I'm a wife. I'm a mother. I'm a step-mom. I spend most of my time grumbling and/or doing laundry. I love to read, talk, garden and vacuum. I don't have an opinion on everything but I can form one in about thirty seconds.
Write this to Sardis, to the Angel of the church. The One holding the Seven Spirits of God in one hand, a firm grip on the Seven Stars with the other, speaks:“I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead.“Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God.
The church at Sardis seems awfully familiar, doesn't it? They have a reputation for vigor but they are 'stone-dead'. I've been to a few of these churches. The biggest problem is that most of the people who attend a church like this have no idea that they are dead. And you know why they don't know? Because they are so stinkin' busy. They are working themselves to a nub. They can rattle off a list of serving projects a mile long. Their Facebook statuses make us all feel like inferior church ladies. The next time you encounter such a person, try giving them a bit of mercy. Think how hard it is to do all that work for nothing. I know that sounds harsh and maybe you are judging me a bit for my finger wagging at the church in general through these past few weeks. I need mercy too, ya'll. Every stinking day. But I cannot hide from the fact that these few chapters in the book of Revelation are the ONLY words we get straight from Jesus about His churches. And you have to agree with me that the similarities to our modern church problems are pretty striking. You think Jesus didn't know that we would work ourselves into a lather about the Hawaiian themed potluck? Or the Easter - palooza? Of course he did. And you know what? If God is glorified and His love is multiplied and given freely at those events, then Hallelujah! Keep pressing on. But if every event your church attempts only creates division, martyrs, whiners and pouters, then it might be time to 'grasp it again and turn back'.
As always, the best part of this directive is that we all get a 'do-over'. Jesus says their condition is 'desperate'. But "Maybe there's life in you yet." Turn back is one of the most precious commands in all of scripture. It works as well for the housewife as it does for the thief or the scoundrel.
“If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I’ll return when you least expect it, break into your life like a thief in the night. “You still have a few followers of Jesus in Sardis who haven’t ruined themselves wallowing in the muck of the world’s ways. They’ll walk with me on parade! They’ve proved their worth!
This is a pretty descriptive paragraph. Look at the wording here. A few followers at Sardis have proved their worth. And look how they did it. By not wallowing in the muck of the world's ways. Wallowing is a great word. If you think about sin being a mud puddle, I think there is a reasonable expectation that even the best of us might get dirty from time to time. You accidentally step in it. You fall headfirst into it. Perhaps some one jumps into it and you get dirty just being in the same area. But Jesus says that those who have ruined themselves have done so by wallowing in the world's muck. That's akin to lying down in the mud puddle and making sure you are fully immersed in the filth.
Last week we talked about how Jesus sees everything that is being done in the church. And in the case of the church at Thyatira, he was impressed. But there are some things going on in this church that Jesus ain't happy about.
“But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion? I gave her a chance to change her ways, but she has no intention of giving up a career in the god-business. I’m about to lay her low, along with her partners, as they play their sex-and-religion games. The bastard offspring of their idol-whoring I’ll kill. Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me. I x-ray every motive and make sure you get what’s coming to you.
When people talk about the book of Revelation being 'scary', they are generally talking about the stuff we will read much later. But this is the scary part right here. If this passage doesn't scare the tinklies outta you, you might need to read it again.
How about this part?
Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me.
I am about to start cross stitching that verse on pillows for every dang preacher in America. Try to remember this. Jesus is not impressed with your building program. He is not impressed with your new sanctuary which doubles as a skate park. He is not impressed with your 52 ft statue. But just a few verses ago, Jesus told us what impresses him.
I see everything you’re doing for me. Impressive! The love and the faith, the service and persistence. Yes, very impressive! You get better at it every day.
Jesus makes it simple. We make it hard.
“The rest of you Thyatirans, who have nothing to do with this outrage, who scorn this playing around with the Devil that gets paraded as profundity, be assured I’ll not make life any harder for you than it already is. Hold on to the truth you have until I get there.
I think I can simplify this a bit. Jesus is really upset with some of the believers in Thayatira. They have turned God into a business and a career. They 'play around with the Devil' and pretend the whole deal makes them smarter than the rest of us. Here's an easy way to tell if a preacher or church is doing this today. If they agree with all the good stuff in the bible but dismiss anything that speaks of judgement then they are playing around with the devil. Likewise if they make up arbitrary rules for behavior that have no biblical foundation but are based upon the notion that something 'doesn't look right', then they too are probably playing with the devil.
