Revelation 3:1-6 – Remember, Hold On, and Change

Ruins in the ancient city of Sardis (present day Sart, Turkey)

Write this to the angel of the church in Sardis:

These are the words of the one who holds God’s seven spirits and the seven stars: I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, and you are in fact dead. Wake up and strengthen whatever you have left, teetering on the brink of death, for I’ve found that your works are far from complete in the eyes of my God. So, remember what you received and heard. Hold on to it and change your hearts and lives. If you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I will come upon you. But you do have a few people in Sardis who haven’t stained their clothing. They will walk with me clothed in white because they are worthy. Those who emerge victorious will wear white clothing like this. I won’t scratch out their names from the scroll of life but will declare their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Common English Bible)

Many Christians reflexively think of good old Apostle Paul when it comes to biblical epistles (letters) to churches. Yet, contained within the first three chapters of Revelation are seven succinct letters to seven different churches. These letters are short and packed with a punch – and they don’t come from Paul.

What makes these short bursts of exhortation so powerful is that they come from Jesus himself. Yes, that Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. So, it seems to me that Christ’s observations about the church ought to carry more weight than anybody else’s thoughts.  

Christ was concerned about how far the church was from completing the work of God. So, he gave a pointed admonition, almost like a parent trying to awaken a teenager in the morning. “Wake up!” said Jesus because he found the church’s obedience incomplete and lacking strength. If this were the Apostle Paul talking, he would likely have framed it this way: “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Our Lord went directly to the heart of the church’s life… and it’s death. The stark reality is that these statements from Jesus remain penetrating and relevant for today’s church.

So, what is to be done about the situation of spiritual deadness in the church? 

Jesus did not leave the church hanging but in a few compact words let them know exactly what they are to do to remedy their spiritual malady: Remember. Hold on. Change. Keep the memory of sound instruction alive, always adjusting the life of the church to it. The Christian term for this is “repentance.”

Sometimes, if not many times, we may tend to forget the things we need to remember and remember the things we must forget. We are to follow God in a pattern of remembering and forgetting. God has said:

I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done. (Isaiah 43:25, CEV)

I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. (Jeremiah 31:34, CEB)

I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done. (Hebrews 10:17, ERV)

Concerning those who have wronged us, we are to emulate God’s grace, mercy, and kindness through forgiveness. To “forget” does not mean performing a personal lobotomy but simply not to hold an offense against another by continually bringing it to mind. On the other hand, God remembers divine promises made to people. Likewise, we are to constantly bear in mind what God has put before us to remember:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NRSV)

We need an abiding remembrance of the Lord Jesus, the very person who spoke to the church hundreds of years ago. It is in those times when we become distressed that we must center our memory on Christ:

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

Remembering Jesus Christ sets us on the path to fulfilling the work of God and completing that which has been given us to do. This is precisely why I choose to follow the Christian Year and remember time by having it centered around the life and ministry of Jesus.

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Timothy 2:8, GW)

I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NLT)

Let us remember together in prayer:

Awesome Lord Jesus, your words penetrate to the core my being. Strengthen me by the continuing presence of yourself through the Holy Spirit so that my every thought, word, and deed is done in your holy Name. Kindle in my heart a vision of your love and shine the light of your victory over sin, death, and hell over this dark world. Continually take me to yourself. Keep me in your wounds and mindful of your presence so that I shall fulfill all the will of God for my life through your divine enablement. Amen.

Psalm 128 – Obey and Enjoy Happiness

Around Your Table by Melani Pyke

Happy are those who respect the Lord and obey him.
You will enjoy what you work for,
    and you will be blessed with good things.
Your wife will give you many children,
    like a vine that produces much fruit.
Your children will bring you much good,
    like olive branches that produce many olives.
This is how the one who respects the Lord
    will be blessed.
May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion;
    may you enjoy the good things of Jerusalem all your life.
May you see your grandchildren.

Let there be peace in Israel. (New Century Version)

Obedience and blessing go together like a hand in a glove. Holy Scripture consistently connects the call to obey the Lord with blessing from G-d. Indeed, in carefully observing wise and biblical instruction, one will typically enjoy divine favor and approval.

