Archive for January, 2009

I’ve been thinking and

listening. We

are broken.

Even

our words,

and sentences,

are fragmented.

I wonder

if

we are

helping,

or

hindering.

I

Like

these lyrics by a band

called

Switchfoot. And I

thought perhaps they speak well

to what we hope

to accomplish

here

at .info, or,

and,

the Church.

“Adding To The Noise”

What’s it gonna take
to slow us down
to let the silence spin us around?
What’s it gonna take
to drop this town?
We’ve been spinning at the speed of sound.

Stepping out of those convenience stores
what could we want but more more more?
From the third world
to the corporate core
we are a symphony of modern humanity

If we’re adding to the noise
turn off this song
If we’re adding to the noise
turn off your stereo, radio, video

I don’t know
what they’re gonna think of next
genetic engineers of the most high tech
A couple new ways
to fall into debt
I’m a nervous wreck but I’ll bet
that that T.V. set
tells us what we’ve wanted to hear
But none of these sound bites
are coming in clear
From the third world to the corporate ear
we are the symphony of modern humanity.

be blessed:

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

” ‘ “The LORD bless you
and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” ‘
“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

have a blessed weekend. And
don’t
forget the
words
of the
apostle:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.”

your friend,
in
Christ,
jerry

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This just in:

Theological Development Most Out of Gas: The Emerg(ent/ing) Church, by now largely exposed as a haven for evangelicals who want to be hip. SWNID is demonstrably not stupid about or uninterested in matters, but we’ve never seen why people were determined to love or hate this stuff. Now we sense that observers and participants are deciding that “there’s no ‘there’ there.” Die-hard Reformed churchmen will continue to rail against the movement even as it lies comatose, as that’s what die-hard Reformed churchmen do. But the rest will continue to re-evaluate the balance of their message and the effectiveness of their methods, make incremental changes to optimize faithfulness to the gospel and the accomplishment of its mission, and try by faith to move forward.

From here.  (In case you are wondering, SWNID stands for Seldom Wrong, Never in Doubt.)

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It’s nice, now and then, to see a news segment that doesn’t have a hidden agenda

YouTube Preview Image

Yes, you either love him or hate him, but you can’t say he’s a) not passionate; or b) he doesn’t care about Jesus.  But baseball?  Reggie Jackson?  Spurgeon?  C’mon…

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I was listening to Sara Groves‘ album, Add to the Beauty last night while driving, and her song “To the Moon” came on.  I’ve had this album for a while now and I had forgotten how good it is.  It’s definitely one of albums I file under the “Christian music that doesn’t suck” category.  Here’s a video someone put together for this short song:

YouTube Preview Image

Here are the lyrics:

It was there in the bulletin
We’re leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we’re going to
Take our church to the moon

There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’ll be leaving soon

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Yesterday, I received in the mail, that which was delivered unto me. A brand, spankin’ new copy of Tim Keller’s fantastic little book The Prodigal God. I’m not going to do a full blow review. I’ll just say you should get a copy and sit and read it until you finish (it will take about 1.5-2 hours depending on your reading skills). Our thought for the day comes from Mr Keller’s book:

Elder brothers base their self-images on being hardworking, or moral, or members of an elite clan, or extremely smart and savvy. This inevitably leads to feeling superior to those who don’t have those same qualities. In fact, competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance. Racism and classism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project. This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion. If a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile. Their self-righteousness hides under the claim that they are only opposing the enemies of God. When you look at the world through those lenses, it becomes easy to justify hate and oppression, all in the name of truth. [...] Elder brother self-righteousness not only creates racism and classism, but at the personal level creates and unforgiving, judgmental spirit. (53-54, 55)

As a bonus, I’ll share this thought from his book also. From the introduction, page xi-xii [,y emphasis]:

Many lifelong Christians believers feel they understand the basics of the Christian faith quite well and don’t think they need a primer. Nevertheless, one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain you do. Sometimes longtime church members find themselves so struck and turned around by a fresh apprehension of the Christian message that they feel themselves to have been essentially ‘re-converted.’

