Thursday, October 24, 2013

Don't Give Up!

There's a much-loved children's book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I've never read it, but I love the title.  Don't we all have days like that? You know the kind of day I’m talking about, where you start to think, “Okay, this is pretty bad, but at least it can’t get worse…” and then it does.  It’s the kind of day where the only prayer you know how to pray is “C’mon!  Really?”  Those are faith-testing days.  In the movie Bruce Almighty, a character says, “God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass and I’m the ant.”  That’s what it feels like sometimes.  If that’s where you are right now, there's a letter from God you need to read.  And if you’re not having one of those days, file this one away.  You’ll need it sooner or later. 
            Revelation 3:7-13 is a letter from Jesus to a church in a city called Philadelphia.  Not the one in Pennsylvania, of course, but the one in a Turkish city that is today called Alasehir.  Jesus doesn’t really talk about what these people were up against, except there was a synagogue that was giving them some trouble. Perhaps their main problems were going to start soon.  But Jesus gave them—and us—five promises to get us through days like these.  In this Sunday's sermon (October 27), I'll take a look at these five promises.  On the worst of days, there are still some things we can count on...Thank God!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wake up and smell the...reality

Many years ago, a man was in a bar in his hometown in Illinois.  The men there were swapping war stories.  This fellow, whose name was Jack Genot, wanted to appear brave, too.  So he made up a story that he had served in the Marines in Korea and was taken prisoner during a bloody battle.  Word got out.  Jack became a local hero.  He was elected a city councilman, was asked to march in parades and tell his story to schoolchildren.  To keep up the fa├žade, he bought a Marine uniform and ordered medals from a catalog, which he wore on special occasions.  He forged discharge papers so he could get a “wounded veterans” license plate.  But then someone became suspicious.  A veterans’ group began investigating and found no record of Jack’s stories.  For two years, he dodged the questions.  Finally, at the age of 71, Jack Genot admitted he made the whole thing up. 

            Jesus had a name for people who pretended to be something they weren’t; He called them hypocrites.  Our Lord didn’t invent the term; He just gave it a new meaning.  It had always been used to refer to actors, as in “Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep are the greatest hypocrites of our age!”  But Jesus used it in a spiritual sense, to describe someone who pretended to be more holy than they truly were.  The irony is that today, no single group of people gets charged with hypocrisy more often than the very people who follow Jesus.  After all, who among us has NOT heard someone say, “Christians are all a bunch of hypocrites?”  Is it true?  Would Jesus say that about Westbury Baptist Church? 
            2000 years ago, Jesus Christ appeared in a vision to his elderly friend John and revealed to him mysteries about the end of our world that became the book of Revelation.  At the beginning of that book, Jesus gave John messages to send to seven churches that existed then in modern-day Turkey; messages that I believe are intended for all His churches, in all times, until He returns.  They tell us what it means to Be the Church.  This Sunday, we examine the fifth of those letters, to the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6).  We have a saying these days when someone refuses to acknowledge the reality of their situation: “You’d better wake up and smell the coffee.”  That’s exactly what Jesus is saying to the Sardians...and to us.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Holding On For Dear Life

We’re in a series now called “Be the Church,” looking at the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3.  I have to say, of the seven, the letter to Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) is the hardest for us as 21st century Christians to read.  Remember, these letters are dictated by Jesus to His old apostle John, and it’s hard for us to reconcile some of the things Jesus says in this particular letter with the image we have of Him as a gentle, kind-hearted person who never got angry.  Perhaps it indicates that our image of Him isn’t entirely accurate.  Perhaps we should recall that Jesus got angry enough with hypocritical religious folks that He called them names like "sons of snakes" and "whitewashed tombs."  Perhaps we should recall that he got angry enough at seeing merchandise take over the temple of God that He made a whip out of cords and forcibly, violently drove the money changers out.  Jesus loves you and me more than we can ever comprehend.  In fact, He loves us so much He gets angry at the stuff that hurts us.  In this letter, we read the anger He felt toward a faction that was destroying His church...and see His instruction to the faithful remnant that had so far resisted compromise with evil.  

We live in a time when to be truly Christian is much less culturally popular than it once was.  How do we keep from drifting away from Christ?    Years ago, I became pastor of the little church I had grown up in.  Carrie and I lived in a parsonage that was right across a little country road from the church, less than fifty yards from building to house.  One night early in my time there, I left Sunday night worship and started walking home.  Once I got out of the church’s parking lot, I realized I had a problem. It was dark!  I had lived in the city for several years, and I had forgotten how absolutely dark it gets in the country.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  I lost my bearings, wasn’t sure whether I was headed in the right direction or not.  I started thinking, “What if I stumble into a ditch?”  So I literally got down on my hands and knees and started feeling my way toward the house. Then it hit me: What if I crawl right into a snake?  Copperheads are very common there.  So I quickly stood back up and walked very slowly toward the house.  I made it, but from then on, whenever we left the house, we turned on the porch light.  Jesus has told us that we are the Light of the World.  We’re commanded to let our light shine so people will see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.  There is darkness all around us; let’s not forget to keep our lights on.  How do we do this?  How do we make sure we can withstand the pressure and won’t compromise? 

We find great encouragement and instruction in this letter to a church 2000 years ago.  We'll talk about it this Sunday.