Keep in mind, however, this is not a math equation. Like 2+2=4 there are folks who expect a neat linear connection between their obedience and their blessing. In math theology, when a woman is unable to have children, or a child goes astray from their heritage, the parent concludes that they themselves must have been unfaithful to G-d’s law or are being punished. Conversely, with children who grow to be good citizens and respectful persons, the parents might conclude it was because of their superior observance to the spiritual life.

In both cases, parents take too much credit, either for a child’s wandering or success. As for kids going astray, even G-d had prodigal children, so cut ourselves some slack. As for children who maintain faithfulness, a lot of factors went into who they are. I suppose it is only natural to quickly assume we have far more control of than we really do.

This all cuts to the heart of biblical interpretation. If all Scripture is read literally, then we will likely see the Bible as a math equation where doing and saying the right things gets a predictable result of blessing. Yet, this mistakenly views promise and proverb as the same thing, and divine work with one person or group will be precisely the same for another. The wisdom literature of Scripture, which includes the psalms, were never designed as prescriptive decree but rather as the sage approach for work, worship, and family.

“Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today’s psalm communicates the path of happiness coming through love and respect for G-d. It neither promises lots of kids, ensures money, nor guarantees smooth sailing. Rather, when one lives each day being cognizant and observant to center everything around the divine, then blessing and happiness will tend to follow.

Blessings and benedictions are given to sustain us in hope and confidence. The best things in life usually come through faith and family. So, when we choose to walk with G-d and travel down the ethical road, then life becomes full of peace and prosperity – perhaps not always in the manner we expect, yet blessing, nonetheless.

Humanity is hard-wired for blessing, for a steady diet of encouragement, acceptance, and approval from G-d and others. When this is withheld from us, unhappiness, even despair begins to settle. Giving and receiving blessing is at the heart of being fully human and alive. Our work and family life will likely be miserable if blessing is absent. Yet, with blessing, we have a sustainable form of happiness and enjoyment.

Most every good thing in life is obtained through a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Obedience is no easy task. It typically requires courage and is complicated in its application to life situations. Here are a few ways to maintain an obedient life to G-d:

  • Devote yourself to the daily reading of Scripture. One cannot obey that which is neither known nor remembered. A steady regimen of good old fashioned Bible reading is the best way to refresh the mind and incline the heart toward biblical commands. (Psalm 119:57-64)
  • Pray to listen and pay attention. There is more to prayer than petitions and praise. We must also practice silence and solitude so that we can give focused attention to hearing G-d, thus, obeying the Spirit. (Jeremiah 7:21-26)
  • Practice repentance. Being aware of our guilt and shame, acknowledging it, and naming it before G-d is the path of change – keeping us on the narrow road of obedience. (1 John 1:5-10)
  • Take the long view. Not all obedience is rewarded in this life but in the life to come. Perseverance and patience is needed to sustain obedience over the long haul of life. And, in the end, there are heavenly blessings awaiting us. (Hebrews 11:36-12:3)

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed, guide, strengthen, and bless us through your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

James 1:17-27 – Be Good because God Is Good

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (New International Version)

God is Good – All the Time

And all the time – God is good. That statement is a bedrock foundation for Christian faith. Without a basic affirmation and belief of God’s goodness, our faith will experience cracks and not stand the test of hardship and difficulty in life. Without the steadfast conviction that God is good, the alternative is that God is somehow fickle or even mean – that God does not care about my problems.

The trials and tribulations of life are intended by God to be watershed experiences that prove the genuineness, or lack thereof, of our faith. When life is good, it is easy to say God is good. However, when it isn’t, we may slide into a belief system that thinks God is the source of our trouble. And if we have not been working on a relationship with God, we will have scant resources to draw from to help us.

God is good, and not mean. Every single good gift there is in this world comes from God. Nothing evil comes from God. God’s grace is constantly around us. If his grace were not here, it would be like living inside a dystopian novel, or a zombie apocalypse, where everyone is constantly looking over their shoulders for the next evil thing to happen. Although evil exists, it could be a whole lot worse if it were not for divine grace and goodness.

“This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

Martin Luther

God is immutable, that is, God’s goodness is ever-present. On this earth we are constantly subjected to changing light as the sun rises and sets, and as the clouds come and go. Yet, God does not change like shifting shadows. God is not fickle or capricious. God’s goodness is always at high noon, standing like an eternal sun in a bright blue sky radiating unbroken grace to us.

