Getting Noticed

Epidemiologists not longer classify COVID as a pandemic.  Now, apparently, we are in an ‘endemic.’   A disease becomes ‘endemic’ when it “persists in a population or region, generally having settled to a relatively constant rate of occurrence.”  In other words, the virus has become a part of the furniture of life and is no longer ‘going viral.  

The phrase ‘going viral’ used to carry only bad connotations.   But social media has made ‘going viral’ the goal of influences, extroverts, and narcissists of all stripes.   It means you are getting noticed.   And most of us want to get noticed.   Our style, our vibe, our pursuits all tend toward this end.   We want to be seen, loved, valued, cherished.   Yes, even introverts want to get noticed.   They just don’t want to have to talk with anyone about it.  Even Solomon recognized this need in the Proverbs when he wrote.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips. 

Proverbs 27:2

But there are times we don’t want to get noticed.   When we prefer anonymity.  Times we would like to be an Invisible Man.  When we want to say, do, or think things we shouldn’t.  Or when we don’t want others in our business.   We try to fly under the radar.  Or at least deceive ourselves that we can.   The hard reality is that we never live outside scrutiny.  

While the Orwellian suspicion that ‘Big Brother is watching’ is increasingly plausible, there is without a doubt, an Eternal Father who is.  Nothing escapes his gaze.  The things we want to go unnoticed are not.  And the things no one else seems to notice, are.    The Chronicler’s words are both encouragement and warning.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

2 Chronicles 16:9

Unbelievers hope God will not see.  Believers pray He will.   The temptation for both is to believe that God either cannot or prefers not to see and act.   But the Heavenly Father comforts his children with reminders that He sees, cares, and acts.    This theme repeatedly shows up in the tears and prayers of Psalmists.  

They pour out their arrogant words;
    all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
    and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

Understand, O dullest of the people!
    Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see? 

Psalm 94:4-9

God does see.  God’s purposes are not thwarted.   He is not apathetic to the condition of the world.  The universe is not spiraling out of control.   Injustice does not have the upper hand.   Oppression is not the inevitable last word.   The English poet William Cowper struggled with God’s Providence.   His collaboration with John Newton on the Olney Hymns was repeatedly halted by bouts of deep depression.   Yet this collection, included some of the great hymns of the faith, including one which gave voice to Cowper’s own struggle.

God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
    And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
    The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
    He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
    And he will make it plain.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper

Whether you recognize it or not.  You are getting noticed.   There is one who sees.   Who cares.  Who acts.   Does this give you comfort?   Or does this terrorize you?   Are you afraid God sees you?  That nothing is hidden from him?  You need to know Jesus, the Worthy One, who endured God’s wrath and justice for what we hope God will not see in us.   Believe in him and when God looks at your sin, he will see only Jesus’ righteousness.    

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

2 Corinthians 5:21

In Revelation 5, this Worthy One comes forward to take a scroll from the hand of God.  This scroll is the book of God’s eternal decrees – the unfolding of redemptive history.   As Jesus opens the sealed book in Revelation 6, a series of visions remind us that any apparent delays in God’s fulfillment of His redemptive plan for this world are just that – appearances.   God is at work.   Everything is unfolding just as He intended.   The unjust are getting justice.   The people of God have not been forsaken.   And God is winding down the old heavens and earth to make way for the new.   God sees.  He cares.  He acts.   And this is comfort when everything we see seems to say otherwise.

Join us this week as we examine Revelation 6 and find comfort in the reminder that, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

04/04/2021 | “Worthy?” | Revelation 5

In Revelation, Jesus had hard words for his beloved bride, the church.   Her love for him is costly.   And growing even more costly.   She must face external threat and internal turmoil.   She is tempted to love herself more than Him.  Or to love Him less than herself.   She struggles with purity and commitment and the purity of her commitment.   She is often complacent, apathetic, and neglectful.   She questions whether, ‘to love Him at a cost, is a bargain.’   ‘It is worth it?  Is He Worthy?’   

We ask the same thing.   Not out loud of course.  But in the quiet hours and in Valleys of Shadow.  Following Christ is costly.   ‘Is He worth it?  Is He Worthy?’  God is kind and gentle with his children.   He knows our anxious thoughts.   The Revelation paints a dramatic picture of sacrifice and final victory.   But the climax of this picture is not in its last brush-stroke, but in its first.  In Revelation 5, the real question is posed – the question that answers all others.  “Is He Worthy?”  And the answer?  “He is!”

