesus and the heart of Jesus—which is what it means to be a disciple—we can wrestle, even with the Scriptures, with Lord, how much should I reflect my culture?  If our answer is not at all, well, I think we’re being disingenuous.  And I also think we’re being inconsistent in what the Scriptures actually teach.  Let me give you an example:  In Acts 15, they have this thing called the Jerusalem Council.  They decide a number of things that followers of Jesus MUST do and circumcision wasn’t one of them.  All the men that they were writing to did a little jig when they got that letter back.  They also said don’t eat food sacrificed to idols, so the church said great.  Then if you look at 1 Corinthians 8, Paul writes to the church at Corinth and says listen, an idol isn’t anything at all, don’t worry about eating food sacrificed to idols.  If it doesn’t make somebody else stumble, it’s just meat.  Well, how do we do this dance?  What does it look like to, as Jesus said, be in the world but not of the world?  What does it look like to live true to the gospel in a cultural setting that we are genuinely in?  That’s an okay thing.  There’s beautiful things about our culture that as followers of Christ we should look at and go that’s awesome, that’s great, that’s wonderful.  And then there’s things that don’t align with our DNA as followers of Jesus.  {Look up at me for just a second.}  Have you ever wrestled with how do we decide which is which?  Have you ever wrestled with man, is there too much water in this?  Is it a little bit watered down, or am I living true to the way of Jesus?  If you’ve ever struggled with that….and my guess is that if you’re a follower of Christ here today, you’ve struggled with that on some level.  If you’re not a follower of Christ, let me challenge you to try to think through ways that you’ve struggled with the same thing, because we all have a set of ideals.  We have a set of beliefs.  We have a set of standards.  Sometimes those get watered down, whether we follow Jesus or not.  So you can relate to what Jesus writes to the church at Pergamum about.

Revelation 2:12.  We’re going to jump in to this church that maybe had a little bit too much water in their pour-over coffee.  And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.  Time out.  That’s his intro, and if you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, you know that Jesus customizes his introduction to each church to the setting that their in so that they go, oh, we can relate to this, Jesus.  Keep that in mind.  Pergamum was fifteen miles inland and just north of Ephesus and Smyrna.  Pergamum was known as the capital of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor.  It had been for roughly 400 years.  It was a powerful city.  There was a hill in the back of the city that you could see from almost anywhere in the city.  It was between 800 to 1,000 feet tall.  On the top of that hill, there was an altar to the god Zeus.  You could often see a flame rising as people would put incense into the altar.  They would burn it and bow and worship Zeus, or they would worship Caesar, or they would worship another god named Asclepius, the god of healing.  Pergamum was known as a pluralistic city, many gods.  As were all of these, back in the day.  It was also known for a library that housed roughly 2,000 scrolls.  That was a lot of books back in that day.  Pergamum was a “culturally relevant” city.  It had a 10,000 seat amphitheater, where they would have plays and gather together.  The most impressive temple they had was the temple to Caesar, where people would come and bow, and they would participate in what was called the ‘imperial cult,’ which was the worship of the Roman emperor.  This was very common in Pergamum.  Pergamum, being the capital of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, had a right that was absent from many of the other cities that we’ve studied thus far.  They were able to exact capital punishment on behalf of the Roman Empire.  No other city in this region could do that.  Often the way that that happened was by way of the sword.

So, you have this city…..this city that’s built on pluralism.  Rome saying, “What’s one more god?  Just worship one more god.”  A city that’s, in many ways, revolving around Caesar worship, has this other god, Asclepius, which was the god of healing.  He was personified by snakes.  In the temple of Pergamum, there would be a number of snakes on the ground.  The way that you were healed by this god was that you would go down and you would lie on the floor of the temple and all of the snakes would slither over you.  So it’s no coincidence that because this god was worshipped in Pergamum, their coin reflected it.  You can still see that crest of the serpent on the Royal Army Medical Corps crest today.  That’s why.

This is Pergamum, so it’s no coincidence that this is the city where capital punishment was allowed on behalf of the Roman Empire.  If you went against Rome, that’s what you got.  And it’s no coincidence that Jesus opens his letter with:  The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.   He goes hey, you want to talk about swords?  You want to talk about power?  You want to talk about empire?  You want to talk about influence?  He says I have power and I have influence, but it’s not the kind of sword that kills.  It’s the kind of sword that pierces to the heart and redeems.  Let’s talk about two kinds of power, Jesus says.  And that’s his intro.  And that’s this church.  Just sort of anecdotally. . . . .because Pergamum had that big hill in the back, it was an easily defensible city.  Back in the days of Alexander and beyond, it was the city that housed 9,000 talents of gold, which is roughly $11.5 billion of gold, today.  It was sort of the Fort Knox of the early world.  That’s who Jesus is writing to.

If you’ve been here over the last few weeks, you’ll remember that typically the way that Jesus writes these letters is by beginning with something really, really good that the church is doing.  He transitions into something that he’s calling them to correct.  He moves on to an instruction he’s giving specifically to the church he’s writing to.  It’s the same pattern he follows here in this passage.  Revelation 2:13 — I know where you dwell,  {Literally, this word ‘dwell’ would mean that you have your permanent home in this place.  You’re not a sojourner, you’re not an alien, you’re not just passing through. This is where you live “permanently.”}  …where Satan’s throne is.  Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.   {Now, look up at me for just a moment.}  Do you think it’s any coincidence that Rome has its seat of power of Asia Minor in Pergamum and Jesus says, “This is where Satan has his throne?”  Not a trick question.  Absolutely NOT a coincidence!  One of the things we do when we read the Scriptures is we typically bring an image and we bring baggage to the text that is often stories we’ve heard.  When I read ‘Satan,’ I imagine a demonic figure with pointy ears and a red pointy tail and has a pitchfork in his hand.  Jesus goes well actually, Satan (or ‘the satan,’ Hasatan) is a lot more like the Roman Empire than he is like a demon with a pitchfork.  Don’t let anybody ever tell you that the Bible doesn’t confront and deal with things like systemic injustice, or racism, or empires that put people down and abuse those who are on the lowest rungs of their society.  Jesus has very, very strong words for this empire, so strong that he says that they’re Satan.  There’s power, there’s this demonic power, behind the rise of this empire and they are just destroying the lives of people.  There’s a spiritual power and authority behind corrupt and abusive empires.  That’s what Jesus says.

Then he says something else that’s fascinating.  You dwell there.  You live in the lion’s den, church of Pergamum.  What I want to read is ‘and I’m coming to get you.’  Help is on the way!  But that’s not what he says.  He says you dwell there and you’ve been faithful.  Good for you.  You’ve been faithful even to the point of death.  Here’s what I want us to just lean into today….it’s a difficult truth in the Scriptures, but this is what Jesus is teaching us.  God designed us to influence the darkness, not to escape the uncomfortable.  God designed us to influence the darkness, to impact evil, not to escape the uncomfortable.  I don’t know about you, but escape sounds a lot better and easier some days.  Is anybody with me?  Like, if we could just pull the rip cord and get out of the furnace, that’s typically the choice that we would make.  I love the way Eugene Peterson, the great pastor and author, puts it:  “The church is designed to be the colony of heaven in the midst of the empire.”  The people of God—surrounded by evil, and pain, and abuse, and coercion, and corruption, and loss.  Think about it.  This is God’s plan from the very beginning.  This is the way he operates all throughout the Scriptures.  That Abram, in Genesis 12—go back and read it this week—is called out of his “world,” to be a voice of hope and blessing back into his world.  But Abraham’s only a blessing if he stands distinct, if he’s different.  He’s not a blessing if he looks exactly like all the people who are worshipping a myriad of different gods and idolatry in his society.  He’s a blessing if he has a voice back in.

God’s design for you and I is that his church would be a redemptive community, standing distinct from but passionate for, his world.  Different, but passionate for.  It’s easy to be different and against, isn’t it?  We’re different and we’re loud and we’ll tell you exactly how we’re different. . . .and how you’re wrong.  Or, it’s easy to be for, right?  To just be a part of, just going along with it, whatever.  More water in that coffee, right?  But to be distinct from, but passionately for, that’s the calling of the church.  I think the Apostle Peter says it really, really well when he says this:   But you are a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)   You’re different so that you can speak back into and be a voice, passionate change, and life, and love, and goodness, and wholeness.  William Barclay, the great commentator, writes this:  “The person who is not prepared to be different ned not start on the Christian way at all.”  Oh man, not a lot of tattoos of that one these days.  That’s something we go, oh man, we know that the Scriptures say that, but that can be hard to live sometimes, can’t it?

Well, it was hard for the church at Pergamum, too.  Verse 14 — But I have a few things against you. . .  {Quick time out.  He says well, you’re standing up to Satan, which seems like quite the accomplishment, but I have a few things against you.  We can survive some of the massive onslaughts of faith, but it’s the little things that start to creep in, isn’t it?  You’ve stood up to Satan, but there’s some other areas that you’re starting to drift.  Just a little bit more water.}  …you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  There’s this word play going on between this word ‘Balaam,’ which means ‘to lord over,’ in Hebrew, and ‘the Nicolaitans,’ which means ‘lorded over.’  Most scholars think he’s talking about the same group of people, and he uses this story from the Old Testament about Balaam to illustrate his point.   If you want to read more about Balaam, I’d encourage you to read Number 25-29, but let me give you the CliffNotes version of that story, because it’s really important to the context of what Jesus is writing to the church about.

Balaam was a prophet.  He was a prophet for hire.  Balak was the King of Midian and he hired him to cast a bad curse over the people of God, over the Israelites.  Balaam said to Balak, “I can only prophesy what God said.”  If God gives a blessing, I can give it.  If God gives a curse, I can give it, but I can’t come up with anything on my own.  Balak tells him great, do your work.  Balaam stands up and prophesies this beautiful blessing over the people of Israel.  Balak’s like, hey, I’m paying you to curse these people, not to bless them.  How ’bout we go for round 2?  Balaam says, “Okay, but I can only do what God wants me to do.”  He does the exact same thing again.  Beautiful blessing over the people of God.  Balak’s like, “I want my money back!”  What Balaam says is you’re making this way to difficult.  You don’t need to curse the people of God; get the most beautiful women you have and go have them do a dance in front of the men of Israel, and they will fall in love with them, and they will want to marry them.  Eventually, they will be worshipping your gods.  You’ll win them over through their affection for your women and eventually they’ll be destroyed because of their idolatry.  Balak thinks it’s a good idea and does it.  It worked.  It’s a tale as old as time, though, really.  You look at King Solomon’s trajectory in his life. . . it’s the very thing that gets him off as well.

The Nicolaitans, in this day and time, were sort of a group that was reflective or similar to Balaam.  They had a similar tactic.  Their tactic was hey, Christians, it’s no big deal if you go to the temple and visit a temple prostitute.  It’s no big deal if you bow the knee to Caesar; what’s one god in addition to Yahweh, the True God.  It’s. No. Big. Deal.  They stood up to Satan and they were starting to be destroyed by the Nicolaitans.  The Nicolaitans argued that God’s more concerned about your spiritual life than he is your body.  Do whatever you want with your physical body, as long as worship God.  In the ancient world, it was this heresy, this untruth, called dualism.  Do whatever you want with your body, as long as you continue to worship and your spirit is healthy.  What Christians have believed, and what Christians have ALWAYS believed, is that we are integrated beings.  We are holistic people.  We can’t be completely unhealthy and going against the stream of what our convictions say on a physical level, and healthy spiritually.  That cannot happen.  That cannot be.  Followers of Jesus have a far more complex and connected and unified understanding of what it means to be human.  It ALL matters!  Our bodies matter.  Our sexuality matters.  Our thoughts matter.  Matter matters.  We’ve been accused of being, and I think rightfully so, the most materialistic religion in the world.  We say it matters.  It ALL matters.

If we begin with this. . . . .Jesus calls us to live sometimes in the lion’s den.  He calls us to influence the darkness, not to escape the uncomfortable.  We have to recognize that the next domino to drop is that potential for influence brings opportunity for compromise.  Potential for influence, by definition, because we want to influence the darkness, we want to influence evil, we want to love in the face of people pushing it back against us, has the greatest opportunity for compromise.  Think about it — when you’re in an argument with your spouse. . . . That’s what we call it as followers of Jesus.  It’s not a fight. . . .it’s a disagreement, okay?  In that moment, there’s an opportunity either for influence or for compromise.  Will I continue to love even when it’s difficult?  When you’re faced with an opportunity at work to maybe cut a few corners, get ahead, and everybody else is doing it, you have in that moment the opportunity to either influence people towards integrity, towards good, towards honesty, or to compromise.  The more opportunities we have to influence, the greater the pressure will be to compromise.  Right?  This is what we see happening in this world.

Notice the two things that are compromised:   You’re eating food sacrificed to idols, or you’re going in the way of idolatry, AND you’re practicing sexual immorality.  Now, let’s lay this over the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus taught that there are two greatest commands.  In fact, if you want to keep every other command, just keep these two and by definition, the others will fall underneath it.  Love God and love others.  The interesting part about what happened in the church at Pergamum is their compromise. . . . they’re sort of taking a little bit of water to what God had intended them to live and just saying we’ll just have a little of our culture in here and we’ll just add a little bit of this.  They went contrary to the two greatest commands Jesus had given them.  Love God. . . .and they started to practice idolatry.  Love others. . . .and they started to use other people.  That’s the opposite of love.  It’s not typically adverse hatred, it’s typically I’m going to use you in order to get what I really want.  Which is what sexual immorality is, because God designed us to live lives of love, to live lives of fidelity, to live lives of commitment and covenant.  When we go against that, we go against the very DNA of the way God has designed us to live.

If a person wrongs me, I have the opportunity either for influence or compromise.  Will I forgive in the way of Jesus and stay true and have an integrity of my soul to say this is the way that I want to live, or will I retaliate?  When I get in an argument with my spouse, is it influence or is it compromise?  We could go through a ton of different examples.  I think Jesus is saying that there’s more than one way for Satan to defeat you.   It can either be an overt attack—like a roaring lion looking for someone to destroy.  Or, maybe a little more like a Trojan horse, that just sneaks in and becomes a part of your life and eventually you realize that there’s an enemy in it, and you’ve cozied up to it.  Your convictions, and your ideals, and your beliefs eventually are starting to get pushed more and more and more to the peripheral of who you are.

I was reading about this interesting “study” that was done by the TV show, Candid Camera.  They did this study. . . .this was back a number of decades ago, where they had three actors.  They would wait for somebody to get into an elevator and then they would open it on the next floor.  All three of the actors would get in and face against the back door.  The person was sort of like, “What in the world is going on here?”  The next floor, there was one more person (an actor as well) who would get in and look at the back door also.  Every single person that found themselves in the elevator eventually turned around.

