At the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus comes to John and tells him to write down the things he is about to see and hear in a scroll and send them to seven churches in seven different cities. I believe there were seven physical gatherings to which this vision was sent, but I also believe this vision of the revelation of Jesus has implications and applications regarding the varying levels of maturity in the Church throughout the world.
We hear the testimonies often in our gatherings here in the United States. We send out missionaries, expecting them to change the purported deepest and darkest parts of our world for Jesus, and they bear back stories of the gatherings there, profoundly changed, because in spite of the people in these parts of the world having next to nothing, they still gather and worship Jesus with everything that they have. The gatherings in these countries might find comfort in the vision of the revelation of Jesus in the same way the churches in Smyrna or Philadelphia might. They are mature, ready for Jesus to return and rule the world.
And where might the American Church take its comfort in the book of Revelation?
Are we Ephesus, having attained the freedom to worship God in the ways we are convicted, the freedom to seek Him, but having abused that freedom to pursue what we want when we want it, are we in need of returning to our First Love? Perhaps at one time, but it’s more critical than that now.
Are we Laodicea, so complacent in our freedom and programs and church buildings that we believe we have it made, but we’re missing the transformative power of our Salvation? Perhaps at one time, but it’s more critical than that now.
The American Church reminds me of what Jesus said to John about the gathering in Sardis: “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b NIV). Our reputation for being alive comes from the delusion that the United States is a “Christian nation.” It was the appeal of President Trump’s campaign to many Christian evangelicals: making America great again meant a return to our founding values as a nation, and many have long been deceived that those are Christian values, when in fact, they have more roots in the humanism of John Locke than anything Jesus taught. Certainly, from its inception, the American Church would have valued the freedom to seek and worship God after their convictions and most of us can appreciate it even today, but we should not be deceived: the philosophy that has afforded us this privilege is, in fact, godless. It is based in the delusion that humans are basically good and have the power to change and make themselves better, effectively blinding people to their need for a Savior and that idea that there is any authority outside of ourselves. We didn’t stop at the appreciation for freedom to seek and worship God as the American Church, however: we have long twisted God to little more than a means to pursue what we want when we want it. We may have maintained the appearance of having God, but in our manipulation, we have lost Him. And so we are dead.
All is not lost, though. The church in Sardis was dead, but Jesus still calls them to action: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Revelation 3:2-3a NIV). American Church, we may be in critical condition, we may only be hanging on because of superficial life support, but we can be so much more. Jesus is calling us to be so much more. He wants us to be awake, ready, and mature (our deeds finished) when He returns.
But we have a choice. As my former pastor says, God doesn’t twist anybody’s arm. And the reality is that the American Church might choose to stay asleep, might choose to miss out on everything God has for us, might choose to leave things unfinished. Jesus warns Sardis: “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3b). In other words, if we don’t wake up, we will miss bearing witness to the Light coming back into the world. Corporately, anyhow.
Even in Sardis, there were individuals who worshipped and sought God, and Jesus tells them they will walk with Him in white.
Point is, the opportunity is open for the Church in the United States as a whole.
American Church, Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die! Don’t call this shadow of a life – that misses out on everything God is doing and everything God wants to do in you – good enough.
“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 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’ … So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army” (Ezekiel 37:1-6a, 10 NIV).