“Worthy!,” Revelation 5


I confess, I don’t like to part with my brass.  I’m not a miser.   If a thing is needful and worth what it costs, I am all in.  But I don’t get there quickly or casually.   In this, I am my father’s son.    My childhood Saturdays were consumed by running errands with my dad.   We drove all over town, comparing market prices on Borkum-Riff pipe tobacco.   My father was not about the convenience buy.   Before Google, he used gasoline to fuel his comparison shopping.   He would agonize over simple purchases and use yellow legal pads to analyze his options.   He would not part with his brass unless he could prove it was worth it.  As Wendell Berry noted, for my Dad, “the Depression was not over and done, but merely absent for a while.”

We all want to know that the things that are truly costly in our lives are ‘worth it.’  Our education, vocations, investments – our love, our deepest commitments, are they worth it?  Are the things that cost the most, worth the cost?   While true that “to love any good thing at a cost, is a bargain.”  All too often, this perspective can only be discovered in retrospect.   In the middle of the costliness of loving any good thing, the yellow legal pads are constantly analyzing.  ‘Is it worth it?  Is he or she, worth it?’   

The angst of that question, ‘Is he worth it?’ puts its finger on the pulse.  Deep love is deeply costly.   Self-love, or selfish love, view this question as one of convenience not cost.   But love and costliness are directly proportional.  As one grows, so will the other.   “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).   Love and costliness track together.   ‘Is it worth it?  Is he or she worthy?’  How many times have you spoken this to the darkness?

In his Messages to Seven Churches in Revelation, Jesus had hard words for his beloved bride, the church.   Her love for him is costly.   And growing even more costly.   She must face external threat and internal turmoil.   She is tempted to love herself more than Him.  Or to love Him less than herself.   She struggles with purity and commitment and the purity of her commitment.   She is often complacent, apathetic, and neglectful.   She questions whether, ‘to love Him at a cost, is a bargain.’   ‘It is worth it?  Is He Worthy?’   

We ask the same thing.   Not out loud of course.  But in the quiet hours and in Valleys of Shadow.  Following Christ is costly.   Bonhoeffer rightly wrote, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”   ‘Is He worth it?  Is He Worthy?’  God is kind and gentle with his children.   He knows our anxious thoughts.   The Revelation paints a dramatic picture of sacrifice and final victory.   Through it, God reveals ‘what is and what is to come.’  But the climax of this picture is not in its last brush-stroke, but in its first.  In Revelation 5, the real question is posed – the question that answers all others.  “Is He Worthy?”  And the answer?  “He is!”

Join us this week as we examine Revelation 5 and answer the question, ‘Is He Worthy?’  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

The Amen!

It is always an error in judgement to guess what a congregation is thinking.  Even if they are giving verbal and non-verbal feedback, interpretation is a fool’s errand.   When it comes to an audience, what you see is definitely not what you get.   Swaying, or nodding or “that’s right” from enthusiasts does not mean they are dialed in.   And the inert crowd who spend the sermon staring at their shoes may not be checked out.   Just because someone seems asleep and another is saying “Amen!” does not mean you really know what is going on inside.

The deportment of a listener is often more about culture than comprehension.   Feedback does not mean the hearer is really hearing:  hearing with their ears, their minds, their hearts, or their souls.   Especially if the word lands a punch.    It is easy to zealously agree when a speaker brings hard truth for the guy in the next seat.  But when it is our turn, will we listen?   How loud is our “Amen” then?

How willing are you to say “Amen” when the hard word hits home?   When it penetrates the pretense?  And divides the deepest thoughts and intents of the heart?   The message to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 is familiar.   They are the lukewarm church.  

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

This church was lukewarm.   Not frigid, nor on fire.   They were middling, going through the motions, not getting too excited about Jesus, God, or the Bible.   No fanatics here.   No controversies either.  Nothing but moderation.   And while we say, “moderation in all things,” the lukewarmness of the Laodicean Church made Jesus sick to his stomach.   He is sickened by their complacency and contentment with a “form of godliness” but with no pursuit of its power.

Jesus knows their works – but none are worth mentioning.   Their only noteworthy work is that they are not what they should be.   Not very impressive.   The Church in Laodicea is the only one of the Seven Churches to receive no positive praise – only rebuke.   Not because they are a Synagogue of Satan.  Nor because they have failed to discipline heretics or silence false teachers.   But because in Laodicea, “just enough is good enough” when it comes to following Christ.  

