Category Archives: Book of Revelation

All-Access Backstage Pass

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 4:1-6a

Part 9 (3:14-22)  ΑΩ  Part 11 (4:6b-11) →

Backstage passes.

They’re the ultimate in tickets. They’re the trump card of concert-going coolness. “I have tickets in the 5th row!” “Oh, you do? I have tickets on the couch next to Bono after the show. Blaow.”

I’ve never really had the dream-scenario backstage pass experience. My TWOG co-author Steve has had me come backstage with some of the bands he’s played with in the past couple years, and while the artists were super cool and friendly, it was pretty uneventful. I mostly just ate some of the band’s pizza and tried some all-natural peanut butter that one of the artists was really into. It wasn’t exactly what you envision as the “backstage experience.” The peanut butter was really good, though. And I’m all about peanut butter.

There is a singular text in the Bible that offers something like a backstage pass.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it…” (Rev. 4:1-2)

John has been invited into the throne room of God. He’s going to be shown what is about to take place and how it all fits together and makes sense. This isn’t a vision of “what it will be like when we go to heaven.” This is John being invited to pass for a few moments through the thin veil that separates heaven and earth—between backstage and front stage—and be shown God’s plan for the rescue and recreation of the world. What he sees, he’ll be asked to write down (see 1:19) so that it can be communicated to the believers still living on the earth-side of the veil.

Here’s the problem with that… How do you describe what is indescribable? If something is ineffable, how do you “eff” it? What words can you use? What language is capable of capturing what’s said backstage on the couch next to the Creator of all things and the author of every language?

Answer: None.

So, John does the best he can. And the book of Revelation is what comes out.

This is one of the most important principles to keep in mind when we’re reading and interpreting Revelation: Human language has its limits. If you try to take John’s words too literally, you’re asking John to do something with language that cannot be done with language: Perfectly describe something that is beyond description.

Someone once explained it to me this way: Try to imagine that you find yourself in the Amazon rain forest among a primitive tribe that has never had contact with the outside world. Now try to imagine that you’ve been asked to explain to them how electricity works. What would you say? … “Well… It’s like this… powerful spirit… that travels along a… um… vine. And the vine goes inside your hut and into a small, round… ah… sun… that’s in your hut. And this sun can make the inside of your hut light when the actual sun goes away. … Now… How do I explain why you would want it to be light in your hut after the sun goes away? … You see there’s this thing called ‘TeeVee…’

You’d have to use words and descriptions that they understand to communicate, to explain things that they can’t possibly comprehend yet. You could probably make your point, and they’d understand what you’re getting at, more or less. But if they took what you were saying too literally, when they eventually saw the real thing they’d say, “Oh, well… That’s not at all like what you were describing!”

It’s very important to keep that dynamic in mind when we’re reading Revelation if we really want to hear God’s message to us, and not just end up with the truly bizarre and sadly best-selling Left Behind series.

In the opening scene of this vision that John will be communicating to us, he sees the Lord Jesus, enthroned in a room that obviously defies description. When John says that Jesus had the appearance of “ruby” (v. 3), you’re not supposed to think of Jesus as bright red. You’re supposed to think of him as indescribably beautiful. When he talks about a “rainbow that shone like an emerald,” you’re not supposed to think of a green rainbow. You’re supposed to get the sense of unimaginable majesty.

Jesus is surrounded by twenty-four elders. These almost certainly represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles—representatives of the entire people of God, past, present and future, ruling over the world as God’s vice-regents. God’s perfect (“seven,” the number of perfection in v. 5) Spirit is present. And this is happening in God’s ultimate temple. The “sea of glass” in v. 6 recalls the “sea” that was present in the Old Testament temple.

Keep in mind, nothing has happened yet. None of the plot has unfolded.

But the stage is set.

Whatever happens from here on out happens because the indescribably wise and powerful God at the center of it all has determined that it would. And that’s the message of these first six verses for us:

King Jesus reigns.