I know this is not a popular topic. But it's pretty important. People assume that satanic activity will include Ozzy Osbourne music, black clothes and a cauldron of some sort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Satan was an angel. The most beautiful of all the angels. Wanna know the best sign that satan is influencing a person or place?
"Did God really say...?"
As soon as you hear something like this, it's time to pack up the mini van and find another church. That doesn't mean that honest study and discussion of the Bible will not lead to differences of interpretation. But if you worship with people who are continually saying that large parts of the Bible are not true or cannot apply to the modern world, then stay if you want to, but remeber who you are playing with.
Here is my non-fiction for the month of March. I am only one month behind which is pretty awesome considering my track record with these kinds of resolutions.
Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayer. Cheryl loses her mother and kinda goes nuts. She is young and married. The grief consumes her and sends her into drug use, divorce, and lots of ill advised relationships with bad men. I am not suggesting that grief over a lost loved one is an excuse for this type of behavior. But, honestly, I can't imagine life without my mom so I am giving Cheryl a pass here. Mom loss just has to be different and I have no intention of judging her grief process.
Cheryl decides to save herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She doesn't know a whole lot about hiking so she doesn't have an easy time of it.
If Cheryl had made this hike last year and written a book about it, I would have hated it. I am over the stunt book. But she hiked the PCT in the early 90's. So it's pretty evident she never intended to make the trip just to write a book about it.
Write this to Thyatira, to the Angel of the church. God’s Son, eyes pouring fire-blaze, standing on feet of furnace-fired bronze, says this: “I see everything you’re doing for me. Impressive! The love and the faith, the service and persistence. Yes, very impressive! You get better at it every day. Revelation 2:18-19
Jesus sees everything you are doing for him.
I am preaching to myself here. A few weeks ago, I was organizing my curriculum for my 2-3 year old class. I decided to do all of it at one time and just be completely set for the next 12 weeks. Our class has almost tripled in size in the last two years. That means that instead of 20 total packets to put together each week, we now do almost 60. And so I embarked on that task first thing one Friday morning. By 8PM that night, every flat surface of my kitchen and dining room was covered in preschool Bible lessons. It was so overwhelming to behold that I took a picture of it. My plan was to post it on Facebook. But then I began to realize that the only reason I would post such a photo was to get some sympathy and recognition from my friends. You see, very few people are aware of the work I do to coordinate that class each week. Ya'll...I make it look too dang easy!!! I just wanted someone to see that work and acknowledge it. I wanted to glorify the work instead of the God for whom I was working. And that was wrong.
All too often, I forget why I serve. I'm not sure how it happens. I know better. Every week when I glue cotton balls on cardboard clouds I do so with one purpose. I want to lay a foundation for Christ in the lives of those children. Not one of those kids in my class is going to become a baptized believer while under my care. But I fully believe that the word of God has power and that power is as available to a 2 year old child as it is to an adult.
Are you slaving away at some minstry nobody notices? Are you currently resisting a call to serve in a place that doesn't seem 'big' enough? Maybe it's time to accept that God is calling you to something...smaller. Jesus is telling us here that he sees everything. Let's start believing that.
Write this to Pergamum, to the Angel of the church. The One with the sharp-biting sword draws from the sheath of his mouth—out come the sword words: “I see where you live, right under the shadow of Satan’s throne. But you continue boldly in my Name; you never once denied my Name, even when the pressure was worst, when they martyred Antipas, my witness who stayed faithful to me on Satan’s turf. Revelation 2:12-13
Ya'll, how can you not love the Message translation? 'Satan's turf'? The NIV says 'where Satan lives'. And, sure, both of those phrases mean the same thing. But I think the word 'turf' give a much better impression. To me it better illustrates what a punk Satan is. That's right. I said it. And don't you just feel like we are on Satan's turf most of the time? Be careful with the analagy though. Satan may live here and this may be his turf but he is not in control.
“But why do you indulge that Balaam crowd? Don’t you remember that Balaam was an enemy agent, seducing Balak and sabotaging Israel’s holy pilgrimage by throwing unholy parties? And why do you put up with the Nicolaitans, who do the same thing? If you have never heard of Balaam, let me make a long story short. Balaam was a prophet. God spoke to him but Balaam wasn't exactly keen on delivering the unpopular message he had received Also he had a talking donkey.