There is no concern to grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus.   They are content with what they have, who they have, and how they have always done things.    Then top that off with a stunning lack of spiritual self-awareness.  “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

What if we made such a statement?   “We are rich in our faith and need nothing.   We don’t need anything or anyone else.  We are content with our spiritual progress.   We love our little group, just as it is.  We are comfortable with things the way they are.  We don’t see any point in stirring the pot by getting all hot and bothered about Jesus.”   The Laodiceans think they have it all together.  But Jesus offers a stinging rebuke.  In a city famed in the ancient world for its ophthalmology, they could not have been more blind.  

They have laid up treasure, but are not rich toward God.  Spiritually they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.   But not just them.  This is the assessment of all who are lukewarm toward Christ.   Content that “just enough is good enough.”  Who have no desire to pursue and follow Christ.

Are you content with your relationship to Christ?   Is just enough, good enough for you?   Are you hot?  Or cold?  Or lukewarm?   The Lord speaks a hard word.   He is “The Amen.”   He is the faithful and genuine witness.  He has a hard but faithful word for a soft and unfaithful church.   Will we hear it?  Or will we bow up or turn a deaf ear?

Jesus’ word is sharp, but something tender shines through his rebuke.    Christ does not cut this church loose, take their lampstand, or cast them away.   Instead, he calls them back.   “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”   In the ancient language, he used a word for love that declares tender affection for those indifferent toward Him.  

They have everything they need from church but have put Christ outside.   He stands at his own door and knocks.   What about us?  Have we been so satisfied with our church, our programs, our fellowship, our spiritual pursuits, that we have pushed Jesus out of the center?  And even out of the church?   If we are pursuing something other than Christ, we too are growing lukewarm.

An account Scottish pastor, Ebenezer Erskine, illustrates this well.

A lady who was present at the observance of the Lord’s Supper, where Ebenezer Erskine was assisting, was much impressed by his discourse. Having been informed who he was, she went next Sabbath to his own place of worship to hear him. But she felt none of those strong impressions she experienced on the former occasion. Wondering at this, she called on Erskine, and stating the case, asked what might be the reason of such a difference in her feelings; he replied, ‘Madam, the reason is this—last Sabbath you went to hear Jesus Christ; but to-day, you have come to hear Ebenezer Erskine.’

Who do we come to church to see?  What do we come to worship?  Who will we follow?   Whose love constrains and animates us?   If the answer is not ‘Jesus’ you might want to take your temperature.   Are you growing lukewarm?   Join us this week as we consider Revelation 3:14-21 and consider the diagnosis and the remedy for lukewarm Christianity.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Good Friday Gathering

Join us for a Good Friday Gathering of Songs and Readings, Friday April 2, 2021 at 6:00 pm on the grounds of the Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.   We will gather outside around the bonfire for food, fellowship, and a time of songs and readings to observe Good Friday. Bring your favorite Mediterranean food or dessert. Click here to get the Readings and Hymns. We look forward to seeing you.

The Open Door

I grew up in a culturally diverse community.    Nowhere was this more evident than at the Belvedere Plaza Theater.   In the age before Netflix and Hulu we caught the latest flicks on the big screen.   At the Belvedere, watching a movie was a true communal experience.   The audience was fully engaged.   We did not merely watch the drama unfold.   We advised, chided, and cheered the characters, especially if the movie was suspenseful.    The Dolby surround-sound was drowned out by cries of “Girl! Don’t you go in there!”  And “don’t you do it.  You know he’s gonna get you.”  Every warning louder and more earnest than the one before.

Hapless teens strolling through abandoned campgrounds were always walking through doors better left alone.   They clearly needed our counsel.  And my little theater community was not shy about warning them, loudly and colorfully, to watch out and keep out.  Everyone knew that an open door led to nothing good. 

We all have a fear of open doors.   Yes, they represent opportunity, but they also represent uncertainty.   Uncertainty about what is ahead of us and uncertainty about what is inside of us.  We never know what is behind the next door.    Or how we will handle it.   But the open doors we often fear the most, are those the Lord opens.  

