Notes from a sermon given on Labor Day. To listen to it go to itunes podcasts and type in 2HC.
Every once in awhile I like to page through the last book of the Bible. In the 3rd chapter there’s a descripton of the the church in Sardis. Basically, the bad news is that Sardis once was alive but is now dead. And God wants them to wake-up.
God isn’t pulling any punches. It reminds me of a story about Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life. Rayburn was a straight talker. He was asked after a speech why more Young Life kids weren’t finding their way into the church. In typical Rayburn fashion he said “that his staff didn't believe in putting live chicks under dead hens.”
Rayburn was speaking a hard truth to a group of church leaders. "You have a reputation of being alive, but you're dead." What Rayburn was responding to was a ritualism and an overall deadness that would stifle a new believer. He believed that God was about the business of life transformation. And the judgment call he was making that many in the business of doing church were about the business of maintaing the status quo. He was worried that the word that had become flesh and excited so many kids would, through the church, become merely words again.
It’s a valid concern.
Several years ago I was at a prominent church. I was speaking about family issues. In a church setting I felt it appropriate to talk about family within the context of faith. I asked the group about the theological leanings of their church - what they believed in. They squirmed a bit. I inquired further saying “I know you are a Christian denomination. Could we at least use the creed as a starting point in our discussion of faith?” They squirmed a bit more. I noticed that they were uncomfortable. When I inquired about that discomfort a spokesperson told me that the creed was awfully narrow and that it tended to exclude people. They did not believe in exclusion - only inclusion. She went on to tell me that their church had no creed so that everyone could feel comfortable under their umbrella. They didn't want to have anybody feel left out.
My judgement call was that they were a church that needed to wake-up.
William Barclay writes about Sardis of Revelation. “Sardis was wealthy, but Sardis was degenerate. There was no life, no spirit there. The once great Sardians were soft, and twice they had lost their city because they were too lazy too watch. And in that atmosphere of degeneration and decay the Christian Church too had lost its vitality and its power, and was a corpse instead of living thing."
God has a thing about dead faith. Jesus was always butting heads with the Pharisees who were fanatical about things that didn’t matter. In Matthew 23 Jesus says “But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer.”
Faith alive, on the other hand, has nothing to do with a spit and polish veneer or reputation. It has everything to do with submission, service, discipline, faith put into action, perseverance, trust, and integrity. Together they form a faith character that has deep roots. Dwight Moody once said that if you attend to your character your reputation will take care of itself. There must have been some character issues in the church of Sardis for their reputation in the Lord's eyes was only skin deep.
So, let me ask you. Could this passage of Scripture be describing us …as a church, and us as individuals?
Do we need to wake up? Are we asleep?
Periodically, I talk to people who are praying for a revival at Christ Church of Oak Brook. That might come as a surprise to anyone who sees a full parking lot and sees the dozens and dozens of activities we have here and the beauty of our facilities.
I think they’re praying for revival because of all that. We can be fooled into thinking that we’re doing OK. But the heart of the matter is that it’s easy to lose focus, and passion and your heart.
Questions of revival aren’t about numbers or programs, money in the bank or the beauty of facilities? Questions of revival are these:
Do you love God?
Do you want to be more and more like Jesus Christ?
Do you ache that your neighbors and co-workers are far from God?
Do you weep for those who have so little in the world?
Do you pray for the Lord to open up avenue for you to give redemptively of your time, talent, and treasure?
Wake-Up the Scripture tells Sardis. And if the Word of God is indeed alive still I wonder if it doesn't speak that same word to us? Are we really alive? I know this about myself. Sometimes I’m way too complacent, I go through the motions, get too content with the status quo, become self-satisfied …and then I know that I need to wake-up and get my act together. You see, I don’t want to become a caricature of what a man following Christ is supposed to be. I don’t want to have a reputation for being alive but know deep down in my heart that I’m not.
And I don’t want our church to have a reputation for things that don’t matter. When someone asks me about Christ Church I want to be able to tell them that it’s a good place, you’ll meet good people …but it’s a dangerous place, in some respects, because the living God is at work …and lives are being changed. And if you come you might never be the same again.
A church alive is the hope of the world.
And so, like others I pray for renewal and revival. First,in my own life. And then for you. For when God wakes us up …the church comes alive …we become a beacon of hope and life for our world. Don’t know about you but I want in on that action.