Sardis-A Currency of Honesty

There is a little latin phrase on the back of each Forge shirt: “Esse Quam Videri.” It means: “To be, not to seem.” In the Forge, we talk alot about this concept, but this phrase took a deeper meaning at Sardis.

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
Revelation 3:1-3

“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” Jesus says to the church. This hit a deeper note for the people of Sardis because of their history. Sardis was known for being an impregnable fortress, but twice in their history military generals found secret passageways into the city that ultimately led to its defeat (verse 3 alludes to the thief in the night as well). In 17 A.D., Sardis was decimated by an earthquake, but then rebuilt and became a massive Roman city (60-100,000 people). In 640 A.D., Sardis was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. So much for being invincible…

The city of Sardis didn’t have an accurate, honest perspective of itself, and neither did the church there. The church at Sardis was not what it appeared.

“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

“having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5). 

The church SEEMED a certain way, but it just wasn’t. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Sardis presents a visual picture of pride. In Hebrew, the word for pride literally means “to be high, tall or majestic.”

sardis

And even 3 year olds building little fortresses discover that the higher something gets without widening the base, it will fracture and fall. The greater the gap is between your perception and the actual reality, the taller you are growing in pride. In other words, the more you are seeming than being, the more prideful you become.

The struggle is real! And this was the struggle of the Church in Sardis. It’s not that they weren’t doing enough. Jesus even says: “I know your works.” The problem was their works were incomplete.  Among the early Christians, especially in the book of Galatians, we can see the struggle that Jewish Christians had. They believed in this order of salvation:
1. Believe in Jesus.
2. Obey the Law/Do good works.
3. Then you are saved.

But Paul (and Jesus) argue for a different order of salvation:
1. Believe in Jesus.
2. Then you are saved.
3. Obey the Law/Do good works.

The difference is subtle, but it changes everything. The believers in Sardis thought they were doing well because of their works–but Jesus shows them quickly a different measure of success.

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:4-6

 Worthiness comes from believing in Jesus’ as our righteousness and not our good works. Even in verse 3, Jesus urges the church: “Remember, then, what you received and heard.” Received. We tend to know and can spout off that salvation is BY grace THROUGH faith. But is not the means of salvation also the means of sanctification? Are we saved by grace but then perfected by our own efforts and works? No!

So often, I’m motivated to do good things to sleep better at night or feel like I have a purpose, or feel less guilty for my failures in other areas. But isn’t that just seeming more than being? Are we seeming more than being because it’s too depressing to face the reality of our own brokenness?

The message to Sardis reminds us that the Gospel allows us to be honest with ourselves and with God. To actually be rather than seem. The message of the gospel is: you are dead in your sins, but God has made you alive in Christ. NOT “You have the reputation of being alive but are dead.” Pride increases the gap between the image we build of ourselves and reality. Let’s be real: we can’t handle the honest reality of being totally dead and helpless to overcome sin. But the Gospel allows us to face that reality with hope. We were dead and totally screwed up, but God saves us.

And interestingly enough, this is not an argument against good works at all. But the order is important. With a Sardis perspective, good works are designed to maintain an appearance and self-justify. They actually accomplish something for your spiritual life–whether it’s to absolve guilt or achieve holiness. They help you “Seem” more like who you hope to be. But with the Gospel perspective, good works are a reflection of the good works of Jesus. It’s a statement of living within the design and course that God has for us. In that light, good works are coming from a place of “being” not “seeming”.

Questions to Consider: What about us? How are you doing on your pride? Is your Christianity you managing an appearance or is it clinging to Jesus?

Aphrodisius-Lessons from the Via Sacra

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5

I have already written about Aphrodisius and the lessons learned from their stadium, but another valuable lesson came from this place. But first a little background on the city: Aphrodisius was a city named after Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. The city didn’t start booming until around the second century B.C. Aphrodisius was the favorite city of Julius Ceasar and he declared it as his own. The city was known for its incredible art work, so much so that the most famous art school in all of Asia was located here.

