November 28, 2013

Expressions of a Thankful Heart - Nov 28, 2013

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Thanksgiving has been celebrated in our country ever since 1863. During that year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation to the citizens of America. They were to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November, as the day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the Heavens.”

Of course, that wasn’t the first time thankfulness had ever been expressed. People have been thanking God, and thanking each other since the beginning of the world. In the book of Genesis we read about how Cain and Abel offered the first-fruits of farm and herd on an altar, as an expression of gratitude to God. Down through the ages people have expressed their gratitude to each other by giving gifts, sending cards, making speeches, and in countless other ways.

When we thank someone, we’re not trying to pay someone back for the good they’ve done. We’re simply saying, “I value you.”

Different cultures go about thanking people in different ways. In Japanese culture, when a person gives a gift they often denigrate their gift. They say how terrible and pathetic their gift really is. They apologize for giving such a substandard gift. In America we do the opposite. We often talk the gift up, describing how it’s the newest and the best. Interestingly, both cultures are  trying to say the same thing.

The Japanese gift giver denigrates their gift as a way of saying, “There is nothing that I could possibly give you that would come close to matching how valuable you are.” The American gift giver brags up their gift as a way of saying, “You’re so valuable, I would only dare give you the best there is.” Isn’t that funny? Both cultures are trying to say the same thing, they’re just going about it from different angles.

So, what is the best way to say, “I value you.” I suppose there are as many ways to say thank you, as there are people to thank. 

Today, to help us learn how to thank “our beneficent Father who dwells in the Heavens”,  we’ll see how King David and the leaders of Israel expressed their thankfulness to God. May the Holy Spirit use these words to teach our hearts. Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:10-14 (ESV)

10 Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
King David and the leaders of the Tribes of Israel were thankful to the LORD for all that he had done for them. If it weren’t for the LORD’s actions year ago, their people would probably still be slaves in Egypt. But the LORD had led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

Then came their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. The LORD had watched over them there, even though they were a rebellious and unthankful people. He sustained them with bread from heaven, and brought them to the borders of a rich new land.

They wouldn’t have had the power, or the courage to take this new land for themselves. But the LORD gave them victory after victory until the land was theirs. It was God’s gift to them.

And in the following years, when the nations around Israel rose up to raid their land, the LORD caused great heroes to come forward from the people to beat back the invaders.

And throughout all of this he had blessed their land each year with harvest after harvest, with children and grandchildren, with blessing after blessing. And in recent years he had granted them their wish—to have a king. And David was now that good king.
For all these things, David and the leaders of Israel were thankful. And their thanks is expressed in a number of ways here in our text.

First of all, we see their thankfulness to God displayed in David’s prayer. This was a public prayer. The people were gathered and heard David’s words. In his prayer David recognizes God’s great glory, his ownership of all things, and his rule over all people.

Furthermore, David also recognizes the LORD as the source of all riches and honor given to man. David and his fellow leaders of Israel would not have had the wealth and honor they did if it weren’t for the LORD, and they knew it. God had given their nation its greatness and strength, and David says as much in his prayer.

When it comes to thanking the LORD, praising God with our words is one of the best ways. We do this when we pause during the day to send our inner prayers to God. Prayers of gratitude for the many daily joys he sends us. Thankful prayers for the food he sets before us. Thankful prayers for the special people the LORD has placed in our lives.

We praise God with our words at church too, when we sing hymns together. When we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, or some other expression trust in God’s Word. We praise God when we lift up our hearts to him in prayer as one people.

Whenever we speak about the LORD to others we are performing an act of worship. When we let the Word of God govern what we say and how we say it, then also we are praising God. Honoring him with our lips.

In all these things we are doing the same thing David did—we are saying, “LORD, I value you.”
We also see the thankfulness of David and the leaders of Israel displayed in their generosity. In verse 14 David prays,

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

To understand what David is talking about you have to skip back a few paragraphs in this chapter. You see, the Temple had not yet been built. The LORD was still being worshipped in the movable “tent” that the Israelite had carried along their journeys. David had wanted to change all that. He wanted to build God a glorious Temple where the people could come to worship him properly. But God had told David that was a job set aside for David’s son Solomon.

But that didn’t prevent David from getting the temple materials ready. And so David gathered up gold, silver, bronze, wood, precious stones, and marble. But David didn’t just raid the nation’s treasury to provide all these things, David also dipped into his own personal wealth. We’re told that David gave three thousand talents of gold, and seven thousand talents of silver toward the building of the Lord’s Temple. In our measurements today, that’s about 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver. That’s 4.6 billion dollars worth of precious metals.

