How many of you would know who I'm talking about if I mentioned the name "Red Fluffle"? Red is a baby fox who first appeared in the comic "Room For One More". He lives in Antarctica with his adoptive parents. He is also just about the sweetest baby anyone's ever met. He rarely cries. He loves his mommy and daddy. He never throws a tantrum and eats anything he's fed. He sleeps through the night and always greets the morning with a cheerful "GAH!" Every parent in Armitage county wishes they had a baby like Red. But there is a sad side to his story. Red's original mother did not want him. Red is a survivor of a saline abortion. His was to be an especially heartless, long and painful death. He would have died, had it not been for the intervention of a couple who were willing to risk their freedom to save him. Red knows that he is remarkably fortunate to be alive and pain-free. He counts every day as a gift and is acutely aware of just how much his new parents love him. That's why he's such a sweet baby boy.
Some psychologists would tell you that such suffering does not produce such well-behaved children, that it produces behavioral problems. My uncles Kenny and Pierre are proof that they are mistaken.
It's a sad sort of paradox, but we saints are like myrrh. We have inside us the potential to be sweet and incredibly pleasing to God, but for our aroma to be brought out, we must be crushed.
It is no coincidence that Smyrna means "Myrrh". Myrrh is an odd sort of spice. It is both fragrant and bitter, rather like coffee. It is highly prized, comarable to gold, and yet it's primary use is in burial rites. It links together that which is precious and that which causes suffering. And as I mentioned, it must be crushed to bring out its fragrence.
The Christians of Smyrna were a persecuted people. They lived in what is called Izmir today. Their city was the seat of the Roman cult of emperor worship.
If we accept that each of the churches is indicative of a church age, then geographic Ephesus is the same as the era in which the church was first addressed. Smyrna, however, is representative of the era from the reign of Nero until Diocletian in the 4th century. As in geographic Smyrna, emperor worship was the order of the day.
The Christians of the Smyrna church were heavily persecuted. Consider the situation in China. The Christians among the Hani are considered troublemakers. Because they refuse to worship the objects which the animists worship, they are thought to be aggravating the spirits. How much worse when the object of your worship is an actual person with the power of life and death? And I'm sure you've all heard the stories about the Smyrnan church age. It was a rare day in the Roman colesseum when lions would be devoured by Christians.
But during that age, the church became very, very clean. One did not become a Christian unless he was serious about it. You didn't have hangers-on who showed up once a year at Easter. You didn't have people who attached themselves to the church because they were raised there. There were no slackers, no hypocrites, no lurkers, and no comfy clergy looking at the world through rose-colored stained glass windows.
The Hani Christians over in China have their electricity turned off and people won't do business with them. To be a Christian is to consign oneself to poverty. So it was with Smyrna. And Jesus acknowledged their poverty. yet He also called them rich. How can that make sense? Look at James Chapter 2.
James 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
The Smyrnan Christians are rich in faith! And not just the originals or the ones in the second church age, but those who are alive today. There are Christians living in Philistia today who have to spend their lives in holes because of their faith. These are people who have no material possessions to their names. But when these men and women stand before God, they will receive crowns of glory and honor because they stayed faithful to God when it was a death sentence. But even more than that, Christians in places where the church is persecuted have a special blessing. When they get together for church, it's real in a way that many American Christians will never know. There is a genuineness and a unity that allows the power of God to flow freely.
I'm going to get a little bit mystical for a second. How many of you have ever heard the term "chakra"? The idea here is that energy flows through the body. As it does, it forms a series of pools. Block these pools and the energy is blocked, causing the whole body to operate les efficently. Each pool is blocked by something different. Hate. Fear. Delusion. Worldly attachment. Shame. Now, while I'm not big on Eastern religion, there is a kernel of truth for us, here. we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And for Him to work within us, we must open up the barriers which would keep Him contained. And these are the same things you will find in the philosophy of the chakras. Hate. Fear. Shame. Delusion. Worldly attachment.
When a slave is worked hard, his body grows strong even though he is oppressed. When we are persecuted, our spirits grow strong in spite of the oppression, and because of it. Those things which weaken us begin to drop off. Fear. Delusion. Hate. We become cleansed of these poisons as we fill ourselves with the good things of God. Love. Joy. Patience. Meekness. It's not something we have to study. It's a natural consequence.
Do you realize that there are presently brothers and sisters in China who are praying for our persecution? Seriously! They want us to have what they have. Personally, I hope we can get there in a slightly more gentle way. But I can tell you, it works.
Let me share with you something that happened as I was working on this sermon. I assume you all know by now about my traffic accident? Well I got a bill from the gas company. It was a WHOPPER. No way I could pay what they were charging me. so I went out and I got a big bottle of soda, determined to drink myself into a diabetic stupor. I was focussed on having a rotten night. Looking forward to it, even. But then an idea came to me. As my family was discussing audio bibles, it struck me that I could do an audio bible program using animal characters as the readers. So I set about to do one episode and return to the doldrums. After the first episode, the second begged to be recorded. By the time I was working on the fifth instalment, and sharing what I was doing, I had completely ruined my bad mood. It was simply unsalvagable. I tried frowning and drinking, but nothing helped. I was simply filled with too much joy after focussing on God for so long.
So here's my advice to you: If you're having trouble and you're really looking forward to a nasty mood and a load of worry, steer clear of your bible and don't even think about praying. Get too close to God and that bad mood could get absolutely ruined.
My challenge this week: If you don't have God, get God. If you have God, get nearer, especially in times of trouble. Read your bible. Pray. Do something good for your God and His people. And don't sorrow when trouble strikes. Use the trouble to clean out your spirit. Let is scrub away fear, shame, hate, pride, and all that keeps the Great Spirit from working within yours.
8 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.