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Revelation: The Church Who’d Forgotten Where They’d Come From

To Laodicea,

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’

And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”

What you see with Laodicea is — when we forget where we’ve come from, when we forget our relationship with Jesus first, then we substitute something, anything in it’s place.

See what had happened here, They viewed themselves one way, but Jesus saw them differently. Sometimes we substitute our relationship with Jesus- with something else, anything else; Here they’d substituted prestige, power and wealth for a relationship with God.

When you’re going for prestige, power and wealth, you want to put forward this image, right?

  •  the black power suit
  • the power handshake
  • the successful ceo

Religion without relationship= indifference

When we forget where we’ve come from then friendships are reduced to business hierarchy and success is reduced to measurable results. When THE CHURCH forgets where she came from then the CHURCH is reduced to religion and not a relationship with Christ. Religion without relationship is an ugly thing indeed…

Take the relationship out of it and reduce it to a corporate model, a country club, or anything else that the church really is not, and all you are left with is indifference. Look at verse 19

“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. “

Relationship = Friendship with God

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”

Friends?

  • not some image you want to project
  • not a power trip or authority trip
  • not a self dillusion

…A relationship with him, nothing else will do…

Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

Laodicea had forgotten what real power looks like, it looks like Jesus who’d come in humility, taking on the form of a servant. We, individually and as the church must emulate him. They’d forgotten Thanksgiving, the doxology says “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”. We individually, and as the church are to be a doxology of thanksgiving before God. They’d forgotten where they’d come from, the state of every man: poor, wretched, naked, & blind. They’d forgotten the significance of Christ’s first advent, and also had lost sight of his second coming.

The message of the church today is the message that John the Baptist preached long ago “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a path for him! Every valley will be built up and every mountain will be brought low… and all people will see the salvation of God…”

To the wretched he gives hope!

To the the poor he sustains!

To the naked he clothes!

To the blind he heals and gives sight!

Revelation: The Church at Philadelphia

Philadelphia was known as a frontier city; “Gateway to the East”. Industry and agriculture was their bread and butter.They grew a lot of grapes, specifically,  so it’s no surprise that Dionysus was a primary deity worshipped there.

Not a Mega Church

The church in Philadelphia would seem insignificant to our standards today, and probably also to the standards of the first century. It was not a mega-church, no TV program or daily radio show, no big building, no fancy facility, no multi-book deals for the senior pastor, no “city-wide” influence… just a small insignificant church in a house, or perhaps a strip-mall… Yet there were no words of rebuke for this church.

Something had happened

Scripture doesn’t say exactly, but if you look at all the things said then you get the idea that the church in Philadelphia had been treated harshly by someone… read the first half of the letter before we go on.

The Message to the Church in Philadelphia

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.

This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:”

“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.”

What had happened?

The church began within the context of it’s Jewish roots (Jesus was a jew), it sounds like the church may have been “dis-owned” from the temple. The Jewish community may have been trying to put pressure on the church; refusing to acknowledge them, using manipulation to get them to forsake the church and return to the temple, or dis-associating with them, or kicking them out of the temple.

+ ever been fired by a boss with issues?

+ ever been ignored, kicked out, or otherwise dis-owned?

When He Returns injustices cannot stand

JESUS says of those he calls the “Synagogue of Satan” -“They will acknowledge you, they can’t ignore you and pretend you don’t exist, and they will acknowledge the fact that I love you…”

Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth…”

KEEP FROM is the same word as in LORD’s PRAYER = “deliver us from evil”, this is a promise Jesus makes to Philadelphia.

They had already had hardships, it’s not like they were going to live problem free, The GOSPELS and the Book of ACTS taught them “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” and this was their context for living, and their context as disciples, but Jesus made this promise of relief to them!

Then Jesus says

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.”

So, to the one’s who’d been pushes aside, ignored and treated as dead Jesus says “They cannot kick you out! I shut and nobody opens~ and I open and and nobody shuts… you will never be told to leave the temple of my God ever again!”

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I will write on him 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 him my new name.

This sounds curiously like addressing something to be delivered.

WHEN HE RETURNS

God sees differently than men do, what seems insignificant and weak to us may be seen by God as very significant indeed. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Wake Up! On Revelation

The Church at Sardis

Think of things that didn’t live up to their reputation.

  • The Ford Edsel in the 1950’s was to be an innovation in cars- sucked…
  • New Coke in the 80s was to build on Coke’s reputation- it didn’t…
  • PS3 was great! -unless you got the three rings of death…
    There’s a difference between reputation & reality-

Jesus, dictating the letter to the church at Sardis to John says:

“You have a reputation that you live, but you are D E A D.”

They were living on reputation, they were living on past accomplishments, they were living in the glory days but had fallen asleep to living the life and doing the stuff of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

WAKE UP!