I don’t know about you, but when Jesus talks about freeing our lives from anger, sometimes it’s easier to turn around and go with the flow, isn’t it?  That’s just a part of living.  When Jesus talks about forgiving our enemies, can’t it just be way easier to compromise?  When Jesus talks about a sexual ethic that’s built around fidelity, that’s built around honor, that’s built around covenant, isn’t it easier to just go with the way that it seems like everything else is going?  Isn’t it easier to turn around?  I think the truth of the matter is, friends, that the greatest danger in the Christian life is not that we’d lose our faith, but that we’d synchronize it with everything going on in our culture.  Jesus plus it.  Jesus plus whatever sort of makes me feel good.  If you’re wrestling with that today, let me try to get into the DNA of compromise.  The DNA of how we start to live contrary to our ideals.  No man who cheats on his wife ever thinks, “You know, that’s what I planned when I stood at the altar.”  No one!  No one who gets caught stealing money from their company ever thought that’s where they’d get to or where they’d be.  It always, ALWAYS, carries this burden of I never thought life would be like that.  Maybe, just maybe, God will use this Scripture as a word for you today to say, “You’ve turned around but it’s not too late.”

I saw this “Babylon Bee” article that I thought just beautifully summarized what we’re talking about today.  The “Babylon Bee” is a parody, a satire, a Christian blog.  They wrote:  Man Bravely Abandons Unpopular Christian Belief to Affirm Extremely Popular Belief.  I thought yeah, yeah.  I think in many ways we’re guilty, right?

Here’s how compromise begins:  We minimize.  We go well, it’s really not that big of a deal.  For a follower of Christ it’s like God’s way is one way, but it may not be the only way.  We minimize.  The next thing that happens is we theorize.  Typically it looks like — God’s greatest goal is my ultimate happiness.  Then the equation in our mind is X will make me happy, therefore God must want  for me, therefore I should do it.  Even if I can’t find anything in the Scriptures that would back up my perspective, I’m theorizing.  Here’s another way it sometimes looks — There’s exceptions to every rule. . . .and I’m the exception!  Finally, we rationalize.  Sometimes we even rationalize after the fact.  It’s:  I blew it, so who cares.  No one else in my company does anything ethically anyway, so why should I?  No big deal; it’s just a little glance, it’s just a little click on that website, it’s just a little. . . .no big deal.  Eventually this minimize/theorize/rationalize leads to—this is why Jesus is so passionate about writing to his church going, “You guys, wake up!  You’re letting everything infiltrate and you’re not influencing. Wake up!”  This is Jesus’s heart.  You’re walking down a road that eventually is going to lead to your death.  And I don’t want that for you, he says.  I’ve designed you for better.  I’ve designed you for more.

Then he has this beautiful word.  It may be one of the most beautiful words in all of the Scriptures.  Therefore repent.  (Rev. 2:16)  You’ve turned around.  You’re along with everybody else now, but repent means literally ‘to change your mind,’ or ‘to turn around.’  It’s not too late.  Regardless of how far you’ve walked down that path, it’s not too late.    Therefore repent.  If not, I will come to you soon and war against them {These are the people who are in with the Nicolaitans.} with the sword of my mouth.  I will convict of sin.  I will point towards righteousness.  I will call home. . . .come on, you guys, come on!  Then he gives this great promise.

So that’s the command, right?  We’ve walked through Jesus’s commendation, Jesus’s condemnation, Jesus’s instruction, repent.  Then there’s this promise that comes and oh my goodness, it’s awesome!  He who has an ear, {If you’re here this morning and you’re going maybe that’s me. . . . .maybe there’s like a disproportionate amount of the world and faith in my life.  He’s going okay, okay, great, great, listen up!}  …let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who conquers. . .  Or, to the one who overcomes, or to the one who’s victorious.  Let’s stop there.  In this instance, what does it mean to conquer?  It means to stay true to who you are as a follower of Christ.  It means to stay true to the two greatest commands — to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as yourself.  To not bow the knee to another god, and to not use people instead of loving people, that’s what it means.  Jesus goes, to the one who turns, to the one who repents, to the one who comes back. . . .and is therefore, because they did that, victorious.  Here’s what he’s saying:  devoted commitment guards against destructive compromise.  The best thing you can do. . . .if you’re going man, I’m worried if I’m walking down that path of adding just a little bit more water into my coffee.  I’m worried about that.  Jesus would say here’s the anecdote, here’s what to do.  You don’t need to dissect every little thing, just bow and worship.  Just come to my throne.  Just submit your life.  Just surrender.  That’s what victory looks like.

I read this story about a 12-year-old girl who was in class, and she was eating chicken nuggets.  This boy looked at her and said, “Hey, give me one of those.”  She said, “No way!”  The boy followed her down to the subway, took a gun out, put it to her head and said, “Give me some of those nuggets.”  She slapped the gun away and said, “Absolutely not!”  I’m like, holy nuggets, Batman, right?  I thought what would it look like to be a follower of Jesus to be THAT convinced of my convictions?  Don’t let a 12-year-old girl and her nuggets outdo you!

As you live the devoted life, here’s what’s going to happen:  …I will give some of the hidden manna.   You could read this as sustenance, as life, as bread, as goodness, as Jesus himself.  So, as you live a devoted life, you are going to be filled up with life abundant, spiritual sustenance, to continue to keep you going along the way.  Jesus said this in John 4:34 — My food {The thing that fills me up.} is to do the will of him who sent me.   Here’s what we see in this passage and others all throughout the Scriptures:  Obedience reveals unseen sustenance. Maybe the reason that you’re struggling in your life with Jesus is because you’re resisting the way of Jesus.  You’re resisting obedience to Him.  You’re saying, just a little more water, that’s fine, no big deal.  Jesus says, oh man, if you just let me, I would fill you up time and time and time again, but I will not fill somebody who’s living contrary to my way.  I can’t do it.  I can’t give you gasoline in your car, if you’re going to drive it off the cliff.  I can’t do it.

Here’s the second thing He says:  …and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.   Back in the first century, they used white stones for a number of things.  One of them was if you were on a jury, you would take a white stone if you wanted to vote for somebody to be innocent.  There would be a jar that you would drop it in and you’d be saying that you were casting your vote for innocence.  The other usage was for an entrance to an Olympic game.  You’d get a white stone as almost a ticket.  See this imagery Jesus is painting?  It’s brilliant.  You’re innocent.  You’re in.

But he also says that there’s a new name written on it.  What’s fascinating about that is these little stones were something the people in the ancient world would carry around in their pocket.  They’d write the name of a god on them.  It was sort of like a charm, a way to say ‘May this god protect me.’  Jesus reverses that a little bit and says instead of writing my name of that stone, I’m going to write YOUR name on that stone as a reminder of who you really are.  Church of Pergamum, quit running contrary to the way of love, to the way of Jesus, to the way of fidelity, to the way of honesty, to the way of integrity.  Quit running against that.  Quit compromising.  Instead, may your fidelity, may your trust in Jesus, expose a new identity.  A new name.  Like Abram becoming Abraham.  Like Jacob becoming Israel.  Like Saul becoming Paul.  This would remind us who we really are.  I don’t know where you’re at with Jesus today, and I don’t know if you’ve been living in this place of adding a little bit more water, but I do know his invitation this morning is come home.  You’ve turned around, come home.  That invitation is always open, if you are still breathing, if you’re still longing. . . . . .come home!  What I’m convinced of today is that in all the things that we’ve said, and in all the ways that we’ve unpacked the Scriptures, the most powerful thing you can take away from this is maybe, just maybe, hearing a whisper of what that name is over your life today.

The name Pergamum means ‘married.’  This new name is this picture of commitment, it’s this picture of covenant.  {Ryan points out the bowls of white pebbles.}  Here’s what your invitation to practice is this week.  I’m going to invite you to come and get a white rock.  During this song, I’m going to ask that you prayerfully consider. . . .you can kneel on the stairs, or at your seat, or you can stand or sit and sing. . . .would you ask that Jesus just speak a word over your soul today?  Of who you really are.  Maybe it’s the word beloved.  Maybe it’s the word pure.  Maybe you’re feeling weak today and his word over you is strong or warrior.  Would you ask, “Jesus, what’s my name?  Help me live with integrity in line with who you say I am.”  We live in the place of influence, friends, all around us, which means that there’s temptation for compromise.  Let’s remind ourselves who God is and who we are, that we might live all the more for him, for our joy and for the glory of his name.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, we want to be the kind of people who live true to who you say we are.  We want to love you and we want to love others; we don’t want to bow to other things and use other people.  Lord, we want to live with integrity, to the deepest parts of our being.  So, Lord, remind us this morning what you say about us and may what you say about us drive how we live in your world.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Compromising People | Revelation 2:12-17 | Week 42020-08-20T15:17:23-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Hurting People | Revelation 2:8-11 | Week 3

This Christmas I got my wife an Instant Pot.  It’s a modern twist on the old pressure cooker.  It essentially works the same way—-the top seals on there pretty tight.  Inside there are two things that happen:  heat that starts to buildup and steam that is released.  You can put in a whole frozen chicken and in three minutes it’ll pop out to be dinner for you!  It’s awesome!  Maybe not, don’t try that at home.  It’s a little nerve wracking with this ‘bomb’ you have in your kitchen.  We turn it on and my wife, Kelly, backs up, and all of the kids have their biking helmets on when she’s cooking with it.  It’s a little bit crazy.

I think sometimes life feels a little bit like an Instant Pot, doesn’t it?  It presses in on us, and the heat gets turned up, and the steam gets released.  Sometimes in those seasons we have questions for each other, we have questions for God.  We ask God things like:  God, do you see?  God, do you care?  God, are you going to do anything?  God, in this situation that I’m walking through right now, what do you want me to do?  Sometimes the pressure situations can seem small……it’s a child that won’t behave, or the job situation that’s not working out exactly the way you wanted it to.   But sometimes it feels like you’re just in the thick of it and the temperature keeps going up and up and up and up.   The news from the doctor isn’t good.  The relationship is falling apart.  It just feels like the pressure is just building.  What do we do in situations like that?  I sometimes think that as the Church, we’re not good at talking about lament and grief.  Some seasons of life just aren’t fun.  Can we admit that, even though we’re in church?  Sometimes it feels like the pressure is just getting turned up.

If you have one of these Instant Pots, there’s a little dial on top.  One of the settings is ‘sealed,’ or let the pressure build.  The other setting is ‘vent’ or release.  When you’re cooking something and you turn it to vent, it sounds like there’s a bomb being diffused in your kitchen!  It really does!  It’s a high pitched tone and steam is shooting out of it.  That’s when Kelly has all our kids under the kitchen table.  {Will you lean in for just a moment?}  There are situations in life where Jesus does not remove the heat.  Sometimes the mountain doesn’t move.  Sometimes the sea is not quieted.  But he does remove the pressure and there’s things in life, and there’s things in the life of faith, where we can switch that dial from sealed to vent and it releases us to go, okay, it’s still hot and the pain didn’t go away, but I can keep going, and I can keep moving, and I can keep trusting, and I can keep holding on, God, because I know that you’re at work.  If you’re a follower of Jesus this morning, this message is for you, if you’re walking through the fire and you just feel like God, where are you?  And if you’re not a follower of Christ, we’re so glad that you’re here, and I want to invite you to lean in, because the Scriptures have some beautiful invitations for us, as human beings, when life gets really hard.  They center around the person and work of Jesus.  Our invitation, if you’re new to this church or new to the life of faith, is that you would see these ‘release valves’ as an invitation to come to Christ.

Revelation 2:8-11.  If you have a Bible, will you turn there with me?  We’re in this series on letters to the seven churches.  Last week we talked about the church at Ephesus.  If you weren’t here, I’d encourage you to go online and listen or watch that one.  The church at Ephesus is the church that Jesus says has lost their first love. The thing that was central to who they were in Christ got relegated to one of amongst the many things that they were doing and they were doing well.  But they lost their first love.  The second letter is to the church at Smyrna.  It’s the church that’s right in the center of the Instant Pot.  Here’s what Jesus says to them:  And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.’

Smyrna was one of the major ports in Asia Minor at the time.  It’s in what today is modern-day Turkey.  It was one of the safest ports along this coastline, so they had a lot of trade that went in and out of the city of Smyrna.  Today it’s Izmir.  It’s been a city for roughly 8,000 years.  Try to take that in.  That’s a long time.  It did have this little break.  In 600 BC, the Lydians came and wiped out the city of Smyrna.  For 400 years it ceased to exist.  Around 200 BC, it was repopulated by the Roman Empire and started to be birthed again.  So when Jesus begins his letter to the church at Smyrna, the who died and came to life, it’s not just an incidental type of greeting, as if to say, hey, remember I was resurrected.  That’s true, but Jesus is saying more than that.  He’s saying hey, church at Smyrna, you’re the city that died and came to life again and I’m the Savior who died and came to life again and we have some common ground here.  I know what that’s like, city of Smyrna, so lean in a little bit, if you will.

This city was a fascinating city.  It was like many of our coastal cities—the New York, the Californias—they were sort of the epicenter of culture and fashion.  One of the major excavation projects in the city of Smyrna is the agora.  It’s a three-story tall shopping mall that was about 300 feet long, a football-field long.  It’s just an absolutely fascinating piece of architecture back in that day.  The city was also named after…..Smyrna is the same root word as the spice myrrh.  Myrrh is very aromatic spice.  It has such a strong smell that they use it for embalming bodies, because it takes away the smell of the decomposition of the body.  So when Jesus says the who died and came to life , they’re surrounded by this smell in their city because that was one of the major trades that went in and out of their port.

One of the things I’ve loved is just seeing the way that Jesus speaks so directly to the place that the church is at.  He speaks their language, he writes to their culture, and he has a word for what they’re going through.  The people of Smyrna, right in back of the city, had this massive hill, and on top of it, you can see this fortress that has a temple inside of it.  Smyrna was the city that won the right to build the very first temple to the goddess Roma.  She was the goddess that personified the Roman Empire.  If you wanted to worship the empire—-it was a little bit more overt back then than it is today—-you worshiped the goddess Roma.  Every year, the people of Smyrna would make a trek.  They would walk up this mountain, traversing side to side to side.  They’d walk up.  They’d walk into the temple and take a pinch of incense and throw it into the fire and they’d bow down and say, “Caesar is lord.”  It was an annual party that they threw every year.  The Christians said, “We can’t say that because we don’t believe that Caesar’s lord.  We actually believe that Jesus is Lord.”  You see this inception of the conflict between the Church and the state, between the kingdom and the empire.  {Will you look up at me for just a moment?}  This is nothing new!  The Church has always been called to be a prophetic voice into the empire—-This is not the way of Jesus, this is not the way of kingdom.  When Church gets in bed with the empire, we see things go horribly wrong, because we’re called to be a voice saying, “There’s a better way.”  {That’s for free.}  At Smyrna, the church was and because of that they walked through a season of pressure, tribulation, and trials.

Here’s the way Jesus goes on:  I know your tribulation…  {It’s the Greek word thilipsis.  It literally could be translated ‘pressure.’  Internal pressure.  I know your Instant Pot reality.  I know what’s going on.} …and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.   {Hey, Jesus, how do you really feel?}  But these first two words ‘I know’. . . .I feel like God wants to speak a word over us, this morning.  To say, “I know.”   I know the secret sin you just long to get rid of and you don’t feel like you can.   I know, he says.  I know the addiction that you’re walking through and I know that even when you sit in this place, you feel like a hypocrite and there’s all sorts of voices in your head chirping at you.  He goes, I know.  I know it looks like things on the outside. . . .you can pretend things are perfect, but I know that there’s a fracture in that relationship and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.  Jesus says, “I know.”  He says I know the longing that you have to feel like you’re close to me, to feel more intimate, more love.  He goes, I know that.  The hope that one day you’ll be married and have that family you’ve pictured in your mind. . . .he goes, I know that longing, I know that hope, I know, I know, I know.  Whatever it is. . . . .He knows.