God’s goodness has delivered people from sin, death, and hell. God’s grace has given us new life. God created the world and pronounced it “good.” God formed you and called you “good.” And God has forgiven you, in Christ, and says it is “good.”

God gave us a good word for us to accept and live by.

Hurry Up and Listen

There is a great need for listeners today. Precious little productive communication takes place because there are so many people in a hyper-vigilant state airing their opinions. They talk over and on top of each other because they’ve already made-up their minds about how things really are and what should be done. Nobody is listening.

Bible reading is a primary source for listening to God. Yet, although many people own multiple Bibles, and Scripture is freely available through digital sources, far too many persons simply don’t read and listen to it.

Slow Down and Speak

God has given us two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk.   

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

A loose tongue and constant opining happens because of faulty listening.  An inability to listen leads to a lack of understanding because we do not take the time to get the whole story. It’s easy to pronounce verdicts with little information, and offer bad advice, when there is little listening.

Have a Long Fuse

Be slow to anger. A fool speaks without thinking, which stirs up strife. Slow to listen and quick to speak leads to anger flares. An angry spirit is an unteachable spirit, unwilling to listen to both God and others. 

Rash words said in anger produce an ugly unrighteous life. Selfish opinionated anger produces harsh bitter words and kills God’s plan for a good life.

We are to accept the Word of God. Throwing labels at people only de-humanizes them. They become objects of anger and scorn, and not people made in God’s image. Nothing good comes from ignoring God’s Word and giving-in to bitterness. It destroys good people.

Get Rid of Evil

Get rid of all moral filth, and the evil that is so prevalent. The unwillingness to listen, a loose tongue, and unrighteous anger are moral evils. Evil is not only perpetuated by serial killers, terrorists, and other people different from us. In fact, the face of evil rarely comes to us in the form of red horns and a pitchfork.

Evil also resides as soft-core wickedness – common ordinary evil. The demonic can work in an almost ho-hum manner, subtly questioning whether anyone can really live up to the precepts of God’s Word, and generally undermining all that takes place to the glory of God.

The face of evil is neither hot nor cold, but “meh.” It is the bitter slow-cooked seething anger bubbling just underneath the surface which comes out in a plastic smile while offering up a morsel of slander based on a lack of listening well. It comes out in fake gestures of niceness while being quick to make judgments with little to no information.

Put away the “meh.” Receive God’s Word. Take a teachable posture. Stop and listen to what God’s Word has to say.

Be a Doer of God’s Word, Not Just a Hearer

The Word of God is not truly received until it is put into practice. 

It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Romans 2:13, NRSV) 

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28, NIV). 

The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears. He cannot stand because he has no feet.  He cannot do anything because he has no hands. Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes. And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.

Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing.  Profession of faith means nothing without a practice of that faith; learning the Bible is useless without living it; and acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up.  Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives. 

Pay Attention to the Person in the Mirror

A person looks at himself in the mirror. He clearly sees all his flaws. Yet he does not respond, likely because he doesn’t like what he sees. It’s silly to look into a mirror, see a major bedhead, and just do nothing about it and go to work as if everything were fine. We look. We examine. We hear. We see exactly who we are. And we can’t even identify ourselves in a police lineup.

The person forgets what he looks like because he does not really want to face himself. This isn’t a clueless guy. It is one who sees himself as he really is and chooses not to do anything about it.

Forgetfulness happens because of inaction. Remembrance, communion, and hope all occur through active participation. God blesses the one who looks hard into the mirror of God’s Word, then intentionally makes changes based on what he finds.

Obedience to God’s Word brings freedom, not bondage. Listening, seeing, adjusting, and changing is a freeing activity. That’s because it’s how we are designed to live.

Holy and good God, give me grace to see you, others, and myself clearly so that I will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 – Faithfulness Matters

The Philistines fought against Israel in a battle at Mount Gilboa. Israel’s soldiers ran from the Philistines, and many of them were killed. The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons and killed three of them: Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. The fighting was fierce around Saul, and he was gravely wounded by enemy arrows.

Saul told the soldier who carried his weapons, “Kill me with your sword! I don’t want those godless Philistines to torture and make fun of me.”

But the soldier was afraid to kill him. Then Saul stuck himself in the stomach with his own sword and fell on the blade. When the soldier realized that Saul was dead, he killed himself in the same way.

