Taking It Personally

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 2:29

I’ve often heard it said that the church from Revelation which most resembles the modern American church is the lukewarm, spoiled church of Laodicea. And this is true.

As a whole, we do tend to be complacent in a rather shallow, wealthy, and self-serving social club we call the church. We neither offer a refreshing drink of cool Living Water to the world around us nor a sanitizing scalding from the heat of holy fire. We are, to use the modern vernacular, meh.

But the letter to Laodicea isn’t the only one we could take to heart as a solemn warning. Like Ephesus, many of us have forgotten our first love of the Lord – going through acts of service as if our works will save us and not His grace. We can be guilty of making service into an idol, serving others out of humanistic motives rather than from an overflow of the love of God in our hearts.

Like Pergamum, we think we can compromise with the world. We think we can trust the modern-day Balaams who go thrice with the kings who desire to curse God’s people and eventually urge us to mingle our God-ordained values with the fluctuating and unstable mores of the world around us.

Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor…

Numbers 31:16a

Like Thyatira, we tolerate sexual sin within our churches and the exploitation of our freedom in Christ to the point of causing others to stumble when they see us behaving in a way which appears to them to compromise with the culture’s petty gods.

In those days, some would see the eating of food sacrificed to idols as actual worship of said idols. Today, the practices are more subtle but not less damaging to the consciences of others and are still tolerated within the Body of Christ. For us just as for them, tolerance has become a pitiful alternative to love.

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

1 Corinthians 8:12

Like Sardis, we are capable of pantomiming vigorous, Spirit-led worship, while inside we are spiritually dead. What looks like worship is sometimes nothing more than reactivity to stirring music; automatons who respond to stimulus, going through the rote of worship while failing to truly adore and serve the Lord our God.

But I want to take these things more personally. Not us, not we, but me.

Where do I stand in all this? Is my worship genuine and alive or just a task I check off my list? What evils am I overlooking in my heart or my home, tolerating them in the name of getting along and not rocking the proverbial boat? Where am I compromising with culture or serving others just because I should but without the love of Christ? Have I grown stale and complacent in my walk with the Lord?

For me, this season is a time of prayerful self-examination. I invite the Lord to answer these questions, exposing sin in me so that I may repent and turn fully to Him. You see, I believe the promises He gives to the one who conquers. I long for them.

I want to eat of the tree of life, enjoy the hidden manna of His presence, receive my new name, be given the Morning Star, and be clothed in bridal white before my King. I long to be with Him forever, enjoying Him and His people and utterly free from the battle against sin and death that I constantly wage in my earthly body.

And in my longing, there is a strong desire never, ever to grow spiritually lazy and complacent.

Oh Lord, grant that I may always grow in Your love and wisdom and in the knowledge of You. Bring revival to my heart, my home, and Your Church and restore us to our first love. Teach us to repent of tolerance and compromise, of lifeless worship and service by rote. Teach us to hunger for Your Word and desire Your Kingdom above all. Remove the god of entertainment from the throne of Your Church and restore us to proper zeal and reverence for You. May it be to us for Your glory and Your Name’s sake, amen.

Advent

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-13, 16

What is your favorite Christmas carol? I admit I have many favorites, but high on that list is “Joy to the World.” I love that the simple lyrics of this hymn capture perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. For though we often think of  Advent as a time of looking back to the birth of our Savior,  it is also, as the song expresses, a time of looking ahead to the future redemption of a world now held captive by the curse of sin.

As I sing this hymn — or more often out of respect for those around me, as I listen — I feel a sense of connection to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. I imagine the wonder and joy felt by the shepherds as they witnessed the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth so many years ago. I also feel a surge of anticipation,  envisioning the future jubilation for those who are still awake to behold the victorious return of the King.

In the first stanza of the carol I seem to hear an echo of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that they would find a Savior born in the city of David who was “Christ Kurious” as it was put in Greek; a babe who was both the long-awaited Messiah and the supreme authority. In short, the shepherds were told they would find a newborn in Bethlehem who was the future Deliverer King.  What elation must those men have felt as they went to see for themselves this newborn King?

In the hymn, too, there is also a glimpse of that future time when the Lord will come again in victory as King of kings and Lord of lords — that moment when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His sovereignty.

Here is where I find the only blot of disquiet in my inner revelry, this reminder that someday all will acknowledge Him.  On one hand, I yearn to witness that awesome moment when the Lord claims His own and takes the nations in hand, bringing an end to all that is horrid and hopeless. On the other hand, my heart aches for those to whom this event will be a wretched one and full of terror.  C. S. Lewis frames my dilemma well in his book, Mere Christianity:

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

So my dears, I pray that you have already chosen to cast your lot in with the Messiah. I pray that you, too, will  be filled with the joy of the first Advent and will be able to heartily embrace the unspeakable joy of the Advent to come.

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**For further study, look up the lyrics to Joy to the World  here, and look for hints of both Advents within it. As a springboard you can check out Romans 8:19-23, Psalm 96:8-13, Psalm 98:6-9, Luke 19:40, Revelation 7:15-17, and Revelation 21:1-5.   What other verses does the hymn bring to mind? **