Walking with Victory

Revelation 2:12 Write this to Pergamum, to the Angel of the church. The One with the sharp-biting sword draws from the sheath of his mouth—out come the sword words: 

The primary motivation behind what people see at Real Life NYC has little to do with a team of directors being nice people or wanting to give back to our community. I'm all for that, and that's one of the byproducts of what's happening. But it's much deeper than gifted leaders organizing events for an after school program. Rather it's because our ears have been opened to One whose words are compared to a sword. His sword words are alive and active, cutting down to matters of the heart, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judging motives, thoughts, and attitudes. They’ll cut through a person's sin, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, through the complacency that sits back while 32 billion dollars a year are profited off of 30 million human trafficked individuals, of which 4.5 million are sold for sex. However, I've seen through our partnerships, approximately 37,500 documented women and children impacted by the love of Jesus.

Who has the time to listen to worthless opinions when His words bring this kind of freedom?

Deep down, I don't want to follow a God whose end goal is to hand out hugs to the world. This Jesus speaks and men and women are cut to the heart to go after the things that really matter in life. John the author of Revelation knew Jesus personally as the greatest lover, but now saw Him revealed as the reigning warrior. So while the words to Pergamum are sharp, they are to a church, a bride united to God by marriage, to Jesus who shed blood for her. Therefore He speaks, not as some harsh dictator but as a sacrificial husband. So while His words pierce, they are in love. While His words seem harsh, they heal. Though His eyes are ablaze, they're filled with compassion. Forever crowned in majesty, He's the same savior who had a crown of thorns pushed into His skull. 

"I see where you live, right under the shadow of Satan’s throne." This is the language of a God involved. Going beyond the exterior in relationships, we may discover the tension where people are physically visible by parents, classmates, social media followers, but no one truly sees them. No one completely comprehends where they are, understands the intricacies, and the intensities of their storms. On the other side of the spectrum, many default to the idea that if there is God who sees, He's very far away, doesn't care, and isn't capable of actually doing anything. If He does want to do something, it's probably sadistic with the goal of ruining all things fun. After all, He's often represented by people hiding behind a keyboard, where God is a matter of bullet points to be agreed upon and not a person to be known.

Nothing could be further from what Jesus is saying. "I see you! I've always seen you. I know where you live. I, the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. You saw who and how God was with your own eyes, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, full of grace and truth. I’m not oblivious to your physical or spiritual geography, I know your circumstances aren't ideal. I know there seems to be a dark cloud above. I know you can't make sense of the evil around you. I know you look at what's happening on the news, and there's fear on the inside, pressure from the outside.

Although you may be under a shadow, no matter what you’re under, I’ve already risen above it.

"You continue boldly in my Name; you never once denied my Name, even when the pressure was worst, when they martyred Antipas, my witness who stayed faithful to me on Satan’s turf."

Character isn't tethered to circumstance.

Antipas stayed faithful, yet he lost his physical life. These scriptures are far from formulas on how to better ourselves or achieve our American dreams. And I’m not against dreams. In fact, God dreams are much better than good dreams. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. It's why I'm asking and imagining for a heart like Antipas'. What kind of a heart beats in an person that gets them to stay planted in a location even to the point of being murdered for their faith? What could possibility motivate someone to forsake comfort and convenience for calling, even when answering the call meant being slow roasted alive in a copper oven. That’s how he died. He like others refused to do was culturally acceptable, declaring the Emperor as God. It sounds ridiculous in 2017, except we make gods out of much less, especially if it means safety, financial security, acceptance, and fitting in. However the real church were a problem, because they were a culture themselves, and would not bow. 

People who won’t bow cannot be bought. We cannot be bought if we’ve already been purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross.

Jesus said Antipas was faithful, trustworthy, and true to the end. He wasn't some random faith fanatic. He belonged to God. So whether it was three Israeli friends being thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the king of Iraq, or Job who refused crown his emotions king, even after losing it all, or one of the members of the body of Christ who's killed every 6 minutes overseas, perhaps our greatest reward isn’t getting out the other side without any scars. It’s knowing when we have scars, Jesus has scars, and even unto death, He never left us, abandoned us and we always belonged to Him.