When the leaders of the Tribes of Israel found out about David’s generosity, they chipped in their own offering with 190 tons of gold, 375 tons of silver, 675 tons of bronze, and 3,750 tons of iron. That’s about 8.1 billion dollars worth. Not to overstress the point, but we’re talking about 12.7 billion dollars worth of freewill offerings to build the LORD’s Temple!

Of course, these offerings would only be true expressions of thankfulness to God if they were given as a genuine expression of devotion and not just as a way of looking good to other people. But David and company knew that all too well. And David prays in a later verse,

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you” (1 Chronicles 29:17 NIV).

Human beings are not generally inclined to give with generosity. But a thankful heart responds in this way. When we give our time, our effort, or our possessions to the LORD’s service, we are praising him. These are acts of worship when they come, as David describes, from a willing and honest heart. And when that happens, God hears what we’re saying. He hears, “LORD, I value you.”
And this leads us to see the third way in which the thankfulness of David and the leaders of Israel was displayed. We see their thankfulness displayed in their humility.

In verse 14 David prays,

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

And he adds…

“For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

If we really want to grow more thankful toward God, we have to start with humility. I’m not sure anyone can truly be thankful without becoming humble first. If we feel entitled to what the LORD gives, can we really be thankful to him? Or, if we feel like our blessings come to us because we’re so talented and hard-working, can we really be thankful to God? No.

David expresses the right attitude to have, “God, we don’t deserve these things. But you’ve given them to us because you’re an amazing God. And anything we happen to give back is really something we got from you already. So gracious accept our child-like gifts as an expression of this fact—we value you.”
When the LORD teaches us humility, an amazing thing happens. HUMILITY toward God is like rich soil. And from this soil springs up a little sprout called GLADNESS. We look at what we have, be it little or much, and are glad to be blessed by God. And if that little sprout of gladness grows up it becomes THANKFULNESS. Thankfulness to God that expresses itself in word, deed, and attitude. And when this plant matures it becomes CONTENTMENT. And we feel that whatever we have at the moment, that is enough. God will provide what we need, when we need it. And this contentment flowers in the form of lasting PEACE. And we know that come what may, God has our back. We don’t have to scrabble around and worry about what tomorrow will bring. The great God who brought us to this day will carry us tomorrow. He knows who we are, and what we need. He knows all we are with our ugly sins and bad habits, and amazingly—he loves us anyway.
God didn’t bless King David and the nation of Israel because they were such thankful and thoughtful people. He blessed them because he loved them. The thankfulness came later, as a result of God’s goodness.

And there was another reason why he watched over them from Egypt to the Promised Land and beyond. It was from these people that the Messiah would be born—the Savior of the world. When the Son of God was born as a human child, he was born in the nation of Israel.

That’s how God works. He blesses people who don’t deserve it, so that they might turn to him and see his love. And when they see that he is a gracious and loving God, then he can then show them the greatest gift that he has in store for them—forgiveness for their sins. Forgiveness that was earned when the Son of God gave HIMSELF to suffer the penalty for our sins.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day for the first time. A day set aside to thank and praise our “beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”

Today, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving right. By praising the LORD with our words, with our generosity, and with a humble heart that continually looks to the God of the Bible as OUR God, and the source of all things good.


November 24, 2013

The Lukewarm Church - Nov 24, 2013 (Bonus Sermon to Finish the Series)

This Sunday we finished our series on the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. However, we didn't get to actually talk about the last church. Here's a sermon from a few years ago addressing the last church of Revelation. Sorry I couldn't post the audio for this sermon today. -Pastor Caleb Schaller


In the beginning of the book of Revelation Jesus appears to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos. In a powerful vision Jesus instructed John to write down seven messages that were to be sent to seven churches located in Asia minor.

In these letters Jesus speaks directly to specific congregations. He reveals their problems. He praises their accomplishments. He warns them of dangers. And comforts them in the way that only our Savior can.

Today we consider the message that Jesus spoke for the Christians at Laodicea:
Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV)

14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Quite a few of us here are coffee drinkers. Perhaps you prefer a mocha to a latte. Perhaps you prefer good old drip coffee over espresso. Maybe you can’t stand the sugary sweetness of a flavored coffee drink, or maybe you couldn’t imagine a morning without it.

