Church Shopping- New Deal

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God said, “Be holy as I am holy” not to make us religious robots, but to free us for authentic worship, calling on us to say “Yes, dear” to the things of God and “No, dear” to the things that pull us from God (check out the earlier posts), but Jesus offers another path.

(Just like FDR had the New Deal—promises and program)

New Deal (2:17) 17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Jesus starts painting a picture of a new Exodus. That while the Israelites were in the desert, death seemed always at their doorstep, compromise always on the horizon, and yet God provided for them when it seemed impossible. God lead them when they were lost, healed them when they were hurting. When Israel was faithful, nothing could defeat them, the sun would stand still, largest armies would crumble, but when they gave into compromise to excess, instead of clinging to the essential their world started to fall apart. But for the victorious—the white stone would be used, an illusion to the justice system of that day—where the jurors would use a white stone for an acquittal, and a black stone for a guilty sentence. Jesus promises vindication.

Saying yes to Christ and no to compromise can leave us feeling like we are about to be crushed like a bug. Continue reading “Church Shopping- New Deal”

Church Shopping-“No, Dear”

The second part of our look at the church in Pergamum. The Christians had refused to renounce the name of Christ, but all news wasn’t good news. There were some areas where they had said…

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“No, Dear” to God (2:14-16) 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Remember the story of Balaam from Numbers. Israel had left Egypt in the Exodus, and as they were traveling through Moab, king Balak became worried so he summoned the pagan priest Balaam asking him to curse Israel. Instead, God put a filter on the mouth of the pagan priest and forced him to bless them, each time to the utter frustration of the king. Yet, Balaam knew Israel’s Achilles hill. God protected them from any external threats, and so they would only be crushed when they compromised—so the king watched as the Israelites started to give into the sexual temptation of Moabite women. Although, the majority of the believers appear to have remained faithful, Jesus puts the faithful in charge of the fallen—false teachers had started leading people astray.

A New York family bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name. “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying-W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y Ranch.” But where are all your cattle” the friends asked? The reply, “None survived the branding.” (Source unknown).

What are you marriage too? What have you been branded by? Continue reading “Church Shopping-“No, Dear””

Church Shopping: Pergamum

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Sometimes compromise is absolutely essential to living life well. In 2005, the Guinness Book of World Records said that Percy and Florence Arrowsmith held two records—the longest marriage of a living couple (80 years) and having the largest married couple’s aggregate age (205 years). Both Mr. and Mrs. Arrowsmith have since died, but they left good advice for those who want to have a lasting marriage. Florence said, “You must never go to sleep bad friends. If you’ve had a quarrel, you make it up. Never be afraid to say, ‘sorry’.” Percy had slightly more humorous advice. He said the secret to his long marriage was just two words, “Yes, dear.” Source: New York Daily News, June 1, 2005

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Other times, compromise is excessive. Bill Hybels tells the story of pulling up to his church in the burbs of Chicago called Willow Creek. It is a massive campus, and one evening he stopped by the church just to encourage those who were there rehearsing for the spring musical. He didn’t intend to stay long, so he parked his car next to the entrance. The parking lot was across the street, it was late, dark, and it was going to be quick. After a few minutes, he ran back to my car and drove home. The next morning he found a note in my office mailbox. It read: A small thing, but Tuesday night when you came to rehearsal, you parked in the “No Parking” area. A reaction from one of my crew (who did not recognize you until after you got out of the car) was, “There’s another jerk parking in the ‘No Parking’ area!” We try hard not to allow people-even workers-to park anywhere other than the parking lots. I would appreciate your cooperation, too. It was signed by a member of the maintenance staff. Bill went on to say, “I’m sorry to report this staff member is no longer with us. He was late coming back for lunch the next day, and we had to let him go. You have to draw the line somewhere . . .” After drawing a laugh, he went on to explain—“No, I’m kidding. Actually he’s still very much with us, and his stock went up in my book because he had the courage to write me about what could have been a slippage in my character.”

We are in the midst of a sermon series called Church Shopping, through the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. Our goal is not to just be searching for a church that meets our needs, fulfills our preferences and desires, but become the church that makes Christ happy.