Have a great day everyone. May God’s grace and Peace rest upon you and yours this fine Lord’s Day.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Todd Friel simultaneously struck out and hit a grand slam the other day. The strikeout was by putting 2 and 2 together and getting 13.72349; the home run was in crystallizing one of the biggest flaws of ADM thinking in just a couple minutes.

On his TV show, Friel joined the OCRPIJNGWHTDHTFSTC* Society to dump on Rick Warren’s prayer at President Obama’s inauguration. Early in his prayer, Warren said:

And You are the compassionate and merciful one

Friel then said, “In fairness, [I] wanna take a look at Psalm 145:8″ and the verse was put up on the screen:

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.

He then said, “In fairness, that may have been Psalm 145:8, although it’s not quite Psalm 145:8; it was different.”

(Gee, that’s twice that he’s said “in fairness”.  Methinks the TV host doth protest too much.)

How, according to Friel, was it different?  It turns out that most of the chapters in the Koran start by saying:

You are compassionate and merciful

Friel then states that this is “the exact phrase that Rick Warren used”.  Um no, Todd it isn’t.  To paraphrase you, “it’s not quite the Koran; it was different.”  The words “And”, “the” and “one” do not appear in the Koran.  Now I realize that this is nit-picking, but not any more than what Friel was doing by saying it wasn’t “quite Psalm 145:8″.

But hey, just because Friel picks nits, let’s not sink to that level.  What seems not to occur to him is that maybe Warren was simply stating a fact that happens to be similar to a Scripture verse and also happens to be similar to something in the Koran.

At least, I would hope that Friel would agree that God is compassionate and merciful.

In other words, maybe Warren wasn’t quoting anything.  See Todd, there’s this thing that some Christians do, where their speech is infused with references and allusions to things found in Scripture, but they’re not quoting it.  This is what happens to some people when their faith constitutes their entire life and isn’t relegated to a few hours a week.  (I’m not saying that none of that is applicable to you, but it does strike me as odd that the concept is so incredibly foreign to you.)

Friel went on to state that Warren twisted two other Scriptures when he prayed:

and we know today that Dr King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven

Yeah, “cloud of witnesses” is a familiar phrase.  But Friel states that Warren was quoting (and twisting) Hebrews 12:1 and Luke 15:10 (a major stretch) to come up with that sentence.  While I am personally unclear regarding the dead’s cognizance of human activity on earth, again we go back to the fact that maybe Warren wasn’t quoting anything.

But here’s the kicker, and how it’s indicative of ADM thinking.  In just a few minutes of video, Friel says the following phrases (some emphases are mine, but many are actually his):

  • that may have been
  • I don’t think
  • I guess only Rick Warren knows
  • seems to be quoting
  • I guess we’ll find out in eternity
  • I think what he’s doing there
  • I also think
  • maybe that’s what he meant
  • I think he basically

That’s a whole bucketload of uncertainty.  In fact, so much so that I have to question the point of even discussing it.  Yet he presents this information with so much certainty and pseudo-authority that it’s clear that he, personally, is uncertain of nothing, and the viewer shouldn’t be either.  He takes some coincidences, mixes in a lot of assumptions, and gives the viewer an (allegedly) undeniable conclusion.  This is the very foundation upon which “discernment” (as practiced by ADMs — not to be confused with actual discernment) is built.

A few other issues of note:

  1. In criticizing Warren’s reference to praying “in the name of the One Who changed my life”, Friel certainly holds in significant derision the concept of salvation being a life-changing experience.  Was it not that way for you, Todd?
  2. Don’t even get me started on Friel’s condescending laughs and sighs.
  3. Most error contains a good bit of truth; “a little leaven” and all that.  So to state that someone who said something that appears in the Koran is quoting (or even referencing) the Koran is ludicrous.
    • “This was more than I could understand.” — There, I’ve just “quoted” Mein Kampf at greater length than Warren allegedly quoted the Koran.
  4. In trying to bolster his “argument” of Warren being spiritually inclusive by (allegedly) quoting the Koran, Friel refers to the “Jewish shema”.  Funny, but every Christian Bible that I’ve seen has Deuteronomy in it.  By referring to the shema as Jewish, Friel denies the constancy and consistency of God.  I doubt that he actually believes that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament; but that’s the misinformation that he purports by that allegation.