Regardless of your particular taste in coffee, most of us could agree on one thing: it’s gotta be hot, or ice cold. The tepid temperature of hour old bathwater is not exactly pleasant to the mouth. Yuk.

With this disgusting feeling in mind, Jesus’ rebuke of the Laodicean church is all the more dramatic. Jesus says to the Laodiceans, “Your attitude makes me nauseous, and I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That’s a harsh rebuke.

What was the problem among the Laodicean Christians? Lukewarmness. They were not hot with enthusiasm for Christ. Nor were they cold in opposition to Christ. They were indifferent. Complacent. Uninterested. Their faith was growing colder every day, and soon it would be dead cold like a corpse on the slab.

My fellow Christians, in our sermon meditation for today we’ll consider the danger of cooling faith. Our text will show us what causes it, and also that Christ is the only cure for “lukewarm” Christianity. For Christ is the fire that warms our faith.
The source of the Laodicean’s cooling faith is revealed by the words of verse seventeen.

17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’” (Revealtion 3:17a NIV).

The Laodicean Christians lived in a wealthy town. In AD 60, when an earthquake destroyed the city, it’s citizens rebuilt, without the help of Rome. Laodicea was well-known in its day as a center for banking. Laodicea also boasted a thriving wool industry, which sold dyed wools which were shipped throughout the world. There is also indication that Laodicea was the source of an eye-medicine which was prescribed by doctors living far away.

It is likely that the Christians at Laodicea had plenty of money. And it seems that this wealth had begun to take their attention away from Jesus. With their physical needs more than taken care of, they didn’t need to pray to Christ anymore. With so much going on, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time left over hear Him speak to them. Love of their blessings began to nudge out their love for Christ.

Cooling faith occurs when a Christian’s priorities shift away from Christ.

This danger is perhaps more pronounced in our day. In wealthy America few wonder where their next meal will come from. We have no end of gadgets which distract us from the God who gives them. Surely God’s blessings are good, but our misuse of those blessings corrupts and destroys the value of God’s blessings. Comedian George Carlin says it like this:

“We spend more, but have less.
We buy more, but enjoy it less.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years.”

Pray that Christ will remain our personal priority. Pray that Christ will be the pin that holds our family centered and together in Him. And pray to God that our faith will not cool to the near-dead lukewarmness that was the faith of the Laodicean Christians.
It is also possible that when the Laodiceans said, “I am rich” (Revelation 3:17a NIV), they weren’t talking about physical riches at all. Some people believe they meant rich in spiritual things. In other words, the Laodicean Christians might have thought they were rich in spiritual knowledge and no longer needed to learn from Christ because they knew more than enough already.

Cooling faith also occurs when a Christian thinks that he is self-sufficient and no longer needs to sit attentively at the foot of Christ.

A lukewarm Christian treats the Good News of Jesus like a fact which once absorbed cannot be lost. Like a pill that once swallowed doesn’t call for another thought.

But faith isn’t a pill. Faith is alive. Faith needs Christ like the human body needs oxygen. For our bodies to remain alive our lungs must continually come into contact with oxygen. In the same way, for our faith in Christ to remain alive, it must continually come into contact with Christ.

When a child is Baptized, God creates faith in the heart of that child through the power of His Word used along with the water. But that child must be raised to know and trust in Christ. That child’s faith must be nurtured with continual feedings of our Savior’s Word. The faith created in Baptism dies will die if it is not fed.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the lukewarm Laodiceans was they didn’t see how close to death their faith really was. They thought they didn’t have a care in the world.

Thankfully Jesus was watching out for them. And through His letter to them Jesus not only diagnosed their spiritual illness, He also provided them with the solution to their cooling enthusiasm. The solution was interaction with Christ Himself.

In verse eighteen Jesus says,

18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:18 NIV). 
In older days rocks were sometimes heated thoroughly in the fireplace, slipped into a leather sheath, and then put in the bottom of a person’s bed to keep their feet warm. The rocks got their heat from the fire, so the longer they stayed away from the fire, the cooler they got until they were completely cold and worthless to have in your bed.

The solution to cold rocks in your bed, was to bring them back to the heat source. In the same way, Christ’s presence is faith’s only heat source.

In Revelation 3:18 Jesus advises the lukewarm Laodicean Christians to buy pure Gold, white clothing and eye medicine from Him. This could only be done by approaching Jesus and hearing His Word.