Saul, three of his sons, and all his male relatives were dead. The Israelites who lived in Jezreel Valley learned that their army had run away, and that Saul and his sons were dead. They ran away too, and the Philistines moved into the towns the Israelites left behind.

The next day the Philistines came back to the battlefield to carry away the weapons of the dead Israelite soldiers. When they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa, they took Saul’s weapons, pulled off his armor, and cut off his head. Then they sent messengers everywhere in Philistia to spread the news among their people and to thank the idols of their gods. They put Saul’s armor in the temple of their gods and hung his head in the temple of their god Dagon.

When the people who lived in Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, some brave men went to get his body and the bodies of his three sons. The men brought the bodies back to Jabesh, where they buried them under an oak tree. Then for seven days, they went without eating to show their sorrow.

Saul died because he was unfaithful and disobeyed the Lord. He even asked advice from a woman who talked to spirits of the dead, instead of asking the Lord. So, the Lord had Saul killed and gave his kingdom to David, the son of Jesse. (Contemporary English Version)

The books of Samuel and Chronicles contain similar content and material concerning the kings of Israel and Judah. Yet, whereas 1 & 2 Samuel gives a more straightforward narrative, 1 & 2 Chronicles often provides the narrative with explanatory comments. 

We have such a story in today’s Old Testament lesson. The last chapter of 1 Samuel gives an account of King Saul’s death, along with his sons. However, in 1 Chronicles 10, we get the narration of their deaths along with a clear concise note on why King Saul perished in battle:

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord and hadn’t followed the Lord’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance. He didn’t consult the Lord, so the Lord killed him and gave the kingdom to David, Jesse’s son. (1 Chronicles 10:14, CEB)

The original compiler of Chronicles did so for the Jewish exiles who were returning to Palestine. He did not want to simply recount the important stories of the kings of Israel; he wanted the exiles to know exactly why they went into exile to begin with, and how in the future they could keep it from happening again. So, Saul served as Exhibit A of the kind of person that erodes the true worship of God and lives against the grain of faithfulness to the Lord.

The true measure of a godly person is not in titles, positions, or membership. The real test of a faithful person is obedience to, and observance of, the revealed will of God contained in Holy Scripture. Thus, to read it, know it, and live it is one of the highest callings as God’s people.

Faith in the Bible is a complete trust in who God is and what God has done. The Lord shows faithfulness through steadfast love, gifting people with faith to obey, and remaining true to divine promises for humanity.

In the New Testament, the height of faith is to place one’s life completely in God’s hands, believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith involves both information and action.

For example, the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower regions of Michigan, is an imposing structure. It’s the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere at 26,372 feet. At its mid-point, the bridge’s roadway towers 200 feet above the Mackinac Straight.

The wind on the bridge can be punishing. In 1989, a woman died when her small car flew over the 3-foot-high railing and plunged into the water due to an excessively high gust of wind. I have crossed the bridge many times. Sometimes the bridge is open to road traffic, and sometimes not, due to the wind conditions. The bridge authorities even have a protocol about how to cross the bridge when it is windy but not excessively so (driving beside a truck).

This is all important and necessary information for crossing the Mackinac Bridge. Yet, knowledge alone is not enough. At some point, one needs to actually drive across the bridge. Information must lead to action. I couldn’t just cross the Straight between the two regions of Michigan at any point along the land with a blind faith that believes I’ll make it to the other side. I needed some knowledge. Then, I needed the courage to act on that knowledge.

The person who is scared crossing the bridge, and the person who thinks nothing of it, both make it to the other side. It isn’t the amount of faith that is important; it’s in what (or who) that faith is placed. Faith in the Bible is having some important and useful information about God, then putting that knowledge into action with a trust and commitment that you’ll make it to the other side.

Saul tried to cross over on his own terms. It didn’t go so well for him. His car was picked up and thrown into the Straight.

We need to be careful what and whom we consult when we are stressed. Not collaborating with God isn’t going to end well. Being faithful matters.

Who are you faithful to? Where is your trust placed? Because the answer to those questions determines which actions we will take.

Eternal God, you remain the same throughout the ages of time. Help me to be faithful to your standard of righteousness and live faithfully into the ways of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.