He speaks this word. . . . I know your poverty, but. . .but. . .but, don’t forget that you’re rich.  There’s more than one way to be rich, you know that, right?  There’s more than one way to be wealthy.  There’s more than one way to have an abundance.  The word that Jesus wants to speak to the Instant-Pot Christians in Smyrna is do not miss, don’t you dare miss God’s provision in the midst of pain.  Don’t miss that He’s at work, that He’s in the midst, that He sees, that He is calling you, ministering to you, comforting you, loving you. . . .don’t miss it!  I don’t know about you, but it can be really easy—in this type of situation that Smyrna was in—-to start to just ask the question ‘why.’   God, why in the world did this happen?  God, why in the world did that happen?  I think it’s a real natural, good question.  But please, please, do not let the question ‘why’ cause you to miss the God who’s providing ‘in.’  Don’t miss the God who continues to provide ‘in.’  Don’t let poverty in some areas cause you to assume lack in every area.  In fact, here’s the way the Apostle Paul wrote it to the church in Corinth:  ….sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;  {Did you know there’s a way to have joy in the midst of sorrow?  You can have both.} ….as poor, yet making many rich;  {You don’t have much to your name, but you sure are ministering in some ways that are making people’s lives all the better.} …as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:10) 

I can remember when Reid, my youngest son, was first born.  This is an image. . . .I’ve shared this before, but it’s just stuck in my brain as this picture of the reality of the world we live in.  My dad had my mom—-and she was pretty sick at that time—-on his arm, and I can remember them walking into the hospital room where we were sitting.  We sort of positioned my mom on this couch—she was a little bit wobbly at the time—and delicately put our youngest son, Reid, into her arms.  This picture is seared in my mind. . . . my sick mom holding my healthy baby.   I can just remember the Spirit whispering to me, “Ryan, you’re going to have a choice every day of your life. . . .to decide what you see.”   I want to see both!  I want to see the lament and I want to see the joy.  I want to see the pain, but I don’t want to miss the provision.  I don’t want to miss the God who’s with me every step of the way.  So here’s my question:  Because it hurts, because the pressure’s being turned up, is there provision you’re missing in the midst of it?

Jesus says listen, I know those of the synagogue of Satan, they’ve slandered you (verse 9).  Here’s the context, it’s real important because some people have taken this verse and have driven to some anti-Semitic places, which isn’t at ALL what Jesus intends or has in mind.  In the Roman Empire at the time, it was required that people would worship Caesar as lord.  It was a non-negotiable for anyone. . . . .except for one group.  The Jewish people had an exemption from the Roman government because of their history and because they were monotheists.  They worked out a deal:  If we still pay our taxes and we still give, can we refuse, or exempt ourselves from worshipping Caesar?  They said okay, but we’ll let you and you alone have that right.  Early on, Christians were seen as a sect of Judaism, so they were covered under this exemption.  They did not have to worship Caesar as lord.  But as they started to gain momentum, as the movement started to grow, Rome started to see well, there’s less and less people hiking up that mountain to worship.  They said, “We’ve got to do some things to change that,” and the synagogue rulers, most scholars would say, outed the Christians.  They said, “These people?  They’re not true Jews, they’re not of us.  They worship Jesus as king.”  Can you imagine this?  People who you might have gone to church with, people who you might have gone to synagogue with, saying, “They’re not of us.  They’re of a completely different thing.”  So Jesus says listen, if you’ve been stabbed in the back by somebody, if you’ve had a friend betray, if you’ve had a loved one turn their back on you and say, “I don’t want anything to do with you” . . . . .he goes, people of Smyrna, not only do I know what you’re going through, but I see exactly what’s gone on and I’m with you in the midst of it.  The Scriptures say He’s close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).  What do you need to know that Jesus sees in your life right now?  I can assure you, He sees it.

Here’s the way he continues:  Do not fear {Because when they were outed, they were persecuted.  When they were no longer under the exemption of the Jewish people, they were crucified, they were thrown to the lions, they were covered in animal blood and told to run while wild dogs chased them.  It’s to these people Jesus says Do. Not. Fear.}  …what you are about to suffer.  {Let’s just have a moment of honesty.  How many of you wish that that said something different than what it actually says.  I’m just glad you’re following along, because I think we all do.  Yet if you’ve read through the Scriptures, cover to cover, what you’d find is that 83 times we are commanded to ‘fear not.’  It’s one of the most used phrases, the most common commands in all of the Scriptures.  I started to ask myself, this week, “Why in the world is that?”  Well, because we live in a world that sometimes feels like an Instant Pot, don’t we?  Because we have a lot of reasons to fear, don’t we?  Because fear has this place in our soul that sometimes won’t let go.

We have some interesting things that we fear in our day and time.  I read through a list of some of the less common fears that people have, but did you know that the National Institute of Healths says that, in America, phobias and fears are one of the greatest inhibitors of health that people have?  Here’s some of the more interesting ones:  Melophobia — The fear of music.  My guess is that you came in late if that’s yours, right?  Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia —  Ironically, it’s the fear of long words.  Arachibutyrophobia — Obviously, it’s the fear of getting peanut butter stuck on the roof of your mouth.  Unatractiphobia — The fear of ugly people.  Can you imagine. . . . .you’re sitting at the lunchroom at work. . . .man, I’m really struggling with my unatractiphobia today, and you’re not helping.   Pogonophobia — The fear of beards, so stay away from Aaron Bjorklund if you have that one.  FOMO — Fear of missing out.

Some of our fears are little bit more comical, but every fear is paralyzing, have you thought about that?  When Amazon started to track—through their Kindle App—the most highlighted verses in the Bible, there’s was one that started to track above all the rest.  It was not John 3:16.  It wasn’t some of the more popular verses.  It was Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious (or fearful) about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)  The most highlighted verse in the Scriptures.  Why?  Because we live in a world where . . . . . you can have fear!  Not all fear is silly.  Just a few weeks ago there was an alert that went on everybody’s cell phone on the island of Hawaii that said:  Ballistic Missile Threat // Inbound to Hawaii // Seek Immediate Shelter // This is Not a Drill.    Turned out to be a mistake, but it wasn’t a drill.

Will you look up at me for just a second?  Fear cannot change the future, but it can prevent you from walking into it. It can’t change your circumstances, but it can change you.  So eighty-three times the Scriptures say ‘do not fear,’  because the biggest problem with fear is that it clashes with the life of faith.  So here’s Jesus’s encouragement to the church in the Instant Pot in Smyrna.  Choose courage in the face of challenges.  Or you could write, if you like it better, choose faith in the face of fear.   You cannot choose your circumstances, oftentimes.  {Look up from your notes for just a second.}  You always, always, ALWAYS get to choose your response to your circumstances.  You can choose whether you react and respond in courage or you react and respond in fear.  THAT’S your choice!  Which is why Jesus frames it as a command:  Don’t fear.

Here’s what he’s NOT saying:  He’s not saying don’t feel and just shut yourself down.  He’s not saying don’t grieve and don’t lament.  It’s a very biblical thing to look at the world as it really is and go, “That’s probably not the way God designed it to be.”  There’s some things that are broken, there’s some things that are off.  He’s not saying you have to ignore those things.  And he’s not saying don’t question God.  Here’s what he IS saying, and I think Nelson Mandela said it best:  “I’ve learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  You and I cannot ignore our fears and hope that they go away.  In fact, the best way to feed your fears is to hide them and to pretend they don’t exist.  Fear flourishes in the darkness.  When we don’t say anything about it, when we don’t get it out in the open.  You know, probably the best thing you can do with your fears is tell somebody about them.  Invite them in.  Ask them to pray for you.  Sometimes when you speak a fear out loud, you start to hear how crazy it is that that thing is debilitating you.  And then you get somebody who’s walking with you in the journey.

If you’re here today and you’re going, so there’s two vents, two release valves, that we’ve talked about so far.  Number one is understanding that there’s provision in the midst of pain.  The second is choosing courage in the face of challenges.  How in the world do we do that?  What does that actually look like?  I’m so glad you asked that because Jesus addresses that. There’s four things that I want to, briefly, point out.  So if we want to live fearlessly, there’s four things in this text we have to know.  They’re going to seem a little bit counterintuitive but let’s just trust that Jesus knows what he’s talking about, okay?

So here’s what he says.  First, do not fear what you are about to suffer.  His point?  Suffering is a part of living.  Don’t be surprised at it.  We live in a broken and fractured world, people who assume that life is going to be bubble gum and blueberries all the time, are actually crippled more by fear than people who have a realistic view of this world that we live in.  Let’s just step back and look globally at not only at the church in Smyrna, but churches all around the world and how they might hear this passage of Scripture.  There are churches right now—and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say like, our suffering is one thing—we had to drive to church in the snow—but there’s some people who go to church at the expense of their life.  There’s over 300 Christians, every single month, that lose their life because of their faith in Jesus.  There are roughly 214 churches that are destroyed, buildings destroyed, because they’re proclaiming the message of Jesus as Lord.  There’s 772 Christians that are tortured, beaten, not to the point of death, but to the point of pain, every single month, because they would say that Jesus is Lord.  Read this from their point of view. . . . him going okay, you guys, live fearlessly, hold on.  Part of living is suffering.  You just got to know it’s true.

Secondly, he says:  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison.   So, number one:  Suffering is a part of living.  Number two:  We have to understand that there’s a very real enemy to our souls.  Here’s why that’s so important from a theological standpoint.  If we don’t understand that evil is real and that there is a very real enemy that would love to destroy us, we start to attribute everything to God.  Is it Jesus’s plan that his church in Smyrna would be attacked by the devil and thrown in prison?  He allows it to happen, certainly, but it’s not Him doing it!  There’s an enemy who’s at work.  You need to know that.

Third — That you may be tested…  Every single situation that we find ourselves in is either a chance for us to grow better or to grow bitter, for our faith to be developed or our faith to be destroyed.  You don’t choose your circumstances, you do choose how you respond to them.  And know, the testing of your faith will come.

The fourth thing he says is:  …and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Here’s what the church didn’t do.  They didn’t get out their calendar and go, well, it started on this day, so now we have a week and half.  It was sort of an idiom or metaphor in the first century for ‘it’s not going to last forever.’  Suffering has a season.  When we understand THOSE things, it actually starts to disarm fear in our lives.  So, the two relief valves — we choose to see provision in the midst of pain, and we choose to live courageously in the midst of challenges.

Finally, here’s how this letter ends:  Be faithful unto death,   {Now, you could read that ‘be faithful as your life is on the line.’  Actually, a better, more literal translation of this phrase is ‘be faithful UNTIL death.’  Whether it’s ten minutes, or ten decades, or fifty years, however long it is, be faithful as long as God gives you breath on this planet.  It’s not the imminency of death that’s coming, it’s the emphasis on ‘be faithful.’} …and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.   Here’s what Jesus is saying to these church, here’s the relief valve.  The relief valve is:  Do not decide whether or not you’re going to be faithful based on circumstances.  Don’t decide whether you’re going to be faithful based on what comes into your life by way of blessing, or by way of pain, or by way of suffering, or by way of joy.  Decide whether or not you are going to be faithful because you know the Faithful One.  That’s his encouragement.  We’ve got to have an anchor, friends, that’s deeper in our lives than just the day-to-day, wind-and-the-waves of things that may not go our way, or regrets that we have, or pain that we walk through, or the Instant-Pot life that we’re living.  We’ve got to have something deeper.  For followers of Jesus, that deeper thing was the Resurrection.  It was the hope of what was coming, what was on the horizon.  Notice, Jesus says in the very beginning:  I’m the One who died and came to life again.  He ends this section, he buttresses it with The one who conquers (lives by faith) will not be hurt by the second death.  At the resurrection, you will be raised to life. . . .beautiful, immortal, eternal.  That’s the hope.  Knowing our future hope empowers daily faith.  That’s the release valve, that’s the vent in the pressure cooker of life.  We know this, don’t we?

Last year, Kelly and I went on the very first vacation we’ve gone on—just us two—since our kids were born.  We were gone for a week.  The entire week we were like, “Praise Jesus!”  Like, why did we wait so long?  We got back and said, “Every year we can possibly do this we’re going to do this.”  It’s on our calendar and we’re looking forward to it.  I’ve been shocked at how much having something on the calendar to look forward to, empowers my every day.  My kids are just a mess and I’m like, we’re going to Mexico in a few weeks, it’ll be fine!  Things are falling apart around me. . . . .I don’t know, seven weeks I’ll be in Mexico, I’ll be on a beach, it’s okay!  I think this is what Jesus points to:  There will be a day with no more sorrow, no more crying, no more tears, where the old order of things will pass away and the new will come.  The Jesus who is the first fruits of the resurrection and is in the process of making all things new, will accomplish His finish, His task. . . .in your life and in mine.  His work is not just a balm to cover the pain, but a redemption of it.

Resurrection is a coming reality, friends.  You read back through the early church, it seemed like every sermon they preached. . .the emphasis at the end was Jesus is risen, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is coming again!  I just want that weight to sit on us today.  I don’t know what pain you need Him to repair and make new, but I do know that’s His promise.   Because the grave has been conquered, life has been purchased, and Jesus is making all things new!  I love the way Howard Hendricks, the great Bible teacher, put it:  “The amazing thing is not that we die.  The amazing thing is that we live!  We think we are in the land of the living on our way to the land of the dying.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.”  That’s good news!

Jesus promises this ‘crown of life’ to the church at Smyrna, to the ones who overcome.  Remember, all of these are just grounded in the culture that he’s writing to.  If you were to look at this fortress on the hill outside of the city of Smyrna and you were to see it built the way that it was back in the day Jesus is writing to these churches, it would look like a crown, wouldn’t it?  Up on the hill?  If you were to hold a coin that was popular in Smyrna, at that time, with the goddess Roma depicted on it, she’s wearing this crown.  Jesus says listen, you can have life by bowing to Caesar, you can have life by looking to your money, but there’s a crown of life that’s true life that will not fade.  Don’t you love that he built into his encouragement to the church, a visual reminder that they would see every day of the hope that they are invited to have?  I love it!

Here’s my encouragement to you. . . .three relief valves of the life of faith.  One, know that there’s provision in the life of pain.  I don’t know exactly what it looks like, I just know it’s there.  Don’t miss it.  Secondly, you get a choice.  Every circumstance that comes into your life. . . .you don’t get to choose your circumstances, you get to choose every response you have.  Choose faith.  Finally, would allow future hope to empower your daily faith? Maybe this week. . . .can I encourage you, this week, maybe you do one of these things to help you sort of ground this message in the soil of your real life.  What if this week you wrote on a post-it note ‘Jesus Knows,’ and you put it on the steering wheel of your car, or on your dashboard, or in your bathroom, or on the back of your phone.  Maybe, if you’re tech savvy, you build a picture to use as your phone background that says ‘Jesus Knows,’ so when you pick it up you’re reminded that whatever situation you’re in, He knows.  I think if you did that, it would change the way that you look at the world.  Maybe you make a list of the things that you’re afraid of.  Some might be longer than others, but remember, fear FLOURISHES in the dark and when we write it down, there’s something disarming about it.  Can I encourage you to not stop there.  Maybe you follow that up by memorizing Isaiah 41:10 that says:  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Maybe this week, you find a place, because it’s going to be warm and the snow’s going to still be there and it’s going to be gorgeous, and you just sit, for as long as you can get away, and you take in the world around you, but you remember, you meditate on, you soak it in, you ask Jesus to penetrate into your soul the reality of heaven and resurrection.  Our faith today is empowered by our hope about tomorrow.