Jesus says “WAKE UP!!!”…living on past accomplishments just isn’t enough-

Any time we live in the past it is not a good thing, it robs us of today – good or bad. If you live in the past of the bad things that happen in life then you’ll never go forward, never heal, never explore and discover life now. But the same is true for the good things: starting a business, being a star athlete in school, whatever the accomplishment, to live in the past is DEATH.

Paul speaks clearly words that the church at Sardis needed to hear, and words relevant for us today, in Philippians 3:13 “This ONE thing I do- forget what is past & move forward”. Sardis needed to do this to live.

Let us begin again!

Saint Francis said something as he gathered the brothers around not long before his death- “let us begin again, for up to now we have done nothing!”. For Sardis, For the American church, and for us individually, these words ring true. It is a time for us to begin again. Jesus said “repent & return to what you have received and heard.”

In ancient culture, cities kept a book with the names of all it’s citizens, when someone moved or died they would scratch the persons name out. Look at the promise Jesus gave to Sardis:

“He who overcomes will be dressed in white…& I will never erase or blot out his name from the book of life…” -Rev 3:5

Let’s not live in the past, let us not fall asleep, but be awake! & let us begin again; letting go of the past & moving forward!

The Church at Thyatira: Hold on!

The message to the church in Thyatira-

“Hold on!… & get rid of Jezebel”

Working Man Town: Thyatira was a working man’s town, like Pittsburgh’s steel industry, or Chattanooga with textiles in the 60’s. There were unions called “guilds” which had a patron Roman god or goddess, along with the guilds came regular “dinners” and rites as a part of membership. One of the main temples was to the Emperor, who was considered a “son of Apollo” ie. A son of the god, Apollo.

Jesus opens this letter addressing himself as “The Son of God” – as in the one and only. He commends them for love, faith, service, perseverance, and making progress, as well as their good deeds.

Slippery Slope

The followers in this city faced some difficult decisions, if you were not a part of the guild then you could not function in your trade, meaning economically you were at a huge disadvantage. To participate meant to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to participate in the “rites” of the guild which often included sexual rites or prostitution. Beyond getting a disease, the follower participating would compromise the lifestyle he had chosen as a disciple of Jesus.

Put your hand on the TV, say “Amen”, and pick up the phone now $$$

Jesus refers to a particular self proclaimed “prophet” as Jezebel, probably not her real name, but He’s making a point; she was leading the people astray by preaching it was OK to participate in functions of idol worship and the sexual rites that went along with it. WHY? Not for sure, but money and power probably had a lot to do with it, and human nature excuses many things by saying “So & so said it was OK…”

A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall

Jesus speaks hard judgement to those in Thyatira who are unrepentant in their sin. No matter how we look at the harsh words given to some of the churches, at the core is a real desire that no one would die in sin but rather be reconciled to God and live! Here He says “I gave her a time to repent but she did not” therefore it’s a hard rain that’s going to fall. (quoting Bob Dylan)

Hold On, I’m Coming!!!

To everyone else who did not buy in to the lies and sin Jesus gave these words “I will put no other burden upon you, just hold on to what you have till I return.”

And return He will. When He does, He and His followers will break nations like clay pots with an iron rod. What does that mean?

Not sure entirely, let me just throw out one thought. If there were no government, nations, rivalry, competing for power, dominance, and fighting over resources then there would be no bloodshed, abuse, domination, war, or death. WHEN HE RETURNS He will put an end to all these things. That is good news! We say “Come! Lord Jesus!”

Faith Fears No Evil

Often we read the Book of Revelation with either stoic intellectualism or mystical symbolism (literally so steeped in “what does it all mean?”) that we miss an important element in reading the Bible, in that we are often emotionally disconnected with the narrative. This is a story, a narrative of the church, the actual people, flesh, blood, spirit. They were very much like us.

A Hard Rain Falling on the Early Church:

In the letters to Smyrna & Pergamus, both churches were enduring and surviving in hard circumstances. The believers in Pergamus had just seen a dear friend, Antipas, suffer and die for his religious beliefs. The King of the Universe had seen it, knew it, and made note of it while dictating this letter to the apostle John.

Likewise Smyrna lived in similar dynamics. There was a lot of pressure on these churches, the Roman state didn’t care who you worshipped as long as you were obedient to the state and the emperor as your ultimate master. Roman citizens were required at this time to burn incense in honor of the emperor and receive a “certificate” of having done so. The Christians had to chose between compromising their principals- being syncretistic in their beliefs, or they chose to live by their convictions “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Called Out:

Jesus called Pergamus out on this. Even though they’d continued in The Way even after seeing a friend brutally killed, they’d held fast, they’d not denied Jesus… yet they’d also eaten meat sacrificed to idols and participated in the sexual sins of the culture. For this Jesus calle them out.

