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My Revelation-like letter to the American Church

Today in my Sunday School lesson we took a look at Jesus’ letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3. We noticed that they follow a certain pattern. The pattern includes:

1) a description of Jesus (taken from Chapter 1)

2) a section headed “I know,” introducing praise for what is good about that church (except in the case of Laodicea).

3) a criticism of the church (not in the case of Smyrna or Philadelphia).

4) a warning or instruction

5) a promise to those who “overcome” (whose fulfillment we see in chapters 19-22).

As a class activity, I asked everyone to write their own letter using the same pattern. A letter to the church. We took a few minutes to do this. I had not ever done this before so I did as well. The submissions were very good and intriguing. I, as a minister, was a bit hesitant to assign this project to those who I serve, especially with the bit of “right your own rebuke of the church” in the letter. I don’t have theirs to post, but I do have my own that I wrote in the 5 to 10 minutes that we had allotted for this. I wrote it in Spanish, but I’ll translate here for you:

In the name of Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, I congratulate you on your decision to follow Christ. That is the best possible decision that can be made. However, I have to tell you, because I love you in the Lord, that you must take more seriously the faith which you have confessed. In a country that is so blessed, you should as a church have a much greater impact, both locally and globally. The problem is that you are too interested in yourselves, and not interested enough in loving your neighbor as yourself. If you do not begin to live invested in the interest of your neighbor, both near and far, than you will not experience the full blessing and will not accomplish the purpose that God has for you. But those who humble themselves now, in this life, my God will exalt in the age to come, and in a way that goes beyond what you can even imagine.

I write this of course to myself as well. May God help us to surpass our own self-interest, and in humility serve others with Christ-likeness.

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The Case of the Missing Halo

I’m by nature an observant person. In fact my name “Gregory” comes from the Greek word gregoreo meaning “to watch” or “be attentive”. Vigilant watchman is my name, so it’s a Bible name after all! As I parked at the hospital today to visit a friend from church, I made an observation that compelled me to take out my little camera phone. I documented my observation and went on to do what I had come to do. When I came back to the car, I noticed something else out of the ordinary. A white piece of paper was flapping in the faint breeze underneath my wiper-blades. I thought it could be a flyer for something. Maybe for some religious event, after all I was in the clergy only parking and the clergyman’s vehicle next to mine also had a paper decoration. No, turns out it was a parking violation.

I got a parking violation for parking in the clergy parking space when I am clergy! Never before has that happened in all of the times I’d visited this hospital. This time it did, so I went back in to get this sorted out. I was dressed in sandals, shorts, and a T-shirt, so I didn’t really look the part, but fortunately I had a laminated badge from another hospital that identified this young punk as a member of the order of the cloth. What security told me is that my vehicle was missing its halo. So a new security guard went a little violation crazy. I didn’t have the correct laminated piece on my dash apparently. The halo comment was funny, but here’s where my initial observation comes back into play. There was no visible halo above the clergy’s cars, but if you look underneath the vehicles, you may see a rounded ring of sorts. As I drove in to park, I noticed in all of the clergy only parking places there was a heavy circular oil stain, noticeably absent in the vast majority of non-clergy parking spaces.  When you want to identify a preacher’s car, don’t look for the halo above it, look underneath it!

I’m not sure what the point of this post is. That may be for you to determine and chime in at the comments section and tell me what it means. Many churches pray, “Lord, you keep our pastor humble and we’ll keep him poor!” For this reason, many take up other “tentmaking” opportunities, to steal a phrase from Paul’s moonlighting gig. Well, while my miles-heavy, paint chipping mini-van added to the stain in the clergy parking space, I was glad not to be stuck with a real violation fee. And I’m glad that God has taken care of us through the years and that we have been able to put our hands to the plow and take care of our bills. I’m glad that we can cheerfully give towards other needs and to the less fortunate.

This topic is a funny one, because smaller churches will typically reflect this type of stain, while you’ve got televangelists extravagance on the other extreme.  I guess one point to be made would be this: whether you add to the oil-stained halo, or your vehicle is leak free, whether you are at a mega-church, or a smaller church with several part-time projects on the side, whether you’ve squandered what you’ve made or have applied Dave Ramsey economics, whether you are in full-time ministry or if you’re a layperson, just be a faithful Christian. In the end, we’re all just Christians, and the world’s security is patrolling, watching our every move. Our only credential is Christ in us. Whatever your situation may be, just don’t lose your halo.

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