The year was AD 156, February 22nd, and there was a knock on the pastor’s door.  Pastor of the city church in Smyrna.  His name was Polycarp.  He was greeted by some Roman officers.  As the church had begun to grow, they felt the need to snuff out this Jesus movement, so they went right to the top.  They went to Polycarp’s door and said, “We need you to recant your faith in Jesus and bow to Caesar and admit that Caesar’s lord.”  Polycarp said, “I can’t do that.  Eighty-six years I’ve served Christ and he’s done me no wrong.  How could I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  They said, “We’re going to take you in and burn you as a symbol of ‘you don’t mess with Rome.'”  He agreed but asked them to come in for lunch first.  They ate lunch together and Polycarp asked if he could pray for these Roman soldiers who were going to march him to his death.  He prayed for them for two hours!  Until they said, “Dude, we’ve got to cut you off.”  They told him if he didn’t recant his faith in Jesus they were going to burn him live.  He answered, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment.  So, what are you waiting for?  I will not change my mind, so do what you will.”  They took him to the stake and put his arms around it, and they were going to nail him in place, but they couldn’t find the nails.  Polycarp said, “Leave me here as I am; He who gives me strength to endure the fire will also enable me to stay here, without your pitiful safeguard of nails.”  {I wrote in the book I was reading, “Stud!”}  He stood as the flames came up and eventually took his life.  Exactly what Jesus says to this church at Smyrna, he lived it.  Jesus knew, and he lived fearlessly and faithfully.  Here’s what I think Polycarp believed and what Jesus would have us believe too:  Jesus doesn’t always prevent death.  We wish he would, but he doesn’t.  But he does always purchase life.  That’s the promise held out for us.  It’s not that everything is going to turn out exactly the way that we want it to, it’s that Jesus, King of the cosmos, is currently, right now, making all things new.  The resurrection is your reality and mine.  There’s these vents, these release valves for the life of faith, and I pray as a church that we would live them well.  As Dallas Willard says: “Because Jesus reigns, this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.”

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Hurting People | Revelation 2:8-11 | Week 32020-08-20T15:19:54-06:00

Postcards From the Edge | A Letter to Misdirected People | Revelation 2:1-7 | Week 2


Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, my family and I had the chance to get away and we went up to a cabin in the mighty metropolis of Hot Sulfur Springs.  My whole family was there and we had a great time.  We had planned this pancake breakfast for New Year’s Day.  There was no shortage of texts messages back and forth about the kind of pancakes we were going to eat.  Oatmeal pancakes.  Banana pancakes.  We got up on New Year’s Day with sleep in our eyes and deprivation in our souls because we had stayed up past midnight.  We made the pancakes and were keeping them warm in the oven.  We started putting them out when someone in my family asks, “Did anybody bring the syrup?”  Here’s the question: What do you do when you have a pancake breakfast prepared and you forget the syrup?  Here’s three options:  1) You try to make syrup out of something else.  2) You don’t eat the pancakes.  3) You eat the pancakes plain.  {Ryan has congregation discuss it.}   In my opinion, number three is the only non-option.  You CANNOT eat pancakes plain.  They taste disgusting!  You don’t notice it when you put syrup on it, because syrup makes it all better.  It covers a multitude of sins.  The only reason we have pancakes is so that we can get syrup into our mouth!

I want to talk to you about syrup this morning.  About the one thing that changes everything—with it everything falls into place and without it, nothing else matters.  Open your Bible to Revelation 2.   You’ll remember that we’re starting a series and journeying through the first few chapters of Revelation, where Jesus is writing, through the Apostle John, to specific churches in his day.  He’s giving them encouragement, he’s writing to the context that they’re in uniquely, and he’s got a word, both of commendation, of correction, of instruction for the churches he writes to.  Listen as he begins these letters with a letter to the church at Ephesus:  To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:  ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.     Remember, last week we saw Jesus lifted up, we saw Jesus reigning above, we saw Jesus advocating for, and we saw Jesus walking among the churches, and John wants to reiterate that as he writes to the church at Ephesus.

Ephesus was this city that was one of the preeminent cities in this region of Asia Minor in the ancient world.  If you were to walk down the streets of Ephesus in 90 AD, when John is writing this letter, you would have seen a number of things.  You also would have known your history.  The church at Ephesus had a rich history.  It was begun by the Apostle Paul as he walked into this city and met different people.  He saw demons cast out.  He saw jailers freed.  He saw amazing things in the city of Ephesus.  This church was planted by Paul himself, but it had history, it had attachment.  It was attached to people like Timothy, who Paul writes to; Aquilla and Priscilla spent time there.  John even went back to live there and he sort of used Ephesus as his hub, as a way to pastor and reach all these other churches in the region.  In fact, tradition would tell us that Ephesus is where the Apostle John came to live with Mary, Jesus’s mother, after he began to care for her.  It’s the place where the Apostle Paul spent more time than he spent anywhere else.  For over three years, he spent ministering in Ephesus.

You can see that it’s located down on the sea.  It was the greatest harbor in all of Asia, the biggest harbor.  Which meant that it was also one of the wealthiest cities.  Merchants coming in and going out.  One Roman writer said that the city of Ephesus was ‘the light of all of Asia.’  It was also home to not only a church that was birthed around 40 years before Jesus writes this letter through John to this church, it was also a city that was rampant with idolatry and worship of pagan gods.  Ephesus was home to the temple of Artemis.  She was the Greek goddess of hunting, so you could often see her with her bow and arrow pulled back.  She was also the goddess of fertility and children.  Ironically, the goddess of virginity too.  Artemis was worshipped all around the world at this time.  People would come and flock to Ephesus in order to pay tribute to this goddess.  The temple was 425 feet long and 220 feet wide.  It had 120 columns that were each 60 feet tall.  Can you imagine what it might have been like to come and worship in this place?  Ephesus was also home to the temple of Domitian. A number of cities in the ancient Roman world bid on the ability to create and build the temple where the emperor would be worshipped.  Ephesus won that bid.  It tells you something about their political landscape, does it not?

Ephesus was also, as we said, a bustling town, and it was filled with overachievers.  They had hot and cold running water.  They had a theater that seated 25,000 people.  Can you imagine what it might have been like to go there?  They also had a library, built shortly after John writes this letter, but it tells you something about Ephesus.  One of the greatest libraries in the ancient world, probably only eclipsed by the library in Alexandria.  If you were to walk in the market, you would have held a coin in your hand—-unique to Ephesus that had a picture of a honeybee on it.  For two reasons—-the temple prostitutes that serviced people at the temple of Artemis were considered to be the priestesses and were called honeybees.  But also, Ephesus prided itself on being a hard-working, fast-charging city.  They were ‘busy bees,’ if you will.   And their money proved it.

So when Jesus writes to this church uniquely, after roughly forty years of being a church and trying to follow the way of Jesus in a city like Ephesus, there’s some things he wants to say to them.  There’s some instruction that he wants to give them, and, I think, as we listen to what he says to them, there might be some things that he wants to say to us.  Here’s the way this passage continues (Rev. 2:2-4) — I know your works, your toil… {Just a quick time out.  This word ‘toil’ is the most emphatic way you can say that you’re trying to get something done, in the original Greek language.  So you’re putting your heart, your sweat, your soul, and your mind in accomplishing this.}  ….and your patient endurance,  {In the Greek, it’s this word ‘hupomone.’  It means you live under the weight of something and you continue to move forward.  You’re working your hands to the bone and you’re remaining under the weight of all the outside things that are pushing in—the temple of Artemis and the temple of Domitian, and the busy bee society.}  …and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not,  {It was commanded by Paul to the elders at Ephesus  that they would do this.  You can read about it in Acts 20:9.}  …and found them to be false.  {Man, you are sniffing out the heretic and you are kicking them out of the church!  Good work!}  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

Good deeds?  Check.  Good discipline?  Check.  Good doctrine?  Check.  Good determination?  Check.  We’ve got it all!  At this point, the Ephesian church may be going well, where’s the confetti?  Let’s raise our glasses, we are nailing this thing!  Praise the Lord!  Make no mistake about it, all of these things are really, really good things.  In fact, all of these things are very, very commanded things….the things they’re told they have to do.  But they’re pancakes.  They’re pancakes….without the syrup.  They’re not a whole lot of good.  Which is why Jesus then follows it with this one word…..this HUGE, short word…..BUT.  Like, you’ve stuck the dismount on all of these things, but you’re in the wrong event.  Without this one thing, everything else sort of falls to the wayside.  Nothing else really matters if you don’t get this one thing.  It’s the syrup for the pancakes, if you will.  It’s this word in the Greek, allá, which means it’s setting a contrast.  It’s like an emphatic conjunction.  Like, okay, you did all these great things, but….but I have this against you.  Which you never want to hear.  It’s like Jesus is saying look up at me, write this down, don’t miss this.  I have this against you.  I died for you and I have this against you.  I walk among you and I’ve got this against you.  You’ve abandoned, you’ve walked away from….    But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (v. 4)  The love that you had for God, the love that you had for others, the love that defined you, the love that shaped you, the love that you held to as the greatest command, some how got on the same level as everything else.

So hear Jesus’s words, but hear his passion, hear his love in saying I’ve got this against you.  There’s this sickness of heart, there’s this cancer that you can’t see that’s eventually going to kill you.  You’ve grown cold.  Maybe they lost their love for evangelism, maybe they lost their love for a lot of other things, but before they lost their love for anything else, they lost their love for other people, and they lost their love for God.  Here’s what we start to learn about the way that Jesus is calling us to live in this world — God didn’t create us to be duty-driven robots, he designed us to be passionately loving people.  {Ryan asks congregation to say it together with a mirror down in their soul to question whether they’re duty-driven or passionately loving.}  So, why in the world does God redeem you and I?  Is it so that we would have good deeds, good doctrine, good discipline?  That’s part of the story.  He wants us to live as a light on the hill.  He wants us to hold to things that are true, and to shape our lives around reality, not some farce that’s a lie and like a weight around our shoulders.  More than anything else, he loves us so that we might love him and others in return.  That’s at the heart of it all.  I love the way C.S. Lewis said it: “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.”  I think part of what happened might be that they confused the gospel with response to the gospel, and they started to worship the response rather than the news itself.

This passage hit me afresh this week as I was thinking about the absolute, astounding nature of the statement Jesus is making.  You’ve probably heard it.  You may have heard it at a wedding.  You may have read it at a renewal of a vow or something, but listen to what Paul says to the church at Corinth — If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, {So I have wisdom from below and from above, and what I’m saying is true.} …but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  {Did you know that whether or not people actually hear the words you say is not solely determined by the content of what you say, but the affection and the heart with how you say it?}   And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  {He goes if you want to have influence—and we think influence comes from our understanding and our knowledge and our faith—LOVE.  It doesn’t matter what else you do if you don’t love.}   If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So here’s the deal, friends, I spent a lot of time trying to think through how, how, HOW could this happen to a church like Ephesus?  I also wanted to ask the question:  How can this happen to a person like me?  How can this happen to a person like you?  There’s two things that stood out to me.  One is TIME.  Have you ever noticed the way that consistency has the ability to erode curiosity?  Or that faithfulness has the unique ability to erode wonder?  I’ve done a number of weddings, and I’ve seen people stand in front of each other with this glazed, sort of puppy dog look in their eyes.  They pledge their devotion, and they make a commitment, and they enter into a covenant.  Every wedding I do now, I encourage people to just pause and to remember that the magnificence of this moment will one day be normal.  You’ll wake up next to each other the next morning and that’ll be like oh my goodness, I can’t believe I get to wake up to this person that I love, and we don’t have to say good-bye anymore, and we don’t have to talk on the phone anymore, praise Jesus….    And one day it’ll become normal.  Why?  Because consistency erodes passion over time.

The other thing that happened to the Ephesian church, I think, is that they were living in a society where they had to continually fight for their faith.  They were pressed in on every side, it says.  They walked through pain.  Sometimes when you’re walking through pain, you do everything you can just to make it through.  One foot in front of the other.  It’s a coping mechanism.  We just shut down places of our hearts so that we can continue to make it.  And they made it.  Good discipline, good deeds, good doctrine, good determination. . . . .they made it! But they lost a piece of what made them.  Pain and time have the unique ability to turn us into duty-driven robots, because loving, over time, when God’s faithfulness and love is so consistent, we can lose sight of it.  Or maybe it’s just walking through pain and we’ve just got to get through it.  {Can I encourage you to write this down?}  Our affections determine the effectiveness of our actions.

Over the next few minutes, I just want to dive in and say how might this have happened?  Let’s dive into the drift and dissect how does it happen for them and how might it happen for us.  Here’s the first thing that probably happens for the Ephesian church — Good things supersede ultimate things.  Had heresy hunting killed love?  Had hard work for God substituted life with God?  Was orthodoxy achieved at the expense of fellowship?  I don’t know if the bee symbolizes Ephesus and the Ephesian church, but I think a lot of us can relate to this idea of good things superseding ultimate things, because we live in a busy society and a busy culture, don’t we?  It can be easy to fill our life with as many things as we want to fill our life with.  You ask somebody now, “How you doing?”  The response used to be, “Good. How are you?”  Now, it’s “Busy! How are you?”   I had to remind myself that the busy life is not necessarily the productive life, number one.  Busyness and productivity are two very different things.  But also, the busy life is the distracted life.  We’re just letting everything push in on us and everything becomes important, and if everything’s important, nothing is.  I think that might be what happened to the Ephesian church.  They got busy being ‘the church.’  They got busy doing church.  I don’t know about you, but in taking kids to sporting events, maybe it’s even going to things at church, or going to things in your neighborhood, or working to the bone in order to keep things afloat financially. . . . .can it be easy to lose our heart in a noisy world?  Maybe, just maybe, let me throw out a practice you could try this week if this is something you wrestle with.  Maybe this week, you choose one day and you take a media-fast day, and you say, “I’m just going to quiet the noise, and I’m going to try to get back to the things God’s inviting me to that stir my soul, that feed my soul.”  The ancient Hebrews had a way of doing this.  Every morning and every evening they would say the Shema — Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God….. Every morning.  Every evening.  These are the anchors and bookends in their life.  This is what we’re about.  We’re about loving God.   Maybe we need those same bookends.

