Friday, September 13, 2019

Letter to Leaders: Sardis (Rev. 3)

"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  (Rev. 2: 29)

This quote is the most significant counsel we can receive as followers of Christ and those of us who lead the Body. Jesus is the Head and we follow Him.

Jesus' economy is different from the world's.  

The world says numbers mean success:  a movie with a huge opening weekend; a man with millions or billions; a company that explodes and garners the market.  In our capitalist system, money equals the dream of having made it; of being admired; of being in control and having access to all the world offers.

But Jesus talks about counting the cost of following Him; losing your life to find it; being meek and inheriting the earth (not buying it); denying self; carrying a cross; having faith like a child and going through the narrow gate, as opposed to taking the wide road.

Totally opposite of what the world would say.  Yet, today, we have megachurches with big everything:  celebrity preachers; powerfully influential worship bands; millions and millions of dollars spent on buildings, programs, jets, houses, and a lifestyle that would be hard to distinguish from Park Avenue residents.

All in Jesus' name.


When you go deeper into Revelation, you will find the city whose values are luxury, conspicuous consumption and adultery:  Babylon.  Yes, adultery.  Literal, to be sure, but when God's people lust, unite and live out the world's values, they are committing spiritual adultery.  Back in the Old Testament, we read:

"Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves..." (Gen. 11:4)  

Arrogance, self-sufficiency and pride runs through this quote:  It's not about God, it's about us.  Our city is gonna be amazing.  People will come from miles around and marvel at what we have done.  We will get the honor and the glory.  All our admirers will think about, as they walk around, is our greatness. Our values get stuff done, buildings built, and something for everybody.  No commitment, no humility...just a sense that as you walk in, you are part of something BIG.  Yup.  That's gonna be our sign right outside the city gates:  WELCOME TO BIG.

Sound familiar?  I wish this only applied to secular America. 

Our next church is Sardis:  "These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev. 3:1-6)

Wow.  I find the word "reputation" significant here.  That's what people know about us.  So, people know of Sardis' reputation of "being alive."  How so?  What's the evidence?  Amazing services?  Amazing preaching?  Friendly folk?  But the reality doesn't fit the reputation.  All of the externals point to life in this church, but Jesus is looking deep in the heart of the people there, of the leaders there, and sadly, He finds a moribund church.

If we walked into this church today, with a worldly measuring stick of success, we too might find Sardis a happening church. In fact, its very reputation might be the draw; who doesn't want to go to a church where it's all about an experience?  A previous church I attended renamed the Sunday service, "the Sunday experience."  Yup.  That puts Sunday squarely in my lap: if I have a good experience, then it was a good service.  If I don't, then it wasn't and the church needs to know about that.  Nothing about what I bring to God; nothing about serving Him (serving the church, yes) and nothing about a humble offering of adoration and praise.

Solution?  "Wake up!"  Do the work God has called the leaders to do and do it.  No rocket science here.  Focus on the foundation:  what you have heard and received from Jesus and the Word of God.  Jesus is the Word of God and the only foundation that can sustain His Body here on earth. No big productions, stories, video clips, props and anecdotes have the power to bring forth faith.  Just preach the Word: 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:14-17) 

No story, production or awesome worship band will bring someone to a deeper relationship.  It will be an experience, but we stand on Him, not good feelings.

How do you grow a church?  Preach His Word.  Walk in His righteousness alone, for He is enough:

"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (1 Cor. 1: 26-31) 

Jesus' economy is based on Him and our humble acceptance of what He did for us.  

Wake up American churches! 

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