Though opened by the Lord who loves us through all eternity, who gives us life and works all things for our good, we struggle to shake off the fear that we know more about our happiness than He does.   That it is somehow a divine trap.  He opens a door that no man can shut.  But will we follow Him to it and through it?  

The message to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3 is remarkable.   Christ has no word of condemnation, only commendation for this church.   His message to them is filled with the imagery of the open door.  He is the Lord who holds the keys.  He is the one who opens doors which no one can close and closes those which no man can open.   Philadelphia was founded as a gateway city — not to defend the Greek cities to the west, but to evangelize peoples of the east with Greek life and culture.   And now the Lord has a more important gospel for the Philadelphian Christians to carry.    

He calls them to the open door.  Doors in the Bible often represent new opportunities for ministry, but they also represent the path from life to death and from loneliness into community.   All these things are part of Christ’s call come to and through the door he has opened.  For Christ not only opens the door but, John’s gospel tells us, He is the door – the way, the truth, and the life.    He is the only way for us to come to the Father, find real community, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose. 

He has opened a door which no man can shut.  Are you afraid to go through it?    Join us this week as we examine the message to the Church in Philadelphia from Revelation 3:7-12 and consider the call to follow Christ through the open door.   

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  Click here for the Order of Service.

Staying Awake

“Gravity is stronger in my bed.”   My daughter’s insight was incisive.   Certainly, there is some multiplier, some unaccounted for coefficient in the calculus of rising from bed that makes it so difficult.   As a young man, getting up was a challenge.   I had multiple alarm clocks, hidden in different places (but never the same places twice) to get me on my feet for that early morning appointment.  But all too often, even this dynamic algorithm was not enough.   Forcing yourself awake is hard.   Clearing away the fog of the dream world and breaking free of nocturnal atrophy takes a strong act of will.

But staying awake can be equally demanding.   Pulling an all-nighter seems like a bold stroke at 7:00 pm.  But at 3:00 am when the euphoria takes hold and every bad pun becomes hilarious, the wisdom of this stratagem wanes.   As a software engineer, I pulled many all-nighters.   The challenge to stay focused, stay sharp, and guard against the careless mistake or misstep grows exponentially as night plods toward dawn.   But with every passing hour, vigilance becomes more critical to success.  Especially as downtime is winding down and users are waking to work.

Staying awake, remaining on guard, staying on track is an occupational hazard of the third-shift.   The sunless, sleepless hours draw minds and bodies toward drowsy and dangerous complacency.   But falling asleep is an even great danger in our spiritual lives.   Persecution and adversity are enemies to our faith.  But complacency is equally deadly.  Yet much more subtle and common.  The Bible warns us from cover to cover to “watch out,” “take heed,” and remain vigilant. 

This is the warning to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3.   To the world they seemed alive.   They did the things churches do.  They said the things Christians said.  They were untroubled by persecution or pressure.   But complacency was their undoing.   Despite appearances they were dead.   And Jesus warns them to “wake up.”    Their complacency was proverbial in the ancient world.  Twice the seemingly impregnable citadel of Sardis had been captured, simply by a failure to remain on guard.

Sardis had once been the jewel of the Lydian empire, ruled by Croesus, a fabulously wealthy and ambitious king.   So ambitious that he dreamed of victory over Cyrus and the Persians.   Croesus inquired of the Oracle at Delphi about his chances.  She told him that war with Cyrus would result in the “downfall of a great empire.”   But he never guessed this meant his own.    After a series of humiliating defeats, Croesus, retreated to the safety of Sardis.

High on Mt. Tmolus in western Turkey, sheer cliffs protected Sardis on three sides.   It could be easily defended by a small force.   But Cyrus always thought outside the box.   He offered a large reward to any man who could find a way into the city.  A Persian guard, Hyroeades, scanning the walls, noticed a Lydian soldier drop his helmet from the defenses then climb down to retrieve it.   Sensing an opportunity, Hyroeades led a small group of men to find and make the harrowing climb.   When they reached the battlements, they discovered them completely unguarded.  

In their complacency and overconfidence, the Lydians did not even post a guard.  Hyroeades threw open the gates and the city fell.    The story of Sardis’ fall is proverbial.   But it was a proverb they never took to heart.   This story repeated itself a few hundred years later following the conquests of Alexander the Great.   And at the time Revelation was written it repeated itself in the life of the Church in Sardis.

How careful are we to be on guard in our spiritual life?   In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples could not stay awake.   How crushing it must have been to hear Jesus’ lament.