 In the canonical image of Aphrodite, she has handmaidens dancing around her, between the god of the sky and the god of the earth. This is displaying the message that “love is everywhere.” There are capricornus, which represents that Aphrodite also has dominion over the sea. This makes the point that art isn’t just an expression; it means something.

In the city of Aphrodisius, a temple was made to Julius Ceasar, in a style that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the ancient greco-Roman world. They made a Sebasteion, a temple for the emperor, but its structure was known as the  Via Sacra, or sacred way.

Aphrodisias-sacred way

This structure was 80 meters long and contained over 200 panels of ornate friezes, each containing life size depictions of roman mythology or Roman victory.  Currently, the structure doesn’t have all the friezes, but many of them have been preserved in a museum where you can see them close up. I wish I had taken more shots of the individual friezes, but they were just incredible. All of them hand made, and you wouldn’t believe that stone could be made so life-like. This structure took 40 years to build! Here you see again: art means something. In this case, this temple showed the value the city placed on the emperor but also displayed the message of complete Roman victory.

And what made this structure so magnificent was that it contained 200 panels of friezes. One frieze in and of itself was amazing, but to see the panels next to each other, that was breath-taking.

In the Forge, one of the main things we processed was answering the question: “who are you and what are you doing here?” In other words, as Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Forge focuses on helping you learn and understand what the good works are that God prepared you specifically to do. The word for handiwork, is the Greek word “poema”, which means artwork, handiwork or poem.

It is so important to learn about yourself and how God designed you, but when you come to a place like this and see this structure where all this artwork is put together, you realize that the question isn’t so much “who are you and what are you doing here?”, but rather “who are we and what are we doing here?”

1 Peter 2 says that we are being built into a spiritual house. We are a royal priesthood. The last time I checked, a house took more than one stone and a priesthood was composed of more than one priest. And we have the best cornerstone and most faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ Himself. And what is the purpose of this house and priesthood?

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
1 Peter 2: 9b

Handmade artwork always has a message. God made you with his hands. What is your message?

Is your message and declaration the praises of your God and King? Or is it another message entirely? And on the next level, does your message fit with the message of rest of the Church? Are we unified in such a way that the world sees us being built together and it takes their breath away? Each of us is God’s poema, but together, we are God’s Via Sacra. Together, we bring God the most glory, so much more so than when we just live our individual Christian lives.

Aphrodisias-Sacred Way 2

Questions to consider:

  1. What is your design? Have you been living it out?
  2. How does living out your design or not living it out affect the Church?
  3. What is a barrier to you in pursuing unity with other Believers?
  4. Have you ever experienced Christian unity in a situation? How did it bring God glory?

Aphrodisias-Lessons from a Stadium

The Greco-Roman world was obsessed with sports. Whether it was Olympic games, from the Greeks, or Gladiatorial games from the Romans, obsessed would accurately describe the state of mind people had about such games. While in Aphrodisias, we had the privilege to sit in the largest, best preserved stadium from the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Aphrodisias-Stadium

Paul uses tons of sports analogies(Phil 2:15-16; Gal 5:7; Acts 13:25; Acts 20:24; Phil 3:14 2 Tim 4:4-8), and when you consider the culture he lived in, it makes sense. One of the themes in these verses is the idea of the possibility of running in vain. For example:

Galatians 2:2 “ I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

 What does it mean to run in vain? isn’t every run at least helping you stay in shape whether its a race or not? Think relay race and passing on the baton. Running in vain is if the first person pours out all their energy and strength to win the relay race and the next team member ate chili-fries for breakfast and hasn’t trained at all and ends up crawling their portion of the race. One team member works hard and another is slacking. When we think of it that way, I at least experience a little gut punch–like “am I running with the same vigor in my Christian life that the apostle Paul had?”

Another concept is staying the course. For example, Acts 13:25 says, “And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’” This is the same word used for “course” in Ephesians 2:1-3 that refers to “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” We are all following a course, whether we do it consciously or not.

