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What did you get?

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I have to admit that when I was in school, I was a mark-comparer. I generally got good marks, but that wasn’t enough. No sir. No matter how good my marks were, they were only actually good if they were better than the marks that my chief rivals (read: friends) got. Of course, they were as much into this as I was, so after we would get a test back, we would have the “what did you get?” conversation.

“What did you get?”

“Well, what did you get?”

“I asked you first”

“I got an A”

“Oh (smiling), I got an A+”

“Did you study?”

“Naw” (not true)

“Me neither” (also not true)

 In the book of Revelation, chapters two and three, Jesus has John send a letter to each of seven Churches in Asia. Each letter was basically the Lord’s evaluation of how each Church was doing, and some did well while others didn’t do so hot. These seven letters circulated together to all the Churches along with the rest of the book of Revelation, placing each fellowship in the unique position of being able to look at the test scores of the other Churches, and compare marks.

As a long time mark-comparer, I can sympathize with the leaders of the Church at Laodicea. As far as they were concerned, they had done really well for themselves. Their fellowship was rich and popular – a really “happening” Church, as we would call it today – and as they received the book of Revelation and began to read it, they must have been looking forward to getting their A+ from the Lord. I can imagine their sympathy for that little Church at Smyrna, whose test scores were posted second after Ephesus. Ephesus got a real dressing down and a stern warning to repent. But poor Smyrna! It didn’t seem like the Lord had the heart to criticize them for the weakness they probably brought on themselves. Jesus even condescended to say, “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich.” Rich. That was nice of the Lord to give them pity marks, even if the word “rich” did seem a little too much, even for Jesus. And I can almost feel the pride swell in the leaders of the Church at Laodicea as they read through the report cards of the other Churches, just knowing that they were the last ones on the list because they would get the highest marks from the Lord.

All of which made the blow, when it came, feel all the more devastating.

“I know your deeds (Nice! He must have seen our website!), that you are neither cold nor hot. (Is He talking about the air conditioning in the sanctuary?) I wish you were either one or the other! (What’s He talking about? Do we need a new thermostat?) So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (I’m not sure that’s positive…)  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ (Ah, back on track. Self sufficiency. That’s a good thing. Here comes our A+) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”(Did we get the wrong letter?)

The Lord continues to humble them by stating, in effect, that the Laodicean Church had locked Him out of their building, and that it would be a good idea for them to let Him in, so that they could begin to recover from their desperate state of poverty and affliction.

Poverty and affliction? Wasn’t that Smyrna? Actually, that was the rich Church. Laodicea – the ones who were rich and needed nothing – that was the poor Church. From this apparent paradox, it seems clear that Jesus uses a different set of tools than we do to measure our success as the Church. Our measure looks at the outward appearance. His involves the heart. Our measure records the height of fame. His plumbs the depths of character. Our measure gauges ease. His notes perseverance. Our measure is short-sighted. His is far-reaching. In other words, Jesus tends to look at the important things, and we don’t. And it’s not like the Lord has hidden from us what He values. The Bible is an illuminating resource in that regard. I think the problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s truly important or what’s best for us, but that we don’t like it. It’s kind of like carrots versus candy.

One of the most frightening things about that poor Church – Laodicea – is that they sincerely thought they were doing great. By the world’s standards, they were extremely successful and popular – a credit to their religion. And yet, the opposite was true. They were failing. It took the Lord’s stern, yet loving, rebuke to wake them up and prevent them from building a Church that, although it looked really good, really amounted to nothing. And all this was because they simply mistook what they thought was important for what Jesus thought was important.

As the Church, and as individual followers of Jesus, it is crucial that we don’t make that mistake. It’s the difference between a rich Church and a poor Church, a rich life and a poor life. And since we only have the one life, I’ll take the carrots.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

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