There is one thing to credit to Friel, though.  The link to this video was on Slice and it opened by saying “As only he can” (referring to Friel).  And apparently that is so.  In contrast to the ADMs, when Friel starts retrieving certainties and conclusions from bodily orifices, at least he admits to his uncertainty.  Sorta.

* OCRPIJNGWHTDHTFSTC = “Oh, crap; Rick prayed in Jesus’ name; guess we’ll have to dig harder to find something to criticize”

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Out of curiosity I began googling the namesakes of denominations to see what the chances were that any of them were “saved”.   Turns out, online, nobody is guranteed salvation.

John Calvin…nope heresy.

Martin Luther…nope a fraud.

John Wesley…Free will deciever.

Apparently nobody has it right.  Dang it just when I thought I was good.

Look hard enough and long enough and everybody every doctrine has cracks.  Lucky for me my salvation depends on one thing and one thing only…”Believe on me you shall be saved”.

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It’s no doubt that N. T. Wright is a brilliant, yet spiritually humble man.  There is also no doubt that being Anglican and wearing a collar he will be stereotyped and caricatured… regardless of what he actually says and believes.  Furthermore, some will undoubtedly take his Anglo way of looking at things, run it through and American-Evangelical-Modernist point of view and judge it lacking.  That said, when the issue of “What does N. T. Wright believe…” regarding what it takes for someone to be part of the covenant community, to be a Christian, the need to be “born-again” – I figure it best to by-pass those who talk about Wright and let him speak for himself.

Here then are some excerpts from a paper presumably written by Wright under the original title Simply Christian, the whole of which may be found here.  It is a very good essay and I am impressed by his use of imagery.  This is not to say that I agree with everything that Wright writes, this post is simply offered as clarity against the accusation that N. T. Wright is some/any kind of universalist, or that he has a low view of becoming and being a Christian.   In regards to Wright’s comment on how one becomes a Christian, emphasis will be laid on the section Waking Up to the Good News.

Wright uses the metaphor of awaking from sleep to illustrate the manner in which people are awakened to Christ.

There are classic alarm-clock stories. Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, blinded by a sudden light, stunned and speechless, discovered that the God he had worshipped had revealed himself in the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. John Wesley found his heart becoming strangely warm, and he never looked back. They and a few others are the famous ones, but there are millions more.

And there are many stories, though they don’t hit the headlines in the same way, of the half-awake and half-asleep variety. Some people take months, years, maybe even decades, during which they aren’t sure whether they’re on the outside of Christian faith looking in, or on the inside looking around to see if it’s real.

Here Wright clearly shows his belief in, but not the requirement of a “Damascus Road experience.”  Some would require a person to be able to identify their moment of conversion as proof that it happened, Wright would not (nor I for what that’s worth).

That Wright believes in the necessity of salvation, for being born-again, for “waking up” is obvious in such statements as:

As with ordinary waking up, there are many people who are somewhere in between. But the point is that there’s such a thing as being asleep, and there’s such a thing as being awake. And it’s important to tell the difference, and to be sure you’re awake by the time you have to be up and ready for action, whatever that action may be….

So what is involved in hearing and responding to the Christian gospel? What does it mean to wake up to God’s new world? What does it mean, in other words, to become a member of God’s people, of Jesus’s people—of the church?

The gospel—the “good news” of what the creator God has done in Jesus—is first and foremost news about something that has happened. And the first and most appropriate response to that news is to believe it.

Wright basis this need on two theologically conservative requrement – the need for forgiveness and the need to repent.  Regarding the latter he writes:

When we see ourselves in the light of Jesus’s type of kingdom, and realize the extent to which we have been living by a different code altogether, we realize, perhaps for the first time, how far we have fallen short of what we were made to be. This realization is what we call “repentance,” a serious turning away from patterns of life which deface and distort our genuine humanness. It isn’t just a matter of feeling sorry for particular failings, though that will often be true as well. It is the recognition that the living God has made us humans to reflect his image into his world, and that we haven’t done so. (The technical term for that is “sin,” whose primary meaning is not “breaking the rules” but “missing the mark,” failing to hit the target of complete, genuine, glorious humanness.) Once again, the gospel itself, the very message which announces that Jesus is Lord and calls us to obedience, contains the remedy: forgiveness, unearned and freely given, because of his cross. All we can say is, “Thank you.”