We are designed for something specific and therefore, we must stay the course.The stewardship of this design is not unlike an athlete’s training. And how do athletes train? They discipline their bodies. Like Paul says:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[b] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Why would a Christian discipline his body? The greek word there, by the way, literally means to “hit my body.” Why would a Christian do that? Because we obey God with our bodies, not with our brains. Understanding a spiritual concept does not equal obedience. So, why do we beat our bodies to submission? To stay the course, lest we should be disqualified.

It’s so easy to understand how an olympic trainer who has used steroids should be disqualified from winning. Most people have no tolerance for that sort of behavior, but somehow, when it comes to the Christian life, we feel very entitled to our shortcuts and to the prize. I’m not saying that disobedience leads to loss of salvation, but Christians will be held accountable for how we steward our gifts (more coming on that about the Bema and Corinth post) and whether we stay the course.

In light of this, consider Jesus:

Hebrews 12: 1-3 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus ran his course; therefore, so can we. Why? Because his running of his course achieved victory for us all. His winning sets us free to run our course. We can therefore run in obedience, not to earn favor or good standing with God, but to follow the course that Jesus has already lady in front of us. Therefore, we can say:

I will run in the path of your commandments for You have set my heart free!
Psalm 119: 32

Aphrodisias-Natalie Lacey Sandwich.JPG

Faith and Failure

Failure is such a good teacher. I hate that, but it’s true.

I recently  got to have a conversation with a young man who is really feeling his shortcomings in his life–the question of: “am I really enough?” Am I doing enough? Is God’s grace big enough for me?

Gosh, I feel it too. I’ve been reading Revelation 2 and 3 a lot recently, which is Jesus’ letters to the churches. What is consistent in each letter is that Jesus says something like: “I know your works, toil, tribulation, or poverty.” He knows. Jesus then gives an encouragement, followed by an exhortation/challenge, which is followed by a promise to the one who conquers. Obviously, these scriptures are relevant today, but I just wonder, if Jesus was writing a personalized letter to His church in America, what it would say. What would our challenge be? What would he say he knows? It honestly spurs in me what I think is a healthy fear of: “If I were tried, would I really come out as gold?” Yes, grace. But also, yes, obedience. And that thought alone leaves me asking the same questions that this young man is asking: “Am I enough? Am I obedient enough? Is God’s grace big enough?”

And in my conversation with him, I got to share with him how failure is one of our best teachers. Not just spiritual failure in the sense of “I didn’t share the gospel when I should have” or “my heart motivation was impure and therefore I failed.” But failure–in academics and work and relationships and any area really–teaches us about the gospel. I feel like I’ve been experiencing this a lot recently.  When I have to speak in front of people and I don’t do as well as I hoped, what do I learn about the Gospel? When I work with all my energy and power to recruit enough people to be in the program and the numbers still don’t line up, what does that teach me? When you legitimately make mistakes in communication with other professionals and have to take ownership and apologize, what do you learn about God and yourself? Lots of things.

What are some of these lessons?

When we fail in front of others, we are forced to recognize that performance doesn’t achieve our identity. Rather, our performance flows from our identity. I can say that I don’t have performance issues  all day long and that my confidence is in Jesus. But if I never fail at performance, I never have to find my value in anything other than my performance. When we don’t measure up, that’s when our gospel faith rubber meets the road.

When we fail in relationship with others, we recognize our need for grace–to receive it or extend it.  Thus, again, we are forced to believe that performance does not achieve identity. We take ownership and we are able to repent and experience (hopefully) the grace and mercy of others. And if they can’t forgive, we at least experience God’s grace. We are loved because we are loved by God–not because we achieved it.

When we fail, we realize that we aren’t as important as we would like to believe we are. So often, I want to avoid failure because I want to earn the right to stay–in a position, friendship, leadership role, etc. But friends, we are not irreplaceable because of our demand to be present but because of our design. In the words of a wise teacher: “the room to fail is bestowed upon us. There is nothing that we could do that God couldn’t do better.” Furthermore, if God required that anything he asked us to do be perfect, he wouldn’t have asked us to do it.