Our third letter is addressed to Pergamum, literally translates “thoroughly married” and although the Christians were supposed to be united with Christ—there were more than a few suitors trying to steal their hand. A city built on a lofty hill, the city of more than 150,000 people was a hub of intellectual excitement (maybe like Harvard of today) it boasted a library with over 200,000 volumes all handwritten on parchment and papyrus, a university, at every turn there was something to worship or work towards. Christ like a Great Physician looking at a growing tumor, begins by digging down to see if the church is living off the essentials or given in to excess: 12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. Hebrews described the word of God as living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, looking into our attitudes and actions. Christ opens up the church in Pergamum to see where they had said, “YES, DEAR,” “NO DEAR,” and “NEW DEAL”

“YES, DEAR”—(Revelation 2:13) 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. What’s so impressive about each letter is how much insight Christ has into each church, the situation on the ground, their history, their heroes, and areas of heartache. For John living in exile on Patmos, it speaks to how divinely inspired this work truly is as Jesus starts off commending the Christian of Pergamum for holding on to their faith even though they lived in a city controlled by Satan. The opportunities for compromise, slipping in with the crowd was numerous: There was the temple to Dionysus where wine and women abound, you could seek counsel with Athena—wisdom and arts, or Zeus—ruler of all the gods, but as Jesus references the death of Antipas, the city seemingly had the prescription for life, but what looked so good on the surface, missed the mark down below. The city boasted a temple of medicine and healing—where the sick would spend the night in the temple to Asclepius—god of medicine and healing…you would arrive at the temple, stay overnight, where you would find some of the worse bedside manner imaginable: Indiana Jones-Raiders of the Lost Ark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClwIj3x24Q4. The wonders of modern medicine, you’d lay down and if the snakes crawled on you then you were healed. Beyond the façade of a beautiful temple, was emptiness. Continue reading “Church Shopping: Pergamum”

Church Shopping: Symrna and the End

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Even though Revelation was written 1900 years ago, it is perfectly in line with our own culture, context, and circumstances—it is with Jesus walking among the church, rather than just distantly giving direction to the church, that he gives us hope even when the heaviest weight of all is added:

Imprisonment/Death (Revelation 2: 10) 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (Ten days is just a saying, like we would say, “I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks,” we don’t literally mean 14 days on the hour.) Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Unlike today, there were no country club prisons, only dark, damp, rat invested pens filled with human excrement and barely any food. Jesus starts to re-purpose death.  Death comes regardless of how much we diet, workout, refrain from a second cupcake, but Jesus shows that even death has no dominion over our destiny through Him. That instead of the big house, fancy car, wad of money in your pocket, being the best that life will ever be—Jesus offers us the victor’s crown. Crowns set people apart, the High Priest, the Emperor, the athletic victor or conquering king, but while the world tells us death is when the crown is removed forever, Jesus tells us that death is when the crowning begins.

Unfortunately, the letter to the church in Smyrna could still be written to churches all around the world—as ISIS beheads Christians in Syria who refuse to revile Christ, as churches are burned or are demolished in China, as missionaries become martyrs. A Christians is killed every 5 seconds by some estimates, but this desire to endure, to pass the test can come in every area of life—as a husband/wife, parent/ sibling, faithful brother or sister in Christ, church member.

The Washington Post ran a story in 2008 that captured just how far one parent was pushed of enduring, even to the point of death, Thomas S. Vander Woude, a father of seven sons, got back from church and set about to finish some hard work with youngest, 20 years old son Joseph, who has down syndrome. As they were working, Thomas saw his son fall through a covered 2X2 opening in the septic tank which was under construction. Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime. At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above. When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

It is the very parallel of Christ, who threw himself into our muck so we could take a breath of the fresh air…who was clean and became dirty, who was free and became a slave, who was above all and yet allowed himself to be submerged. Who took on all the risk of rejection so we could rise above.  We get a chance to be imprinted with the image of the Lifesaver Luke 9:24- For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Henry Varley, a British revivalist who befriended D.L. Moody, said the famous words, “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him?’ How much more powerful—if we are a church consecrated to him—each of us deciding to leave the trinkets for the treasure. We may appear poor, but we are rich. We may be slandered but we won’t shrink from our responsiblity or opportunity. We may be pierced in the flesh and yet we are being made whole in the Spirit.

I want you to hang on to your penny—not because it is good luck or has magic powers, but so you can remember the innovation of the penny press—the cost was great—but the product is something worth keeping!