Here’s the second thing that happens.  Religiosity supplants (or takes over) intimacy.  We move towards religiosity because it’s a lot easier to control God than it is to connect with God.  Let me say it again because I think it’s important to us.   It’s a lot easier to control God than it is to connect with God.  There’s two ways that I’ve seen myself, at least, maybe you’ve seen yourself in this as well, try to control God.  Or maybe it’s even control God and the people around us.  Here’s trap number one:  It’s called the performance trap.  That’s what religiosity tells us.  It’s PERFORM.  Do all the things — good deeds, good doctrine, good discipline, good determination.  Yes!  Triple axle and he sticks it!!  Perform!  Religion says perform and produce, Jesus says abide and rest.  You can have one or the other as the focus of your life, but you cannot have both.  We use religiosity and we use performance as a way to protect ourselves.  The question in the back of our mind is “Am I good enough?”  Do I add up?  So we protect ourselves from pain.  We protect ourselves from being let down by others.  And if we can play the part, no one has to see our heart.  Right?  You want a litmus test. . . . .We know we’ve fallen prey to performance when we’d rather be praised than known.  Listen to the way that Jesus talks to the Pharisees:  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt. 23:27-28)  His invitation is just drop the mask!  That’s the performance trap.

There’s a programmed (faith) trap.  This is the approach to faith that says if it works for me, it should work for everyone else.  You just plug into the equation.  If you would get up every morning and read your Bible for a half hour, THEN you would. . .fill in the blank.  Works for me, so it should work for everyone else.  Here’s the deal, friends, the spiritual journey that you and Jesus and the people around you get to walk is as unique as every person in this room.  There’s some things we can put in place, certainly, that the Bible invites us to have in our life, but the reality is that you’re going to connect with God a little bit differently than I do, and that’s okay.  We’ve just got to keep the end in mind.  The end is Jesus.  It’s why Jesus will say to the Pharisees:  You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39)  Jesus is saying that you can read all the Bible you want, but if you don’t have the right goal in mind, it will not do you any good.  He’s going, “It points to me!”  In fact, the longer you go in on this ‘just study, just study, just study,’ probably the colder you get.  The invitation is to Him.

Here’s the third reason:  We forget the why behind the what.  Simon Sinek did a TED Talk (I believe it was in 2009) called Start with Why that has had 25 million views over the last number of years.  Because he’s hitting on something that’s transcendent within all of us.  We know we should begin asking the question “Why?” but it’s so easy to just land on “What?”   Let me just push on you a little bit.  You know it’s easy to go home without being home.  We forget the why.  We disconnect, we disengage.  We know that it’s easy to physically be in a place without actually being present there, don’t we?  We forget the why behind the what.  That’s a great question to ask, every time you walk through these doors, “Why am I here?”  Why gather on a weekly basis, why build this into the rhythm of my life and my soul?  Why am I here?  We know that it’s easy to have a child.  It’s not easy to be a parent.  There’s a why behind the what.  Sometimes we lose sight of it, don’t we?

If you’re thinking maybe that’s me, here’s a litmus test for you.  How do we know if we’ve maybe drifted to the same place that the Ephesian church drifted?  Is it hard for you to experience joy?  Maybe you’ve drifted.  Are silence and solitude things that you avoid like the plague rather than pursue like a lifeline?  Can you go through a worship time like we had this morning and be untouched and unmoved?  Do you find yourself resistant and exhausted by times of serving rather than seeing that you’re connected to the greater mission that God is inviting you to live?  Do you feel under-appreciated, unappreciated, maybe a little bit bitter, a little bit cynical, a little bit judgmental?  Do you see people in need and remain unmoved by it?  I think maybe what may have happened to the Ephesian church is that they were far more interested in being right than they were about being loving.  Something happens over time—-people become a problem to solve rather than an invitation to step into.  They drifted.

Jesus doesn’t just hang them out to dry and go you should try harder and do better.  He gives them very specific instruction.  Remember, commendation:  good deeds, good doctrine, good discipline, good determination.  Then condemnation:  You’ve left your love you had at first.  Then instruction:  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev. 2:5)   He gives them three things to do.  We’re going to press into these today.  I’m going to invite you, at the end of our service, to say, “God, will you fall afresh on me?”  Let’s open ourselves up to God doing that, because I think there’s probably some of us that need to go through this process.  If we can admit, man, I’ve grown cold, God will meet us in that place.  But if we continue to wear the masks, we’ll continue to hold him at arm’s length.

Here’s what he says first:  Remember the height from which you’ve fallen.  Ephesian church, remember?  Remember when you’d take your scrolls and you’d take your idols and you’d burn them?  Thousands of dollars worth of scrolls and idols burned in the city streets, because you were so ferociously passionate about Jesus? Someone’s great programs replaced passionate faith.  Remember.  I just sensed God saying to me this week, Ryan, remember when you used to walk onto high school campuses, unashamedly, and shared Jesus with whomever you made eye contact with?  Remember that?  I have this old NIV Study Bible; I got it out this week just to look at it and smell it to remember what it was like as an 18-year-old high school graduate to fall in love with Jesus at my table at the house I grew up in.  Man!  What was it for you?  Do you remember?

Then he says repent.  It’s a change of mind.  There’s maybe some baggage you picked up along the way.  Like, maturity means boring.  Right?  So in order to be mature I have to leave the joy that I had at first; I’ve got to become polished and professional and I’ve got to have it all together.  Repent of that.  It’s from the pit of hell.  It’s a change of mind.  Maybe through time and maybe because of pain we’ve started to carry some baggage that Jesus didn’t intend for us to carry.  This is a beautiful word.  It means that because of however cold you’ve grown, there’s an invitation home.  So change your mind.

Then Jesus says, okay, those things you used to do?  Do them again.  Whatever those were, do them again.  Maybe this week, you just take some time and you think back through. . . . .if you’ve been walking with Jesus for a while, you think back what were some of those things?  Maybe you flip back through an old Bible or an old journal and you go, what was going on inside of me when I first started to walk with You?  Maybe you ask some people who you were journeying with during that season of your life, “What did you see in me when I first met Jesus?”  They may say, “Oh man, I saw somebody who was legalistic and I saw someone who was struggling.”  Can I just say. . . . .You don’t want to go back to that place.  Maybe there’s some beautiful things that they saw and maybe you just take a few minutes this week and write down some of those things.  Maybe God’s inviting you to repent, to change your mind.  To change your mind from playing religious games rather than walking with the person of Jesus.  If that’s you, can I encourage you, maybe this week, to choose not to embellish the truth in order to make yourself look better.  We do this all the time!  Maybe you choose not to go there this week and to think through it first.  Maybe people have become a problem to solve rather than an invitation from God to step into.  What if this week you found one way to generously express care to somebody who’s different than you?  Maybe even to someone who’s frustrating to you?  Maybe somebody who you’ve walked past for the last however many weeks, because generosity is one distinction of being a loving person—loving God, loving others.  Maybe this week you share your love for Jesus with somebody. . . . . rejecting having a private faith.  It doesn’t have to be weird or awkward.  If it’s real for you, it’ll come out in a real way.  Which one is it?

Here’s the way Jesus closes this letter — Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who conquers {To the one who overcomes.  To the one who fights the tendency to grow cold, who stokes their spiritual fire through remembering, repenting, and redoing. . . .to those people, the overcomers, he says….} I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.   Real quickly, then we’re going to land the plane.  The Ephesians would have seen a ‘tree of life’ as something that was in the temple of Artemis.  They had trees of life.  They were trees of salvation, they were trees of hope.  There was a deification of these trees and Jesus has this sort of play on images. . . . . You want to go to that tree or do you want to go to the eternal life tree?  He’s going, “That’s my tree.”  In Revelation 22:2 it says:  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  So this is Jesus’s invitation — Return, return, return to your first love.  Without love, nothing else matters.  With love, everything else falls into place.  

I’m going to have Aaron come out and lead us in a song.  We’re going to pray it and ask God to stir our affection for Him.  I’m going to invite our prayer team to be available around the room.   I’d like people to be able to say, I want somebody else to pray for me; I want to enter into this journey of saying, “God, there’s some things I believe about you, there’s some places I’ve grown cold, and I just want you to stir in me.”  As Aaron and I were coming back from Africa, a few weeks ago, we had the chance to spend a few hours in Paris.  We walked around and saw these beautiful cathedrals.  We walked into Notre Dame and we’re like, “This is not South Fellowship Church!”  But I’ll tell you what, there’s more people gathered here today than there are there.  The outside looks great, but the inside’s grown cold.  It doesn’t just happen in buildings, it doesn’t just happen in movements, it happens in people too.  Maybe for you, the outside looks great, but the inside is sort of being hollowed out.  It’s grown cold.  I want to invite you to be honest, and then to be responsive.  To say, “God, if your invitation is that there’s a road home here, I want to walk it.”  We’re going to use the last few minutes of our service to just ask God to minister.

I’ll invite you stand up. . . . .or maybe you can get down on your knees.  I’m going to invite our prayer team and elders to get in place, and if you’d like somebody to pray with and for you, I’m going to encourage you during this last song to make that step and say, “God, I want you to move in my heart again.”   Let’s do some business with God.  Spirit of God, it’s a beautiful thing that you don’t just want us to be duty-driven, robotic, perfectly-behaved Christians, but you want us to be passionately loving people.  We want that too.  So would you stir us up?  We’re open.  Would you stir us up?  Would you show us where we’ve gone off course?  Would you invite us back?  We pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Postcards From the Edge | A Letter to Misdirected People | Revelation 2:1-7 | Week 22020-08-20T15:21:33-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | Upsizing | Revelation 1:1-20 | Week 1

The year was about AD 90, around two decades before the temple that stood in Jerusalem had been absolutely leveled.  Emperor Titus, along with his Roman army, came in and absolutely leveled the central spot of worship in Judaism.  In doing so, they started to remove even the very soul and heart of that religion.  They’ve never worshipped the same since that building was destroyed.  The Apostle John, at this point in time, is a friend of Jesus.  He’s one of the only disciples still alive.  In fact, most people would say he’s the ONLY disciple still alive, and he finds himself in exile.  He finds himself on this little island off the coast of what’s now modern-day Turkey.  It’s about 24 miles from the shore.  He’s there as a prisoner of the empire of Rome.  Rome, in AD 90, is ruled by a man by the name of Domitian.  Domitian was the very first emperor that required that he was worshipped as both god and savior.  John refused to bow his knee.  Can you imagine standing before the emperor and being required to bow down to worship him as god?  John, this friend of Jesus, the one who cared for Jesus’s mom after Jesus was crucified, risen . . . the one who leaned up against Jesus during the last supper meal he celebrated with his disciples. . . .this John.  This John refused to bow his knee.  Tradition says that Domitian got a pot of boiling oil and dumped it on the Apostle John to try to kill him.  It sort of backfired on him though.  The people there that were witnessing this ‘murder’ actually turned and started to follow Jesus because they saw that it didn’t affect John in the way it should have.  Since he couldn’t kill him, Domitian thought he’d put John on an island with other criminals.

I wonder, in ancient world, what it would have been like to be on a deserted island (with a few other prisoners) and to look up at the stars.  I wonder if the night felt like it would never end, like the sky kept going and going and going.  I wonder if the promise made to Abraham—I’ll make your descendants like the stars, like the sand on the seashore—I wonder if he (John) walked the shores and thought about that promise.  I wonder if the silence was almost deafening.  John, the pastor of a series of churches, is taken away from his churches.  The empire rules with an iron fist.  They have something called the pax romana, the Roman peace, but it was only peace if you were on the right side of the sword.  I wonder if John starts to replay the things he’s seen Jesus do…the healings that he’s seen, the raising from the dead, the mud on the guy’s eyes that makes him miraculously see, the guy who carries his mat away from the spot where he’d been sitting crippled for years and years.  I wonder if John sits isolated on this island wondering when his miracle’s going to come.  Twenty-four miles away from anything that would, in any way, shape, or form, be seen as redemption or hope.

That’s where we pick up our story.  It’s a Sunday morning and John’s doing what you do as a disciple….going to church.  In Revelation 1:10 it says John ‘was in the Spirit’ and he heard a voice.  He heard a voice that said, “Write this down!”  You wonder if John found some spare parchment lying around….   What ever he did, he found the closest thing to start writing and he started to record, with his scarred hands and his parched soul, words from Jesus that we read in this book of Revelation.  It’s this book that’s written to an empire.  It’s written to a church in the midst of an empire.  It’s written to a church that’s barely holding on.  It’s written to a church that’s seen it’s people dragged away and stuck on Roman crosses.  It’s seen it’s pastor trying to be boiled in scalding hot oil.  It’s seen things that we couldn’t possibly imagine seeing.  And THIS letter, before it’s about any events that are going to happen in the future, is about a person who stands above the future.  Before it’s about a dragon eating a virgin, whatever you take that to mean, it’s about Jesus who stands above it all.  It’s written to a really direct group of people.  It’s written to churches in the midst of an empire.  It’s written to churches who are trying to survive and trying to have influence when they have absolutely no power.  It’s written to a group of people who are barely, barely, barely holding on.  It’s written with the message ‘the powers that be won’t always be the powers.’

The book of Revelation is what we’re going to be studying over the next nine weeks.  We’re going to be studying the letters to the seven churches, which this whole letter is addressed to.  You may be aware of this, or you may not, there’s a little bit of debate around the book of Revelation.  I’ve seen two equally damaging or dangerous approaches to Revelation.  One is ignorance—We could have absolutely no idea what’s actually going on, so let’s just stay away from this book.  Let’s not touch it.  Chapter 12 is about a dragon trying to eat a virgin and I don’t know what to do with that, so let’s just put it on the shelf and forget about it.  The other approach is obsession where everything comes back to the book of Revelation.  The newspaper’s opened and we’re going whoa, it could be this and it could be that and it could be this….    This just in, they’ve been doing that for the last couple hundred years.  They haven’t nailed it yet.  We might not nail it this time!

So there’s obsession and there’s ignorance.  What I’d like to propose to you is that maybe there’s a different way to read this book.  Maybe there’s a better way to read this book.  Maybe there’s a way that’s more true to what this book ACTUALLY is intending to do.  The very word ‘revelation,’ is the first word in the Greek in this letter that John gets from Jesus, through John to the churches.  In the Greek, it’s this word ‘apocalypse,’ which we give a negative association to.  It literally just means ‘unveiling.’   It’s as though the Spirit of God is pulling the curtain back and going okay, so this is what’s on the horizon.  But more important than what’s on the horizon is WHO is on the throne.  That’s what Revelation is all about.

Revelation is written in a style of literature that’s called ‘apocalyptic literature.’  Apocalyptic literature means John’s going to use symbols.  John’s going to use pictures.  John’s going to use numbers in order to tell a story that’s deeper and more significant than just what’s on the surface.  At some points, Revelation almost reads like a graphic comic book.  It’s pretty interesting.  We don’t have this type of literature in any sort of prominence in our day and time today so it can be difficult to understand what John’s talking about.  But it’s NOT difficult to understand why Jesus gives John this letter.  The reason Jesus gives John the letter of Revelation to give to the churches is because the churches are getting beat up.  The churches feel like hope is slipping away.  The churches look all around them and go, we could have sworn….   We saw Him, we touched Him, we heard Him.  He was in the ground and we thought he was dead.  He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and . . . THIS existence doesn’t seem like it coincides with THAT reality.  Anyone want to say, “I get that?”