A lukewarm Christian cannot warm his own cooling faith, no matter how hard he try. But if a lukewarm Christian just stands in the presence of Christ, his faith cannot help but grow warmer.

We can try to sin less and be better people. But those things do not increase our trust in Christ. Those things do not warm our faith and make it hot again. Only when we hear of our sin, and how Jesus took it all on Himself does our faith grow warmer.

When we review the love which made the Son of God step down out of glory to live a life of pain, then we feel the warmth of faith increasing. When we look on the Savior’s bloodied back and His nail pierced hands and know it was for us, then we feel our warm faith growing hotter.

When we see how the Son was left alone on the cross, abandoned by all, even by His Father in Heaven, then we see how brilliant the bonfire of Christ’s love for us really is. Christ’s love for us was so intense that He was willing to feel the horror of being separated from God the Father. His love for us burned hot enough that He willingly faced the fire of hell in our place. Because He did, your sins and my sins have been taken away forever.

Christ is the fire that warms the Christian faith. So when your faith is cooling, return to the fire. In fact, don’t wait for your faith to cool. Stay by Christ’s fire every day. Through prayer and reading. Through song and quiet meditation with Him. He’ll keep the fire burning, just stay next to Him.
When I was in college I sometimes came to the end of a day and thought. What’s the point. Today I didn’t get anything done. Today I didn’t do anything good. What’s the point.

I remember staying in my room “sick” one day to try and catch up on my homework. And even after a whole day of studying, I still felt like I had accomplished nothing.

Finally God showed me what it was that was preventing my days from being complete. I noticed that the days that felt empty and worthless were the days that I had muddled through without pausing to read my Bible.

I found that if I started my day by reading God’s Word, my days no longer seemed worthless. Instead my day felt worthwhile before I even left my room.

I still find that to be true. When I don’t spend time warming up by the campfire of Christ’s Word, my days are likely to seem chilly and grey. My ability to deal with stress is diminished, and my family begins to suffer because of my increased impatience.

But when I spend part of my day in the presence of Our Savior, He rubs off on me. He reminds me I don’t have anything big to do, because He’s done the big stuff for me already. He warms my faith. Reminds me that He’s in control. Teaches me patience and love. He makes me whole again, and ready to step out into the world, not as the world’s victim, but as a light in its darkness.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Laodicean Christians may seem harsh, but Jesus rebukes out of love. Christ’s rebuke is actually a invitation to stand near the fire of His love. And that invitation into His presence is meant to strengthen the relationship that exists between a person and Him. In verses nineteen and twenty Jesus says,

19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:19-20 NIV).

Christ wanted the Laodicean Christians to return to Him. If they would take His warning seriously they would find themselves in a renewed relationship with God’s own Son. Jesus pictures this relationship like a mealtime spent in private conversation with Him. Imagine that, a dinner date spent conversing with Jesus. This is what Jesus offered to the Laodicean Christians, and what He offers to us also. And His schedule is never to full to meet with us.
Jesus harshly rebuked the Laodicean Christians. But he didn’t require anything from them. He didn’t make them do any special deeds before He would let them back into His presence. He simply called out to them, telling them to turn around and come back to Him.

Jesus wanted to rebuild the relationship the Laodiceans had neglected. They needed Jesus by their side to navigating this dark world safely. And more than this, Jesus promised that this relationship would not be for this life only, but forever. In verse twenty-one Jesus says…

21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21 NIV).

Jesus says whoever overcomes would sit with Him on His throne in heaven. That’s a close relationship. Not just any schmuck sits with Jesus on His Heavenly throne.

But we will. Yeah. We will. Because we are they who overcome. That phrase, “him who overcomes” is explained in 1 John 5:5.

5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5 NIV).

Our relationship with Jesus brings fulfillment and strength to us in this life, and great honor in the next. The closer our  relationship with Jesus is, the closer we are to the fire that heats our faith and makes it hot. The further away from Christ, the further we are from the fire that keeps us spiritually alive.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus wanted us to learn from this letter to the Laodicean Christians. He said, “He who has ears, listen up!” We have ears and we know our Savior’s voice. So let us listen with care and learn from this letter.

And next time you take a slurp of lukewarm coffee, remember Jesus’ loving word of warning to the Christians at Laodicea, and ask yourself, “Have I stood by the fire today?”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The Faithful Church - Nov 24, 2013

Sorry, I’m not able to post the audio for this sermon this week. –Pastor Caleb Schaller


When I was in college I got to play on a recreational softball team called the “Old Timers”. Now we weren’t all old guys. Some of us were young. In fact, there was a pretty good smattering of ages and abilities on this team.