Church Shopping- Smyrna’s Slander

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The weight of poverty was very real, but for the church in Smyrna, it was only one weight, when Jesus addressed another that had been added:

Slander (Revelation 2:9b) I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

The Jews in Smyrna were both by race and religion Jewish, they had been circumcised, followed the customs of their forefathers, but Paul highlights their problem in Romans 2:29—They were a scarecrow– But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God….Jesus doesn’t hold back any punches because the Jews had worked out a deal with Rome. They had an exemption, a pass on sacrifices to the emperor; they got to worship Yahweh. If you ever had that experience of finding a really good deal—maybe even a misprint in an ad and if you are the only one to point it out to the company they usually will honor it, but if everyone figured it out they quickly put the brakes on it, and everyone loses the great deal. The Jews were worried they are about to lose their exemption because these Christians need one too, and the last thing they want to do is be associated with the Christians. The Christians were being accused of taking the body of blood of Christ literally at their love feasts—cannibals and orgies—“free love”, they were accused of hating their families because they called each other brothers and sisters. The slander reigned down from all sectors.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, oldest daughter of Teddy Roosevelt remarked, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” Slander is pretty normal on the political circuit, or junior high lunch room, and it can be targeted at almost anyone. Famous preacher Charles Spurgeon and his wife, according to a story in the Chaplain Magazine, had a number of chickens that produced quite a number of eggs. Continue reading “Church Shopping- Smyrna’s Slander”

Church Shopping–Smyrna’s Poverty

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(Give each person a penny!) In your bulletin or when you came in you should have found a penny taped to your paper. Don’t say I never gave you anything and don’t spend it all in one place. You may be upset that you only got a penny; they are normally ignored, left on the cashier’s counter, walked pass unless head’s up. Even the government isn’t sure they should still be making the penny—it costs two cents to make one cent—lacking all common sense. With your penny in hand, I want to take you back to an experience that maybe is years in your past, maybe more recent, where a penny became so much more than a piece of diluted metal—when your kids or grandkids begged you for a penny. I’m talking about those machines out there that actual are breaking state law—where a penny is deface in the most captivating way—gears and gadgets all visible to the naked eye…a penny goes in and a crushed collectable keepsake comes out of the machine. Whoever thought that idea up is a genius, if you remember, it only costs a dollar to crush your penny.

I bet you didn’t know it but today as we open our Bibles to continue in our sermon series through the opening chapters of Revelation called Church Shopping, and come to the 2nd letter to the 2nd church—known as Smyrna—you are holding in your possession and a crushed collectable keepsake that has the power to change how you see the world and offers us relevant good sense.

Last week we were able to see Jesus standing with the churches rather than abandoning Ephesus to idol worship and the emperor cult, and this morning we dig into Jesus letter to the church at Smyrna. As John penned the letter, Smyrna had a long up and down history, really a city of life and death. In 600 B.C. it was a destroyed and conquered, the city left in rubble and desolation, but Alexander the Great in a dream envisioned the city restored to its splendor and helped build it into one of the greatest port cities of all time. It was a city that had experienced death and resurrection and so listens to how Christ begins in Revelation 2:8-9- “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions…Those afflictions known to Christ is usually translated as tribulations which we use all the time, but actually referred to a form of torture where someone would be laid out on the rack, stretched out, and weights would be lowered down one after another after another, until the weight would crush the persons chest leaving them unable to breath.

Like the penny in the imprinting penny machine, the Christians in Smyrna were being crushed by weights that must have left them nearly unable to catch their breath—and Christ wrote to them with a message of endurance taking on each weight resting upon their lungs beginning with:

Poverty (Revelation 9:2) I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!Jesus starts off this letter to Smyrna the same way he did to Ephesus: I know—Jesus isn’t far from the church, but functionally involved in the church, but how in the world can Christ call them rich in the midst of their utter poverty? They were so poor that they couldn’t’ even get into the lucrative business of death. The city of Smyrna was famous for their production of myrrh—a resin that Smyrna sold to Egypt for their embalming of mummies, which was used throughout the Bible as a perfume to prepare bodies. Despite Smyrna’s exclusive right to sell myrrh, Christians faced a familiar problem, they were unable to join a guild, union, or start a business all because they were thrown aside when they refused to bow down and worship the emperor as God. For their efforts, they were marked, marked like the Jews with the Star of David in Hitler’s Germany, marked with poverty.

The people living on Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia were marked by poverty. Continue reading “Church Shopping–Smyrna’s Poverty”