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

Matthew 26:40-42

What about you?  Are you spiritually asleep?  Has the relative safety and comfort of being a Christian in our culture caused you to leave your life unguarded?  How easily does the enemy of your soul exploit the unguarded areas of your thoughts, your words, your actions, your loves, and your ambitions?   Jesus commanded to the Church is Sardis is to “stay awake,” remain watchful.   For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is apt for us. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12.   How watchful are you?   Are you struggling to stay awake in your spiritual life?   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 3:1-6 and consider the call to “wake up.”   

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

The Third Mark

Three strikes and you’re out!  Even if you are not a baseball fan you know what it means.  No more chances.   Now you must face the consequences.   As a boy, I heard this phrase often.   After all, I grew up in Atlanta listening to the Braves during the Seventies.   If you followed the Braves in the Nineties, you remember the rousing sounds of a packed Braves’ stadium, thundering with the tomahawk chant and chop.  But in the Seventies, there were no crowds, no chants, and very few sightings of Chief Noc-A-Homa (let the reader understand). 

There were a few bright spots.  Men like “Hammering” Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro labored for what must have felt like a lifetime with other legendary cellar-dwelling Braves.   But for diehard fans like my mother, there was little to celebrate.  In those days the Braves could hardly give tickets away.   My mother and I attended many games on 25 cent “knot hole” tickets.  The schools also gave away scores of tickets to students with good grades.

But my mother never gave up on her beloved Braves.  Summer evenings were spent sitting on our carport listening on the transistor radio to Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren, and Skip Caray call the “balls and [mostly] strikes.”  She was a die-hard fan, ever optimistic.  You had to be to be a Braves’ fan.   I always regretted that she did not live to see the Braves in the World Series.

Three strikes and you’re out.  No more chances.   While this is the rule in baseball, it is not the rule of grace and life together in the church.   The community of grace, the body of Christ, the Church is characterized not by three strikes, but three marks.  The faithful preaching of the Word, faithful administration of the sacraments, and faithful exercise of discipline.  Three marks which are interrelated and indispensable.   These are means of grace, given so we might grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and in love, service and devotion to one another.

Many churches boast faithful preaching and teaching.  Some carefully observe the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But how many practice discipline?   Discipline is hard.  Hard for those who receive it.  And as our fathers assured us, hard for the ones administering it.   As in parenting, discipline is often messy and inconvenient.  It is easier to let things slide.  Easier to ignore problems, hoping everything will “just work out.”  But it never does.   Because we assume discipline only leads to division and departure, we avoid it like the plague.    But peace, purity, and prosperity in a family, especially a church family, never comes by neglecting discipline.   Quite the contrary.

This is the message to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2.   Both churches are highly praised.   The church in Pergamum held fast against intense persecution.   Pergamum was the epicenter of a hostile, Satanic culture, yet the believers there had not wavered – even in the face of martyrdom.   And the Christians of Thyatira were praised not only for their love, faith, service and patient endurance, but for growth in each of these areas.   Unlike the Ephesians, their latter works exceed the first.  

At first glance, these churches appeared solid and impregnable.   But as is often the case, the greatest threat to a church is not from the outside, but from within.   False teachers were promoting compromise with the gods of culture and commerce.   “Go along to get along” was their theme.   And the churches tolerated it.   Disguised as ‘seeker sensitivity’ and ‘cultural awareness,’ this false teaching continued unchallenged.   And the false teachers continued undisciplined.    

For all their merits, their lack of discipline was a serious demerit.  So serious that Jesus threatened to “war against them with the sword of his mouth” and “throw [false teachers] onto a sick bed and those who commit adultery with [them] … into tribulation.”  And even to strike some dead so that all the churches would know that he is the one “who searches mind and heart.”   This was the most severe threat issued yet to the Seven Churches.  

Failure to discipline is deadly.  Deadly to a church and deadly to its members.   We might think it more loving to avoid it.   But discipline is a mark of real love.  Jesus takes discipline seriously.   Do we?  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 2:12-29 and consider why the Church struggles to practice discipline but why we must.    

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Photo by Mike Bowman on Unsplash

Under Pressure

One of creation’s great wonders is water.   The earth and its inhabitants are made of it.   Unlike most matter, water rebels against convention as it moves from liquid to solid.   While most substances become denser when they freeze, water expands.    And in a world teeming with aquatic life, that difference is crucial.  Ice floats.   If it sank, aquatic life would be forced to the surface as lakes, ponds, and rivers froze, depriving plants and creatures of warmth and oxygen.  But in God’s remarkable design, ice floats, insulating and preserving aquatic life.