Let that sink in for a moment. God is not asking that we be perfect. God is not surprised by our failures. His plans are not thwarted by our failures. In fact, the Christian life requires practice.

So, am I telling you to go forth and fail? …maybe?? I guess a better way to apply these lessons is to evaluate: How often do you wrestle with failure (relationally, professionally, etc)? If you don’t remember the last time you needed grace or had to consciously remind yourself that your value comes from Jesus and not whatever incident just unfolded, I would evaluate how hard you are working to avoid failure. Evaluate why that is. Don’t necessarily seek out failure, but certainly don’t fear it. If you do, you may find that your faith is misplaced in yourself instead of a Mighty God who loves you. His love matters the most.

Ancient Hospitals and Lessons on Idolotry

One of the places we got to go to on the Turkey trip was an “Asklepion” or “house of healing”–aka ancient Roman Hospital. Asklepios was the god of healing, who was represented by a serpent on a pole. For ages, the symbol of healing has been the serpent(connection to Numbers 21:8). The Asklepion we visited was in Pergamum, which apparently was the 2nd largest Asklepion and most important one in Asia. Many important people, including emperors went to this particular Asklepion seeking healing. In fact, there are several documented cases of healing in this place.

Asklepion-1

To be treated here, first you had to make an offering to the god Asklepios. Then, upon leaving, you had to leave a token of appreciation, which was often a statue or replica of the body part that was healed. If you came in a real emergency, you would enter the surgery room and be put to sleep, where hopefully, you would hear from the deity in your sleep.

Asklepion-surgery room

The picture above is the ceiling of the surgery room with a pipe where we heard Matt Lantz speaking to us from the outside…Likely, it’s the sound system the gods used as well.

Now, if you went to the Asklepion and didn’t get healed, there were a couple obvious reasons. Either: 1. the gods were angry with you, OR 2. you didn’t have enough faith. Both of which could potentially be remedied through your own efforts.

Who was really in control of the healing? Was it the gods? Then why were they so easily manipulated? Healing was not a gift; it was achieved by hard work and peace offerings of men. Contrast that with the way Jesus performs healings and miracles in the Gospels. In the Asklepion, people prayed to idols for healing. Idols serve man. Idols can be manipulated by man. Idols really just present us with a false sense of control. Jesus had the power to heal and didn’t wait for peace offerings to perform such miracles. He demonstrated his authority over blindness, deafness, lameness, muteness, and demons. Yes, it helped the people he healed, but it also demonstrated His power and glory. There was no illusion about who was really in control when Jesus was around. Even the wind and the waves obeyed him.

In the first century world, to go to a hospital, you had to engage in idol worship. If you were a Christian and your child was sick, what would you do? No wonder James says:  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Prayer to the One true God is vastly different than the pagan, superstitious peace offerings to the different gods to appease them to get them to do what you want. 

The Apostle John ends his first letter with the exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” That sounds easy to 21st century hearers because we don’t really engage in worshipping statues or replicas of gods. But…consider the mindset of idolatry: “the gods serve me and my purposes.” “If I perform certain rituals, I can get the gods to do what I want them to.” Or even “my faith can make me well.”

The idolatry of the Asklepion is very evident because healing was a tangible need that the people faced. Don’t we all want to be in control when it seems our bodies are completely out of control?  When we are in pain? The areas where we seek the most control may be evidence of where we are approaching God as if he were an idol.

Then how do we approach obedience or spiritual disciplines or seeking God? How do we pray? I’ll write more on that when I write about Paganism, but for now, consider the following:

To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
    chooses wood[h] that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
    to set up an idol that will not move.
Isaiah 40:18-20

Questions to consider:

  1. Do you ever approach Jesus as if he were Asklepios? How so (or not so)?
  2. Do you approach God as if he exists to serve your purposes or as if you exist to serve His? What makes you think so?
  3. What are the areas in your life that you seek the most control in?
  4. What are the differences between the Lord God and idols?
  5. How do you demonstrate true trust in the Lord?