He is without rival. His rule never trembles or weakens. Not for a moment. In the midst of the worst events in human history, God’s throne is never shaken. In the mist of the worst of what is to come (and it will be worse than anything this world has yet seen), God will not be worried. He will not be unsure. He has never scrambled to come up with a “Plan B.” He has never had second thoughts. “Our God is in heaven; he does all that he pleases.” (Ps. 115:3)

And if that’s true of all the upheaval and calamity and turmoil the world has seen and will yet see, how much more so is it true for the events of your own life? You have seen trouble. You have seen hardship and sadness. You have experienced loss. Believer, do you know that Jesus reigned through it all? Do you know that he was not surprised? Do you know that he wasn’t afraid of how it would go for you, his beloved?

The tapestry of his creation has become frayed and tattered because of our sin and rebellion. But he is weaving the threads—one by one, including the threads of your life—back together, crafting a masterpiece that will be far more beautiful than even the original.

He will not say, “Very good,” over his recreated world as he did over the original.  He will say, “Perfect. Finally. This is perfect.”

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You’re Not Wealthy Enough

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3:14-22

Part 8 (3:7-13)  ΑΩ  Part 10 (4:1-6a) →

In a sermon I preached a couple years ago I was describing the significance and necessity of ministry in the suburbs. Despite the fact that urban ministry is all the rage, and ministry in the suburbs is often viewed by urban types/hipsters as “selling out,” I tried to point out that people are dying in the suburbs just as they’re dying in the city:

“It’s just that they’re dying of wealth; They’re dying of prosperity; They’re dying of overwhelming stress and impossible expectations; They’re dying of prescription drug addiction; They’re dying of families shattered by adultery and divorce and workaholism; People in the suburbs are dying of ‘The American Dream.’ And ultimately they’re dying for lack of a Savior.”

If there were a suburb-like environment in 1st century Asia Minor (roughly modern day turkey), it was Laodicea. It was situated in a prime location on important trade routes, is was the banking center of the entire region, people came from all over the Mediterranean world to study at its excellent medical schools, it was a style- and trend-setter in clothing; It was an enormously wealthy and comfortable city. Its residents were so wealthy that they had more or less lost all perspective on how wealthy they were and how the vast majority of the rest of the world lived.

And God tells them that they’re not wealthy enough.

Have you ever been kept awake at night because of money concerns?

I certainly have.

How am I ever going to pay back these student loans? How am I ever going to get rid of this credit card debt? How am I ever going to make the mortgage payment this month? If I lose this job, how am I going to provide for my family? What are we going to do with all of these medical expenses? How are we ever going to be able afford to adopt?…

I imagine most of us have been there at one point or another. Maybe when we were young and hadn’t gotten on our feet yet. Maybe when things went terribly wrong and everything suddenly became unstable and uncertain. Your mind races through the options again and again, reconsidering every possible way of bringing in money over and over and over again. Hard as you try, you cannot stop trying to think of ways that you might be able to get just a little more. Your eyes bore holes in the ceiling. You pace. You think. You watch some TV to try to get your mind off it. It doesn’t work. You pace and think some more.

New question: Have you ever been kept awake at night because you couldn’t stop trying to think of new ways to be rich in good deeds?

I wish I could say I have. I try to do good and love other people well, and I try to lead my family in the same. But I can’t think of a time I was literally kept awake trying to think of more ways to become rich in good deeds—not in the way I have been kept awake trying to think of the best way to ensure financial resources for my family.

God says to the wealthy Laodiceans: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (v. 17) Every outward sign points to the Laodicean believers living rich lives. The American Dream. The Good Life. But they are desperately poor because they are leading almost entirely useless lives.

One of the most commonly misunderstood passages in all of Scripture is Rev. 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

It’s usually assumed that what God is saying is that he is revolted by what have come to be called “lukewarm Christians”—believers who are half-committed to following Jesus; who say they’re “Christ-ian,” but make no appreciable effort to make their lives look like Christ’s. And God would rather than they be fully committed or not committed at all. But that’s not quite what God is saying. I have a hard time believing God would ever “wish” that someone would not be committed at all.