There was one old guy we used to call “Socks” (I’m not sure why). His knees were just about shot. Every game he’d have his knees wrapped tightly with ace bandages and neoprene sleeves pulled on over those. But you could still see that just running the bases was painful for the guy. Not that he complained, you could just see it was painful. But boy could he hit. Just about every time “Socks” got up to bat he’d line a single over the infield and into the grass.

“Socks” wasn’t a power hitter. He wasn’t going to hit any out of the park, but he sure was dependable. You know, dynamite is nice, but most of the time dependable is better.
Today we’re going to read Jesus’ letter to the church at Philadelphia. The church at Philadelphia was a lot like “Socks.” Jesus himself says that they didn’t have a lot of power, but they were dependable. They had kept Jesus’ word and had not denied his name. Today we read Christ’s letter to The Faithful Church.

Revelation 3:7-13 (ESV)

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
It must have been surprising for the seven churches of Asia minor to get letters from Jesus. Letters addressed specifically to them. Letters dealing with their own personal situations, pointing out their own strengths, and weaknesses.

Out of all the churches who got letters, I imagine that the church at Philadelphia was the most surprised to get a letter from Christ himself. They weren’t a big deal like some of those other churches. 

 Jesus himself describes the church at Philadelphia as having “but little power”. Now, it’s hard to say what exactly what Jesus means by that phrase. Did they have “little power” because they hadn’t received an extensive education in the Bible? Were they just holding on to the simplest truths of Christianity? Perhaps their church was made up of the poor of the city who had little political power or influence among their neighbors. Maybe Jesus says they had “but little power” because they were prone to sickness and disease. Or, maybe Jesus is simply talking about their numbers. Maybe the church at Philadelphia was numerically the smallest of the Asian churches.

No matter how we understand “little power”, we still get the point. Philadelphia wasn’t dynamite. But, Jesus doesn’t have a single word of rebuke for this church. Maybe they weren’t dynamite, but they were faithful.

When they had heard that there was really only ONE true God in the universe, and that he was a compassionate God, they listened. When they learned how the Son of God went so far as to become one of them to rescue them from their own mess of sin. They warmed to the Gospel. And when they heard of the resurrection of Christ, which stood as divine evidence of all that Jesus had promised, they believed. And they had held onto the message of sins forgiven through Christ’s cross ever since. They had not been ashamed to be called followers of Jesus. Even when people from the local Synagogue ridiculed their faith, they refused to jump ship and abandon the divine Savior they had come to know and love.

And because they had continued to stoke the fire of faith that the Holy Spirit had ignited among them, Jesus was happy to call them his own people.
Sometimes we Christians lose sight of how huge that really is to really BE, “Christ’s people”. Not just to be CALLED Christians, but to be Christ’s people through faith in him. That slender, invisible bond to Jesus that we call “faith” is precious. For faith unites us to Jesus in a way that is more intimate and special than other unity known to man.

Before Jesus ascended back to the Father’s side he told his disciples…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

By faith in Christ, Christians are connected to Sovereign King who reigns over ALL people, things, and powers. Jesus illustrates this to the Philadelphian Christians when he describes himself as the one who…

“…has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7 ESV).

When King David ruled, his keys were held by a steward. This steward then had the power to open the treasury doors and dispense the riches of the king.

Here in Revelation Jesus is described as holding the “key of David”. But the key that Jesus holds isn’t just the key to an earthly treasure room. Jesus holds the key of the treasure room of Heaven.
In verse eight, Jesus tells the Christians of Philadelphia that he’s set an open door before them that nobody else can shut. Jesus isn’t just talking about any “open door of opportunity”. This door is the very door to heaven. In the next chapter of Revelation, the apostle John is given a vision of an open door in the sky. And when he is ushered through this door he finds himself in the throne room of the Almighty God. THIS is the open door that was placed before the Christians at Philadelphia. Through Christ, the door to Heaven was opened to them—even though they were sinful people.

This is what being connected to Christ means. To the humble Christians of Philadelphia, Heaven had been opened.

Jesus tells them not to be worried about what the local Synagogue was saying about them. In  the end, the people who slandered them and ridiculed Christ would be made to bow down before them and acknowledge that they were loved by Christ. The Christians at Philadelphia didn’t need to worry. Justice would be served eventually.