At the beginning of the year we look back at the last year, and we look forward to what the new year’s going to bring.  We carry in these hopes and we carry in these dreams.  It’s about this time or the beginning of February we realize that it really is an artificial change to just flip a calendar and expect that everything’s going to be new, right?  We go into the new year with new hopes, but with the same reality.  I know some of your lives and you’re  asking that question, “God, where are you?”  God, what are you doing?  God, if you really do rule and you really do reign then why in the world does my life and your world look the way that it looks?  I’m glad you asked that.  Revelation is . . . . I’m not sure it’s going to answer that question, but it’s at least going to speak to it and it’s going to speak to people that have that question.

If you have your Bible, open to Revelation 1:1-3.  This is what Jesus writes through John to the churches.  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.  He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.    So two times in the opening stanza of Revelation we’re going to get okay, there’s things that must SOON take place . . . the time is NEAR.   As we read the book of Revelation, here’s just a rule of thumb . . . if it can fit with what happened NEAR and SOON to what John is writing, we should assume that that is what Jesus meant.  Because that’s what he says his intention is.  Now, certainly, some of the things are future things, but some of them fit with the Roman Empire and Domitian and what’s going on in John’s world.  But, make no mistake about it, He expects that we would read it, that we’d hear it, and that we would do it.

Just so you don’t think I’m lying to you, there’s a very specific audience that John is writing to.  Verse 4 — John to the seven churches that are in Asia.  {That’s Asia Minor.  If you jump down to verse 11, he’ll say this:}  Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.   It’s a network of churches that’s in what is now modern-day Turkey.  The letters were, it looks like, intended to be taken, along with the rest of the letter of Revelation, and delivered to each of these churches.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to get a letter with the return address that said From: Jesus?  That’s what’s going on.   This is no insignificant thing.  John wants to say, “I know you’ve had friends that have been crucified.  I know that they tried to boil me alive.  I get it, we’re walking through the fire, quite literally sometimes.”  In fact, what John is going to say is that he is in the midst of and a partner with them in tribulation.  It’s pressing in, it’s the pressure cooker, it’s the Instant-Pot of the first century.  It’s pressing in on the churches.  It’s in that situation that Jesus writes.   He wants to bring hope.  He wants to bring healing.  He wants to bring restoration, because life real, real easily can feel like the pressure cooker.

There’s a movie that came out over this Christmas break called Downsized.  I haven’t seen it.  I’ve just heard about it and read the plot.  A group of scientists develop a way to shrink people, so that their resources go further, so that they can enjoy some of the normal things in life but on an elevated scale, where they take on a whole new meaning and a whole new sense of pleasure.  {Ryan showed picture from movie.}  I thought 2017 felt like this to a lot of people I know.  It felt like nothing went right and the world around them grew and fear grew and they started to shrink.  I watched, with many of you, the memorial service for the officer who was shot last Sunday morning.  It’s easy in our world with a death….and a death like that that is so public and so painful, somebody who’s given his life to protect and serve.  We watch and weep with Gracie Parrish, don’t we?  That this is the kind of world that we live in.  We can look at our current political landscape and regardless of what side of that you’re on, can we all agree that it’s a fearful thing to live in a world where leaders and presidents have a button on their desk that can detonate a nuclear bomb?  I don’t care if you’re pro or against, that’s a scary world to live in.  Here’s what it can start to do.  It can make you go, “Man, God, where in the world are you?”  It feels like fear has us in this pressure cooker.  It feels like sadness.  It feels like depression.

The churches in the first century would go, “Oh, we get that!  We get that!”  And Jesus says, “I’ve got a word for you.”  John says, “I’ve got a word for you.”  There’s a bigger story being told and here’s the story.  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his thrones, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.   In the first chapter of Revelation alone, Jesus is mentioned either by name or personal pronoun thirty-two times.  So John goes, “I’ve got a word for you.  Actually, better than that, I’ve got a name for you.”  If you’re walking through the fire, if you’re holding onto hope and it’s a slippery thing to hold onto, I’ve got a word for you—His name is Jesus.  Here’s what John wants to communicate in this letter of Revelation:  When Jesus is upsized, fear is downsized, and life is supersized.  That’s what he wants to say!  He wants to go alright you seven churches around the Mediterranean region, lift your eyes up, because the Jesus who walks among you….  Sure, fear wants to downsize you.  Hopelessness wants to downsize you, but there’s a Jesus who walks among you that’s not downsized.   I said ‘upsized.’  It’s probably better to just say ‘real sized.’  This is the Jesus who walks among them.  As the text says, he’s the faithful witness, he’s the conqueror of the grave and he’s the ruler of the kings of the earth.  I’ll say it again, before Revelation is ever about a plan, it’s about a person.  A person who stands above it all.  {Will you look up at me for a moment?}  My conviction is it’s not the size of our issues and our problems that are the real issue.  Every problem we have, we measure in relationship to how big our God is. It’s not actually the problem that’s the issue, it’s how we’ve minimized our God.  If we want to walk in abundance, if we want to walk in life, we’ve got to see the Jesus that the Scriptures describe.  That stands above the circumstances that we walk through, the pain that we hold onto, the regrets that we have, the ‘I wish I would have but I didn’t’ conversations that we replay in our brain, over and over and over.  It’s not the problem that’s the issue, it’s the smallness of our God.  What John wants to do in Revelation, like putting air into a balloon….he goes okay, okay, okay, I know all this stuff that’s going on, I know all the difficult situations.  We’re in tribulation, we’re in the pressure cooker, I get it!  But Jesus. . .Jesus is bigger than you could ever possibly….   Lift your eyes up, he’d say.  So that’s what I want to do over the next few minutes.  I just want to lift our eyes up, because I have this conviction that when Jesus is upsized, fear is downsized, and life is supersized.  I want him to supersize me!  I want that life that he has for us.

Let me give you three truths that invite us into this reality that we see in the first section of Revelation.  Here’s the framework I want to use.  If you’re looking for a book that might help you understand the entire letter of Revelation a little bit better, I cannot recommend Reverse Thunder by Eugene Peterson highly enough.  He says in this book: “Without Jesus as the controlling center, the Bible is merely an encyclopedia of religion with no more plot than a telephone directory.”  He says Jesus is at the center of it all!  The whole story points to Him!  He’s who we’re going to talk about.  He’s who the letter is written about.  Here’s the way John begins his content:  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. 

The first thing Jesus wants his audience to know is that he reigns above it all.  He’s going listen, I know that there’s an emperor who’s name is Domitian who’s requiring you to worship and to bow the knee.  I know it feels like the Roman empire is never going to be defeated.  It FEELS like hope is something so slippery that it should never even be pursued.  I get it.  But he goes, hey, there’s a bigger reality.  Lift up your eyes and see the truth.  Jesus reigns above it all.  The Scriptures are going to tell us that he reigns in a way that he’s atoned for and conquered sin.  That he has conquered the grave.  That he stands above it all in the universe.  John goes here is the intention in telling you that. . . .so that you would continue to walk and continue to have endurance.  It says it in verse 9:  I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.  He says that’s why I’m writing to you.  Listen, I know some of what you’re walking through because you invite me in your life and I’m real grateful for that.  I don’t know everything.  I don’t know about the phone call you got this week from the doctor about the health scare.  I know for some of you this is the year you’re going God, we’ve got to see your hand move in a job because we’re just barely hanging on.  God, we’re really praying that this relationship can be restored because we’re offering forgiveness and it doesn’t seem like there’s any progress being made, and God, the pain is just pushing in on us.  I don’t know what situation you bring in these doors today; it’s safe to bring them in.  You don’t have to leave them at the door to come to worship.  I don’t know what kind of situation you’re facing, but I do know that there’s a Jesus who reigns above. . . . . who’s powerful, who’s loving, who’s good, and when we have that view of Jesus in our mind. . . .this elevated, real, big view of Jesus, life starts to take on more of an eternal perspective than getting caught in the weeds of our temporal existence.  So John says to a church in turmoil and tribulation, “Man, he rules and he reigns.  Don’t forget it when you look at the Domitians of your day.”  He stands above them all.

Here’s the second thing he says. He’s going to move from what Jesus is doing and how Jesus is powerful to the way that Jesus wields his power and the reason he uses it and how he uses it on our behalf.  (verse 5b) To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Isn’t this a beautiful thing?  That Jesus does not sit on his throne in heaven going, okay, I’m just going to be here and you guys bring me all the worship that I deserve.  He could do that, he deserves that.  He goes no, I’m going to use my power in order to advocate for my people.  That’s what he does.  He’s the advocate for us.  He reigns above us and he advocates for us.

I know a lot of people who, at the beginning of a new year, ask God for a ‘word’ for the year.  As I read through this text, I was thinking that those are three great words.  If you’re looking for your word for this year, for 2018, may I throw out three options?  What if this year you started to learn to live as ‘the beloved?’  There’s no greater gift you can give yourself than to move into the reality that you are loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the One who stands and rules and reigns above it all.  It’s the deepest truth about you, and I don’t care what kind of past you have, and I don’t care what kind of road you’ve walked down and mistakes you’ve made, you’ve got those in your head, but I want to tell you that Jesus paid for those on the cross.  So you can let them go!  And enter into a life of being the beloved.  Maybe this is the year for that for you.

Or maybe this is the year that you go, I want to embrace the freedom that’s mine in Christ.  That’s why I love our Celebrate Recovery Ministry so much.  Because Jesus not only died for the punishment of sin, but He died to release you from the power of it also.  And you don’t have a weak advocate.  You don’t have an advocate who’s going, I wish I could but my hands are tied here.  No, he’s going, I’ve done this; the prison cell’s open, walk out!  We’re like, oh, let me pray about it.  The door’s open, come on!  Maybe this year you go, I’m going to embrace the reality and live in the truth that I’m free.

Or maybe you start to go, He’s not only loved me and He’s freed me, He’s made me.  Maybe this is the year you start to go alright, God, I’m going to discover who you’ve made me to be.  I’m going to discover the things that make me tick, the things that I’m good at.  I can list a hundred things I’m bad at, but maybe this year is the year I step into well, here’s how you’ve gifted me, and here’s how you’ve wired me, and here’s the things you’ve put deep inside of me.  I’m made to be a priest . . . . a bridge builder.  One who points people to Jesus and invites them back to the Father.  That’s what the word priest means—-it’s a bridge builder, someone who is a bridge between humanity and God.

He is advocating for you.  I just want to remind you that that means you can have an empowered reality.  An empowered TODAY.  But you can’t be empowered if you’re living in fear.  So this is the word that John wants to speak.  Jesus rules.  Jesus reigns.  Jesus loves.  Jesus frees.  Jesus makes.  He transforms people into his image.  He reigns above us.  He advocates for us.

Then John says this in verse 12:  Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, {Isn’t that interesting? To see the voice speaking to me?  You can almost picture him writing this.}  …and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands.   A lampstand would have been a reference to the temple.  The temple had a number of lampstands in it.  They had oil in them, and the oil would be lit in order to light up the temple.  But there was more significance than in and of itself.  All throughout Scriptures, the lampstands signified the spirit and presence of God.  So Jesus is among. . . . .he’s going, alright, He’s walking. . . . . His person is walking amongst the spirit and presence of God.  In verse 20 he’s going to tell us exactly what those lampstands are.  As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.    As if to say, that the churches, the local churches, the thing that we do not just on Sundays, but this thing that we are.   Like as we did over this Christmas holiday. . . .as we hold out hope,  as we bless our city, as we serve in a number of different areas, as we invite homeless people to come and stay at our church.  As we do all those things and as we gather in worship, we host the presence of God.

But John goes on.  He doesn’t just say you host—-and in the midst of the lampstands {In the middle of those churches.}  one like a son of man…     It’s a reference to Daniel 7.  It’s Jesus’s favorite title for himself.  The son of man moves in our midst.  He’s above us, he advocates for us, and he walks among us.  This caught my heart this week.  As I was working through these. . . . .I had theological concepts in the book of Revelation and trying to figure out how to present it to you.  I was struck by the reality that we can trivialize what we do as a community so easily, and we can miss the fact that Jesus walks among us.  Think about that for a moment.  John wants to tell you what Jesus is like as he walks among us, but He doesn’t stand off in the distance.  Certainly, He rules and He reigns and He’s comfortable on his throne, but He is not adverse to walking and moving and breathing among us.  John tells us what He’s like as He does that.  As He moves among us, He’s. . . .clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  {It’s a picture of a priest.  You can read Exodus 29:5.  It’s a picture of what a priest would wear when they would stand between God and humanity, being the bridge, and Jesus stands in our midst as our perfect bridge between us and God.  He’s clothed in priestly garments.}  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.  His eyes were like a flame of fire… {When He looks at us, he sees into the deepest places of our soul.  That’s what it means when it talks about his eyes.  It’s not to condemn you, because we may go, oh no, that’s not good.  I don’t know if I want Jesus to see into the deepest places of my soul.  Well, he sees all the good; he sees all the things that we’re struggling with.  The fiery eyes are this picture of refining.  So we don’t do ourselves any good when we try to hide, because it’s actually letting him see us as he walks among us that does the work that we need done, the transformation that’s available in him.}

It says:  ….his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace…   It’s a reference to Daniel 2:31-45, where Nebuchadnezzar has this dream, and the feet of the person in his dream are clay mixed with iron, and when they get hit, the whole structure falls over because the foundation is so weak.  What it’s saying about Jesus here is that his foundation is unsinkable.  He’s the one who was, who is, who is to come.  He holds the keys of Death and Hades.  He’s not going ANYWHERE.  He’s worthy of your trust.  The foundation is secure.

It goes on to say:  …and his voice was like the roar of many waters.    Like water coming over a waterfall or rushing through a raging river.  You know that there’s ways that you can say things that illicit a little bit more meaning behind them.  My wife Kelly teaches high school English and she has what we call a teacher’s voice.  She can say something with a teacher’s voice—-Hey, pick up those shoes—-and immediately my hands are full of shoes!  I’m like yes, ma’am!  What they’re saying about Jesus is that his voice carries authority.

In his right hand he held seven stars,  {The seven known fixed planets in the ancient world.  What John is saying and what Jesus is communicating about himself is I reign above the cosmos.  I do as I please.  This is all mine.  As Abraham Kuyper, the great theologian, said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” }  ….from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword…   {When he says something, it holds up, it’s true.}  …and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.    Don’t come to me and complain about how bright our lights are, I’ll just tell you we’re preparing you for heaven!  His face is shining brightly, as if to say he’s full of joy.  In heaven we won’t need these lights, because he just lights the whole place up.  THIS, THIS, is the Jesus who walks among us.