King of Death

My grandmother very recently passed away. All of us grandkids called her “Nanoo”. Nanoo had Alzheimers for years, so in many ways we have been grieving her for a long time as it’s been a long time since her mind was fully there. But man, just reflecting on her life and impact the past couple of weeks has made me so, so thankful for her and the heritage that her and my Grandpa have. They paved the way for the next generation. Their ceiling was their children’s floor. And their children did a great job raising me, my siblings, and my cousins. We have a very blessed family.

And as I’ve been reflecting, it’s been honestly kind of weird. It is such a loss that she’s not on this earth anymore, but at the same time I am glad that she is in a better place and has her mind fully back. And I don’t say that as a trite statement. Her death has caused me to reflect much more so on several things.

Ephesians 2 says that we were dead in our sins. After being around Nanoo at the visitation, it hit me much more so how powerless we are, how powerless Nanoo would be to come back to life. There’s nothing we could do. And this is the analogy God uses for our sin. We were dead in it, not sick in it. Sick people can take steps to get better. Dead people need to be revived, and that revival must come from outside of them. Ezekiel 37 paints an amazing picture of this; it is about the Valley of Dry Bones.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So Ezekiel prophesies, and he hears a rattling as muscle and flesh form over the bones. Then he is commanded to prophesy that these body shells will live, and the Lord God causes breath to enter them.

That is the power of our God. He can make dead things come to life; He is the Author of Salvation. None of those revived people could take credit for what just happened to them. It was clearly an act of God–and that is a wonderful picture of our salvation. Friends, we can’t save ourselves–because we can’t beat death.

Jesus is the King of Death. Every other king’s reign ended with his death, but Jesus’ reign and dominion exceeded it. This is why, for those of us who trust in Jesus during our lives’, we can face death with hope, courage, and confidence. Finally, our faith will be sight and we will see our King.

Philippians 2 says that:

God exalted Jesus to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

He’s the King. Eventually, every knee will bow, but my hope is that we choose to bow before eternity. At Nanoo’s funeral, my dad spoke and talked about the image of facing God our judge on judgement day. Without an Advocate, we will face judgement alone. But for those whose faith is in Jesus’ work on our behalf, we can face God the Father with Jesus our King and Advocate. We can face death with hope. Without Him, death is the saddest, most grievous thing we can experience. We are powerless to prevent it–humans can only delay it. And without Jesus, we would be hopeless to face it.

So, Nanoo’s death has reminded me of the beauty and miracle of salvation. We’ve already experienced a resurrection of our souls. Eventually, we will experience a full resurrection and glorification and be with our Lord. Nanoo trusted Jesus, which is why I can write this post with joy. I think it would honor her for the gospel to be proclaimed through her death. May we all trust Him and trust that our King is powerful over all things, even death. Therefore, we can rejoice even in the face of it.

Hieropolis-Considering Death

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-2

The second day of our trip, we went to Hieropolis. Not to be morbid, but it is a city that makes you consider death. We started the day at a grave yard. In Ancient Rome, the dead were buried outside the cities, and thus it was called the Necropolis or “city of the dead.”

Hieropolis-Necropolis

Then we went to Philip’s Martyrium. A martyrium is a place to remember Martyrs, almost like a memorial. Philip’s martyrium is the largest one and was built around the 5th century. Philip was an apostle. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Philip is only listed in the list of Jesus’ disciples. But in John, Philip is mentioned 12 times. Why was his Martyrium built in Hieropolis? Philip was known to have pastored in Greece and Phyrgia, but at some point, he did come to Hieropolis. While in Hieropolis God performed a miraculous healing through Philip, and the wife of the Governor of Hieropolis thus became a Christian. The governor, however, hated this, and in response found Philip. The Governor had Philip flogged, ran a ring through his heal and drug him through the city, and then had him crucified upside down. In his last moments, the governor had Philip’s wife and daughter brought before him to be brutally raped.

Hieropolis-Philips Martyrium 1

Yes, Hieropolis makes us consider death. How could a person face death like this? One of the interactions that Jesus had with Philip, He talked about death:

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
John 12:20-26

This is one of those Jesus stories where you read it and wonder if Jesus heard the question the disciples were asking. His response just seems to random and unrelated. But look at what He says again.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

That was exactly Philip’s outcome: death. But in that, he kept it for eternal life. The seed has to die to bear the fruit.