This is what being connected to Christ means.

And Jesus goes further. He tells the Christians at Philadelphia not to worry about anything that the future might bring. There was an “hour of trial” coming soon for the whole world, but in that hour Jesus would watch over them. Jesus would keep them as his cherished people.

This is what being connected to Christ means.

In verse eleven Jesus says…

“…Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

No matter what death would come to these Christians. Death by persecution. Death by crucifixion. Death by cancer. Death by old age. It didn’t matter. Connected to the resurrected Christ by simple trust, they could look forward to their own resurrection, and eternal life after that.
Of all the churches of Asia minor, the church at Philadelphia is the one we need to aspire to be. Not dynamite, but faithful. Not influential among the people of this world, but a church who knew they were loved by Christ. Not strong in their own abilities, but dependent on Christ for everything. Cherishing his word. Proud to carry his name. Patiently enduring whatever this life can throw at them. Joyfully waiting for the King’s return.

Through faith in Christ you and I have the same assurances that the church at Philadelphia had. Through faith, Christ is our King too, and we his people. Our King holds the key to the heavenly treasures of peace, hope, love, self-control, goodness, patience and compassion—just to name a few. Our King, has the power to open whatever door of opportunity he sees fit to set before us, in addition to the door of heaven. With Christ as our King we don’t need to even the score against people who hate us. Justice will come from our King in the end. With Christ as our King we can depend on being cared for in whatever “hour of trial” we find ourselves in. Even when we face death, which we all will, we too can be at peace, knowing that the crown of eternal life is already ours—in Christ.

This is what being connected to Christ means.
Jesus closes his letter to the Philadelphian Christians like he has all the other letters—with images that illustrate his promise of heaven. He gives them little pictures of promise to hold in their minds.

Jesus says that those who conquer, that is, those who keep trusting in him to the end will be made pillars in the temple of God. You could take THINGS out of a temple, but not the pillars. They were not movable. Those who cross the threshold of Heaven will never leave God’s presence ever after.

Jesus says that those who conquer by faith, will have the name of God written on them. You write your name on something to denote ownership. If God writes his name on you, that means you belong to him.

Jesus says that the faithful will have the name of God’s city written on them. The name of your state is put on your driver’s license to show where your belong. When God writes the name of his city on you, that shows where you belong. Where you reside. In the eternal city of God.

Jesus says that his people will have HIS new name written on them. Jesus is our Judge and our Savior. Having HIS name written on us ensures our eternal safety and illustrates His loving care. After all, you only label things  as your own when you really care about them.

This is what being connected to Christ means.
The Christians at Philadelphia weren’t dynamite, but they were faithful. They were connected to Christ. And as a result, they had Christ’s approval, protection, and the promise of a heavenly future.

In the book of Isaiah it says…

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV).

In this world, the strength of youth degrades. Time weighs heavy on our bodies. Destroys our knees. Compromises our health. Turns the dynamite of youth into the little firecracker of old age. But those connected to God through His Son are connected to a power beyond this world. And that power will renew us one day that we might rejoice in his presence forever.

May we always aspire to be like the church at Philadelphia. Not dynamite, but simply faithful. Connected to Christ. For it is then that weak men and women like us—become truly strong.

Prayer: Dearest Lord Jesus, you have set an open door before us here at Redemption. Move us always to trust in your promise of forgiveness and life. When we feel weak, remind us that we ARE weak, but YOU are strong. Remind us that you hold us in your hand, and will never let us go. If we are to do great things in your name, it will have to be your power that accomplishes these things through us. Graciously teach us to yield up all that we have, our lives, and our egos, to your guiding hand. Dearest Savior, truly be our King. Amen.

November 17, 2013

The Dead Church - Nov 17, 2013

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The church in Sardis had a great reputation. But despite their reputation, Jesus tells them that on the inside they’re dead and dying. Today we read Jesus’ letter to The Dead Church.

Revelation 3:1-6 (ESV)

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
A few years ago I was doing some work on the pipes under the kitchen sink when a pipe snapped. It wasn’t a little plastic pipe either. It was an ancient metal pipe that was almost three inches in diameter. The pipe had done it’s job for a long time but had corroded so thin on the inside that it finally snapped clean in two. On the outside it looked fine. But the inside was a different story.

