Jump Start # 2401
Revelation 2:5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; for else I am coming to you; and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
The words of our passage today are sober, stern and serious. Change your ways, or else. And, the “or else” part isn’t good. God never makes idle threats. He never counts to three and then counts again. The words of our verse were sent to the church at Ephesus. They no longer were deeply in love with the Lord. They stood for truth, but something was missing in their hearts. And, when God is moved out of first place, we tend to go through the motions, and we tend to do things just because we have to.
If they didn’t change, their lampstand was going to be removed. The lampstand carries back to the Jewish worship in the O.T. It stood for God’s light, truth and fellowship. To have the lamp removed, is similar to turning off the lights. We turn off the lights, shut the door, and go home. But in this case, even though they might continue to meet as a church, what they were doing was no longer being recognized by God. He was finished with them if they continued on that course.
Ephesus got that way because the members got that way. There is always a connection between the way the members are and the way the church is. You cannot have a warm, loving church, when the members are cold and indifferent. You cannot have a strong church, when the members are weak. What the members are, the church becomes. For Ephesus, it was losing their first love. It happened to the members and then t happened to the church.
Now, Ephesus didn’t start this way. Back in Acts, when Paul first preached, good things happened. They received an inspired letter from God, we call it Ephesians. They had elders. But still, they lost their focus, and then they lost their love.
And, all of this reminds us that congregations can change through the years. Just recently I heard of three congregations that decided to close their doors for the last time. They had dwindled down so small that it wasn’t practical to continue to meet. Sometimes the area has a lot to do with that, especially in rural communities. Fewer are farming these days. The young move away and never come back. And, once thriving congregations, now have fewer faces. Every funeral within the congregation makes folks wonder just how long they can hang on. In other places, a lack of strong leadership hurt. Problems after problems plague the congregation and there never seemed to be any resolution. Rather than marching onward, the church seemed to drift. There never seemed to be any sense of direction, leadership or goals. Family after family left. Some, to find a congregation that had more kids. Some, to find a congregation that seemed to be on the ball. And, some congregations, have fought themselves to death. Trouble after trouble, and those that remained became weary of fussing, fighting, gossip and turmoil. So, the time came to close the doors.
But when a church stops, it doesn’t really impact the kingdom. God’s church is made up of the saved. We may assemble in this place and then that place, and none of that really changes God’s kingdom. This is a thought that we lose sometimes. We become wedded to a specific congregation and a specific place. Sometimes our forefathers actually started the congregation or helped build the church building. To close the doors, seems to fail and it seems we are letting our ancestors down. And, that sad truth can be seen in areas where there may be two or three congregations that are not very large. They all have their own church building which must be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. They all have a preacher that must be supported. Yet, if those two or three congregations merged, they would have a larger pool of teachers, children, and even men to serve as leaders. But some would never dream of that. In their minds, to leave that place would be like leaving the Lord. So, they hang on, while the ship sinks. Discouraged. Slowly dying. They hang on, until death or poor health makes it necessary for them to finally close the doors.
Our commitment is to the Lord. We need to serve the Lord wherever we can. The life of a congregation can be up and down. Some soar and others sink. Some do well and some don’t do so well. The congregation is where we worship, connect with other saints, pool our energy and resources, love, work and fellowship. However, our time with a congregation and the life of a congregation often changes. Some move in and then move out. Young people go off to college, get jobs and some never come back. Our faith is tied directly to the Lord. A congregation helps us. And we need to be a part of a congregation, but the congregation does not determine our faith nor define our walk. Here’s what I mean. Things can be a bit touchy in the congregation. Tension and hurt feelings may be taking place. These things may be on my mind a lot. Many prayers may be going upward. But my faith does not have to suffer because my faith is in the Lord and not the wellbeing of a congregation. I own my faith. I determine whether or not I will be strong or not. The church can help, but my faith is independent of the church. If this wasn’t true, then we are putting our hope and future not in the hands of the Lord, but in the hands of those who lead the congregation. If they are corrupt, discouraging, indifferent, dead, then that will be my faith. I cannot have others determine what my faith will be. So, in places like Sardis, where the Lord called them dead, there were a few who were doing right. How could they? How could they do right in an atmosphere of death? The church did not define nor determine their faith.
We need to understand this and get this. Too many live their faith based upon what is happening down at the church building. So, if things are positive, optimistic and hopeful, you’ll find some whose faith follows that. However, if things are discouraging and dying, you’ll find some whose faith is that way. The members determine the atmosphere of the church. The church shouldn’t determine the atmosphere of our faith.
So, a congregation closes it’s doors. Historically, it’s sad. But nothing really changes. Those believers will move on to another place nearby and continue to worship and work in the kingdom. A church stops meeting, doesn’t mean we quit. For a number of reasons, it may be just time to get with another group and work with them. Our faith needs to be strong, no matter what.
We define our faith through Christ, not the church.