So I started to think. . . . alright, I don’t just want you to go, that’s awesome!  What I’d love for you to do is say, man, that raises my anticipation.  That this Jesus is in our midst.  Let me give you a few practices to use throughout this week.  These may work for you, they may not.  These are some that I’ve practiced and that I love.  Here are some real practical ways that you can say, alright, I want to interact with Jesus, because that’s what he’s inviting us to.  He walks among us for personal interaction.  How do we do that?  Here’s a few ways you can do that.   What if this week you went on a walk and you were uber aware and intentional of the things around you, and you just had a conversation with Jesus about them?  Wow, Jesus, that’s a really nice bird.  Wow, Jesus, I really wish my lawn looked like that guy’s lawn.  Which, by the way, Jesus, how does he keep it so green in the winter?  Or—maybe you walk pass somebody and you go, Lord, I don’t know what’s going on in their life, but I just want to lift them up to you.  Or maybe this you pick a day and you drive with the radio off in your car.  I get in my car and turn on sports/talk radio.  What about—-this is one I’ve been trying to practice this week—-as you interact with people. . . .maybe it’s over lunch or maybe it’s with your kids. . . . .as you interact with people you try to train yourself to pray for them as you’re talking with them?  God, is there anything you want me to say to this person?  Maybe as you drive with the radio off on the way back from work, you sort of debrief how you did on all these things you said you’d do.  Man, Lord, I really blew that one, didn’t I?  Like when I said that thing to that person, that didn’t help at all, did it?  Jesus, I’m not sure that’s something you would have said.  Maybe—-I’d like an opportunity tomorrow to say what you’d say.  Would you open my eyes to those?  Maybe you start paying special attention to your circumstances.  You might be in a situation this week where you’re having to wait for something you scheduled to happen at a certain and it didn’t happen.  But there might be something the Spirit of God wants to say to you in that moment.  You could be frustrated and angry or you could be attentive.  But you can’t be both.  You can be angry or you can be attentive, but you can’t be both.  Maybe this week you pay attention to some of the random thoughts that come into your mind.  You ask God, is there something you’re trying to say to me?  What’s that thought all about?  Is there somebody I need to forgive?  Do I need to let go of that?  Is this something you’re moving me beyond?  Is this the time to make that phone call, send that text, have that conversation?  Or maybe, maybe, as we’re worshipping as a community—-because He’s among us—-we go Lord, help me be attentive to what you say during these times of worship.  As we sing You stand alone and I stand amazed, maybe the thought in the back of your head is it’s been a long time since I’ve stood amazed.  Instead of heaping condemnation and guilt on yourself, you just go maybe that’s an invitation, this week, to stand amazed.  Here’s the conviction—-Jesus is in our midst.  The invitation is to become a detective to figure out where and how, and to hear his voice.  Because that’s the great invitation.

Here’s how John closes the section:  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.  What starts out as fear turns into WORSHIP.  It’s this transition that Jesus takes John on that I believe He wants to take us on too, because worship is the foundation.  As Jesus grows, as Jesus is upsized, fear is downsized, and life becomes supersized.  Worship is the foundation of fearless living!

There’s one more way you and I encounter the Jesus among us.  It’s through this table.  Through this table we come to remember, but we don’t come ONLY to remember.  We also come to experience.  We come to meet with the God who is present in a unique and special way. . . . .in this bread and in this cup.  As you come this morning, if you’re a follower of Jesus, the table is open to you.  As you come this morning, would you come with conviction that Jesus walks around in our midst?  That he wants to meet with you.  That He is above, that He’s advocating for, and that He is among us.  May we, together, encounter this Jesus as we come to His table.  Let’s pray.

Lord, as we come now, we do so with a heart of worship and anticipation, even now, would your Spirit speak to us?  As we come up to this table and we hold this bread and this cup, would you remind us of why we’re doing this as we think about your death and resurrection and your promise to us?  But, Lord, also would you speak to us and would you meet us, in a real way, as we come and celebrate this Eucharist?  We pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Postcards from the Edge | Upsizing | Revelation 1:1-20 | Week 12020-08-20T15:23:50-06:00

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Independent People | Rev 3:14-22 | Week 8

Good morning.  We are on the last Sunday of an eight-week series, where we’ve been studying the letters that Jesus writes, through the Apostle John, to the churches in the book of Revelation (chapters 2 and 3).  This final letter is written to the church at Laodicea.  Open your Bible to Revelation 3:14.   As we’ve done in each letter, we’ve given the church that Jesus is writing to a title.  I’ve tried to summarize who they are, their ethos, their DNA as a church.  This letter I’m entitling as the letter to “Independent People.”  Some form of independence is really good.  When my kids move out of my house, my hope is that they’re independent, which means they don’t come back and live with me again.  If they do, they’ll be welcomed back with open arms and rent to pay.  But some forms of independence aren’t that healthy.  Some forms of independence actually prevent us from getting where we want to go.  I saw a Pepsi commercial a while back that I think summarized it well with a little phrase that you’ll hear repeated throughout the commercial — I’m good!  {Commercial shows accidents and injuries to someone, but they’re “good.”}  Have you ever been there:  Your arms are full of grocery bags and someone says, “Hey, can I help you take those to the car?” and you respond with, “I’m good.”  Or maybe, if you’re married, and men you may be able to relate to this, and you’re sharing with your spouse the ailment you’re trying to walk through.  She says, “You should probably get that checked out.  There’s a whole branch of professionals that deal with sickness.”  Most guys respond with. . . . .”I’m good.”   {My wife says, “Then don’t complain about it anymore, if you’re not willing to go and get it checked out.”}  Or. . . .”Do you need help with that problem in school that you’re wrestling with?”  “I’m good, I’m good.”  The marriage is sorta getting on the rocks, but. . . . .”We’re good.”  I think all of us have something in us that we rely on and in moments of trepidation, in moments of fear, we resort to that and we go, “I’m good.”  I’m a hard worker. . . . .I’m good.  I know how to make money. . . . .I’m good.  I’ve got this web of relationships; we’ve got a strong family; I’ve got people that care about me. . . . .I’m good.

In 1875, the British poet, William Ernest Henley, wrote a famous poem.  At the end of it, he wrote this stanza: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.”  Essentially he goes, “I’m good.  I’m good.”  If you’re familiar at all with the Biblical narrative, the story that as followers of Jesus we would say that we find ourselves in, in the very beginning of the Scriptures, you have this incident between Adam and Eve, who God creates perfectly and places in a garden, naked, in order to be in relationship with Him.  There’s a serpent that comes in and says listen, I know God said you can’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but you should eat from that so that you can become like God, knowing good and evil.  The relationship that Adam and Eve are designed to have with God is one of dependence.  One where they run to Him, one where they go to Him.  This movement towards this tree is a movement of independence.  God, we don’t need you.  God, we can figure this out on our own.  God, we’re good, thank you very much.

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Weight lifting can help guys muscle up and tone up, and helps women tone up. The extra muscle will burn calories from all those hard to reach areas of fat that you can’t target and that just won’t otherwise go away. Weight lifting is a great way to help get into shape, look better, and feel better. If something seems to be missing from your daily regiment, add in some weight lifting and in only a few weeks you’ll be amazed at the results.

This attitude is nothing new.  It’s the very attitude that the church at Laodicea had.  It’s the attitude Adam and Eve had.  It’s the attitude that many of us have.  And it infiltrates even the best of intentions.  Let me show you from Revelation 3.  It’s a letter to the church at Laodicea, and here’s what Jesus says to them:  To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, {The So-Be-It. The God of gods.  It’s Jesus claiming he’s on the same footing as God.} the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold not hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  

Now, look up at me for a moment.  How many of you have heard this verse before?  It’s one that sort of sticks with us.  Even if we haven’t been around the Scriptures a lot, we go that picture is one that sort of burrows its way into our soul.  That picture of Jesus vomiting us out of his mouth.  Maybe you’ve heard it preached. . . .well, Jesus doesn’t want you to be lukewarm.  Jesus would rather you be cold than lukewarm.  We’ve gone, “What in the world does that mean?”  You’ve heard somebody try to explain it and you’re not exactly sure that that works. Here’s the situation that the church in Laodicea finds itself in.  Laodicea was built on a plateau.  It was distant from the shore and they had absolutely no water source of its own.  But it was strategically located (6 miles) from Hierapolis, which was the home to one of the sort of primitive hot springs in this region of Turkey.  The remains of it can still be seen today.  Water came out of the ground at 95º.  You would have kings, rulers, and wealthy people go and ‘take themself a soak.’   And, Laodicea had a primitive piping system.  They would pipe that water into town, since they had no water of their own.  About ten miles away you had the city of Colossae.  Colossae was known because it had an ice cold spring and snow melt that combined created great drinking water in Colossae.  It was like the Evian of our day.  So Laodicea built a piping system and piped THAT water into the city as well.  But something happened to that water as it came into the city.  The hot water that was good for soaking in, and potentially even drinking at times, got lukewarm, tepid.  The ice cold water that was great for drinking got lukewarm.  Both of these water sources came into the town.  They started off one way, but then they were just evened out to the air temperature in the world around them.

Jesus says to his church, “That’s what’s happened to you too.”  You may have started out hot, you may have started out cold, but you’ve been evened out, you’ve been adjusted to the world around us.  Jesus’s message to the church is that its works or its deeds reflect the accommodation to its environment.  He’s not saying, “I wish you were cold and don’t want anything to do wtih me.”  He’s saying, “I wish you were useful!”  Like, if you were cold, we could drink you; if you were hot, we could sit in you, but you’re lukewarm!  People would get literally, physically sick from drinking water in Laodicea.  So Jesus looks at his church and goes, You’re passionless, you’re purposeless, and you look just like the world around you.  I want to use you for good, but you’re not distinct.  And you make me a little bit sick to my stomach.  Let that sit on you for a second.  That’s what he’s saying.  So we come in here and we’re like, “You’re a good, good Father / That’s who You are…”  There’s no songs like, “I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth / That’s what I’ll do…..”  We didn’t sing that one today.  What do we do with this?  Which is it?  Is he a good Father, or does he look at us and go, oh, I’m going to spit you out of my mouth?  Here’s the answer. . . . .YES!  Because he’s good, he’s going to speak truth to us.  The letter he writes to the Laodiceans is the only letter of the seven where there’s not some sort of commendation.  Nothing saying you guys nailed it!  You’re doing this so well.  You really stuck the dismount.  There’s nothing there that says that.  So the Amen, the true ruler, is going to speak truth into them, and it’s truth that’s a little bit hard to hear.

So what does Jesus mean by lukewarm, and how did that happen to this church? Here’s what he says in verse 17:  You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”  {I’m good.}  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.    Here’s what’s going on.  Last week we talked about the letter to the church in Philadelphia.  In AD 17, Philadelphia was ravaged by an earthquake.  Rome came in and, with the resources of the empire, rebuilt this city of Philadelphia.  They were so grateful that they renamed the city “Tiberius” in order to say thank you to Rome.  In AD 60, an earthquake absolutely decimated Laodicea, wiped it out.  Rome came to Laodicea and said, “Would you like subsidies in order to rebuild your city?”  Can we come alongside of you and give you money from the empire, in order to rebuild the things that you lost?  And how did they respond?   We’re good.   And they were.  With wealthy citizens of Laodicea, they rebuilt this city with their own bare hands and with their own resources.  One Roman historian named Tacitus said this:  “Laodicea rose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources and with no help from us.”  If you were to look at a coin from Laodicea, the inscription on the coin that the Laodiceans minted themselves said this:  Laodicea the Sacred Autonomous.  After a while, they decided to drop the ‘sacred’ portion of this — Laodicea the Autonomous.  Somewhere along the way, ‘Rome, we don’t need you’ turned for the church into ‘Jesus, we don’t need you.’  We’re good!  We’ve got this covered on our own.

Lukewarmness, that the church in Laodicea is wrestling with, is a deceptive sense of self-security.  It’s pride.  Jesus would say that a posture of self-sufficiency eventually, once it gets into our bloodstream, once it becomes the air that we breath, eventually it gets into our bones and leads to a God deficiency.  {Slide:  A posture of self-sufficiency eventually leads to God deficiency.}  We eventually say, “I’m good,” and God says, “Wonderful, good luck.”

If you’ve been with us throughout this study of the seven letters, you may start to realize that there’s two threats to, not only the church, but to the life of the follower of Christ.  One of them is external.  They are wrestling with persecution.  They are walking through the fire.  Many of them are being martyred for their faith, and that’s a threat.  Maybe the greater threat that they’re wrestling with that they don’t even realize is a mindset.  Persecution is the external threat, but the value system is the mindset.  I’m good, that’s the mindset.  The ‘I’m good’ mindset can just as easily take down the church as Domitian can ruling on the throne of Rome.  So, here’s the principle — What happened in their physical, material world, impacted their spiritual life.  What happened in their physical, material world, impacted what happened in their spiritual life.

We’ve got to step back and go, okay, maybe there’s some things we’re self-sufficient in.  Maybe there’s some narratives, some cultural narratives, that we’ve been around for so long, just like the church at Laodicea had, that they’re just the air that we breath and we don’t even know that we’re breathing it.  Let me give you an example.  Our great nation was formed July 4, 1776, when thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence.  We said to Mother Britain, “We’re good.  We don’t need you.”  Listen, I blow up stuff every 4th of July, just like you do, to remember that that is a great day.  And it was!  And it is!  But, inception drives formation.  The way that something begins is often the DNA that gets inside of it and its part of what it becomes.  So we are a nation, whether we realize it or not, that’s built on this ferocious love for independence.  Robert Bellah, in his great book Habits of the Heart, will say that we are now in a season, post-World War II, of what we call ‘expressive individualism.’  We define ourselves, not by looking outside of ourselves, like every generation previous to us has and the relationships that we have and the roles that we have, but we define ourselves now by looking inside.  This is the air that we breathe, so much so that we don’t even recognize that we’re breathing it.

Which got me thinking about what is the air that we breathe as Coloradans?  What are the things that are important to us?  What would you say is the air that we breathe as Coloradans?  Recreation.  Yes and amen.  We live in the mountains, or near them, we pay a lot to live near the mountains, so we love going up, we love going skiing, we love going hiking, we love taking in God’s beautiful creation, right?  That’s one of our values.  What else?  Fitness.  Those go hand-in-hand.  Man, you cannot count the number of yoga studios, cross-fit studios, 24-hr. Fitnesses, and for this the use of supplements as andarine really help with this.  We are the great ‘I’m good!’  Just look at us!  What else?  Bicycling.  So we have this love for enjoying the outdoors from a distance AND being in them and taking them in.  I think you combine that with. . . . .well, let me give you an example.  How many microbreweries are there in Colorado?  We love good things in Colorado, don’t we?  We don’t just want the commodity, you can get that anywhere.  We want to take it to the next level, and we’re willing to pay in order to do that.

Here’s what Jesus does. . . .Jesus jumps into the situation the Laodiceans are in and he starts to speak from within their culture, truth, and he goes, listen, there’s some things that are really good about your culture, there’s some things that you value, but let me take them to the next level.  Let me take that hiking path you’re on to the next level.  Let me tell you about the path of true life.  Let me tell you what genuine, true health for your soul really looks like.  Let me give you a taste of what actual pleasure. . . .not just craft coffee or craft beer, but let me tell you about a craft life.  Let me tell you what that looks like.  He takes all these things in Laodicea and he takes them to the next level.  He starts to redefine for them what it looks like to be fulfilled.  Their current state?  You’re wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  Okay, take a deep breath.  In many ways that’s us too.  He says let me speak truth into that situation that can lead you out to something better, something deeper, and something more.  Jesus is saying this is how you’re saying “I’m good,” and let me tell you how I can deepen that, because self-sufficiency is never enough for the human soul.  You were designed for more.  You were designed for God dependency.  There’s so many ways, subtly, that we reject that and say “I’m good.”  Jesus is going to speak into that lie, for that church, and lead them to his truth.