That was the church at Sardis. Jesus doesn’t have many words of praise for them. He says they have “works”. That is, they have been doing things in the name of Christ. People have seen these things. Perhaps they had been preaching and teaching the gospel. Perhaps they were bearing up under the weight of persecution. Maybe they were caring for the poor. Whatever it was, they were doing it. But behind the thin veneer of their outward deeds was a dead and dying faith. Jesus says…

“…I have not found your works compete in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:2 ESV).

Why? Why were their works incomplete? They were doing good things. Why were their works incomplete?
It WASN’T because they needed to do more. I mean , just think of the thief who died on the cross next to Jesus. He had lived a life of crime. There at the end he came to trust in Jesus as his Savior. Just about the only thing this thief ever did in Jesus’ name was tell the guy on the other side to stop ridiculing Jesus. And yet, Jesus told this changed thief…

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV).

It wasn’t a truckload of good deeds that made this man acceptable to God. It was his simple faith in Jesus.

Or think of the poor widow whom Jesus saw at the temple. While rich people were pouring in their offerings at the offering box, she put in two little coins—the least valuable coins that there were. But Jesus told his disciples that in doing this, she had actually put in MORE than the rich.

It wasn’t the value of her coins that made her offering precious to God. It was her faith.

Jesus once said…

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24 ESV).

Forgiveness can’t be earned by sinners. Forgiveness comes to us as a gift from Christ. Jesus let the punishment for our sins fall on him while he was on the cross. He suffered the hell our sins had earned. He paid our debt.

Our salvation is not about what we do, it is about what Christ did. We receive credit for what HE did, through faith in him. The apostle Paul explains…

…what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness… …to the one who does not work but believes in [God] who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (Romans 4:3,5 ESV).

You and I are not righteous. But through faith in the Righteous One, we are counted as righteous by God.
So why does Jesus say that the works of the Sardis church are incomplete? Why do their works even matter?

Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t being done out of love for Christ. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t motivated by faith.

The problem that the church at Sardis faced was HYPOCRISY and EMPTY RELIGION. They were doing good things, but for all the wrong reasons. And while this may have fooled their neighbors, God reads the heart. He searches the inner motives.
Jesus told the woman at the well…

24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24-25 ESV).

Genuine worship comes from the heart and is directed at the true God. Anything less is hypocrisy and empty religion.

That’s why Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees of his day. The Pharisees said prayers, they gave gifts to the poor, they went to worship, they offered offerings to God, they even went across land and sea on mission trips—but everything they did was for other people to see. “Look at my generosity! Look at how religious I am! Look at how godly I am—and admire me!”

The Pharisee’s religion wasn’t about praising God. Their religion was about obtaining praise for themselves. Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus once said…

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules’”(Matthew 15:7-9 NIV).
And we do the same thing today. We see hypocrisy in other churches, that’s easy, but we also have it in our own as well. We even have it in our own hearts.

We say that we come here because we’re sinners who need a Savior more than anything. But then we keep our sins secret. We cover over our serious, ongoing struggles against sin. Those sins are too ugly for other people to see. We pretend like everything is fine at home, at work, in our hearts. We keep up appearances without really dealing with our sins and the problems they create. Better to keep it a secret. Better to put on the mask. Wouldn’t want anyone to know the truth. Then they’d think less of us. Then they’d know we really are sinners who desperately need a Savior.

We say that the Gospel is precious to us. But how many times don’t we treat our church like it’s a chore. “Ugh, gotta write another sermon for this Sunday. Ugh, gotta teach Sunday School. Ugh, gotta clean again. Ugh, let’s hurry up and get church out of the way so we can do what really want to do.”

Or how much hypocrisy do we show in our daily lives? How many double standards do we hold? “This is the Christian me, and this is the every day me.”
In the book of James it says…

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9-11 NIV).

No, it shouldn’t. It’s hypocrisy.

Martin Luther once wrote…

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, says “Repent ye,” etc., he means that the entire life of the faithful should be a repentance” (The Ninety-Five Theses, theses 1, Martin Luther).

Are we living lives of repentance? Lives in which we genuinely ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Is this to help people see the glory of Jesus? Or is this for some lesser reason”. When our acts of worship aren’t done for God, aren’t done out of love for him, aren’t done out of faith in him, they are dead worship. God give us the strength and wisdom and grace to cut the hypocrisy out of our hearts. Help us Holy Spirit.
That’s what the church at Sardis had to do. Jesus told them that there was some strength left among them, but it was about to die. And then Jesus told them what to do. He says, first of all you need to REMEMBER.

