Thursday, September 11, 2014

Grace isn't as amazing if it's not a wretch that it saves: an exposition of Revelation 3:14-22.

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

Revelation 3:14 introduces a letter, and it reveals to whom and from whom the letter is written. We see that it is written to a church. It's written to a group of people who profess to know Christ; indeed, we can assume that they assemble together under that common profession. Specifically, it is written to "the angel of the church in Laodicea," but verse 22, providing the other bookend to the letter says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches," (emphasis mine). While is it written to a specific church in a specific time, the content of this letter is beneficial for the ears of all those who live under the name, "Christian." The second thing we see in Revelation 3:14 is that the letter is written from Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:20 describes Jesus as "the Amen," the one through whom all of the promises of God are made "yes" to us. Revelation 1:5 says that Jesus is "the faithful witness." And Colossians 1:15-18 describes Jesus as the "beginning" and as the one through whom all things were made. So as we look to at this letter, we ought to first recognize that these are Christ's words to us. These are words from the one who created us, who knows us and brings a truthful testimony to us, and who came to sacrifice himself for us. As we read the words of Revelation 3:15-21, we read the very words of our Savior, words that bring authority and truth and love.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Verse 15 begins with Jesus telling the church that he knows their deeds. And, by their deeds, he knows that they are neither hot nor cold; instead, they are lukewarm. I've heard this text often interpreted on a scale. Often times, people will describe someone who is "hot" as a person who is passionate, and they describe someone who is "cold" as a person who is hard-hearted, sinful, or openly rebellious against God. Hence, a "lukewarm" person would be someone who is apathetic or back-and-forth in their faith. If this interpretation is correct, then Jesus is saying he would rather we be for or against him than to have an apathetic relationship with him. However, there's never a place in Scripture where Jesus prefers that we are against him. Jesus is always calling us to be with Him, and he says, "Whoever is not with me is against me." Instead, when Jesus uses the words hot, cold, and lukewarm, I believe he is contrasting two pleasant things with an unpleasant thing. One thing that I think supports this interpretation is that the only other place this word for cold is used in the New Testament is in reference to a cold beverage. So consider hot and cold as two pleasing drinks, things that are satisfying and good. Lukewarm is the place where those drinks become unpleasant and unsatisfying. What Jesus is saying to this church is that he looks at their deeds, and he's not satisfied by them.

And what does he say about this lukewarm church? What, by their deeds, does he say about their hearts?

Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked...

This church doesn't see their need for Christ. They're perfectly satisfied with the kind of church they are, the kind of people they are, apart from Christ.

They're wretched and they don't know it.
They're miserable and they don't know it.
They're poor and they don't know it
They're blind and they don't know it.
They're naked and they don't know it.

But how could someone be wretched and not know it? It must be because they think they aren't wretched! This is such a simple answer, but this is also an incredibly scary and philosophically troubling reality that is presented in Scripture - that people would look at themselves and see intrinsic goodness and worthiness - that people would consider themselves to have an intrinsic right to God's favor. But Scripture tells us that we are born in iniquity. Our flesh is at war with the purpose of God. We've worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. We can sing "Amazing Grace" a thousand times, but grace isn't as amazing if it's not a wretch that it saves. We diminish the cross when we diminish our sinfulness. Consider that even the Apostle Paul considered himself the chief of sinners, and who am I to even compare myself to Paul? In order to ever see the wonder of the grace extended to us in the cross we must first see ourselves as wretched and sinful apart from Christ. The bigger we see the picture of our own sin, the bigger we'll see the picture of the grace that covers it, and the bigger we'll see the cross that accomplishes it.

