More Thriving in “Ordinary Time”

The Christian vocal group Casting Crowns recent hit song “Thrive” includes these lyrics:

Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

Just to know You and to make You known

~ ~ ~

We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Click here for a link to Thrive music video.

In my last blog post … Thriving in “Ordinary Time” … we discovered the origins of this season on the church calendar.  One misconception is that Ordinary Time has no theme.  But as we discovered, this season celebrates “the Story of Jesus” fleshed–out into the everyday, ordinary lives of “the People of God.”  This fact makes it a truly “extra–ordinary” season!

Ordinary Time is at the core of what this blog, StrongStakes, is all about … “equipping & mobilizing men to follow Jesus” … so let’s focus now on some practical ideas.

One of the clearest ways to discover what fleshing–out “the Story of Jesus” might look like is to remember how Jesus launched His public ministry career.  The Gospel writer Luke records the scene in chapter four:

  • “He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
  • ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to set free those who are oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
  • “He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  He began by saying to them, ‘Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.’” (Luke 4:16–21)

By reading the first couple verses from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (ch. 61), Jesus quickly and succinctly outlined the primary tenets of His mission.  If He was a politician today (thankfully, no), we would call this His “platform.”

Jesus is introducing what He will later call the “Kingdom of God” … the reign or rule of God over creation and human hearts.  His life, teachings and actions over the next three-and-a-half years expounded these primary themes.

In addition to modeling the Kingdom of God, Jesus invites us to “Come…Follow” … to not only experience this same Kingdom–life, but to also mimic His actions.  These are the activities of Ordinary Time.

The apostle Paul put it this way, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

But this begs the question … What are “good works” we can be doing during Ordinary Time to spread the Good News about the Kingdom of God, while at the same time continue growing stronger in our daily lives of faith?  Following Jesus’ outline, here are some suggestions.

  • “preach Good News to the poor” … Meet with a homeless person.  Offer to purchase a meal for them, then stay for a conversation.  Listen to their story.  Let your actions do the “preaching.”

 

  • “proclaim release to the captives” … Visit someone in jail or prison.  Listen to their story.

 

  • “recovery of sight to the blind” … Visit someone in a hospital – maybe even a stranger.  Ask a hospital administrator if there are patients who have had no visitors.

 

  • “set free those who are oppressed” … Visit someone in a nursing home – again, maybe even a stranger who has no one visiting them.  Or offer to accompany your pastor or priest to serve Communion to a person confined to their home.

 

  • “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” … Experiment by setting aside a whole day to demonstrate God’s grace (favor) to everyone with whom you come into contact.  Maybe a smile is all that’s necessary; or pay for the Starbucks drink for the person in line behind you; or personally deliver a more–than–generous tip (with a smile) to a restaurant server who’s provided decent service.

When it comes to personal, spiritual growth, how about reading daily, lengthy portions from the Gospels in a Bible translation or paraphrase that you’ve not used before?  Or join a small group from your church that meets weekly or bi–weekly?  Or schedule an appointment with an older, wiser man or woman of God.  The American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said,

  • “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”

What specific, practical ideas do you have for fleshing–out “the Story of Jesus” during this season of Ordinary Time?  Leave a comment on this blog with your suggestion(s).

I want to suggest a resource for further reflection.  Nearly four decades ago, my wife and I moved to Mississippi to serve alongside a man who has become legendary in Christian community development circles … Dr. John M. Perkins.  Of the many books that he has written, the one that’s made the most impact on me is A Quiet Revolution.  With the subtitle, “The Christian response to human need, a strategy for today,” John maps out a clear and compelling approach for living in this season called Ordinary Time.  It can still be purchased via third–party sellers on Amazon … which I strongly recommend … click on the title for the link.

One final observation … the Christian symbol often linked to Ordinary Time is the “Chi–Rho” … derived from the first two letters in the Greek word [Χριστός] translated Christ.  In turn this derives from the Hebrew word [מָשִׁיחַ] translated Messiah.  Both words literally mean “anointed One.”  This abbreviation became a symbol used by early Christians to indicate that they were followers of Jesus.  The graphic at the top of this article also includes the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet … Alpha and Omega.  From eternity past to eternity future, Jesus truly is at the center of Ordinary Time!

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Thriving in “Ordinary Time”

“Ordinary Time” is a new concept for me … unfortunately.  As I wrote in an earlier post … What happens when an Evangelical practices Lent?  …  I was raised as a “Protestant – Evangelical – Fundamentalist” … so all I ever heard about liturgical holidays were that they were a little too “Roman Catholic” and therefore, off limits.  You can see on the attached graphic that Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after Pentecost, and continues until the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent.

Sometimes called “Trinitytide”  this season includes the entire months of July, August, September and October, plus most or all of June and November.  Put simply, Ordinary Time encompasses half of the Christian year that does not fall within the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter.

Ordinary Time derives from the Latin, Tempus per annum, or “time throughout the year.”  It may also derive from the term “ordinal” meaning “counted time.”  Ordinary Time need not be viewed as “ordinary, average, or mundane” … a “break” from the important days in the church’s liturgical year.  The opposite is actually true … as the graphic depicts, Ordinary Time celebrates “the Story of Jesus” fleshed–out into the everyday, ordinary lives of “the People of God.”  It is truly an “extra–ordinary” season!

Lots of information has been written about the many aspects of Ordinary Time … the length of the season, the representative color for the season (green), the symbol used to depict the season, etc.  In terms of disciple–building, what we will focus on here is what the apostle Paul taught Christians in the Roman city–state of Philippi.  Shortly after stating his life’s purpose in Philippians 1:21, Paul then exhorts his audience to live worthy of the Gospel.

*Pastor Pro–Tip: This will preach!

  • “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mindcontending together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents.  This is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you – and this is from God.  For it has been granted to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same struggle which you saw in me, and now hear that I have.”  (Philippians 1:27–30)

Paul uses a significant Greek word [πολιτεύομαι] to grab his audience’s attention.  It means “to behave as a citizen” which held special meaning for the residents of this outpost of the Roman empire.  It shows up again in noun form in Philippians 3:20 – “For our citizenship is in heaven …”

But Paul’s challenge begs the question … How do we live our life worthy of the Gospel?


Fortunately, Paul continues in the final four verses of chapter one by identifying six factors that will ensure thriving during “Ordinary Time” (highlighted in the text above).

(1) v. 27standing firm” [στήκω] means to persevere, to persist, to keep one’s standing.  Paul uses this strong term in his letter to Corinthian Christians … “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).

We thrive in Ordinary Time by “standing firm” for the Gospel.

 

(2) v. 27one spirit” [πνεῦμα] indicates a unity as deep as the soul.

We thrive in Ordinary Time deeply united with “one spirit” for the Gospel.

 

(3) v. 27one mind” [ψυχή] includes the seat of ones feelings, desires and affections; variously translated as soul, heart, life, or mind.

We thrive in Ordinary Time with “like–minded” people for the Gospel.

 

(4) v. 27striving together” [συναθλέω] means to engage together in a contest; to wrestle in company with another; to contend together for a prize in the public games.  The term implies “working side–by–side.”  We get our English word “athletics” from this term!

A former pastor of mine makes this observation: “Spiritual formation occurs best within the context of community.” Dr. Ken Baugh

Stated metaphorically, “The fabric God is weaving is far bigger than our own thread.” – Kevin Bennie

We thrive in Ordinary Time by “striving together” within the context of community for the Gospel.

 

(5) v. 28no way alarmed” … The Greek word [πτύρω] is used only once in the New Testament, but in other literature it was a term used to describe an uncontrollable stampede of wild horses.  The root word means “to spit” and was also used of military horses who got “spooked” and would snort or spit, but would not flinch.

When we are “standing firm” for the Gospel, “striving together” in community with a unity of spirit and mind, then fear of opposition is minimized and we thrive in Ordinary Time.

 

(6) vv. 29–30suffer for His sake” … Here the apostle uses [πάσχω] which translated means “to suffer a sad plight,”  then adds that they will experience similar conflicts to what he had.  Amazingly, he states that this suffering is actually a gift … “it has been granted” [χαρίζομαι] … rooted in God’s grace!

This theme of necessary suffering for the sake of the Gospel is repeated throughout Paul’s writings (cf., 2 Corinthians 1:6–10 & 2 Thessalonians 1:4–5), Peter’s letters (1 Peter 4:12–19), plus the classic passage in James 1: 2–4 …

  • Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We thrive in Ordinary Time even when we “suffer for His sake”  experiencing similar conflicts for the Gospel.

 

A final question:  What steps will you take to practically thrive during this extra–ordinary season called Ordinary Time? … this season for fleshing–out the reality of the story of Jesus through the people of God. Leave a comment suggesting one!

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Honoring Faithful Fathers

Happy “Father’s Day”!

The first Father’s Day may have been celebrated in the state of Washington on June 19, 1910.  A woman named Sonora Smart Dodd thought of honoring and celebrating her father while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in a church service a year earlier.  She felt that mothers were getting all the acclaim, while fathers equally deserved a day of praise.