Remember the GOSPEL that you received and heard.

We don’t know a lot about the demographics of the church at Sardis. Were there a lot of Jewish Christians? Were there a lot of Gentile Christians? We don’t know. But we can still imagine what it was like for them to hear the Gospel for the first time. Because the Gospel was like nothing else the world had ever seen. The pagan churches taught that you had to somehow appease God by your offerings. The Jewish church taught the same. It was all on YOU.

But then along came a different Message. A story about how this whole salvation thing REALLY works. God’s plan for salvation. The eternal God decided to become human. And not just to play around. He came to live like we live. He came to be a son, a brother, a kid, a teenager, an adult. He came to live like we do—but better, without sinning even once. And he did this so that he would be able to BE a pure sacrifice for our sins.

This God-Man then allowed himself to be disrespected, arrested, beaten, crucified, taunted, murdered. He even accepted the wrath of God as it was poured out on him while he hung on the cross. He endured all this to erase your sins—forever. And after three days in a tomb, God the Father raised him from the dead to show that it was true.

This is the message the people at Sardis had heard, and believed.

It was astounding to them. Everything wiped clean off their souls without a penny being paid by them. This was the power of Christ, this IS the power of the Gospel. This was what the Dead Church needed to remember.
Jesus told a couple of parables to illustrate what our attitude toward the Gospel should be. They’re super short, so I’ll read ‘em now.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-47 ESV).

I recently learned an interesting fact about the California gold rush. The largest nugget found at that time weighed about 195 pounds. It was about the size of a kangaroo. What would you do if you found that out at the local pumpkin patch? You’d cover it up, sell everything you had, take out a big loan, and try to get buy that pumpkin patch!

That’s how we need to treat the Gospel. It’s free, but it’s not common. It didn’t cost US anything, but it cost GOD dearly. We need to hover over the Gospel and cherish it. Study it. Memorize it. Love it. Guard it. Protect it.

A great big gold nugget would be our ticket out of debt and work, but the Gospel is our ticket out of sin and hell. The Gospel is our ticket to eternal peace, rest, and joy with God.

Jesus tells the dead church of Sardis to REMEMBER the Gospel, to KEEP it as a treasure, and to REPENT.

“Repent” just means to “change your mind”, that is, “turn around and go in the right direction”. Away from hypocrisy. Away from empty religion. Away from deeds done merely for others to see. Start living for the God who saved you!
With each of these letters, Jesus ends in the same way. To the people in the congregation who were holding on to Christ as their Savior, to them he holds out a comforting promise.

In this letter he says that those who “conquer”, that is, those who trust in Jesus as their Savior to the very end, will be clothed in white. The image there is pretty easy to understand. White is a symbol of purity. In heaven we’ll have no more sinful heart to battle, no sinful record to explain. Because of Christ we’ll walk in the white garments of God’s righteousness.

Jesus promises those who trust in him that he’ll never blot their names out of the book of live. The book of life is the guest list for eternal paradise. If your name is on it—you get in, if not—you don’t. Jesus promises that in heaven there will be no blotting our name out. We’ll be God’s people forever.

And the last promise is the best. Jesus says he’ll confess the faithful Christian’s name before God the Father and all the angels. Just imagine this scene. You’re standing in the crowd before God’s throne. The judgment is going on. One by one the people stand before God and receive what they deserve.

But then your name is heard. And Jesus is motioning with his hand. He’s motioning to you. “Come up here,” he says, “There’s someone I want you to meet. This is my Father. Father I want you to meet one of my dearly loved friends.”

If we hold onto our faith in him, Jesus is going to confess our names before the Father and all his angels. That’s a promise worth clinging to. Who cares what other people think in this world. Who cares what our reputation is here, if Jesus is going to speak up for us in heaven.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes we’re fools. Sometimes we value what others think of us instead of what you do. Sometimes we lie by our words, and other times by our expressions, and by the things we do. We pretend. We’re hypocrites. But we believe in you. We trust in you. We know that you took all our sin away on the cross. Help us to cherish your gift to us, and as we cherish forgiveness and the peace it brings us, destroy all hypocrisy in us. Make us transparent. Open. Honest. Loving. Godly. By faith you, Lord Jesus,  we are spiritually alive. Strengthen our faith that we may never die. And make our works complete, because they flow from a heart of faith in you. Amen.