There will be those who object to his references to being genuinely human, but that’s their problem and is mostly a tangential rabbit trail.  What is clear is Wright’s thoroughly biblical belief in the necessity of one to be spiritually awakened.

And if all that were not clear enough he concluded the section with:

…Whether you come to this faith in a blinding flash or by a long, slow, winding route, once you get to this point you are (whether you realize it or not) wearing the badge which marks you out as part of the church, on an equal footing with every other Christian who ever lived. You are discovering what it means to wake up and find yourself in God’s new world.

What’s more, you are giving clear evidence that a new life has begun. Somewhere in the depths of your being something has stirred into life that was previously not there. It is because of this that many early Christians reached for the language of birth. Jesus himself, in a famous discussion with a Jewish teacher, spoke of being born “from above”: a new event similar to, though distinguished from, ordinary human birth (John 3). Many early Christians picked up and developed this idea. As a newborn baby breathes and cries, so the signs of life in a newborn Christian are faith and repentance, inhaling the love of God and exhaling an initial cry of distress. And at that point what God provides, exactly as for a newborn infant, is the comfort, protection, and nurturing promise of a mother.

I anticipate some may object that he did not speak of what happens to those who are not awakened.  To which I respond, so what?  It’s not the topic at hand and any omission can easily be resolved by saying that is a question this essay did not set out to answer.

Some may also object to Wright’s metaphors and/or his hopeful attitude… so be it, but nothing herein is unbiblical, in fact it is thoroughly biblical and amazing evangelical coming from an Anglican.

And therein lies, I believe, the biggest issue for many…

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Being a preacher in a local church has given me insight that, frankly, I would rather not have when it comes to the church. I have met people in the church who are, I’m sad to say (and not that I am perfect mind you) who are among the meanest, most ungracious people I have ever met. That is a sad, sad, sad, thing to say; may God forgive me.

This is not to say, again, that I am perfect nor that I have never invited the wrath of some folks. There are plenty of times when my own weak personality, quick judgmentalism, forked tongue, and short temper have contributed much ammunition to the weapons used by these angry folks. I say with much regret that there are times when, as a preacher, I am as dumb as a sack of potatoes.

Grace is God’s on-going exertion of resurrection energy in the life of a justified individual to perfect in them the image of Christ (Colossians 3:9-10). It’s called sanctification. It is not an easy project by any stretch of the imagination. In some ways, I suspect that it is just as ‘painful’ for God as it is for the child. If God disciplines his children as a Father, and I believe he does, I don’t suppose it is any less hurtful for God, as Father, than it is for me when I discipline my sons. But what I have noticed, all too frequently, is that ministers are not afforded that grace. Congregants are; preachers are not. Preachers are not afforded the reality of being human thus when they are scrutinized they are scrutinized as a little above humans. And when they fail, they fail worse than the satan.

Shouldn’t preachers, I have a special place in my heart for them, be afforded the same courtesy of allowing that God’s isn’t quite finished with them yet?

Thus an entire genre of literature had to be invented in order to help preachers not only survive such massive assaults, but also to prevent them from going bonkers and winding up in the Psych ward of a local hospital. I just finished reading Well Intentioned Dragons which was a mind-boggling look at the stories of some preachers who had to endure such devastating pressure in their ministries. I highly recommend this book. Currently, I am reading The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield. I’m only just starting it, but Greenfield’s approach is nothing short of ‘in your face’. He takes a no-holds-barred, no-prisoners approach to writing about the insidious nature of those who have made it their ‘ministry’ to destroy those who serve in some ministry type position in the church or para-church.