Philip approached life with the end in mind. He was living in such a way to where he could say John 17:4 “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” He would rather obey God and die than have the comforts of this life. Like many other 1st Century Christians, Philip wasn’t concerned about safety because he wasn’t afraid of men. He was more concerned about holiness and obedience than safety, even to the point of death. And friends, without a God who resurrected, Philip would be rather foolish indeed.

The resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith. It enables us to approach life with the same attitude that Philip and so many other 1st Century believers had.  So, may we consider death, but in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, in light of the Believers who have gone before us–living a life of such obedience that they faced death willingly.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are you doing now so that you can say John 17:4 at the end of your life?
  2. How does the resurrection of Jesus affect how you view death?

Laodicea-a call to come

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
Isaiah 55:2-3

Before going on the trip to Turkey, as I was studying the letters in Revelation, every time I got to Laodicea, I was overwhelmed with how similar it seems to be to the American Church. After going there, the lessons sunk in even deeper.

A little history on the city of Laodicea: it was established in the third century B.C. It was one of the tri-cities, the other two being Colossae and Hieropolis. In 17 A.D., there was an awful earthquake in the area that destroyed the whole city (along with several other cities in the region). The Roman Empire sent money to repair the city. In 26 A.D., Laodicea competed to be the Neocorus for Tiberius and lost to Smyrna (another blog coming on Smyrna later on). The reason given to Laodicea is they didn’t have enough money.

Well, that was an insult, because one of the things that Laodicea was known for was their wealth. So, much so that when another earth quake hit in 60 A.D. and destroyed the city again, Laodicea refused the money from Rome to rebuild their city–just to prove that they didn’t need Rome.

So, what else was Laodicea known for?

  1. Their Medical school of optometry. Disothenes, an eye doctor from Laodicea wrote a book about the eye that was still being used 1,000 years later. This optometry school had developed several different kinds of salves to be used on the eye.
  2. They were known for their tepid water. While the location was very strategic, there was not a good water source near Laodicea. Hieropolis was known for their hot mineral springs…
    Hieropolis-Pammukale.JPG
    And Colossae was known for the cold, fresh water that came from the mountain snow melt off. Laodicea, on the other hand, utilized finely built aqueducts, but by the time the water got to the city, it just tasted awful. Sure, they had a solution to the water shortage, but it tasted infamously bad. Here are the remains of one of the aqueducts:
    Laodicea-water pipes

They were also known for their sporting industry and their fashion industry. They had a solution for everything. They were self-sufficient and by almost all standards a very successful city.

Now, look at Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 
Revelation 3:14-17

What does Jesus rebuke this church for? Being wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. A blow to literally everything that Laodicea was known for. The church in Laodicea may have seemed outwardly successful, but they were blind to their own ineffectiveness, which is another blow because they were known for their optometry school. The water analogy is not an analogy to make the point to “be on fire for Jesus!” but rather more of a statement that Laodicea’s self-solutions to their problems/shortcomings tasted bad. They were self-reliant and self-justifying.

Does that not sound like the Church in America? Self-reliant and self-justifying? We have a solution to everything and most of the time those solutions originate within us. We are addicted to self-help. And I think about if I were Jesus how I would respond. I would probably reprimand the church  and tell them to get rid of all their stuff and to change their attitude.

But how does Jesus respond?

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Revelation 3:18-22

He extends true wealth, true sight. He doesn’t call them to less; He calls them to more. Jesus loves the church of Laodicea. He calls them to be zealous and repent of their self-sufficiency and self-justifications. He extends relationship; he doesn’t demand it.  Jesus offers true victory, true success with him.

Laodicea-Sunset

The world says: “you are what you make.” Jesus says: “You are who I say you are, and I say you are loved.” The world says: “show me your strength by what you can do.” Jesus says: “when you are weak, I am strong and My power is made perfect in weakness.” His message is  come.