By the time you read this blog post, you may have already enjoyed a meaningful day celebrating fatherhood with members of your family … if not in person, then maybe via a phone call, FaceTime, or Skype.

I love this photo of our “family dogpile” … circa 1989!  It vividly reminds me that the Bible has a lot to say to fathers (and mothers) about the importance of passing along to the next generation a legacy of belief and trust in God.

Moses reminded the Israelites on the eve of their entrance into the Promised Land …

  • “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”  (Deuteronomy 6:4–9).

Notice WHY Moses repeats this instruction …

  • “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged”  (6:2).

Ethan the Ezrahite, whose wisdom was exceeded only by King Solomon (1 Kings 4:31), expressed a similar sentiment in song …

  • “I will sing of the lovingkindness of the Lord forever; to all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth.”  (Psalm 89:1)

Solomon himself wrote of the long–term benefits of fatherhood …

  • “A righteous man who walks with integrity – How blessed are his children after him.”  (Proverbs 20:7)

The apostle Paul coupled these recurring themes in his final correspondence to his young mentee, Timothy …

  • “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you”  (2 Timothy 1:5–6a)
  • “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”  (2 Timothy 2:1–2)

Notice the four “generations” listed here: Paul … to Timothy … to faithful men … to others also.

Among the long list of things I learned as an undergrad Christian Education major at Biola University back in the early 1970’s, the following adage stands at the top …

“It’s more caught than taught.”

Jesus illustrated this principle in action, then compared it to how our heavenly Father relates to us …

  • “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven good things to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:9–11)

With a passion for “equipping & mobilizing men to follow Jesus” my prayer is that we grow daily in grace and Christ–likeness, so that our children and grandchildren will mimic us, too.

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children walking in truth.”  (3 John 1:4)

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Diving Deeply into Doctrine of Trinity

Are you planning to celebrate the Trinity this Sunday?  How will your church celebrate what many have believed throughout the history of Christendom to be “the most significant day on the Church Calendar”?  Does your church even celebrate events from the historical, liturgical “Church Calendar”? … or is your church calendar simply an online depository for potlucks, small groups, deacons meetings, and retreats?

Although the term “Trinity” never occurs in Scripture, the concept of a “three–in–one God” is found throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  Unfortunately, this may be The Most Important Christian Doctrine You Don’t Think About.”  That’s what Kevin DeYoung, pastor, professor and chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition believes in an article by that title.  Click on the title for a link to his article.

Rather than attempting to write an exhaustive defense of this classic Christian doctrine, this blog post will simply offer four resources you can explore on your own, starting with Kevin DeYoung’s article above.

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.

This is the “Nicene Creed,” originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present–day Iznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Kevin Giles is an Australian author and retired Anglican priest who has written,

  • The Nicene Creed is the definitive account of the doctrine of the Trinity for more than two billion Christians.  It is binding on all Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed Christians.  These two billion believers agree that anyone who denies what is taught in the Nicene Creed stands outside the catholic faith, and any community of Christians that rejects what the Nicene Creed teaches is by definition a sect of Christianity.
  • Be assured, I do not place this creed or any other creed or confession above Scripture in authority or on an equal basis with Scripture.  For me, and for two billion Christians, this creed expresses what the church has agreed is the teaching of Scripture.  I believe every single statement in this creed reflects what the Bible says or implies.  In my view, we have in this creed the most authoritative interpretation of what Scripture teaches on the Father–Son relationship.

Giles delivered a lengthy academic address during a plenary session of last November’s meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Antonio, Texas.  Present at that session were other speakers whom Giles sought to rebut concerning their views of the Trinity, specifically the interrelationships between all three Persons in the Godhead.  His paper is long and heady at times, but fascinating, and well worth reading.  A link to the address is here: Evangelicals and the Trinity

Ian Paul, from the U.K., researches, writes and speaks from a blogging platform called Psephizo [ψηφίζω], a Greek verb meaning “to calculate, work out or reckon.”  It’s rooted in the noun psephos meaning “pebble,” which would have been used to do such calculations.  A trained mathematician, Ian adds two more resources that will aid your understanding of this vital doctrine of the Trinity:

No matter what your personal faith tradition might be, or how you plan to celebrate it this Sunday, the final four verses of the apostle Paul’s second letter to the churches at Corinth are a fitting benediction for all who are following the footsteps of Jesus …

“Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like–minded, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints greet you.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:11–14)

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Practicing the Power of Pentecost’s Promise

Is the Holy Spirit the Forgotten God in your life?  Francis Chan asks that probing question in a book by that same title.  He continues with a corollary question: When was the last time you undeniably saw the Holy Spirit at work in or around you?