I’d like to share a paragraph or three from this book with you. After listing seven characteristics of ‘clergy killers’ Greenfield writes:

Clinically speaking, who are clergy killers? What has made them this way? Several possibilities may exist. They may possess distinct personality disorders (for example, they may be antisocial, borderline paranoid, narcissistic). These conditions will be discussed in more detail later. It is also possible that clergy killers have been victims of abuse, either in the past or the present. Inadequate socialization (the process of becoming human), arrested adolescence, or violent role models may be behind their behavior. Some may have a perverse, voyeuristic, and vindictive taste for the suffering of their victims. Others have learned to throw tantrums to get their selfish way. They have learned how to distract, confuse, lie, and seduce to do harm to the vulnerable.

Clergy killers would or destroy either by direct attacks or by inciting others to inflict the wounds. Sometimes they induce victims to self-destruct by harassing them to the point of frustration and anger. This is the minister who counterattacks angrily from the pulpit. Most congregations will not tolerate for long a minister who expresses angry outbursts during his sermons, however justified he may feel.

Understanding how any person can become a clergy killer is complex and difficult. Most Christians in most churches have never known one, but it takes only one or two in a church to create havoc and bedlam. Because these people live in denial as to their true nature, they would not see themselves in this chapter if they were to read it. Clergy killers have surrounded and insulated themselves with a whole array of defense mechanisms and justifications for their actions. They firmly believe that what they are doing in harming and terminating a minister is the right thing to do. For them, it is the will of God. Nevertheless, they are sick and mean people. (30-31)

In my own experience, I can say that this is exactly the truth. What Greenfield is talking about is the local church (of which I am a big fan). Take these thoughts and extrapolate them just a bit. Imagine that the church also included an online community of several millions of people. Imagine that ‘local church preachers’ also happen to be ‘global church preachers’ because they write books or podcast sermons or pray at inaugurations. Online Clergy killers are no different than local church clergy killers. They may have a bigger audience, perhaps a little more clout, but they are no less sick; no less mean.

I can tell you that such activity in the local church has ramifications for the church’s witness and ministry in the community where it is located. I believe it keeps people away from the church. I can testify that in one church I served, a clergy killer went so far as to sit in a local restaurant and talk badly about the church, and the preacher (me), and do his best to persuade people not to worship with us. Now, extrapolate that thought and apply it to the internet and it becomes apparent what the problem is. Far from saving people to the glorious Gospel of Christ, online clergy killers are destroying the church–the body for which Christ Jesus gave up his life.

I believe in my heart that something is going to have to give sooner or later. At some point, online clergy killers are going to have to realize that they are not helping the cause of Christ because they are not promoting peace, not displaying the fruit of the Spirit, not putting their good deeds on display so that people might give praise to the Father in Heaven. Maybe it is time for peace.

Lord, help us. How, O Lord, how can there be peace?

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The Agora of SmyrnaTo the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

This is second of seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Ephesus

[One quick note on this series - the order of the churches in John's Revelation is the order in which the Roman mail route traveled through Asia Minor - Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.  It is typical of Roman letters to groups in multiple cities to have brief individualized passages to people at each stop along the route, followed by a letter to all concerned.  John's Revelation follows this pattern, and was most likely sent as such a letter, from church to church, sequentially, along the mail route - from Ephesus (the coastal city closest to the Isle of Patmos, where John was exiled) to Laodicea, and then back to Ephesus, where it was likely kept by John's disciples and copied for posterity.]

Smyrna, the modern-day city of Izmir, was founded as a port on the Agean sea in the region of Anatolia (”land of the rising sun”). This city is located at the head of the fertile Hermus valley, and provided a key port for transportation of Roman armies during the Second Temple period and continued in this function on into the Early Church period. Approximately 35 miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna vied for years with its southern neighbor for prominence in trade, though by the first century, Ephesus was much larger.

The skyline of Smyrna was, and still is, quite amazing.  The city, itself, sits right by the Aegean Sea, bisected by the Hermus River.  All around it are beautiful tall mountains and cliffs, on which were built the battlements to protect the city.  These natural walls, with their watch-fires at night, were often called “the Crown of Smyrna”, because of their beauty and utility.

Smyrna had one of the largest marketplaces, the agora, in the ancient world. It was also home to a large Jewish population from the diaspora, which helped in the spread of the gospel to this region, but also led to divisions when gentiles were allowed into the Christian church. In this understanding is one of the keys to interpreting the letter from John in Revelation.

