This is an old Bible study I wrote a few years back…
I grew up in the 1970s. My parents wanted to give us, as kids, a lounge and a room, so in order to accomplish this they purchased bolsters: solid foam pillows that could turn any lad’s bed into a couch. I never used it for a couch, but it made the greatest club as I would dual with my older brother.
We destroyed the house “bolster fighting”. On one particularly gruesome match, my mom came back to see her house ripped apart while she left us home alone with the simple orders, “Behave.” (Again, this is the 70’s when parents used to think like this.)
She found her house a wreck and sent us to our rooms. I then remember her ranting to my dad, who was sitting in an easy chair, reading a detective novel. She had enough. She worked to get ahead by having nice things, only to have them ruined by the boys in her life. When will they ever have nice things?, she asked him.
“I’d rather,” my dad said, his nose still in his book. “Have a house destroyed and kids beating the snot out of each other than a nice house penning in apathetic kids.”
This was my dad’s school of parenting: no one was ever to be a victim of apathy, of boredom. You made your own fun, you were responsible for your own joy. Don’t wait for it to come, you go out and find it.
A similar lesson was being given to the church of Sardis, found in John’s 7 messages to the 7 Asian churches found in Revelations. Simply put, the church in Sardis was held back from following Christ by apathy.
“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. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelations 3:1-6
Sardis was the town passed over by the Roman Empire. Located 30 miles south of Thyatira, it was once the proud capitol of Asia in Persia. A massive fortress city, it was surrounded by rolling hills and almost impossible to siege.
Sardis soon watched cities like Thyatira, Smyrna, and Ephesus rise as boomtowns. The desire to remain as “Rome East” and the very symbol of all things good and mighty form the Empire, they sent a delegation in 26 AD to Rome’s senate requesting that the Empire build a temple to the goddess Roma, so they could be the Eastern Hub of Empire worship. They were passed over and the temple was built in Smyrna.
Sardis had a rich history of military trade, but lost most of the commerce in the time of the letter to other cities. Instead, they made clothing and manufactured things out of wool (hence the clothing imagery). From swords to tuques, their dreams were dashed of being a boomtown. Sardis lay idle and bored and sad.
“Why can’t we be like Smyrna?” may have been heard on the streets. Due to their feelings of comparison, they did have an opportunity to build a temple but it was never completed. It would have rivaled the size of the one in Ephesus, but it forever remained in ruins: half-built, a visible symbol of a town giving up.
Comparison is what killed the town’s spirit, all tied up in being passed over on the temple never coming.
The problem of Sardis can be High Prairie’s problem, if not your own community’s problem if you live somewhere else: we compare ourselves to other places, other circumstances. And usually, those comparisons have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We lack a proper Telos.
Telos is simply a vision for a better life.
The world’s vision for success is more stuff, bigger buildings, friends with celebrities, and pretty children. This is an entirely alternative reality to that of the Kingdom of God: our lives’ scorecard is based upon God’s pleasure and will, not the compared success of other people.
How do we obtain such a vision of success that isn’t dependent upon our circumstances of setting?
1) We begin as approved workman.
Boom! Out the shoot, we’re considered a success in God’s eyes. Grace! Unconditional love! We are saved for ministry, not saved from ministry: this is the proper context of grace. This is a huge understanding when it comes to joy because it’s to see that our worth is already given to us by God (rather than having us earn it from Him).
2) Success is based upon the redemption of people, not in the buying of things.
Do we recharge our batteries by shopping? By getting things? This is certainly the message of advertisement. If we “recharge our batteries” the same way the everything else does, then surely we’ll just be as sour as everyone else. But if our joy is in the people of our town, our community, and in God…who can rob us of that joy? The world may seek to trade our joy, but it is still our responsibility to bring joy to the rest of our community.
3) “What is Christ already doing in the neighborhood?”
Asking this question requires an assumption: God loves your neighborhood and hasn’t given up on us. If this assumption is true, what then is He doing around us, in our community?
It becomes a glorious “hide/seek” game: what is Christ already doing and how can we partner with Him in His redemption of our town. Sardis was a great town because Christ was still at work: clothing people in righteousness. High Prairie is a part of that same vision: let’s change our lens and discover how the Kingdom of God is already amongst us.