We get to hear every day in our spirits, and it's the loudest during the hardest circumstances, “Anyone who believes in me, will live, even though he dies.” We carry a victor’s mentality, "absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us." We're not afraid of disease and we're not afraid of death. We don’t live motivated by fear, for His perfect love expels fear. Death is no longer an escape from life, it's an escort to Him who is life.

Death can only stare because death has lost its sting.

Jesus, do you know what you're doing? You're using the example of your follower Antipas’ dying mercilessly as a means to encourage. Don’t bring that up if you want people to stick with you. Except, no one has experienced pain like Jesus Himself. Therefore by experience, He’s the only God who can identify with and can give dignity to our suffering. We're not idiotically optimistic about pain, but it’s real and we need a God who is real. He doesn’t look at our pain as something to be embarrassed about, brushed aside, and locked in a closet where it eventually becomes a skeleton. He also doesn’t treat it as some puzzle that needs to be explained and figured out by some religious know-it-all who offers cookie cutter responses that minimize what we're going through. Instead, pain, death, agony, persecution, injustice is all set openly and passionately before God.

Suffering isn’t secretive in God’s eyes.

This is so counter-cultural because it seems like everyone’s goal is to be perpetually healthy and constantly happy. And if you don’t live up to those standards, you’re a problem to be solved, an enigma to be figured out, and you live a myth that denies your real experience. Meanwhile, Jesus, His gospel, His message is a redemption of what we go through. The sword words of the Commander cut through the clutter and declare, “I am full of unfailing love for you. I am a redeemer, I make a difference, I’m not indifferent, rejecting or cruel, I am for you, and you may be given over to terrible things in this life, but out of those crucibles of pains come a canvas of paint."

It’s those crushing seasons that stir God’s creativity where He rearranges what was meant for your harm, but in His passion for you, works all things together for your good if you love and belong to Him.

God has a conversation about a man with this same Satan mentioned in Revelation and says, "Look at my servant Job. There's no one like him." The accuser says, “You’ve blessed Him. He’s got it good. Take his prosperity away, take his family away, take his health. Skin for skin. And Job who actually loves God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength is in so much pain, he’s the first documented self-cutter, going through so much, that he’s self-inflicting pain to relieve pain. That's so today. God who absolutely loves Job and brags about him in the heavens, hands Job over to the enemy. What have we been handed over to, that has us confusing God's approval for us with His displeasure? Job like us, misunderstands God's silence for absence. He didn't have an explanation so he assumed God was either punishing him or like so many dads today, just wasn’t around. But God is always beside those whom he has a true relationship with.

God wasn't speaking because God was writing.

God was there, by his Spirit recording every single moment, every cry of agony, every added insult to severe injury, writing down the accusations of Satan, the harsh words from Job's wife, the insults of friends whose theology sounded more like karma than in compassion. How many people stuck under Satan's shadow, walking through the valley of the shadow of death have held on to the account of Job, declaring "I will not go down fearing evil, for you my God are with me, and you comfort me. You’ve written every detail of my experience down to every tear in your book. No wonder you're called the Author of our faith. God is looking for Jobs who don't know they are going to make it out alive, yet have confidence in their Redeemer. He wants faithful ones like Antipas who even aware of the spiritual climate in a city, won't opt out saying, “I’m just going to move to where it’s safer, where there’s less stress, where there’s less trouble, and where there’s less opposition." No we are more than victorious, more than conquerors in Christ Jesus, and how will we know we are conquerors if there’s never something in front of us to conquer. Although it seemed liked they "took" Antipas’ life, less than a century before that, it seemed like they took Jesus’ life.

But no one can take a believer's life from them, because we don’t even own the deeds to our lives, God does.

So if He hands us over for a moment and they bury us in the ground, all they did was bury a mustard seed of faith which when planted grows to become the largest in all the gardens. We cannot lose in Christ. How many people have held on to God because of your story, Antipas? How many people were real with their pain because of your honesty, Job? How many people will believe for victory because of our stories? 