But how could someone be miserable and not know it? It must be because they think they are happy! What a sacrifice we make when we trade the rich satisfactions of knowing Christ for the cheap satisfactions of the pleasures and treasures of the earth. A person who is miserable and doesn't know it is a person who has sought happiness in things that weren't meant to provide it. Every source of joy on this earth is meant to point us to the fountain of all joy, Jesus Christ. All good things are from him, and when we see this world as an end for satisfaction, rather than as a means to satisfaction in God, we are truly miserable, even when we don't know it. You may think that misery is of your own determination, but that is such a foolish thought. Your happiness is extended to you by other things, and if you find your happiness in fleeting things, then your happiness is forever fleeting.

How could someone be poor and not know it? I assume you see the pattern of my questions. And the pattern of my answers: the person who is poor and doesn't know it is a person who finds contentment in earthly treasures. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that a man cannot serve both God and money. The poor man, like the miserable man, is not poor by his own determination. He is poor because he has put his hope in fleeting things. Hebrews 9:27 says that all of us will die and face the judgment of God. What leg to we have to stand on in the presence of God if all we have is what we can take with us. The person who has sought Christ for the treasure of righteousness has riches forevermore in the face of judgment. The person who has put his hope in earthly things will have nothing on Judgment Day. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus because Jesus asked him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The rich young ruler was a poor man. The person who has sought earthly treasures and luxuries and comforts will have none of it for eternity. He is truly poor.

How could someone be blind and not know it? Several times in the book of Judges it says that Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Many will argue today that people's honest attempts to do good are enough for God to grant salvation to them, or for them to even have merited it on their own. But when Judges tells us that people did what was right in their own eyes, it was not a commendation or a pat on the back or a participation trophy. This was a condemnation of Israel for straying from the revealed will of God. Jesus tells us to walk by faith and not by sight because, on our own accord, we're truly blind.

Finally, how could someone be naked and not know it? Scripture often ties together nakedness and shame. Before the Fall, we seek Adam and Eve as naked and not ashamed. After the Fall, we see the shame of nakedness awakened. What it means for someone to be naked and not know it is for them to not be ashamed of something that Scripture tells us that we should be ashamed of, or perhaps vice versa, being ashamed of something that we ought not be ashamed of. God created man in a particular image and with a particular purpose. However, in our sin, the image of God in us is broken and we have betrayed our purpose. This is our shame. This is our nakedness.

As we continue to walk through this letter, may I ask you to consider where your own heart is? I mentioned earlier that this letter presents a scary reality, namely that we can be deceived by our own hearts. Consider how significant it is that only those who would consider themselves Christians are qualified candidates for being deceived about their salvation in Christ. So let us not neglect the practice of examining ourselves, as 2 Corinthians 13:5 commends to us. Jesus said that he looked at the church's deeds, and it is by their deeds that he knew whether they were hot or cold or lukewarm. So rather than thinking cognitively about what we believe, let's examine our deeds. And, in order to do so, I want to give us some measuring sticks, in the form of questions, to see whether we are in Christ and pleasing to God or outside of Christ and what this letter describes as lukewarm.

I would suggest to you that the lukewarmness of the church that Jesus describes here in Revelation 3 can be summed up in the idea of a comfortable Christianity. Unawareness to wretchedness, misery, poverty, blindness, and nakedness involves a certain comfort-level with disobedience. A lukewarm Christian is OK with who they are apart from Jesus. A lukewarm Christian is comfortable with a reality apart from Jesus.

Are you comfortable saying that you are a Christian and not going to Jesus in prayer regularly? Are you comfortable with a life that doesn't devote itself to Jesus? Are you comfortable with a life that doesn't evangelize? Are you comfortable with spending all of your money on yourself?

Most of us would say no to those questions. But most our lives would preach yes to those questions.

When was the last time you prayed outside of a meal, or at a time that you weren't expected to because of a particular role you may serve? When was the last time you read the Bible outside of church, or even in church? When was the last time you shared the gospel with anyone?

How could we suggest that we are living lives that are pleasing to God if our lives would suggest that we're comfortable without him? Later in this passage, Jesus analogizes a relationship with him as dining with him. Could we really say that our lives look like people who are dining with Jesus?