No Rebuke:

Smyrna is one of two churches not to receive a rebuke. Times were harsh and persecution was coming. Jesus encourages them “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…fear non of those things you are about to suffer: prison, suffering, even death…”

Emotionally Connected to the Scripture:

I once read a story how gunmen and terrorists had stormed a church in Iraq resulting in over 30 people killed… Later that same day this the story had already been taken off the front page and filed somewhere way back. As I read the letter to Smyrna the emotion of what was going on there 2000 years ago hit me hard. If you’ve ever lost someone then you know how quickly it can happen, and you understand the emotional pain accompanied by the loss. I’d become emotionally attached to the story unfolding, the Bible had come to life.

Jesus Promises:

But Jesus made promises to Smyrna & Pergamus. To Pergamus he promised “hidden manna” and a “white stone with a secret new name written thereon”- They were called not to participate in the big banquets dedicated to the gods, but here Jesus uses a term of the day. In these times, when you were invited to a party, servants would deliver to you an invitation; it was a stone with your name written on it, and manna was food provided from heaven, as well as a symbol of Jesus body as food for the church.

Smyrna was promised a crown of life, not a kingly crown but a victors garland like in the ancient Olympics. The most prized crown of all, eternal life.

These two churches no doubt had Psalm 23 written in their hearts “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…”

Faith fears no evil.

Revelation: The Church at Ephesus

Rekindle the Love

Back in Acts chapter 20 we see the Apostle Paul instructing the church at Ephesus and teaching them to look out for those who would creep in to make the church their own little power trip. He encouraged them to keep the flock of God safe from wolves, to keep the teachings of the apostles straight, and to remain true.

The Ephesian church was planted in one of the Empire’s premiere cities, it was greatly self-ruled and on main trade routes.(One of the reasons Paul had chosen to stay and teach there as the Roman highways were the internet of the day, carrying information and new ideas,etc) Ephesus was also quite a religious town with many temples to the Roman gods.

In Revelation Ephesus is applauded for their hard work, perseverance, and for “testing those who call themselves apostles and are not”. They knew people looking for a power trip would try to come in and gather a following by teaching controversies, twisting scripture a little to make it say something else, and draw people away from the purity of scripture and the apostle’s doctrine-Years later we see that they had heeded Paul’s warnings to keep it right, and they had done so.

So much was good… conduct, teaching, holiness… yet there is no stronger a rebuke than the one the church at Ephesus received “You have forsaken your first love…repent, and do those first things again …if you do not then I will come and remove your lampstand…”

Without love all you are left with is religion:

They needed to both live holy with sound teaching, and to be an example of love. Without God’s love all they were left with in Ephesus was religion. And religion without love is an ugly thing that is apathetic to the lost, criticizes those who eat and drink with “the wrong group”, stones sinners in the street, or cuts off the hand of one who steals. The Ephesian church had fallen from such an example to something Christ would have to do away with because they’d lost the one thing that made them the church- LOVE.

“Love God…love others…”, “They will know you are my followers by your love…”, “For God so loved the world…”

In verse 6 Jesus returns to encouraging Ephesus, they are a good church who have not compromised their faith in a culture that was promiscuous in many ways. Jesus closes with a promise to “eat from the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God.” The last book of the Bible connecting here with the first. A promise of restoration and relationship with Father-God.

How do we find the love of God again?

“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which God has given to us” -Romans 5:5

  • So pray to be filled with God’s love and God’s Spirit (you can’t have one without the other & if you truly have one -you have both)
  • Seek ways to love others in real and genuine ways-“they will know we are his followers by our love…”

When He Returns

Though not exhaustive- here’s some straightforward thoughts on Revelation Chapter 1:

Christ Victorious

Even in the first chapter you see this “strength” come out in the picture of Jesus. Even as he came humble, as the suffering servant, our substitution and atonement, being born to a virgin in His first coming- at His second coming we see “Christ Victorious” the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the king of all kings on earth (v 5)

C. Missler says of Revelation “It’s the only book in the bible that has the audacity to say ‘Read me-I’m special’ “. And indeed, as John opens the writing he says ” Blessed is he who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are they who hear and keep these words, because the time is near.

John salutes Jesus in verses 5-7, again showing this strong vision of Christ Victorious as he says:

“Look- He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be.” In addition to the celestial “coming in the clouds” you also have the image of warriors and chariots from the Roman world. when a commander and his army would ride into battle they would kick up the dust so they literally would come “in the clouds” of dust as they rode into battle.