Numerous commentators have pointed out that the one thing Laodicea lacked was its own natural water source. It’s city planners had built massive, miles-long aquaducts to bring hot spring water to the city from Hierapolis, and cold, mountain run-off from Colossae. But by the time the hot water had traveled the distance from Hierapolis, it wasn’t hot enough to bathe in or effectively wash clothes or dishes. By the time the water arrived from Colossae it was no longer cold enough to be refreshing to drink. All of Laodicea’s water was worthless. It wasn’t useful for anything.

What God is “spitting out of his mouth” is people whose lives aren’t useful.

The concern he raises in verse 15 is about deeds. “I know your deeds.”  Despite the appearance of wealth, they are impoverished because their lives are not rich in good deeds.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not implying that we have to do a certain amount of good deeds to become acceptable to God. I’m not smuggling in a works-righteousness theology through the back door.

I’m saying that a poverty of good works in our lives should keep us awake at night.

How can I do more? How can I love better? How can I free up more to give? How can I bless more people? How can I serve my spouse and children more selflessly? I should get up and pace and think this through… How can my life be more useful?…

Before the end of the day, what good thing could you do for another? What blessing could you give?

May we be people whose dreaming and scheming about lives rich in good deeds make us lose sleep.

The Reputation and Reality of Holiness

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3:1-6

Part 6 (2:18-29)  ΑΩ  Part 8 (3:7-13) →

One of the things I’ve tried to emphasize most in my writing and speaking throughout the years has been what one might call the absoluteness of Jesus. I’m almost certain that “absoluteness” isn’t a word. But it does convey fairly well what the angel of the church at Sardis is saying about Jesus.

Jesus deals in absolutes. Something is right or it’s wrong. Something is good or it’s evil. You’re either with him or you’re against him. You’re either faithful or unfaithful. You’re a follower of his or you’re not. Our culture is very fond of blurry lines and expansive gray areas between the black and white, but Jesus really wasn’t. He draws a very clear line and asks us which side of it we’re on.

It seems to me that there is a tendency among believers to try to isolate areas of sin and rebellion in their lives—a few certain behaviors and decisions that are contrary to God’s revealed will, but nevertheless we try to “protect” from God’s intervention. We say, “I will give him all of my life, except this part. And I will go along with him as he refines and beautifies every part of my life, so long as he leaves this protected area of rebellion alone.”

It’s a story very familiar to me. I attempted to maintain a certain reputation among believers while I guarded a protected area of rebellion that for some time I refused to allow God to enter. Until it did what those protected areas always do. They turn on us. They break out of their boundaries and infect everything else. They never stay contained where we planned for them to. Suddenly we find ourselves ruined and broken, not having realized that what we were so closely protecting was actually a grenade with the pin pulled out.

Jesus says to the believers as Sardis, I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. WAKE UP! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God (vv. 1-2).

Perhaps the single most important element in the pursuit of holiness is one that is almost never addressed. It is the virtue of prizing God’s thoughts about us far above anyone else’s. Good reputation is what happens when our known deeds make us highly esteemed by other people. Holiness is what happens when our known and unknown deeds make us highly esteemed by God himself.

Our progress in holiness will largely be determined by which we decide we want more and will chase after. Of course, high esteem among people often follows in the wake of genuine holiness. But as Sardis found out (along with myself and many of you) good reputation can be achieved without an absolute commitment to Jesus in every part of our lives. It can be achieved by harboring areas of rebellion, so long as those protected areas are not known.

The problem, of course, is that there are no true “protected areas.” There are no “unknown deeds.” “I know your deeds,” God says. I know them. You have not confessed them. They may not be public. But I know them. You have a certain reputation, but your reputation does not reflect realty.

So the question is: Do you want the reputation of holiness? Or do you want the reality of holiness?

God shows his grace toward us reputation-chasers with his call to WAKE UP! It is grace that he shouts and shakes us, allowing us to blink our eyes and let fall away the trance we so often walk around in, believing that what people think of us matters most of all.

It does not matter most of all. Here’s what will matter most of all: “The one who is victorious will…be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels” (v. 5).

What does that mean? What does it mean that Jesus will acknowledge the holy and victorious ones before his Father?