The narrative takes a turn. There's an issue that's brought up against the church after all of the affirmation and commendation. Like all real lovers who won't stay silent when the object of their affection is headed down a dangerous path, the Lord asks a question He already knows the answer to in order to compel them to come face to face with a dangerous reality. "But why do you indulge that Balaam crowd? Don’t you remember that Balaam was an enemy agent, seducing Balak and sabotaging Israel’s holy pilgrimage by throwing unholy parties?  And why do you put up with the Nicolaitans, who do the same thing?" To us, those names seem irrelevant. But, in the children of Israel’s history during a series of circumstances involving deserts and disobedience, an enemy ruler, an ancient emperor named Balak feels threatened, so he wants to eradicate the people of Israel as God is taking them on this journey. He hires Balaam, a man who hears from God but can be bought. He can be swayed with money, but he had enough sense to know that God will always keep His promises to His people, that He loves them, that He redeemed them, and that whom God blesses, even if bribed by all the money in the world, no one can curse. Balaam offers Balak another solution: If God won't curse them, manipulate their free will to destroy them from the inside.

Balaam knows that they have a sweet tooth for pleasure outside of God, a fixation for whatever can satisfy them in the moment instead of what would truly satisfy their souls. With one invitation, these men trade love for lust, they trade wholeness and real relationship with God for dead intimacy. They exchange the truth of God for a lie by engaging in a graphically perverse party with these women of the opposing army. They’re so blinded by the thought of, "we just want to experience life and have a little bit of fun," not realizing that the women they've slept with were part of a military tactic to destroy them. Twenty-four thousand people die. 

While God will not violate choice and free will, the wages of sin are always death.

Centuries later, God asks His people in Pergamum, and asks us the same question today, "You really falling for the same thing? I have given you so much, I've given you me, I so loved the world that I gave myself over to unimaginable torture by crucifixion and got back up again, I didn’t come to condemn but to save. I’ve come to lead you, I'm not against you, but you constantly mix this eternal life relationship with dead activity, and I’m concerned enough to say something that might hurt your feelings, but save your lives." This is heart of a God who wants good for his children and can’t stomach anything less than good, so in a thunderous declaration through the pen-ship of John writes, “Enough! Don’t give in to them; I’ll be with you soon. I’m fed up and about to cut them to pieces with my sword-sharp words.

"Enough" is a call to repentance. It’s a command to “change your mind”, which is near impossible to do if you’ve ever tried to convince someone they’re wrong, even when they knew they were wrong. So what if repentance, isn't this horrific word mishandled by unloving people with the title Christian, but a beautiful invitation to abandon a current path in order to simply walk with Jesus and each other as a family. Jesus is more than capable of changing our minds as we see who He is and how much better His ways are.

Repentance means walking with Jesus.

In Matthew 4, Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Upon reading this, I'm tempted to filter this through the experience of someone yelling at me in the subway car. They don't ask me my name, have no intention in getting to know me, couldn't really care about what happens to me after they move on to the next car, but they want to speak for God. This has actually happened to me. But it’s as Jesus is preaching repentance that he shows how repentance works. He calls these fisherman and other individuals who are living their normal lives, to walk with Him, eat with Him, and live life with Him. Jesus internalized, “If I can keep them close enough to Me, they’d want the life I live. I wouldn’t need to beat them into submission, I wouldn’t need to turn them into obedient robots, I wouldn’t need to manipulate them, and I wouldn’t need to perform magic tricks to prove I’m real. They would simply see the way, the truth, and the life in Me, as they walk with Me and know God through Me. This walking and knowing God would dramatically affect our thought process in everything, changing our behavior from the inside out.

In Matthew 11 Jesus said: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” It's not an invitation to more religion. It’s not even forced. It’s a response to His voice. His kindness and goodness lead us into repentance, into a changed heart, mind, and life.

"Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the hidden manna to every conqueror;" Hidden manna is the essence of Jesus Christ Himself. His precious and personal words are sufficient for all our desires. Listen to the language, "I’ll also give," because it’s all gift. It's unearned. We don’t have to deserve it. We just trust. We don't have to be spiritual enough, smart enough, or religious enough. We just have to be simple enough to walk with Him, believing His life in exchange for ours took every wrong, every sin, every failure, every defeat, every lie, every warped mentality and nailed it to the cross. But He didn’t stay on the cross, He didn’t stay buried, and because He’s alive, and has all power and authority, He has the right to say this, "I will give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.” Christ’s final words to this body of people is:

Your identity isn't attached to anything here. It's attached to me.

Every label we've ever carried created by ourselves or others, will be no more. Only what He calls us will matter. And we can live in that reality of newness right now. Just trust Him. Give Him your life. Walk with Him. Walk with and in victory.

Reflection on Revelation 2:12-17, together with Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.