I’m going to be starting a new series today called “Building a Revolutionary Church.” You know I watched an old favorite of a movie this week called “Top Gun” with the now crazy Tom Cruise. It’s one of those movies that just retains its “good movie” status through the years. What is it that makes some movies timeless? Certainly there needs to be some great characters, acting and writing, etc. But the ones that stand the test are the ones that speak to some fundamental things that are hard wired in us. For example, this movie had the guy persevering through the baggage of his past with his father, fighting to overcome obstacles, dealing with sudden tragedy and being able to dig deep and pull through. I’m not trying to say Top Gun is the best movie of all time by any stretch, but it maintains that good movie status.
As we start this new series on the church, I was curious as to what kind of stuff does Jesus like in the church? Well certainly Jesus started a world-wide revolution through His ministry and that continues. Frankly we need a new wave of revolutionary churches to impact our culture and the world as a whole. But today I wanted to narrow in on something specific. There is only one area in all of Scripture where Jesus is addressing churches. He speaks all throughout the Bible to His people, He speaks indirectly through Paul to Timothy about church issues, but only one place do we find where he is speaking directly to what we know of as the church today. In the Revelation of John we find Jesus addressing seven different churches…and don’t go all metaphorical here. He was addressing 7 different churches from different areas, and had specific words to say to each of them. In each message to a specific church there were some commonalities.
I know your deeds
I know your afflictions and poverty
I know where you live
And the last four: “I know your deeds”
In order to understand what we are doing here as a church, you need to not only understand some history but also the bigger picture. Three years ago this church made a heroic decision to recognize that they needed change. I say heroic because the people loved each other and loved their church but they saw that they weren’t having the kind of impact that they wanted to have and needed to reverse some trending attendance patterns. Change is not an easy thing, but it is a necessary thing. Our sister church with us today has also been on a journey the last several years with trying to get a new building finished with the same goal of impacting the western part of Cuyahoga county for Christ.
We can find immense comfort in the words of Jesus to the Church “I know..” Why? Because with God it is not just that He has all knowledge, but we know His heart. We know that we are the apple of His eye. He loves His people! We know that His plans for us are good even when we don’t understand the pathway of His blessing. Just the words, “I Know” can comfort us when we go through trials because we reside within the heart of Jesus. It is also maturity to realize that just like a parent to a child we are allowed to and even led into some difficult times because the process of working through those things will bring greater strength, greater understanding in our lives. It is with this understanding that I want to look at another commonality in Jesus’ messages to the churches in Rev. 2-3.
It is important to remember that the Church is a living thing not an institution. It is dynamic not static. It is organic not manufactured. The Body of Christ has been adapting, changing and growing for the last two thousand years all the while still preserving the authority of the Bible, God’s Word. Different ideas and influences have tried to derail both the Church and the Word of God through the centuries, but no force is able to stop the church when it is faithful to worship and follow Jesus Christ AND when it is committed to continuing to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in this world.
When churches turn into organizations rather than organisms they begin to grow stale. When churches become about various preferences of those within the walls of the church whether they be music styles, political parties, whether you can dress nice enough, cliques, bake sales and potlucks or what color the carpet should be…they begin to die because they have disconnected from the reason for their existence. Or as Jesus says in Revelation to the church in Ephesus, “you have left your first love.”
Very quickly let’s look at what stands out to Jesus within churches.
Things Jesus likes in a church:
Hard Work, Perseverance.
““To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.(Revelation 2:1–3, TNIV)
Faithful through persecution:
“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.(Revelation 2:9–10, TNIV)
Able to withstand cultural pressures:
“I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.(Revelation 2:13, TNIV)
The Growing Church: (commitment to growth)
“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.(Revelation 2:19, TNIV)
The Courageous Church – Willing to repent
““To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:1–2, TNIV)
The church that knows how to bring course correction when necessary.
The Persevering Church – Stubbornness
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8, TNIV)
It is a fallacy to think in life that following Jesus means no troubles, it is also a fallacy for a church. We are defined and refined by how we address adversity in our lives. God is good and loves to bless His children in this life, but rest and reward are mainly centered in the life to come.
There is one thing within these verses that stands out to me as something that Jesus really values within churches… It’s when churches are fighting and persevering for the Kingdom of God to be realized in this world.
Isn’t it the same in life? God has programmed our course so that we would grow into the role of being overcomers. He has designed a journey that is intended for us to better know Him and grow closer to Him as we face the adversity of doing this thing called “life”
I believe every church should be struggling, fighting, praying earnestly according to the context and mission that God has given them.
Why? Because the next church Laodicia
Lukewarm, nothing good to say. Harshest words.
“But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (Revelation 3:16–17, NLT)
“I am rich.” “I have everything…” “I don’t need..”
A church totally disconnected from their mission, from love for the Lord, from reaching out to those around them.
They are sitting upon their past accomplishments and their accumulated resources saying “it is enough” Can I tell you that every church should look outside their doors and see people that are lost without a relationship with Jesus and it should rip your heart to pieces!
It should make you look at your current resources and say “Oh God grant us increase that we may have more of an impact for you!’
It should drive you to times of corporate prayer as a church where you are crying out for those who have yet to know the hope that you have found!
The complacency and indifference of this church was so offensive it made Jesus want to puke in disgust!
Everything mentioned positive to other churches before is nowhere to be found here.
And yet in this stinging rebuke there is hope offered through repentance and the offer of friendship.
““Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20, NLT)
How does a church wind up on this side of a rebuke from the Lord?
Doing the work of the Kingdom is hard work. Tiring work.
Ministering to children in nursery or children’s church can be exhausting.
Reaching out to the community with acts of service and kindness with sometimes little positive results and sometimes negative response can be discouraging. (results-oriented)
Sometimes the specific struggle that we find ourselves in can become an idol. Sometimes our task that we’ve been given from the Lord can eclipse Him in our hearts. I felt the loving rebuke of the Lord in this area in my life a few years ago. Every time I approached the Lord in prayer or worship I couldn’t see Him because of unmet expectations that would intrude. God will not be second in our hearts no matter how noble our cause.
To the church in Ephesus who had the highest praise and were doing great we have this word of warning from the Lord:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:4–5, TNIV)
Hey church, why are we doing what we are doing?
Why are we sacrificing the way we are?
Why are we serving the way we are?
Because we love Jesus! And out of that same love we love each other and the world!
Thought it sounds a little like how Yoda might say it, the order of words in the Greek is emphatic; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left.”
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23–24, TNIV)
In talking about building a revolutionary church, you may be tired. You may be tempted to say “I’ve done my part.” You may be discouraged because things have not worked out like you thought they would up to this point. But remember who you are serving and why. Even if your plans fail, even if things don’t work out like you thought.. “you will receive an inheritance” from the Lord who reminds us in this passage that He knows. He sees. The important thing is not the results but the perseverance, the willingness to press on. Why? Because we are a people that have been captured by the beauty of His heart and His love for us.