Is that not a true picture of grace? Jesus does not treat the Laodiceans as their sins deserve. His solution can not be manufactured or achieved by being self-reliant, strong, or powerful–because Jesus’ solution requires being with Him and not alone.

We need God, friends.  So, Lord, let us come.

Jesus, the True and Better Emperor

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
Luke 2:1

Caesar Augustus was a big deal. To get the context of him, we have to go back to Julius Caesar. In 44 B.C., Julius Caesar gets assassinated by Brutus and Cassius. Julius Caesar had not had a physical heir but had adopted Octavius. In 43 B.C, the year after Julius Caesar died, Octavius formed an alliance with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus to form the second Roman Triumvirate (3 man dictatorship). This ended the Roman Republic and began the Roman Empire. In 42 B.C., the Roman Senate declared that Julius Caesar was a God.

This made Octavius the son of a God.

In 36 B.C., Lepidus tried to break up the triumvirate and lost, leaving Antony and Octavius to vie for power. Mark Antony then formed an alliance with Egypt (Cleopatra). The Senate declared war on Antony. Western Rome supported Octavian and Eastern Rome (province of Asia) supported Antony. In 30 B.C., Antony was beaten in Alexandria, where he and Cleopatra died together. This left Octavian as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

Octavian’s victory leaves Eastern Rome (Asia) in deep water. They had just openly supported Octavian’s opponent. So, in efforts to get themselves out of trouble, they requested permission to make a cult to Octavian in Pergamum (more on that city in a later blog). A couple other cities in Asia made similar requests. Octavius granted these cities their requests with the condition that they also make temples to Julius Caesar and to Roma (the god of Rome). In 27 B.C., though Octavian is the sole ruler, he gives power back to the senate.

The Senate proceeds to declare Octavius a God and changes his name to Caesar Augustus. Virgil writes of Caesar Augustus’ coronation saying that the “turning of the ages is at hand…divine king of salvation for whom mankind has waited is here” and that Caesar Augustus will “establish a golden age of peace.” His birth was declared to be evangelion, or “glad tidings.”

Pergamum-Emporer Temple.JPG

This was the beginning of the Imperial Cult Worship–where emperors were declared to be lord and god. With each emperor, different cities would compete to become the Neocorus–or the city whose patron god was that emperor. There are so many examples of the Imperial Cult, but the most pertinent in my mind is of Domitian.

Ephesus was the Neocorus of Domitian. Domitian, like other emperors declared himself to be lord and god. He built a temple to himself in Ephesus that was 3 stories high, with a prominent statue on top that was 16 feet tall.

Ephesus-Domitian's temple

This is what remains of his temple. Imagine 2 more stories on top of those arches with a temple at the top and his statue.

Ephesus-Domitian

This is what remains of his statue. You can tell, it was difficult for the camera to even capture the size of it from so close. His appearance in the statue is strong and authoritative, but apparently, in reality, he was short, fat, and balding. Domitian was so insistent that he was lord and god that he had a bull sacrificed to himself every day for three years! He also insisted that in order to buy and trade in Ephesus, each person had to receive a mark on their right hand that they had paid homage in worship to him (the near referent for the mark of the beast).

Ok….now, in that context, think of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.

When Jesus was born, he was declared to be the Son of God. Why do you think Herod was so freaked out by wise men coming to him saying they came to worship him who was born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2)? (Herod was also a crazy, power hungry man). But the wise men were coming to worship a king who they knew was lord and God. The Angels proclaimed that they brought “good tidings of great joy” (evangelion) to the Shepherds (Luke 2:10). At his baptism, a voice came out of the heavens declaring: “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:13-17).” Jesus healed physical diseases with a word or a touch, showed his authority over demons, showed authority over the wind and the waves, and taught the word of God with authority. In his death, he did not assert that he was God, but willingly and obediently went. And in Mark 15:39, a Roman Centurian after witnessing the way Jesus died, declared “truly this man was the Son of God!”

