Before I begin today's sermon, I'd like to respond to some criticisms about some of my earlier sermons.
Concerning the one about Yin and Yang, I never suggested that evil was good or that we should embrace it. I was saying that God uses evil to bring good about.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
The other criticism concerns my assertion that when true Christians get together, they encourage each other and build up one another's faith and maturity. My detractor claims that without a proper pastor, they'll simply act like a bunch of kindergarteners. I'd like that man to come in here and see what a DARN FINE bunch of kindergarteners we have here!
Long ago, when the Earth was still young and there were few creatures in it, the canines had a single alpha. Emperor Moonhowl, they called him.
Moonhowl was a very lonely wolf. He was a kind and good emperor, but he was a perfectionist. No female ever lived up to his standards.
Seeing that the emperor was distressed, the collie who was employed as his personal servant went out to find him the perfect female.
She found a beautiful vixen and told her of her master's great power, but the emperor found her too bossy. She found a lovely and told her of the master's marvelous banquets, but the emperor found the coyote to be a glutton. On and on this went, the emperor finding some critical flaw with every one. The servant was about to give up hope when the emperor announced that he had made his choice.
"The women whom you brought me wanted my power, my influence, my prestige, my belongings, or some other things. Only one sought after my happiness. That one is you. Will you marry me?"
The servant married her master and became empress of all canines. She was held up as an example for all other canines to follow because of her love for her master.
Perfection. What is perfection? There is no single definition for what qualifies as perfect. A perfect diamond, for example, is hardly the same as the perfect breakfast cereal. One is ranked on looks, the other on taste and nutritional value. But we CAN say this: A thing that is perfect fulfills its purpose completely and without flaw.
What does it take for a person to be perfect? Does it mean that they never make dumb mistakes like putting their shoes on backward? That's easy to answer. Is it the purpose of a person to wear shoes? Of course not. I don't when I can avoid it. (wiggles flipper) What is the purpose of mankind? What is the meaning of life? It's no secret. It is to live a life of loving service for the Creator. To love and be loved by Him. The person who can do this completely and flawlessly is perfect, even if he wears his shoes on his ears.
I think we all know what "Philidelphia" means. "City of Brotherly Love". The actual Philidelphia is a small Turkish town. It was named for the love which Attalus II had for his brother Eumenes, king of Pergamum. The city itself, although a relatively small city, served as a first line of defense against invading armies, protecting the greater cities of Pergamum, Ephesus and Smyrna.
As one of the church ages, Philidelphia is hard to pin down. And while it is evident that the last age has already started, I don't believe that this one is over yet.
My high school biology teacher, when teaching cellular microbiology, often stressed that processes in a cell which occur in a series do not always have predictable starting and stopping points. A new process may begin before the preceding one has ended. I believe that this is the case with the final two church ages. It is my belief that the Philidelphian age will continue right up to the end of the church.
And while not everyone agrees on the dates of the Philidelphian age, they all seem to agree that it is the missionary age. It began in approximately 1720 in Europe, spread over Europe and found its way into America, where it took off like a rocket. There was a very definite return to true Christianity as God raised up some powerful teachers, evangelists and missionaries who searched God's word for the truth and carried it to others around the world.
If there is a perfect church, this is it. There are only two churches for whom Jesus has no word of condemnation. The first was Smyrna, which did very well just to hold its own. But the Philidelphian church did far more than just hold its own. If we could liken the churches to people, then where Smyrna is an innocent youngster, Philidelphia is a mighty hero.
The Philidelphian age has seen some wonderful things happen. The baptistics, whom God saved as a remnant through the previous two ages, have spread like wildfire. We've formed mission societies that cover just about the entire known world. We've diversified and given rise to the church-planting Bereans, the gospel-spreading E-free, and the truth-loving (if confusingly named)Christian churches.
Protestant denominations have seen significant changes too. While we do still have the old liturgical churches, we've also seen the rise of the charismatic movement. And while I do not agree with everything that goes on in every charismatic church, it can't be denied that the majority of them are demonstrating to the world how wonderful Jesus is. They've been accused of changing Christ to make him more popular. I don't see that at all. Jesus is good just the way He is. If you let your love for Jesus show so that the world can see, they will find out for themselves how good he is! They won't all admit it, but they'll see it.
And then even in the catholic church... I don't agree with everything that the catholic church does either, but to hear them say that Luther was right, that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works, that was a cause for celebration. And then when they no longer permitted the eating of otters on Friday, that was icing on the cake.
The combination of these three factors has produced an environment which has not existed since... ever. The revival of the churches of God in so many different manifestations along with religious freedom has served to bring Christians together like no other time in history. I can not only have lunch with Jon Paul the priest and Alan Harris the Assemblies minister, I can actually work with them as brothers in the service of our God! But more than that, look at what we have here! This church is every denomination and no denomination. You've got a baptist minister. We've got people here who are protestant, I think some catholics... I don't quite know, and it really doesn't matter. How wonderful!
The church serves two purposes. When it is together, it builds up the saints. We can check that box. When it is apart, it spreads the Gospel of salvation. Are we doing that?
In Iran, people who are sick and tired of the violence that comes with Islam are turning to Jesus in droves. Christian organizations, acting from outside the country, are pumping God's word in through whatever means they can, and the church is spreading uncontainably.
In China, Philipino missionaries, along with Chinese locals are risking everything for the gospel. Their ultimate goal is to take the gospel across the ten-forty window all the way back to Jerusalem.
In Russia, where Christianity was once heavily persecuted, when religion became free again, millions lifted up their voices in song to the Lord, demonstrating that the gospel had been secretly thriving.
I could go on and on. I could tell you about the missionaries in Japanese-speaking California, in Mali, in India, in Chile, in Alaska, and even in prison.
Have we been spreading the gospel? Check.
Overall, I'd say that we've been doing a good job as a church. But that is no reason to rest. There is a saying among artisans. If you are pleased with your work, it's time to quit. As God's people, we are doing what He meant us to do, but we should never be satisfied with what we've already accomplished.
You know what I would like for this body of believers? I want to be able to hold you all up as an example of love and say "This is a Philidelphian church! This is what every church needs to be like because they are motivated by love. They love God, they love each other, and they love the world just as Jesus loved the world and gave His life for it. They're not afraid! Just as Jesus gave his life to reconcile us to the Father, so any one of these people would put their life on the line to bring others to Jesus."
There's so much juicy material in this letter. I'd love to just keep talking and talking, but since we do have lives to get back to, I'll go ahead and go to my challenge, now.
If you are a Christian, this is my challenge to you. To be motivated by love and take Christ's gospel into the world. To be that Philidelphian Christian against whom God has no complaint.
If you are not a Christian, then I want you to know just what the gospel is. Jesus loves you. He wants you to live forever in His Heaven. But because we aren't worthy to be in His presence, because we have all sinned, we have to be made right first. That sin has to be punished and justice served. We can't possibly bear that punishment ourselves, but we don't have to. Jesus himself took that punishment for us. He became a man when He was born to the virgin Mary. He taught and ministered while on Earth, and when He was thirty-three, He voluntarily turned Himself over to be beaten, tortured, humiliated and put to death. It was for our sins that Jesus was killed. But Jesus conquored death. He rose to life on the third day. And because He loves us, He offers to share that victory over death with us. All that we have to do is ask. If you have not accepted Jesus as your personal savior, we invite you to do so today. You folks reading this sermon in the archives, this is for you as well. Come talk to me or to one of the other elders and we will pray with you. If the elders are busy, just grab a Christian. That's what we're here for.
7 "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars--I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.