It means that in the end he will introduce him to the Father. It means that Jesus will usher us into the very throne room of God and say, “Father, I’d like you to know [your name here.] I know his deeds. I’ve seen his life. He has given it to me completely.

That will be the moment in which reputation will become a perfectly and completely empty concept. We will be completely and truly known by the one whose knowing matters more than anyone’s. That’s the moment we’re after. That’s why Jesus is so absolute. It’s why he’s so demanding. It’s because he wants that moment for us. He sends his Holy Spirit to work in us, driving us toward that moment. He died to bring to life our hearts, minds and eyes so that we can see that moment.

So may we choose to concern ourselves above all with God’s thoughts about us. May we care less about our reputation among people, and care nothing about it if it is ill-deserved. May we seek the sort of life that leads to the moment when Jesus introduces us proudly to his and our Father.

The Intolerance of Intolerance

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 2:18-29

Part 5 (2:12-17)  ΑΩ  Part 7 (3:1-6) →

This morning I read a heartbreaking article about the congregation in which a good friend of mine (my best man, actually) grew up. Grace Church was once the 25th largest ELCA Lutheran church in the country, with a membership of over 2,500. Today the average attendance hovers around 100. I’ve spoken with the recently-departed senior pastor several times. He seems like a good man and a faithful shepherd.

And on the one hand, attendance in old mainline churches is plummeting nationwide. So maybe this shouldn’t be that surprising. But Wisconsin and Minnesota are still bastions of mainline traditions, and this particular church had an attendance of nearly a thousand only a few years ago.

Numbers certainly aren’t everything. Around the world there are beautiful, faithful, healthy and vital churches of a few dozen people or less. If I ever lead a church again, I want it to be in a church that refuses to count attenders (only new believers and discipled believers). But it certainly begs the question: What happened?

The article tells the story well, so I’ll let it do so if you care to read it. But what happened at Grace is just the latest echo of a siren that has been sounding from churches since people first gathered to worship and celebrate Jesus, and which the church at Thyatira came to exemplify.

Revelation 2:18-29 begins with an encouragement from God to the church at Thyatira that they are making progress. Their love and faith, perseverance and service to others is growing. They’re on the comeback trail. There is such a thing as a dying church, and there is such a thing as a comeback church that rises and becomes healthy and vital again. Thyatira might be one of them, but at this point it remains to be seen. A toxic menace still threatens the life of the church. But unlike some of the other churches, the greatest threat to its survival isn’t Rome or violent persecution from Jewish opponents.

The threat is from within. The church is killing itself. Suicide by compromise.

In the letter to Pergamum (2:12-17), God alluded to a famous biblical character, Balaam, who had the appearance of piety, but in actuality led the people of God into compromise, wickedness and death. In the letter to Thyatira another ancient biblical villain plays the same role. Jezebel was well known from 1 Kings 16-22 as the wife of king Ahab, a foreign woman who introduced the worship of the rival god, Baal, which led both her husband and the people of God into “whoredoms and sorceries” (2 Kings 9:22).

Throughout Scripture, “whoredom” is a description that often includes, but is rarely limited to, sexual immorality. More often it refers to widespread and wide-ranging unfaithfulness to God. In the case of Thyatira, it’s unclear whether “Jezebel” refers to a specific individual or an influential group of people. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that the church is tolerating Jezebel.

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling” (Rev. 2:20-21).

Tolerance is the watchword of our time and culture. Intolerance is its only deadly sin. It’s a sentiment so valued by our culture that it’s almost universally insisted upon. It is becoming commanded and codified. Increasingly there are penalties for any kind of intolerance deemed socially unacceptable.

Intolerance is no longer tolerated. It’s become a victim of itself.

Make no mistake, tolerance can be a great virtue. Tolerance is a force that has destroyed injustice, and brokered love and peace. The apostle Paul himself commands tolerance in the church: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:2) Bearing with someone in love that you don’t particular like or agree with is a marvelous form of tolerance that demonstrates the work of God in us.