Consider Philippians 2:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

The human emperors needed other humans in order to be declared divine; Jesus was divine, regardless of human opinion. Emperors were men trying to be gods; Jesus was God and yet became a man. Emperors did not deserve to be worshipped yet demanded it; Jesus deserved to be worshipped and yet came to serve. Emperors killed other people to preserve their power and position; Jesus willingly gave up his power and position and died to preserve his people. Emperors died and their dominion died with them; Jesus died and his dominion reigned over death.

Without Jesus’ resurrection, he would have been yet another man in the Roman Empire declaring himself to be lord and god. His resurrection sets him apart from every Roman Emperor and human ruler. It proves that he is the true and better Emperor–with authority and dominion over all things, including death. And because of that, eventually every knee will bow to him, including Caesar Augustus and Domitian. Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is central to our faith.

The historical context of the Roman Empire wildly affects how we understand Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, and how we interpret how the first Christians lived out their faith. The Roman Rulers were threatened by Christians–because Christians did not pay allegiance to the Emperor as lord and God. They had a better Lord and God. Because of this, Romans often called Christians atheists. The authority and dominion of Jesus as the Better King stands in direct contrast to the people/ideas/groups that are vying for our worship–just like it threatened the Roman Emperors. The questions then, is how shall we then live?

Questions to consider:
1. Are you living in such a way that shows your worship Jesus as the true and better emperor?
2. What is vying for your worship?
3. Are you living with the same mindset of Jesus (Phil 2)? How so?

Theme of #ForgeReunion2016

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice,though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
1 Peter 1:3-8

This was the verse that we spoke every morning–at least on the Turkey portion of the 2016 Forge Reunion trip to Turkey, Greece, and Rome. It’s hard to know how to even begin to share an experience like this trip. I literally got to walk places where Paul certainly walked and see cities where some of the first Christian churches thrived. And let’s just be real–the sites were beautiful regardless of their biblical significance and the people I got to spend time with made the trip that much better. My goal this semester is to do my very best to faithfully share what I got to see and learn with others so that hopefully the lessons from this trip don’t stop with me. So…where to begin?

Day 1 Sunrise

Day 1. Matt Lantz faithfully led us through devotionals every morning, and like a good teacher, on day 1, he shared with us the thesis of the trip:

When we stand fast in God’s grace, we will not be moved by the world.
No matter what.

So, how do we live in a world that is constantly trying to move us?

In the Forge, what we focused on was answering the question: “who are you and what are you doing here?” It took a 9 month program for us to answer that question finally with a concise purpose statement that runs way deeper than just the short sentence. For example, mine is: “I am a cheerful, obedient encourager, who dwells in God’s presence and mobilizes others to do the same.” So, when Matt shared  his three objectives with us that would further the thesis of the trip, it was even more significant. The three objectives to support the thesis are:

  1. Who you are and what you do here really matter–not just for you, but for all believers.
  2. The culture of the first century Greco-Roman world impacts the New Testament BIG time.
  3. How our identities intersect with the world should look very similar to the Believers in the first century church.

And seriously–the rest of the trip really did reveal how true each of those statements are!

During the Forge trip to Israel, Matt asked us to consider why the Lord let us experience that trip, and I couldn’t help wondering the same thing about this trip. My conclusion after going to Israel was that God let me experience that because He loves me. And man, I felt the same way going to Turkey. God let me go because He loves me, but I also sensed that the Lord was going to allow me to see some things that would embolden me to live a courageous Christian life. In light of all the current events, I don’t know if there’s ever been a time where Christians needed to be more courageous and yet so many of us are plagued by fear.

And thus, in the first 10 minute devotion, to hear what the theme was, I realized that the Holy Spirit had been revealing that theme to me already, but now Jesus was going to teach me what that looks like more in depth. So, what does it look like to stand fast in God’s grace? I’ll write more specifically on that throughout the posts, but here are three scriptures to give a good start:

“With the help of Silas,[b] whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly,encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”
1 Peter 5:12

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-2

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Luke 1:67-75

Question to consider:
1. How is the world trying to move you?