Our lives would probably suggest that we're comfortable with the idea of not knowing Jesus very well. Our lives would probably preach that we're comfortable with the idea that there are people in our community and in our family that, if they died today, would spend an eternity apart from Christ. Our lives would probably preach that we're comfortable with a reality of people suffering while we live in comfort. Our lives would probably suggest that we're lukewarm.

So what does Jesus say to the lukewarm church?

I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Jesus just told the church that they were poor and don't know it, yet he advises them to buy gold? How do you buy gold if you are poor? What a wonderful gospel Jesus brings. The gospel is where gold is free. The gospel is where shame is covered. The gospel is where blind eyes are opened. On the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God we deserve. This is huge. We're wretches who deserve to be hanging on a cross, yet Jesus, in his love, took our place there. Jesus beckons us to give him our poverty, and he will give us his riches. Give him our shame, and he will give us his righteousness. Come to him blind, and he will open our eyes. Coming to him costs us nothing but worthless things. The holy God from whom you've separated yourself with your sin wants to be with you and has paid a high cost for your righteousness. Come to him.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

You are loved by God. He seriously loves you so much that, even in your poor, blind, and miserable state, he sent Christ to die for you, that you might have the riches and the righteousness of God forever. But his love for you isn't marked by tolerance and acceptance. His love for you is often marked by reproof and discipline. For your own good, God calls you to be zealous and repent. If you've been blind to your need for God, I pray that today you will see the depth of your depravity and turn to him. When you turn to Him, he not only gives you the power and desire to live a life that pleases him; he gives you everything that is pleasing for you as well.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Jesus knocks on the door of the lukewarm. Behind his knocking is him telling you that, apart from Him, you are a wretch. Behind his knocking is loving reproof and discipline that calls you to repentance and zeal for God. And when you come to Christ, all of the benefits of Christ are made available to you for eternity. In Christ, you have righteousness and pleasure forevermore. Christ wants to dine with you and for you to dine with him. With blood, he purchased your right to be with him and to enjoy him. And by the same power that raised him from the dead, he works in you to continue fighting to give up all of the things that once separated you from him.

"Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the things of religion may become common to you!" This quote by B.B. Warfield is a wonderful reminder that the things of our religion, things like prayer and devotion and discipleship and evangelism, are not burdens or sources of boredom. In fact, he reminds us that it is a great danger for us to think of them that way. Instead, they are privileges that bring us greater satisfaction in God! Things like prayer and devotion and discipleship and evangelism are the most intimate ways that we dine with Christ.

As you dine with Jesus, you learn to taste and see that He is so much better than anything in this world. You learn that purity is so much more beautiful than impurity. You learn that temporary affliction isn't worthy to be compared to eternal glory. You learn that no temporary pleasure is worthy to be compared to your fight for joy in God. You learn that the kingdom of God is worth giving up everything for. And, increasingly, you come to realize that you want everyone else to dine with Jesus too.

Bring your wretchedness, and trade it for righteousness. Bring your poverty, and trade it for riches. Bring your blindness, and trade it for sight. Put your faith in Christ and trust him with your life. Come and dine with him at the table. Even if you're already there, come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice Teach Us About Ourselves

You're probably familiar with the hype surrounding Victoria Osteen and the hype surrounding Ray Rice. You may, however, be wondering what I'm going to say that they have in common. But for those who have just come out of a short cryogenic freeze or have had their head buried in sand, allow me to recap the hype briefly.

On August 28, 2014, a video of Victoria Osteen went viral in which she said, "I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God. I mean, that's one way to look at it. We're doing it for ourselves because God takes pleasure when we're happy. So I want you to know this morning: just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself because that's what makes God happy. Amen?" In response to the video, social media has exploded with hate toward the Osteens for their message of a man-centered God whose greatest attribute is his favor toward us.

On September 8, 2014 TMZ released a video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiance, now-wife, in an elevator and then dragging her out the door. Within hours, his contract was terminated by the Ravens and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. Every sports news station featured this story throughout the day, expressing their outrage at Ray Rice and supporting the decisions by the Ravens and the NFL.