But what threatened to kill the church in Thyatira and what threatens the church here and now is a neglect of the right kind of intolerance. Intolerance can be just as much a virtue as tolerance if what is not being tolerated is evil and leads people away from the truth, loosening their grip on true ways of thinking and living. And tolerance can be just as much a vice as intolerance if we go the way of Thyatira.

In fact, the danger of the theological and moral drift in Thyatira is so great that God issues a terrifying threat:

“…I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of their ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (2:22-23).

The call of God to the faithful is very simple: Hold on. “Hold on to what you have until I come.” (v. 25). This story has played itself out again and again in the two millennia since this letter, as it is today. There are those in the church today who do not realize that they themselves are the greatest threat to the church itself. In the name of tolerance they are not just bearing with and loving people who have different sins, struggles and temptations than their own (which would be right), but they are taking their cues from the culture and world around them and calling “good” or at least “permissible” what God has unequivocally called evil.

God is calling the faithful to hold on. Do not hate. But do not blithely tolerate what is evil. Lovingly bear with those who chose wrong, and lovingly and graciously speak truth—even when truth-speaking is not perceived to be loving by those who hear what we say.

Jesus’s promised gift to those who hold on in faithfulness to his word is the gift of himself.

“To the one who is victorious…I will also give that one the morning star.”

N.T. Wright explains this promise so well: “Since later in the book (22:16) it is Jesus himself who is the ‘morning star’, we probably have here another hint of the level of intimacy which he offers to his people. He will share his very identity with them, as we have just seen him do with his royal authority. But the ‘morning star’, most likely the planet Venus at its pre-dawn brightest, is a sign of the special vocation of Christians, not least those ‘holding on’ when others around them seem to be compromising, under pressure, with local pagan practices. Christian witness is meant to be a sign of the dawning of the day, the day in which love, faith, service and patience will have their fulfillment, in which idolatry and immorality will be seen as the snares and delusions they really are, and in which Jesus the Messiah will establish his glorious reign over the whole world.”

Those who blur the edges of the truth in a well-intentioned but wrong-headed attempt to “be more loving and accepting” are actually doing great damage to the very body of Christ they profess to represent. Christ-follower: Do not join their number. Carry out the much harder and braver work of holding to the truth and loving well—especially those who will not feel our love as love.

Driving Between Two Ditches

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 2:12-17

Part 4 (2:8-11)  ΑΩ  Part 6 (2:18-29) →

I think that the most difficult thing about being a pastor was probably the fact that I often found myself needing to teach on an issue—and teach with passion—despite the fact that I didn’t really measure up on that issue myself.

No one assumes that pastors are perfect. But then again, they kind of do. They suspect that pastors have this being-a-Christian thing pretty much nailed down. After all, they’re professional Christians, right? I don’t think I ever projected perfectionism. I tried to make it clear that I was always including myself in my exhortations to the congregation. But still… How do you preach passionately about giving when you’re not a particularly passionate giver? How do you urge people to be compassionate when you’re not all that compassionate? How do you encourage purity of mind, when that’s really not something you’ve got nailed down?

I once heard someone ask John Piper if he considered himself a joyful person. After all, he had written the book on finding our deepest joy and satisfaction in God. He said something like, “No. It’s called ‘Desiring God.’ Not ‘I Have Arrived at Deepest Joy In God.’ I’m not a particularly joyful person. I just know what I want really badly.”

That’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. It’s tough to write passionately about something I don’t have nailed down. But I know what I want really badly. When you’re a pastor, Sunday’s going to come whether you want it to or not. The people are going to be there. You have to say something. Blogging is obviously different. There’s not that handy built-in deadline. But I need to write this. I’m not standing up until it’s done.

In Revelation 2:12-17, God turns his focus to Pergamum, the third of the seven churches in Asia Minor. the church at Pergamum had almost exactly the opposite problem of the church at Ephesus. The Ephesians were so concerned with doctrinal integrity and internal maintenance of purity and solidarity in the church that they had become completely ineffective at reaching people outside the church. The church at Pergamum, on the other hand, was so concerned about engaging their culture that they had increasingly begun to accommodate and blend with their culture.

