The Poor Church That Is Rich


In Revelation Jesus delivered messages to the angels of seven first century churches. He generally began by confronting them regarding some problem area. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He precedes to reverse the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich.

This could possibly be a comparative statement similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates we would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual condition of the church versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who are in Haiti or Indonesia or Sudan don’t have a lot of the world’s goods.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church in Smyrna was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them. So like our experience today.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have two promises for that faithfulness: 1) the crown of life; and 2) if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know that we who are in Christ will be like Him. So, are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ, already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in July, 2014.

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Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
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Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise


This post originally appeared here in July 2012,

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on November 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm  Comments Off on Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise  
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The Poor Church That Is Rich


Painting of the Gulf of SmyrnaIn delivering messages to the angels of seven first century churches, Jesus generally confronted them about problem areas. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He contradicts the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich. This could possibly be a comparative indicator similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to “the one percent” most of us would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual conditions versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who fled Mosul may be poor now. They’ve been forced out of their homes, have only the belongings they could carry, may not have a way to make a living in whatever refugee camp they’ve landed. They are poor and are suffering tribulation physically in the truest sense.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers to receive doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have the promise for that faithfulness: the crown of life and, if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know we who are in Christ will be like Him. So are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, with Ebola in Africa and tornadoes in Boston, with flooding in Las Vegas and bombs flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel, with Russian-backed terrorists fighting to divide Ukraine and ISIS attacking Christians, with Nigerian girls held captive by Muslim terrorists, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Seasons Of Contentment


In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (8)  
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