This past week, however, many discovered that what is a blessing to fish, is not so great for plumbing.   Added to the sounds of children sledding and car wheels spinning, was the groaning of pipes and the rushing of water.   The pipes under our house burst.   Or rather should I say, one pipe burst.   The rupture to a single span of copper pipe was only half an inch long.   Yet the force and volume of the leak was prodigious.  The sound was like the sound of many rushing waters.   The pressure required to get water from lake to tap is immense.  And in a frozen instant, that pressure can bring unbelievable destruction.

And, so it is with the circumstances of our lives.   We live under the pressure of uncertainty.  We try to prepare, to plan, to insulate and anticipate.   Yet we can never get it quite right.  We all think want to know the future.  That is, until we do.   The older you get, the more you realize that prescience is not a panacea.   Foresight, when we get it, frustrates because we rarely have the power to alter or avert what is foreseen.   Foreknowledge without omnipotence easily leads to paralysis.    A pastor once commented that “anxiety comes from an awareness of our finitude.”   Hence, we say “ignorance is bliss.”  Or as Wendell Berry expressed it through Port William resident, Mat Feltner, “The mercy of the world is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”   But ignorance is only mercy if you know and trust the one who is neither ignorant nor impotent regarding the future.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Smyrna in the Revelation is remarkable.   It contains neither commendation, nor condemnation.   Jesus never says, ‘nevertheless, this I have against you.’   This brief message has but one message, “hold fast!”   No matter what comes, “hold fast!”  The pressures building against Christians in Smyrna were dire and intense.   And worse, they were betrayed by those who ought to have been brothers.    Jesus words are concise and succinct.   “Be faithful unto death.”   How would you like to receive this message?   No matter what happens do not break with your faith.  Do not turn away.   Do not compromise.   Rest in the Faithful One, the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities.  We do not get to pick our cross.  We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it.   Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ.  But there it is.   We may seek compromise to avoid it.  Or seek mere relief rather than peace.   But consider the words of Ralph Erskine.  ”Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”

What is your response to persecution?  To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ?   Where will you seek rest?  In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle?  Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Falling Out of Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  We spent it huddled inside as Snowpocalypse 2021 descended.  Our family celebration with its hand-made cards and home-made fondue is postponed until the Winter Storm Warning expires.   But we do not need a day on the calendar, and more importantly, we must not wait for a day on the calendar to express love for loved ones.   

Roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards are not to be despised.  That is unless that is all there is.    Our love must never be a casual thing.  We speak of “falling in love” and “falling out of love” as though it is a sickness or spontaneous whim.    But whirlwind romances lead to precipitous marriages then often to heartbreaking divorces as men and women follow only their heart’s desire.  

But love is not a thing to be fallen into or out of.  It grows out of commitment and grows into even greater commitment.   We don’t make vows to love one another so long as we both shall “feel like it.” Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”  

For newlyweds this day is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But as a pastor, I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

Ruth 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.    She had not lost her first love.   The intensity of her love for her beloved had not waned with adversity or prosperity or familiarity.  Quite the contrary, it had grown.    Romance may wane and take new forms, but love must grow.   When it does not grow, when it declines, when love for our beloved is diminished because of a growing love for ourselves, then something is dreadfully wrong.  Even if all seems well on the surface.

The Ephesian Church was a church on the move.   They were hard workers.  They were straight as an arrow, doctrinally.   They had solid elders who knew how to spot a fake, a mile away.   They strenuously resisted the compromising theology of the progressive Nicolaitans.   Though they lived in a city and culture, unpromising for the Christian faith, by all appearances, they were prospering as a church.  But for all their theological acumen, solid eldership, and commitment to hard work, they were missing the most important ingredient to the Christian life – a growing love for Christ and for one another.  

The Risen Christ makes a shocking accusation – “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  For all their praiseworthy attributes, Jesus’ verdict is so serious that if not remedied, they would cease to be a church – “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Jesus remarked, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)   Do people recognize that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the way we love Him and one another?  If not, He is coming — coming to take our lampstand.

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” and consider how this opening message to the Church at Ephesus is a warning to us of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube