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.}