Archive for February 17th, 2009

Sardis BathsTo the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But 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.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:1-6

This is fifth of seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Ephesus
Part II: Smyrna
Part III: Pergamum
Part IV: Thyatira

Sardis was a key Roman city in the Hermus valley.  This city sat at the mid-point in the mail route that comprised the Seven Churches in Revelation.  Mount Tmolus rises above the city, with the remains of a protective fortress high upon it.

Sardis became wealthy and powerful as a result of gold recovered from the Hermus River, which flowed through it. (One method of recovery included using fleece placed downward on the riverbed and recovered later, full of gold particles. This was possibly the origin of the legend of the Golden Fleece.) This gold, when combined with Sardis’ strategically safe position and location right on a major trade route, made it a powerful and wealthy city.

Like a Thief in the Night

King Croesus, potentially an archetype of the legendary King Midas, ruled Sardis in the sixth century B.C., but his kingdom came to an end when it was destroyed by Cyrus, the king of Persia.  The story of its fall was well-known, even centuries later. Mount TmolusFirst outwitted on the battlefield by Cyrus (who used his camels to spook Croesus’ horses), Croesus’ army holed up in the citadel on Tmolus, and would have been able to outlast a siege, except for one soldier name Hyroeades, who saw one of Cyrus’ guards climb down from the ‘impregnable walls’ to recover a dropped helmet. Using the same treacherous route, Hyroeades led Cyrus’ troops into the fortress in the middle of the night, and in doing so, overthrew the powerful kingdom of Sardis with little struggle.

Proving that lightning can strike twice, almost 200 years later the city was conquered again via the same strategy by Antiochus. Thus, the Sardinians’ faith in their own wealth and strategic safety was more than once the source of their own demise.

Could it be that Jesus, through John, was using this imagery in his message to Sardis?

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But 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. (emphasis mine)

The gymnasium at SardisIn addition to its wealth and power, long before Christ’s birth, there is evidence that Sardis was one of the centers that Jewish people settled during the diaspora. The Jewish synagogue discovered in Sardis is the largest yet found in Asia Minor, decorated in elaborate mosaics and marble. There is evidence to suggest, as well, that because of its high concentration of Jewish citizens, Christianity was able to make a strong foothold in Sardis, as well. Why, then, Jesus’ message to ‘Wake up’?

One hint may be the placement of the houses of worship found thus far in the excavation of Sardis. In this city, the synagogue was located directly adjacent to the Roman gymnasium and its grounds – where students were taught Greco Roman culture (in the nude, of course), and where perfection of the body was seen as all-important. The church built into the Temple of Artemis The ruins of early Christian churches in Sardis have been found near (or directly adjacent) to the Temple of Artemis, and a fourth-century chapel was built into the back of the remains of this temple.

Could it be that the Christians and Jews in Sardis had become far too comfortable in their own wealth and safety?  Could it be that they were becoming indistinguishable from the followers of the false gods of their culture?

Strengthen What Remains

Another hint from history reflected in the text is that after it was leveled by the earthquake of 17 AD, Sardis was only partially rebuilt.  Like an actor/actresses whose glory days have long passed (but who still lives as if they were in their prime), those in Sardis were encouraged to

Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

It may also be of note that the textile industry in Sardis was a source of its wealth, and to say that few people in Sardis had not soiled their clothes would have been striking for such a proud people. And the source of this soiling? There is a good deal of speculation, all of which may be true – including those outlined above – the wealth, comfort, price and false security of the people in Sardis led them to be ‘fat and lazy’ spiritually.

But perhaps the final nail in the coffin was in their worship of the Emperor – etched in the doorways and arches of their architecture, declaring Caesar to be ‘King of King and Lord of Lords’ – a title demanded by the Caesar Domitian, to whom much of the imagery in Revelation seems to apply, even from his wife.

John makes it abundantly clear who the real King of Kings and Lord of Lords is in Chapters 17 and 19, but the Sardinian participation in worshiping Caesar as God was surely one of their sins – as it was also hinted for churches mentioned earlier in Revelation.

Dedication to CaesarPerversion in High Order

We, in the west today, are quite sheltered from exposure to evil on the order as was commonplace in Asia Minor in the first century.

Sardis was a center of worship for the Greek goddess Cybele and, eventually the goddess Artemis, as well.

According to legend, the god Agdistis was originally born from the earth where Zeus’ semen fell as a hermaphroditic demon. The other gods were afraid of Agdistis and severed its male sex organ, which fell to the earth and grew into an almond tree. After this, Agdistis became the female goddess Cybele. Later, Cybele fell in love with her son/grandson, Attis, and took him in as a lover. One day, in a fit of jealousy, she drove him mad and he castrated himself and died, but was resurrected as a pine tree.  [Is it just me, or are Greco-Roman myths the most bizarre bedtime stories you've ever heard?]

In response to these legends, the people of Sardis worshiped Cybele and held almond and pine trees in reverence, while also holding fertility festivals in celebration of Attis’ re-birth. In these celebrations, all the people of Sardis would wear white robes, and the worshipers and priests of Cybele (called ‘galli’) would parade down the main street of Sardis, cutting themselves in ecstasy until they reached the shrine of Cybele (later integrated into the temple of Artemis in the Third Century B.C.), where a few of the worshipers would castrate themselves and offer their severed parts to Cybele. Those along the parade route (or within the parade, itself) who had the blood of the worshipers sprayed upon their cloaks were said to be favored by the goddess. This practice continued well into the First and Second Centuries.

And so, when John writes:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

Were John to write to us today, would our clothes be soiled from participating in the worship of other gods of this world, or would we be ones who have overcome?

So what?