So Jesus is trying to encourage the church at Pergamum. He knows they are trying hard in a bad place. But this Balaam crowd? These unholy parties? This Nicolaitian business?
Jesus ain't having it.
“Enough! Don’t give in to them; I’ll be with you soon. I’m fed up and about to cut them to pieces with my sword-sharp words.
People love to talk about Jesus like he was a sweet organic farmer. He is just love and goodness and blah, blah, blah. And you know what? Jesus is love and goodness and I assume he has no problems with pesticide free agriculture. But the imagery of His words as a sword is no accident.
“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the sacred manna to every conqueror; I’ll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.” Revelation 2:17
Any ideas on this secret name? Because I have no notion what this deal is about.
Did you ever watch that show? It aired on the style network for 3 or 4 seasons. Ruby weighed over 700 pounds. She lost a massive amount of weight over a three year period and was down to around 370 during the last season. The show did a lot of things right (in my humble opinion). They tried to address the psychological root of obesity with as much (or more) vigor as they did the physical causes. In some ways, the show was the complete opposite of The Biggest Loser. But the end result was the same. Ruby began regaining weight. And she tried to hide it but eventually the producers figured it out and cancelled the show. Fast forward two years. Ruby now has a Facebook page and is using Visalus weight loss shakes. She is down 20 pounds lower than her lowest weight from the tv show. If you were a gambler, how much would you bet on Ruby maintaining this success?
Let me say this. I love Ruby (as much as you can love someone you have never met.) All her struggles break me into pieces because I have walked that same road. (Right down to those stinkin Visalus shakes.) I want her to succeed. I want me to succeed. But what good is success if it can't be maintained? I am not trying to be cynical here. I am crazy desperate for an answer.
Having gained after a big weight loss something like 8 times, I feel Ruby's pain. And all the others who are in this big fat boat with me. Because you as a thin person just cannot understand. You can't imagine why we didn't respond to all that positive feedback you gave us. Didn't you compliment our new wardrobe? Didn't you applaud our motivation to eat nothing at every celebration for months? Weeks? Years? How could we possibly get fat again?
Good Lord, I wish I knew the answer.
Seeing someone for the first time after a regain is the worst. The look in their eyes. The way they seem ashamed for you. It just assaults your soul. You want to tell them how it happened. You want to explain that you never intended to be back in these fat pants. But you know they won't believe you. So you smile. You make a joke. You pretend. And you promise yourself that the next time...
Because that's all we have.
The next time.
Write this to Smyrna, to the Angel of the church. The Beginning and Ending, the First and Final One, the Once Dead and Then Come Alive, speaks: “I can see your pain and poverty—constant pain, dire poverty—but I also see your wealth. And I hear the lie in the claims of those who pretend to be good Jews, who in fact belong to Satan’s crowd. “Fear nothing in the things you’re about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won’t last forever. Revelation 2:8-10
It's pretty clear what's happening so we don't have to wrestle with this text to understand it. The church at Smyrna is suffering...and they are gonna keep on suffering for ten days. (I am assuming this is ten years just based on normal bible prophecy stuff. Days usually equal years. I don't know why. Let's just go with it.)
“Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you.
If you live in a world where Jesus only desires your happiness, this passage is about to ruin your day. The believers in Smyrna lived in constant pain and dire poverty. And Jesus is ok with it. In fact, He tells them to keep going even if it kills them!
This is hard for modern believers, isn't it?
Jesus loves us, right?
And if you love someone, you never want them to suffer, right?
Sometimes (maybe even often) suffering is necessary.
The devil is about to do some damage to the church is Smyrna. Do Not miss this. Jesus knows about it beforehand. And He is going to let it happen. Not because He is mean and wants His followers to suffer for no good reason. Suffering creates strength. And the believers at Smyrna are going to need that strength.
A few of these pictures are from the Gateway Arch in St Louis. When I was growing up, my family travelled to Denver, Colorado often. It was a two day car trip. One of the things I remember about all those trips is my dad pointing out the Arch. Every time, he would say "You know, you can go up inside that thing and look out the very top."
So thirty years later, I took my kids inside that thing and we looked out the very top. It was worth the wait.