Port of Smyrna

The church in Smyrna is the only church to receive a letter from Jesus, through John, without admonishments against its behavior. This church is believed to have been very poor both on the basis of John’s letter and the archaeological record, as opposed to the Jews in the city, who were very well off. In addition to this, it is believed that the Jews in Smyrna were among those who were chief in persecuting this church. This may be what John is predicting when he writes:

I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

The lower agora in SmyrnaBy saying of these Jews that they “say they are Jews and are not”, this is most likely in reference to them separating from the Messianic Jews as the “true Israel” (unlike the Jews – both Messianic and non-Messianic – in other areas of Asia Minor, like those in Laodicea, who continued to worship together through the end of the third century). Not only were they persecuting fellow Jews, but they were persecuting those who carried a message of Salvation, doubling their curse.

Polycarp

The leader of the church at Smyrna during the latter first century on into the second century was one of John’s disciples, Polycarp. He and many of the Christians in the church of Smyrna were early martyrs in the Christian faith.  Eusebius, an early church historian, and other early church writers make record of the martyrdom of Polycarp, which is a testament to this disciple taking heed of his teacher’s words.

At the age of 87, Polycarp was a widely respected leader in the church at Smyrna, who had escaped death several times. However, pressure from Caesar regarding the matter of Christians in Asia Minor led the local authorities to arrest Polycarp. In order to escape death, he was given an opportunity to declare that Caesar was god. Polycarp refused. Again, the magistrate of the city begged him to recant, telling him just to curse Christ once, so that he could be saved, suggesting that it really didn’t have to be a heartfelt denial. Polycarp’s reply was ‘For eighty six years I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?

Unable to change Polycarp’s mind, the magistrate took him to be torn apart by wild beasts, only to find out that the soldiers in charge of the beasts had already put them away and their rules were such that they didn’t have the authority to get them out again (a modern parallel might be folks who live to the letter of union regulations). And so, Polycarp was taken to the coliseum in Smyrna and tied to a stake around which was built a fire.  Accounts of the events record that Polycarp laughed at the flames, suggesting that they be made hotter.  Finally, one of the soldiers ran him through with a sword, and his blood extinguished the flames. Once the fire was re-lit, Polycarp finally expired – having remained faithful unto death.

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Faustina's ArchIt should be noted that the ‘crown’ mentioned in John’s letter is not a kingly crown, but the wreath awarded to the winner of a race or athletic event. And so the image is that if the church in Smyrna should endure persecution, they would be rewarded for their perseverance.

One other interesting item from some accounts of Polycarp’s martyrdom was that a loud voice from heaven called out to him with a Hebrew phrase – “Hazak hazak venit-hazek“, which roughly translates to “be strong, be strong, we will make each other strong”. This same phrase is traditionally chanted loudly in many synagogues after the reading of each of the five books of the Pentetuch, as a reminder that we are called to strengthen each other in our walk with God.

It is also very interesting that Jesus uses the image of a crown of life as the reward for faithfulness.  Because of Smyrna’s place as a “Crown” of beauty in the Roman & Greek empires, this imagery would have been rich to the recipients of the letter – much the same way that one’s heart stirs when you hear the name or mascot of your alma mater, your state, your country or other sources of external pride – it is something both unique and familiar.

What Does This Mean for Us?

First, as Jesus taught, we should not store up our treasures here on earth, because our Father will prepare for us riches in heaven instead.  As the church in Smyrna is contrasted, later, to the one in Laodicea, one very poor and the other very rich, we can see this contrast being portrayed by John – where the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Additionally, the faithfulness required in our culture is not merely ’sharing the wealth’ by sending a check, but going out and serving faithfully, even unto death, should it be required.

To assist us in this, the Lord has given us each other to cheer each other on and to make each other strong.  In the Roman Olympic games, runners had friends who would run beside them, cheering them on throughout the latter, most difficult stretches of the race.  Paul alludes to these as part of the cloud of witnesses cheering us on (Hebrews 12:1).  While it seems that the modern temptation in the church is to ’shoot the wounded’, on the contrary, we should be helping to strengthen them in the difficult stretches of the race – to help them be faithful unto death.

Hazak hazak venit-hazek!

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