These are logical questions to ask the day after Pentecost Sunday because both imply the necessary “So now what?” that we must always ask after celebrating such a powerful event.  Did you know that’s what yesterday was? … 50 days after Resurrection Sunday?  Did your church celebrate Pentecost?  I worshipped at a church in Portland, Oregon yesterday (well-known for its Bible teaching), along with thousands of other folks, but no mention was made whatsoever of Pentecost … a lost opportunity!

The previous post on this blog … Preparing for Pentecost … focused primarily on the Promise of Pentecost, namely the Holy Spirit.  Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, He hinted at greater things to come for His disciples because of the Provision of the Holy Spirit.

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in My name, I will do it.  If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:12–15)

What could this passage mean for us today … Jesus–followers in the 21st Century? … “greater works than these he will do” … what are these “greater works”? … how is it possible for us as human beings to even come close to doing the “works that I (Jesus) do”?

The simplest answer may be found in geography!  Unlike Jesus, Who voluntarily confined Himself to one specific location at a time while ministering on earth, this new “Body of Christ” is spread all around the globe at any specific time, on any given day.

The proverbial “bottom line” is that as Jesus Christ’s “body” we become the visible hands and feet and heart of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
  The indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill this promise made by Jesus to His disciples.

The apostle Paul elaborates further on the Holy Spirit’s Provision in both of his letters to the church in the city of Corinth (I Corinthians 2:1–5, 10–16 and 2 Corinthians 3:17–18).

Jesus also spoke directly to His disciples about the Power of the Holy Spirit.

  • “…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” (Acts 1:8)

What are some examples of this “power” [δύναμις] … from which we get the word “dynamite”?

  • He convicts
  • He regenerates
  • He baptizes believers into His Church
  • He indwells
  • He seals
  • He illuminates
  • He gives gifts & empowers for service
  • He produces spiritual, character fruit

*For a more complete list, plus supporting Scriptures, click here and download a one–page handout on Pneumatology … the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

“Spiritual Formation” … the life of discipleship … cannot occur without the power of the Holy Spirit.  We may practice a variety of spiritual disciplines to aid this life–long process, but it is the living Spirit of God Who brings transformation of our character.

So now what? … How might we pursue this Holy Spirittransforming life?

  • Ask God to continuously transform our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Psalm 139:23 and I Corinthians 2:6–16)
  • Ask Him to lead us into the truth of His Word.
  • Ask God to point out the areas in our hearts that need to change.
  • Listen for His answers.
  • Ask Him to begin to change anything He brings to our minds.
  • Resolve to give Him space and freedom to begin/continue a work of change within us.
  • Ask for fresh, daily fillings of the Holy Spirit!

We don’t need to wait until next year’s Pentecost Sunday (May 20, 2018) to focus on the Promise, the Provision and the Power of the Holy Spirit as we pursue life, following the footsteps of Jesus.

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Preparing for Pentecost

The “Feast of Weeks” … or Shavuot as the Hebrews called it … was traditionally celebrated 50 days after Passover, commemorating God’s gift of the Law … Torah … to hundreds of thousands of Israelites encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai.  This gift signaled to a people on the run from Egyptian captivity that they were now a nation committed to serving their covenant–keeping Jehovah.

Fast–forward centuries later to a confused, but expectant and prayerful group of 120 Jesus–followers, gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate this same Jewish festival … 50 days after the Resurrection of their Messiah.  Ten days had passed since they had seen Him face–to–face … when He had instructed them to “wait for what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4).  As I wrote in an earlier post … “Navigating 40 Days of Doubt” … they had struggled with doubt and disbelief in the days following Jesus’ resurrection, even though He made multiple personal appearances to them.

Then God kept His promise on that feast day, giving a new, totally different gift … His Holy Spirit … signaling an entirely new entity … the birthing of His Church (Acts 2:1–13).  Invest four minutes right now to listen to this world–changing passage of Scripture [A Pentecost Meditation].

This coming Pentecost Sunday commemorates the coming of the promised and summoned Holy Spirit. Jesus had repeatedly promised this gift … the Comforter, Helper, Paraclete.

  • “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth … you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17)
  • But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth …” (John 16:13)

In these three verses penned by the apostle John, four parts of the promise emerge:

1. The promise was for another Helper [ἄλλος παράκλητος] … literally, “another of the same kind or nature”  Who was  “summoned to come alongside to render aid.”

