Sunday, April 22, 2012

Touching Base! Part 162

Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times, Part 1 
Appearances Can Be Deceiving – Revelation 2

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This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Ever tricked someone? Ever made someone believe that everything was ok, but meanwhile everything was not okay? Inside you were dying, falling apart, blowing apart in slow motion? At times we can do a pretty good job at living duplicitous lives.

We are now embarking on a series that will take us through the book of Ephesians. However, as we come to this book, this city and this church, I thought we would fast forward to Revelation 2:1-8 first. This is where John, through the Holy Spirit, confronts this church with its duplicitous living. On the outside they look great, but on the inside… well, you know don’t you? We have all been there at one time or the other.


The question we answered on Sunday was, what does death look like? This may seem like a strange question especially as you read v.2 and 3. It seems like anything but death, but v.4 clues us into a problem - appearances can be deceiving. Note the words that describe this church in v.2, 3.

Deeds – What was very visible was that this church was busy. People could tell that a lot was going on just by reading the bulletin.

Hard Work – Notice in v.2b that their hard work resulted in doctrinal purity. Forty years after Paul admonished them to remain doctrinally pure, they are doing just that (check out Acts 20:25-31). Notice that in v.6 they are commended for hating the work of the Nicolaitans. Nicolaitans, possibly, a group in the early church who sought to work out a compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit society in which they found themselves. This was a politically-correct kind of faith. No doubt guarding doctrinal purity and doing that for a church is hard work.

Perseverance – During this time in history the Roman Emperor was lighting Christians on fire as torches for his dinner parties… Christians were also being kicked out of Rome. It was, to say the least, not the best of times to be wearing a cross as part of your jewelry.

What church would not be honoured to be described as Ephesus is in v.2, 3?

But now, as a group read v.4 and 5. What is the problem and what are the steps to restoration?

Perhaps what was happening in this church was that they ended up falling in love with the tools and initiatives and programs and pats on the back - falling in love with deeds, hard work and perseverance, but not with Jesus. Perhaps the mission became the end, not the means to loving Christ more. It’s the same with worship - we can fall in love with how good it sounds etc. but miss out on where it is suppose to lead us. This church was not growing in intimacy with God but growing in intimacy with work!

Note - it is not until Jesus walks amongst this Church and speaks that any one is saying anything. This problem that John is speaking about can slip in by the back door of any church, hide in the shadows and go undetected… until Jesus shows up and walks amongst us.

What perpetuates us to keep going, if it is not coming from the heart any longer?
What is it about how we live our lives that can lead to this?
What is it about the atmosphere of the church that can accommodate and produce this duplicitous state?

Talk about how easy it is for churches to do the work of God minus the presence of God.

When we accommodate a cooling heart, how is this manifested in our personal lives? Below are some of my answers.
  • We don’t allow conversations to go anywhere near the heart - out of bounds!
  • Sometimes those closest to us may not know a thing. We are well protected.
  • The discipline of prayer and being in God’s word has dried up
  • We become more guarded and private
  • We are not approachable on “soulish” issues
  • We may do the right things in many cases but not with passion but more from “muscle memory”
  • We depend on patterns to guide us, not much spontaneous, impromptu acts of loving God
  • We may struggle with guilt, shame or sadness 
  • We are often lonely because we are too embarrassed to talk about it.
  • The path of least resistance is to do nothing

But Jesus walks amongst us!!

What is the way back to a healthier place? Note some clues in the text…

Jesus walks amongst us - He seeks out relationship, he seeks out connecting and intimacy. I think Jesus feels ignored in Ephesus. Like standing by a highway with vehicles speeding by you at 100 miles an hour- people are speeding by Jesus. His footsteps in our presence reveal a God who desires relationship and restoration. Remember in the garden the same picture is painted. God walking amongst his creation whose hearts have wandered.

V.5 Remember the height… I think this is referring to the “good old days” of their walk with Christ. Remember the days when your heart was on fire, passionate? I think this church could sit around and talk about “Remember the good old days…” but the conversation was brief when talking about the heart. That is the kiss of death - how about “these are the great days!”, how about “the great days are ahead!” When you start living out of the rearview mirror you know you are in trouble. Jesus says remember the height, so that the days ahead can be better than ever.

V.5 Repent and do the things you did at first. Based on v.2 and 3, they are doing a lot of things. Do they need to add more? I think what John may be getting at is doing things that one needs to do to nurture our heart for God. Sometimes we can get doing so many things that we don’t do the things we need to do to stay tight with God. Agree? What are the things you did or experiences you had that kept your heart on fire for God?

V.7 He who has an ear let him hear (relationship vs. rules). Ears are for relationships, not just rules. Perhaps they have been so busy doing, that they have not spent enough time listening.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.” Dwight L. Moody

The reason Jesus walked amongst the churches then, and still does today, is because He wants us to love Him! He wants to be the main thing in our lives. Note in v.7 that He believes that we can overcome and that the promise of restoration and healing is very real and possible.

This series of messages is entitled, Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times. Only a heart on fire will push back the cold chill that our world wishes would consume our hearts.

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