Another allusion to the Roman world was the two-edged sword. In addition to Paul’s reference of the word of God being sharper than a two-edged sword, and John in verse 16 describing Christ as having a “double-edged sword coming out of his mouth”- the double edged blade was a Roman invention. Beforehand people only had a one-edged blade with which they hacked their enemies to death with like chopping firewood, the double edged sword cut both ways and was a much more lethal weapon, hence the dominance of Rome.

John, seeing this vision of Christ, fell down before the one walking among the lamp stands. The one with snow white hair, in stately robes, eyes like blazing fire, and a voice like a waterfall, it all overwhelmed John and he fell down…

Then the one revealed in all this power and glory, the one the kings of this earth fear, gently places His right hand on John & says “Do not be afraid”. Why? Because this was Jesus speaking to John the beloved…

John who’d stood at the foot of the cross with Mary and the other women (all the other disciples had run off)-John had stood there unable to help his friend, only able to watch as he died- now encounters the risen Christ powerful and victorious and overwhelming yet Jesus, his dear friend says to John “Do not be afraid…”.

“I am the First and the Last…I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades…” There is nothing more powerful than this.

Not to jest, but thoughts of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood riding into town come to mind. Look out!

When He returns-

Nothing can stand before Christ Victorious. As the Christmas carol O Holy Night says “All oppression shall cease”. Those who have the most to fear are those who wrongly wield their authority over others, who abuse their position or power on this earth for they will be answerable to This Christ- the one coming in clouds.

The Book of Revelation is very much an unveiling of the battle between good and evil, and as Bob Dylan says in his song When He Returns “The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a Mighty God”.

Go To The Humble Places, Be An Icon Of Christ

Go to the humble places, be an icon of Christ there…

“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”

― Charles Thomas Studd, English missionary

Humbleness and Success
Often people are known, their names are recognized, usually because they are in big, important places, with titles and accolades. Most of us have a desire to be recognized, esteemed, and seen as an important contributor. This is called success, It requires hard work, the right connections are very helpful, and sometimes being at the right place at the right time is crucial.

Humble places require only a willingness and obedience to go and serve. In other words, it requires nothing less than everything (to quote T.S. Eliot), which also includes much hard work. Few desire unacknowledged silent service. Few seem available for the beginning of something when no one is noticing, the small start, the humble place. No one knew who Saint Francis was in the beginning, and he didn’t care. But the order quickly grew to the point that it was ultimately strongly encouraged that he abdicate leadership of the Franciscan Order, the order he had founded. In a real sense, the thing he started was taken away from him. Most of us would not willingly give up our “baby,” but he did, while also praying that the order wouldn’t lose the humbleness it had begun with, now that everybody knew the name of Francis, and knew of the Franciscan order.

Humble Prayers and Small Beginnings
Humble vision is right vision. (Meaning, you have no false imaginations about self, and acknowledge God’s primacy in all things) Humble vision can accomplish great things, if it is following God in obedience and in humility; it doesn’t care so much for acknowledgement, as long as the work gets done.

Talking with the COO at our local homeless outreach, The Community Kitchen, the opportunity presented itself to serve in a unique way. They have very few groups come in to provide spiritual worship opportunities there, so we began a Thursday Morning Prayers & Communion Service at The Community Kitchen. With a box of supplies and a mobile communion kit, we invite the homeless to join us in Morning Prayer in the facility Day Room where everyday social services and various activities still go on. We step into sacred space as we read the psalms and lessons, pray silently and together, and then celebrate communion. About a dozen people come forward to receive that special grace. Afterwards we greet each other, pass the peace, and chat… not “church people” and “the homeless”, just “us”, “we”, all of us together.

A few years ago now, I felt the Lord had given me a vision of the homeless being invited into the work of prayer, the prayers of the people, for the city and for the world. A piece of Saint Basil’s “Urban Monastery” idea, a unique piece, inviting the unlikely into participation in the Prayers of the People. I think God hears the prayers of a Billy Graham, or Tim Keller, or even my prayers, but doesn’t God also hear the prayers of the widow, or perhaps the homeless person, as much? Maybe even more? Yes, maybe.

Icons of Christ in Humble Places
Saint Lawrence, third century martyr, beheld the treasures of the church in the poor. Saint Francis saw in the faces of the poor the brother or sister of the firstborn, Christ. Mother Teresa, and others have seen an icon of Christ in the poor around them, in humble places. In turn, they were also icons of Christ as they served the least and the last. As an Anglican I was first ordained as a deacon, first called to serve. I am reminded that Christ did not fear the humble places, in fact, he sought them out. He sent first the twelve, and then the seventy two to go out to the humble places, to be an icon of Christ there.

What humble place is God sending you to? How does he desire to reshape your heart? Do not fear the humble places, but rather, allow yourself to find Christ there, and let us seek to be an icon of Christ in the humble places, and wherever we go.

(similar blog originally posted on anglicanpastordotcom)