You may be asking, what do Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice have in common?

What the Osteens and Ray Rice have been doing lately hasn't changed all of a sudden.

In 2004, Your Best Life Now was published. In it, Joel Osteen says, "God wants you to get your hopes up...We should get up in the morning confidently expecting the favor of God. Start expecting doors of opportunity to open for you. Expect to excel in your career. Expect to rise above life's challenges."
In 2009, in Become A Better You, Osteen says, "God wants you to go further. He's a progressive God, and He wants every generation to be increasing in happiness, success, and significance...Somebody may have rejected you, but you can hold your head up high knowing this: God accepts you. God approves you."
In 2011, Every Day A Friday told us, "It is your choice to be happy. Make up your mind to enjoy this day, to have a blessed, prosperous, victorious year. You may have some setbacks and your circumstances may change, but don't let that change your mind. Keep it set on happiness...When you take that approach, you prepare for victory, increase, and restoration. God says to the angels, 'Did you hear that? They're expecting My goodness. They're expecting to prosper in spite of the economy. They're expecting to get well in spite of the medical report. They're expecting to accomplish their dreams even though they don't have the resources right now.' When you begin each day in faith, anticipating something good, God tells the angels to go to work and arrange things in your favor."
In 2013, I Declare was published, and here are some quotes from that book. "You may be in a difficult time right now, but let me challenge you. Don't use your words to describe the situation. Use your words to change the situation. Use this book as a guide for declaring your victory each day. Declare health. Declare favor. Declare abundance...God is saying today, 'You need to get ready. Where you are is not permanent. I have explosive blessings coming your way. I will increase you beyond your salary. I will bless you beyond your normal income. I will suddenly change things in your life.' That's how the word explosion is defined. It means 'sudden, widespread increase.' That's what God wants to do for each one of us."

In February of 2014, Ray Rice was arrested for assault. A few days later, a video of him dragging his fiance out of an elevator was released by TMZ. The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL gave Rice support through the assault charges, and he went through an intervention program to avoid prosecution. Rice and his fiance were married, and their relationship was seemingly reconciled. In May, Rice formally apologized to everyone, and in July, the NFL announced that Rice would serve a 2-game suspension for Rice to begin the year. At that time, everyone who was personally involved seemed to agree that this penalty was fair. Rice even received a standing ovation from the Ravens' fans in the preseason as an acceptance of his apology and support for his attempt to move on from the incident.

What happened with Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice teaches us something about ourselves.

We are more driven by sensationalism than we are by conviction.

We all know that there are abandoned animals in need of adoption, but somehow Sarah McLachlin helps us feel it. We all know that racism exists, but somehow a white police officer shooting a black man makes us feel it. There is a problem when something that all of us already know suddenly sparks exponential emotion from us when we see it more explicitly in a 30-second video on YouTube.

It's not a good thing that we respond to something with enthusiasm only after we've been introduced to emotionally-charging portrayal of it. It's not a good thing for us to need to see Victoria Osteen succinctly saying what her husband has been teaching for over a decade before we'll exhibit real concern about the danger of a man-centered God and a gospel that promises health, wealth, and happiness. It's not a good thing for us to need to see Ray Rice hitting his wife in an elevator before we'll express outrage about an incident of domestic violence that we already knew occurred. It's not a good thing for us to need to see the holes in Jesus' hands before we'll trust that it's him.

We need to become a conviction-driven people, rather than a people who only really respond to the hyper-stimulation of our emotions. We have truths before us, and if we believe that those truths are important, then we need to take strong stands, and even act, on them without some political or social cause. Otherwise, our culture will force us into inconsistency. So will you wait until the next trending hashtag, or will you stand on truth in the downtime? I pray that our convictions will be strengthened, particularly convictions regarding the lost in this world. We have truths that God has given us to change the world. Let's not wait until we feel them before we act on them.