2. The promise transcended time … He would be with them forever [εἰς αἰών] … meaning into an unbroken age, a perpetuity of time, what we call eternity.  This was revolutionary news!  During Old Testament times, the presence of the Holy Spirit was isolated, selective and temporary.  This is how Jesus fulfills another promise He made at the conclusion of His “Great Commission.”

3. Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase, “the Spirit of truth [ἀλήθεια] … indicating that which is objectively true in any matter, at any time, under all circumstances.

4. Finally, the promise was that the Holy Spirit “will guide into all the truth” [ὁδηγέω] … meaning to lead or “go before” on another person’s way or “road.”

As a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century, which of these Holy Spirit promises do you need at the moment?  Intentionally set aside some time this Pentecost Sunday to reflect on the significance of this historic day for your life of discipleship.

Happy Birthday, Church!

Peace & Joy!

~ tr

Calling all Patriots to Spiritual Vigilance

“Complacency kills”! … Those were the words spoken loudly in my living room four years ago during a men’s Bible study on the book of Revelation.  The brother–in–Christ who said them had served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Recon Marine on several dangerous covert missions fighting terrorism.  He went on to share that just as complacency can be lethal on the military battlefield, spiritual complacency can be devastating to the Christian disciple intent on daily following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Today we memorialize the sacrifices made by men and women to secure the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States.  It’s also a good day to remember the importance of remaining spiritually vigilant as followers of Jesus.

  • “Be sober–minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

The term “complacent” derives from Latin, meaning “to take the fancy of” … to be pleased with oneself or one’s situation, often without awareness of potential danger or defect.

Jesus wrote a letter to the local church in the ancient city of Sardis (Revelation 3:1–6).  The city itself was a sort of parable used by Him to demonstrate the dire consequences of complacency.  More than 700 years before this letter was written, Sardis was one of the greatest cities in the world, capital of the Lydian empire.  Strategically located on a 1500–foot plateau, it became known for commerce and wealth.  Sardis claimed to have invented the process for dyeing wool, and became the center of that industry.  Legend has it that Midas left gold in the springs of Pactolus, the river that ran through the city.  Sardis was the first to mint gold and silver coins.

Sitting atop protective, precipitous cliffs, “capturing Sardis” became a saying for achieving the impossible.  Yet, on two occasions the city was conquered by stealth, largely because of the complacency of the city guards.

Jesus warns the members of the Sardis church, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (v. 1).  In other words, their “deeds” consisted solely of their reputation for vitality, but with no evidence to support it.  Like their city, these Christians had grown complacent in their life with Jesus.

To counter their complacency, Jesus employs five imperatives to call them (and us) to spiritual vigilance:

1. “wake up(v. 2) [γρηγορέω] = to give strict attention to; be on the alert; literally, “show yourselves to be watchful.”  This strong phrase echoes similar warnings Jesus gave to His disciples regarding His future return to earth (Mark 13:33–37).

2. “strengthen(v. 2) [στηρίζω] = literally, “stand something on its feet” … to make stable, place firmly, set fast, establish something by making it strong.  One of the best ways to achieve this kind of strengthening is within the context of community.  In fact, spiritual formation … growth in Christ–like character … occurs best within the context of community.  Another member of the same men’s Bible study once shared a proverb he learned in Rwanda while on a short–term missions trip: “If you want to go fast, go alone.  But if you want to go far, go with others.”

3. “remember(v. 3) [μνημονεύω] = constantly bearing in mind … a present tense imperative denoting continual recall … but not merely bringing things to mind, but also putting them into practice.  The apostle Paul similarly charged his young apprentice Timothy:

  • “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14–15)

4. “keep (v. 3) [τηρέω] = to attend to carefully; to hold fast; to guard.  Written as a present tense imperative, the term is commanding continual action.  This verb means not only to keep or guard, but also to actively obey.

5. “repent (v. 3) [μετανοέω] = to change one’s mind.  This “global aorist” tense covers and summarizes the previous four imperatives.  In reality, when we wake up, strengthen, remember and keep, we will necessarily repent.  Once again, the apostle Paul shows the clear connection between “renewing the mind” and life transformation (Romans 12:2).

Jesus concludes His letter to Sardis with wonderful promises for the spiritually vigilant follower:

  • “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (v. 5)

The “overcomer” is the person who refuses to rest on past achievements … who eschews complacency … who remains spiritually vigilant … and who refuses to accommodate his lifestyle to the surrounding pagan culture.

On a day when we remember those who sacrificed their lives to secure our nation’s freedoms, let’s also strive to remain spiritually vigilant as we follow the footsteps of the One Who died to secure our eternal freedom … Jesus!

Peace & Joy!

~ tr