“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle. Revelation 2:5
God always has an easy answer. To the Ephesians who had lost their 'first love', He says "Turn back!" (I love that there is an exclamation mark. Who knew punctuation could be so inspiring?) This simple advice is the same basic message God has been giving His people since forever. "Turn back!" I think the simplicity is why we so often screw it up. We want it to be harder. We are so scared of grace that we cannot accept it. Not to step on any toes here but I think this is an area of Catholicism that is appealing to most people. Confess to a priest. Do the 'penance' they require and then be done with it. But look ya'll. You can say Hail Marys until your face falls off and you still won't be right with God. Just accept the fact that you screwed up again and stop. Then try again and hopefully leave out the screwing up part. Repeat for the rest of your stinkin' life.
“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too. Revelation 2:6
What the what?!?!? I normally like to let scripture speak for itself but this deal required a bit of research. I was actually surprised that even Google could not give me a really definitive answer. (There were 22, 150 results though which,from what I can gather, are just a bunch of bloggers pretending they know.) The best I can deduce is that the Nicolaitians were a group guilty of idolatry and fornication. There is not a lot of agreement about this. But the other theories I read were wildly divergent and quite frankly, a little bit goofy. Feel free to research this on your own but consider yourself warned. 75% of what is written out there is pure drivel. Apply your most jaundiced eye to anyone who claims that their interpretation is the only 'true' answer. For my purpose here, I am not so much interested in what the Nicolaitians did but in how Jesus reacts to it.
Do you think Jesus is just a 'big picture' kinda God? Have you deceived yourself into believing that he doesn't concern himself with your 'business'?
Do you have some business going on at your church? Your workplace? Your home? Of course you do. We all do. Jesus knows all about it and, even better (or worse depending), is that He knows how you feel about it. You know, your real reaction to things. Not that fake smile that we plaster on so nobody gets their feelings hurt.
Don't miss the important part here. Jesus hates the 'business'. He doesn't hate the Nicolaitians.
Can we talk about regaining for a bit? I haven't lost enough weight yet to regain any. It's just something I need to address.
I can't watch "The Biggest Loser" anymore. I used to love that show. It shamed and inspired me. An odd combination to be sure but I loved it. After a few seasons though, I started to feel as if it perpetuated every myth people believe about the obese. Because the show basically proved that if you just got your fat butt off the couch and exercised for three hours a day and ate Jennie O lean turkey meat, you too could lose 127 pounds in just 12 weeks. Right? And clearly those fatties really needed a trainer to yell at them until they cried. You gotta break 'em to build 'em. Amirite? And even though they talked incessantly about good nutrition, that never stopped them from having a challenge to see how many doughnuts the contestants would eat for a certain reward. And then (my favorite part) the trainers get to berate whichever poor soul actually did eat the doughnuts. "How could you?" they would shriek. Just once, I wanted one of the contestants to shake that doughnut in someone's face and shout "How could YOU!?!?"
As the seasons began to pass, something happened. One by one, past contestants started to regain the weight. Now this, in itself, is no big surprise. A huge percentage of people who lose lots of weight do regain it. You can't actually blame that on the tv show.
Then the 2006 winner, Erik Chopin, went public with his own weight gain. The winner. The guy who saw all the medical evidence about how his weight was killing him. The guy who bounded up to the big scale in his official Biggest Loser tank top and compression shorts while confetti rained down on him and his wife cried happy tears in the audience. That guy gained it all back. He owned a deli in the town where he lived. How often,as he was regaining, do you think people came in and just stared? Whispered behind his back? Made concerned phone calls to his wife or mom? Flat out asked him in front of God and everybody? How much shame do you think Erik endured every day? And then, when the show called to do a 'Where are they now?" feature, he did something crazy. He answered the dang phone! That's the bravest thing I have ever heard. If that had been me, I would have moved to another country and changed my name to Wutang Margarita Smith.
You know why Erik ansered the phone? Beacuse he was desperate. And desperation almost always trumps shame.
I don't blame the tv show for Erik's weight problems. (Ok, I blame them a little bit.) Mostly I blame a weight loss mindset that never addresses addiction. And by that I do not mean "Well you are addicted to food so I guess you will be obese permanently and die young." What I long for is that someone would get real and say "You are always going to struggle with food. Every day of your life is going to be a balance between freedom and dependence. And twelve weeks on a ranch is just the tip of this gluttony iceberg."
In case you think I am unfairly singling out this one show, next week we will talk about Ruby.