Some of them clearly had stood firm. Despite the fact that the social pressure to participate in pagan worship in the many temples in Pergamum was so intense that God describes the city as “where Satan has his throne” and “where Satan lives” (v. 13), he affirms many of the believers:

“Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city…” (v. 14)

But many had not stood firm. There were apparently some in the church who were leading others into idolatry and sexual immorality. People who in the name of cultural engagement and “relevance” were enticing their brothers and sisters to compromise their convictions and throw themselves into the stream of the ways of Pergamum. John draws on a story from the Old Testament to illustrate what was happening:

“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v. 14)

Greg Beale explains: “Balaam was a pagan prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon the invading Israelites. God prevented Balaam from doing so and caused him to issue a blessing on them instead (see Num. 22:5–24:25). However, Balaam subsequently devised a plan in continued disobedience to God whereby some of the Moabite women would entice the Israelite men to ‘defect from the Lord’ (31:16) by fornicating with them and joining with them in the worship of their pagan gods (25:1–3). This plan was successful, and God punished the Israelites for their idolatrous involvement. …Balaam became proverbial for the false teacher who for money influences believers to enter into relationships of compromising unfaithfulness, is warned by God to stop, and is finally punished for continuing to disobey.”

The truth is that every believer, at some point, is going to deal with either “Ephesus-think” or “Pergamum-think.” Maybe both. My experience is that most people who grow up in the church are trained in “Ephesus-think” and they have to figure out how to break out of it and become ambassadors of Christ who effectively engage the world without slipping into “Pergamum-think.” On the other hand, it seems that most people who come to Christ later in life find “Pergamum-think” more natural, and they have to figure out how to weed immorality out of their lives and build solid Christian relationships without slipping into “Ephesus-think,” where they don’t have a single genuine friendship with a non-believer and are completely ineffective at drawing near to messy people who are far from Christ.

I’ve lived in both kinds of “think” and unfortunately I’ve allowed myself to be burned by both. Apparently I’m not particularly good at living in either Ephesus or Pergamum. I want internal purity and congregational cohesion, but there have been times when those pursuits have made me worthless as an evangelist and “friend of sinners,” like Jesus. And I want to engage with culture and form substantive, genuine relationships with messy people. But there have been times when those pursuits have drawn me too far in to the place “where Satan has his throne,” so to speak.

I want to be better. I want to be stronger. I want to set a better example. I want to drive the road between these two ditches without ending up in either. And here’s what I’m clinging to:

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v. 17)

This is God’s promise of blessing and reward to those who are victorious. And victory, in this case, is navigating the opportunities and dangers of Ephesus and Pergumum while remaining “true to my name.” (v. 13). Those who have lived too long in Ephesus should not go be citizens of Pergamum. And citizenship in Ephesus is not the answer for those who have lived too long in Pergamum. As our lives bring us through the temptations and blessings of being both a citizen of the world and of heaven, our call is not to plant feet firmly in either until heaven comes to earth. Rather, our calling is to faithfulness in both.

To the faithful, God promises “hidden manna”—sustenance, provision. Life. And he promises a “white stone with a new name written on it” (v. 17). Wright explains: “Pergamum’s great buildings were made of a black local stone. When people wanted to put up inscriptions, they obtained white marble on which to carve them. This was then fixed to the black buildings, where it stood out all the more clearly. …The fact that nobody knows this name except the one who receives it [means]… Jesus is promising to each faithful disciple, to each one who ‘conquers’, an intimate relationship with himself in which Jesus will use the secret name which, as with lovers, remains private to those involved. The challenge to avoid the false intimacy of sexual promiscuity is matched by the offer of a genuine intimacy of spiritual union with Jesus himself.” (Revelation for Everyone, 23)

So, God, make me faithful to you through Ephesus and Pergamum. Make me true to your name as I navigate the church and the wider world. Forgive me for the times I have failed to engage the world without being infected by the world, and for the times I have become so insulated by the church that I haven’t loved the lost well. Wash away my filth, heal my wounds, and help me to do better for you this time around. Amen.