Here’s what it looks like:  I counsel you to buy from me…  [I get this picture of Jesus as a traveling salesman. You’re all buying life somewhere.  You’re all investing your heart, investing your values, investing your motives. . . .in SOMETHING.  Jesus is coming door-to-door and going, “How’s that working out for you?”  How’s that going for you?  Here’s what He says.}  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…  The Laodiceans would have taken a step back and gone, listen, Jesus, the great Amen, maybe you’re not aware of this, but we are rich.  They were extremely rich.  The excavations going on, even now, have identified that Laodicea was an extremely wealthy place in what’s now modern-day Turkey.  They had one of the very first banks ever created, in Laodicea.  People would have physical gold, and Laodicea created a way to house gold for the people who were wealthy.  If you were a traveling businessman or sales person, you could take a certificate from the bank in Laodicea that says I have this much gold on file in Laodicea, I’m good for it!  Laodicea said they’d keep it safe for me, and just take a little percentage off the top and call it good.  When people would sign that certificate over, they knew it was redeemable in Laodicea.  It was like the first checking account.

Jesus looks at them and goes, I know that you have a lot of money, but you’re NOT rich.  There’s something else that makes for a wealthy life than just what you have in your bank account.  There’s more that’s designed to fuel and fill the human soul than what you can actually touch and actually handle and put in an account and say I’ve got this much.  That does not create a wealthy or rich life.  Jesus says only that comes from me.  In a story that Jesus tells about two brothers coming to him to try to decide who gets the inheritance, Jesus responds by saying this:  Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)  To quote Albert Einstein, we’ll say it like this this morning:  What truly counts can’t always be counted.   What Jesus is saying in this little parable he tells in Luke 12 is that greed can actually block us from embracing that which would make us truly rich.  Settling for the shadow, instead of going towards the real, the ultimate, can actually block us from being truly rich.  I think Mother Teresa said it poignantly and well:  “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.  You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness.  They feel unloved and unwanted.  These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way.  They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.  What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”  That’s poignant, is it not?  That cuts to the soul of the air that we breathe.  We go, if I just had this, if I had shinier, if I had better, if I had just a little bit more, than I would be satisfied.  What Jesus and Mother Teresa said is that even though we believe that we know it’s not true.  We’ve opened up the brand new iPhone and it was shiny and new.  And in a few days, it was just a phone.  We’ve done this with cars—-We’ve driven off the lot and then a week later there’s Goldfish smashed in the backseat of that car, just like there were in the one we turned in!

Jesus is saying what really counts, the life you really long for, is not a material thing.  It’s not adding one more thing, it’s not adding one more zero.  It’s nothing you can beat your chest at and go, “I’m good!”  In fact, Jesus echoes the prophet Isaiah.  The prophet Isaiah writes this: Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!   {In fact, what Jesus would say, what Isaiah would say is that it’s almost a prerequisite that we throw our hands up in the air and go, we can’t buy this on our own, for us to come and receive what he’s giving.  It’s nothing in us that we go, “I’m good.”  It’s. . .I need!}  Come, buy wine {Transformative joy} and milk {This nutrient-rich sustenance} without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the riches of fare.  Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.  {That’s his invitation to you and me.}  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.  (Isaiah 55:1-3)   Jesus is saying, Isaiah is saying, you want a rich life?  You want to be satisfied?  Here’s what you know, here’s what I know, that what makes for a rich life can’t be counted, it can’t be stored in a bank.  Jesus is saying the only you get that is that you come to the one who is the Author of Life, who you were designed to be connected to, in order to be fulfilled, sustained, and satisfied.

Here’s the way Peter says it:   These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith {Or your relationship with God, or your connection to Yahweh, the one True God}—of greater worth than gold….(1 Peter 1:7)    He goes, THAT’S the thing that really matters, and when you live in faith you turn into generous people.  So instead of hoarding your stuff, you invest your stuff in what really matters.  When you live by faith, you start to see the things that matter to God, and what matters to God is people.  When you live by faith you start to take HIS value system, HIS DNA, and what he says is then. . . . then. . . .{Look up at me for a second} then you become RICH!  God wants you to be rich.  Richer than you could ever possibly imagine.  In a way that you probably don’t imagine.  So the Laodiceans are beating their chest and saying we’re wealthy, and he goes let me reframe wealth for you.  Come to me.

Here’s the second thing he says:  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness. (Rev. 3:18)    I mean, Jesus is just throwing DOWN, is he not?  Don’t you just read this and bite your hand a little bit and go, oh man, that stings a little bit?  He goes, Laodicea, you’re sort of like the emperor who’s wearing no clothes.  You’re prancing around naked and nobody’s telling you.  He goes, I’ll tell you, you’re naked!  What was going on in Laodicea?  They were one of the textile capitals of the world at that time.  They had a number of black sheep that had shiny black wool that they would use in order to turn into a primitive raincoat.  The Romans absolutely loved this clothing.  They would come from miles around in order to buy in Laodicea.  Jesus says let me step into your culture. . . .you’re clothing everyone else but you’re naked.  Your soul is exposed.  The things that are deepest within in, the things that you need met in your life, in order to keep moving forward, you’re running from those things, you’re covering those things, but I would love to be a covering for you.  I would love to cover your nakedness.

All throughout the Scriptures, nakedness is like a humiliation, a guilt, a shame.  In the book of Nahum (3:5), God is speaking to the city of Ninevah:  “I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.  I will lift your skirts over your face.  I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.   Wow!  What Jesus is saying to this church is you don’t recognize that’s how you’re walking around.  Like, I would love to cover you.  I would love to be a love that sustains you on your darkest day.  Here’s what Jesus is pointing out to them—You’re beating your chest. . . .here’s what we can all do, here’s what we’ve got, I’m good, God.  Jesus points out that no amount of external success can cover internal shame.  That’s why you read pieces in the newspaper or online, about people like Bruce Springsteen, like Ben Affleck, like Tom Brady, like Michael Jordan, who are at the top of their game and when they lie in bed at night, the narrative that they think about is I’ll need just a little bit more to be okay, or I wish so-and-so (dad or mom) loved me.  Because we’re all trying to do something with that piece in our soul that says we’re just not quite good enough.  According to social worker and social researcher, Brené Brown — “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion.  It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

Every single one of us in this room can pretend like we don’t, but every one of us struggles with shame to some degree.  Because of this disconnection from God, we struggle with God, there’s more that I was created for.  Some of us in a weightier way than others.  We can do one of two things with that narrative that goes on in our heart.  We can do what the Laodiceans did, and they tried to work their way out of it.  They tried to achieve all sort of external successes, and bank accounts, and textile industry, and fashion, and. . . .we’re good.  Ours might look like — I’ve been successful.  Or, ours might look like — At least I didn’t turn into fill-in-the-blank.  Or, ours might look like — What more could I want?  On some level, we’re trying to outrun this giant that lurks in the shadows, where we recognize that in and of ourselves we’re wretched, poor, blind, and naked.

The other option is that we can come to the King.  We can bring ourselves before him, with all of our failings, and all of our shame, and all of our guilt, and all of our ‘I wish I would have, I’m sorry I didn’t, I can’t believe I did’. . . .all of those things we carry around, and we can bring them to Him and He says, “I’ll be your covering.”  I can love even that.  I can, with my perfection, cover all of those deficiencies.  I love the way that Jesus paints this picture of a love that covers, of a love that clothes, and of a love that claims.  If you’re here today and you’re a follower of Jesus, can I just tell you that that’s true of you!  Sometimes ‘I’m good’ prevents us from saying ‘I need.’   When we refuse to say ‘I need,’ we’re unable to take the gift that God wants to give us.  So we just keep running on that treadmill of life thinking if it could just get a little bit better, brighter, newer, shinier, if I could just get him or her, then I’d be okay.  Jesus says, “STOP! And just admit that you’re a person in need.”   I love the way that Fleming Rutledge, the great theologian, says it when she writes:  “Participation in Christ means abandoning our pretenses, openly acknowledging our identities as sinners in bondage, and in the same moment realizing with a stab of piercing joy that the victory is already ours in Christ, won by him who died to save us.”  AMEN!  That’s wonderful, because we have to wrestle with I’m wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked on one hand, and on the other hand, this invitation from God where he says come to me, be showered in my grace, be drenched in my goodness, allow me to be your sufficiency, I’m enough.  That’s the Christian life, friends.  It’s not ‘I’m good,’ it’s I’m loved.  I don’t get it, because I know me, but I’m loved.  He’s a good Father.  That’s who He is, and you’re loved by Him, that’s who you are.  Friends, there will be a day when you and I will sit at the wedding supper of the Lamb, according to Revelation 19:6-8, clothed in his righteousness alone. Not running from our shame anymore, but clothed….  But, hey, you don’t have to wait for that day, you can know that’s true TODAY.  It just takes stop beating your chest and open your hands to the one who wants to fill you.

Here’s the way Jesus ends (Rev. 3:18) — I counsel you come buy from me, come receive clothing from me; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Laodicea was known in this region for having “Phrygian Powder.”  It was a medicinal mixture that they would put on people’s eyes, and supposedly it actually really helped restore sight.  People would come from everywhere to Laodicea to be treated for poor eyesight.  Jesus says, ironically, you’re helping everybody see physically, but you’re blind spiritually.  Here’s his point—to this church in Laodicea, maybe to us too—physical sight can’t overcome spiritual blindness.  You’re beating your chest about this, but you’re missing the thing that could actually help you to see what God would have you see in his world.

What does it look like to see spiritually?  Let me give you two things.  First, it means that we see Jesus in the world.  We refuse to get beaten down by the narrative of pessimism that is all around us, driven by fear, and intended to try to sell you something.  When we see Jesus in the world, we refuse to be pessimistic about what’s going on.  We SEE that in China there are over 160 million followers of Jesus.  Most researchers say that there will be more Christians in China in 2030 than any other country on the face of the planet.  Amongst Muslims in the last 12 years, there have been more movements of Muslims to Christ than there have in the previous 1000 years to when Muhammed started preaching.  That’s amazing!  God is on the move and God is up to something, and when we have spiritual sight we see Jesus in the world.

Here’s the other thing we do.  We see Jesus in the world and we see the world that Jesus sees.  Spiritual sight gives us the ability to engage the world in the same way that Jesus did.  We said this prayer (The Lord’s Prayer) this morning, but I don’t think there’s any better way to develop a lens for ‘Jesus, what world do you see?’ than this prayer that he taught his disciples to pray.  You get this sort of inner picture of here’s the world that Jesus sees.  He sees a world where his Father, sovereignly and in a holy nature, rules and reigns over it, and where THAT nature and THAT kingdom is coming.  Do you see it?  He sees a world where every single need that we need met, the very bread that we eat and the breath that we take, is given by God.  That’s the world that Jesus sees.  He sees a world in which we need to be forgiven, and a world where we need to forgive.  Is that the world you see?  That’s the world Jesus sees.  He sees a world in which there’s a very real enemy and there is a real protector and his prayer—Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the one who’s evil—is a recognition of the cosmology that Jesus would have—that this world is a world at war.  Do you see that world?

Look up at me for just a moment.  One of the greatest lenses we have, of not only spiritual sight but spiritual vitality, is prayer.  When our prayer lives dry up, it’s probably not intentional, but it should be a sign to us that in some way we’re beating our chest going God, I’m good.  We may not say it with our lips, but we’re speaking volumes with our heart.  So maybe this week you carve out some time to just get quiet and get alone and just ask God, “What would you say to me?”

I think that’s the deficiency in the Laodicean church.  They’re good, but Jesus comes to them and here’s how he finishes this letter:  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest and repent. {I’m coming at you as one who’s good, as one who loves you, as one who’s for you, and knows that this declaration ‘I’m good and I’m okay’ pales in comparison to I’m in need, but I am loved.  So change, he says, change!  He follows that up with this verse you’ve probably heard before.}  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.   What door is Jesus knocking on?  He’s knocking on the door of the church of Laodicea.  Church, what counts really can’t be counted!  Church, no amount of external success can cover an inward shame.  Church, you’ve got spiritual sight but you’re physically blind.  Church, wake up!  Are you saying, Ryan, that Jesus is saying that you can go to church, be a follower of Jesus for years and years and years, and miss the fact that Jesus is knocking at your door?  {Look up at me for a second.}  YES!  That’s exactly what I’m saying.  So this should be a harrowing letter in some ways for us, and it should be an eye-opening letter in others for us to say that just because we’re IN church, just because we’re AROUND the story, just because we’ve become a member or have been a follower of Christ for ‘X’ amount of decades doesn’t mean diddly-squat.  Jesus might still be knocking at our door saying, “Will you please let me in?”  Because I want to be intimate with you, and I want you to know me, and I want my love to cover you.

Laodicea was this place that was like this bridge in between one world and another.  Cilicia was right on the other side, so the Roman soldiers would encamp at Laodicea.  They had this tradition, this requirement, where if a Roman soldier knocked on your door, it was forced hospitality.  You had to invite him in.  You had to make him dinner.  If they needed a place to stay, you had to open your house.  Jesus says I’m not going to force myself in, but I’m here and I’m knocking.  What are you going to do with me?

There’s this picture a number of years ago that was painted by this man named William Holman Hunt.  It’s a depiction of Revelation 3:20.  It’s Jesus standing at the door of the church at Laodicea, but look at some of the details in it.  There’s weeds growing up over the door.  Like they’ve had this self-sufficiency for so long that they never embraced a God dependency and they missed out.  Notice, also, that there is no doorknob on the outside.  The only doorknob is on the inside.  It’s this picture of Jesus saying I’m not going to force my way in, but I’m here and I’m knocking, and what are you going to do with me?  I’m wondering in what ways we have embraced our cultural narrative of ‘I’m good’ and missed out on the God who says ‘I’m here.’  I wonder how many ways we’ve said ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘I need’ and missed out.

Can we take a few moments, because my conviction is that Jesus is here and that Jesus is knocking.  Just because you’re here doesn’t mean you’ve let him in.  We’re going to sing one last song together, but as we sing, would you pray and ask God, what are you saying to me?  What things am I holding on to?  What rope am I clinging to that’s just one of my own making?  I’ve got my intellect, I’ve got my work ethic, I’ve got my relationships, I’ve got my bank account. . . .I’m holding on to those things.  In what ways am I saying back to you, Jesus, I don’t need you?  Will you ask that as we sing this, and then however he invites you to respond. . . .it may be in kneeling in prayer up here, it may be in raising your hands and saying, “I need,” it may be just silently surrendering some things to him, some situations to him. . . . .but let’s take this last song and ask that God would minister.  Would you stand with me as we sing?

Lord, we thank you for being the God who’s here right now and who knocks.  We admit that there’s some things that we’re holding onto and we want you to point those out to us.  Our intention is that when you show them to us we want to let go.  Thanks for being a good God that we can trust.  Thanks for being a God whose motive is always love.  So we trust you.  Would you speak to us in these moments?  We pray in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Postcards from the Edge | A Letter to Independent People | Rev 3:14-22 | Week 82020-08-20T15:25:55-06:00
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