In applying the lessons of Sardis to our lives, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are so blessed with the abundance of the West, if we are so secure in our safety from invasion (despite occasional terrorist attacks), if we have placed our faith in our security and become fat and lazy, spiritually. Have we decided to worship the Caesars and gods of today – wealth and power – and, in doing so, soiled our robes beyond recognition? Would John be able to write of us:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

I pray it would be so, but I struggle with this, myself. Lord, provide for me what I need, but do not let me be so comfortable that I do not need You… THAT is a difficult prayer to pray, at least where I live and breathe – saying it and meaning it.

Grace & peace,

Chris

  • Share/Bookmark

Let me start by saying that I think * I agree with the overall point of this C?N post — publicly using others’ material without acknowledging the source is a Bad Thing ™.

But two things about this article give me pause — one serious and one kinda funny.

—- Seriously (in the literal sense) —-

The title of the post is “Sermon Copying: When The World Has More Integrity Than The Church”.

Now, it’s ridiculous to compare a Christian with an unsaved person to show when the Christian is better than the unsaved person.  Even comparing Christians with each other is silly.  The only relevant measuring rod for the Christian is Jesus Himself.  We all fall short, but (thankfully) the Christian has Christ’s righteousness attributed to him.

So why isn’t it just as ridiculous to compare a Christian with an unsaved person to show when the Christian is worse than the unsaved person? Again, the only relevant measuring rod for the Christian is Jesus Himself.  Whether the Christian is better or worse than another person is beyond irrelevant.

A less charitable person would note that a lot of the ADM posts seem to have a subtext of “Luke 18:11" href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2018:11;&version=50;" target="_blank">at least I’m not that bad“.

—- Seriously? (in the facetious sense) —-

In support of this (fallacious) comparative point, the author asks three rhetorical questions early in the post.  In order to coincide with this point, the answer to the questions must be “no”.  Let’s look at the first two and the implications of assuming that the answer is ‘no’:

… can you imagine a member of congress standing up and saying “Last night I was doing some research and 74% of …” when he didn’t, but was reciting another person’s experience?

I would like to welcome the author to America.  This is the only explanation that I can fathom.  Who else but a person new to this country wouldn’t know that 99% of what congresspersons claim as their own, isn’t really?

Or what about a CEO standing in front of his board of directors saying “I remember it like it was yesterday,” while every word he speaks is another person’s history?

This question makes me happy for the author.  It’s quite clear that he has not spent one day in corporate America.  Spending time in corporate America is not something that I’d wish on my worst enemy, so I’m glad that he hasn’t had to endure this grotesque, soul-sucking torture.

* I say “I think” because I (admittedly) didn’t read every one of the 2653 (!) words of that post.

  • Share/Bookmark

Let me start my first post on CRN.Info by saying that I see it as a real big privilege and honour to have been invited to write for this site. I first came to CRN.Info via a link on Chad Holtz’s site who I found on A Little Leaven. So never say that nothing good can come from the ADM’s… What I like so much about CRN.Info is that everybody gets a chance to speak their mind on whatever subject is posted and comments only get moderated in the most extreme circumstances. I have only once seen comments deleted and that was to protect someone who frequently comments here and who is mostly critical about CRN.Info. There are not many sites on the web, and that includes Christian sites, that have this kind of integrity and I count myself fortunate to be in such company.

The Forest or the Tree?

Lately there have been a number of posts at CRN.Info that got derailed because of people getting hooked onto one small detail in the post. One such example is the post by Jerry on the 3rd chapter of Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants To Save Christians. The reason why it bothers me is not so much that the thread got derailed, although it does make me “die moer in”*, but that people missed the message of the post. It just gets lost in all the noise of the comments. This got me thinking about some things my dad taught me.

My dad was a wise man who faithfully pastored small churches, never looked for the glory and had a spotless character. If I can grow to be half the man he was… He gave me these bits of advice:

Put it on the shelf…

When reading a book or listening to a sermon and there is something that you do not like or understand at that point in time, don’t ignore that together with the rest of the book or sermon but rather write the thought down, put it away and revisit it later.

This advice has come in handy on many occasions in two ways. Firstly when something I read or heard some time ago would come back and suddenly make sense or be truth in another context or time. Sometimes it was things that I heavily disagreed with but then God seems to open up some truth to me and use the previously discarded to change something in me. The second way is that when I do that I can actually focus on what I can learn and appropriate now in my life. In other words don’t get so caught up in the detail that you don’t agree with or don’t understand that you miss the core message that God wants you to hear.

He might be a donkey but…

Growing up in a legalistic pentecostal denomination there was lots of preaching that made you feel like a useless piece of you know what and this caused me to dislike a lot of these preachers (my dad was quite the opposite). When there was a service where one of these preachers spoke I protested loudly about going and then my dad would drop this bit of wisdom:

Separate the message from the man. If God used Balaam’s donkey he can use anyone to get the message across.**

I think we can use some of that… I might not like John MacArthur’s Truth War-type attitude but I learned a lot from the Grace To You programs. You might not like Rob Bell’s fuzzy language but his fresh perspective on things might just open something new about God you’ve missed before. Separate the message from the man and you might just hear God speak to you.

The diamond in the rough…

Look for the wisdom, truth that applies to you, in the most unlikely places

Sometimes people will come with the biggest lot of nonsense and you might think what a load of … That is when you need to start prospecting, filter out the dirt and find the diamond. Most of the ADM’s writing falls into this category for me and like prospecting it is hard work but sometimes there is wisdom to be found that can be applied to my life (Even if it is to learn not to act in similar fashion).

These bits of advice might not be deeply philosophical or theological but I found God speaking to me at the most unlikely of times and that makes them precious to me. (And because my dad said so…)

* An Afrikaans expression for very angry
** I’m not calling anyone a donkey

  • Share/Bookmark