Ephesians 1:15-23
Revelation 3:1-6

In the old days, about the only method used to bring about what we today call ‘church revitalization’ was the old fashioned revival.

In one town, three churches sponsored a joint revival. After it was over, the three pastors met for coffee to discuss the results.

The Methodist pastor said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.”

The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.”

The Presbyterian minister said with a sly grin, “We did even better than that! We got rid of our ten biggest troublemakers!”

Jesus is the architect of church revitalization because He is the architect of His Church!

The great Apostle Paul testifies of Him in his letter to the Ephesians: “He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else; not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself” (Ephesians 1:21-23).

When it comes to church revitalization, Jesus is the champion, the cheerleader, the chief executive, and the head coach. He is the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of His Church and because He is He has a vision for His Church to be the very best it can be! As evidenced in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, where His major thrust is revitalizing those local congregations: to set right what is broken, to rebuke what is false, and to give new life to what is dying; in other words to revitalize!

And I believe Revelation 3:2 serves not only as an apt summary of all seven letters, but also as a one-verse proof text for church revitalization: “Strengthen what remains.” In other words, no matter what kind of church you have on your hands, whoever you are, whatever you have, whatever you do what you can to strengthen who you are, what you are and what you will become!

Thus the need for any church to accept the challenge to not be satisfied with the status quo but rather to take an honest look at what has been, what is, thank God for where we have been and move into the future looking for areas to strengthen!

But let’s be clear here that when we speak of church revitalization we are not speaking primarily of changing our church beliefs or values, crafting a new vision or mission or purpose statement, setting new goals for 2019, some new program of the church or some new-fangled process of ministry (although revitalization may in the end involve tweaks to any or all of those parameters).

No, just to be clear, when we speak of church revitalization the emphasis is on the word church, that is the people that make up the church. So we are primarily speaking of people revitalization. In other words, the church will only be revitalized as its people are revitalized!

That’s what the seven letters to the seven churches are all about.

To the church at Ephesus: “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first. Look how far you have fallen. Turn back to me and do the works you did at first” (2:4b-5a).

To the church at Smyrna: “Remain faithful even when facing death” (2:10).

To the church at Pergamum: “repent of your sin” (2:16).

To the church at Thyatira: “obey Me to the very end” (2:26).

To the church at Sardis: “Repent and turn to Me again” (3:3)

To the church at Philadelphia: “Hold on to what you have” (3:11).

To the church at Laodicea: “Be diligent and turn from your indifference” (3:19).

Church revitalization involves the people of God being strengthened; “strengthen what remains” (3:2).

According to Revelation, the church will be revitalized as its people are strengthened in their love for one another (2:4b-5a), in their commitment, dedication and loyalty to Christ and His Church (2:10), by turning from sin and obeying the Lord (2:16, 2:25-26, 3:3).

The church will be revitalized as its people grow in their faith and knowledge of Christ, gain a new appreciation for the church as the body of Christ, and therefore rededicate themselves to serving the Lord Jesus in and through His Church, which is His Body!

Saturday morning, I went to the Medina Rec Center to watch my granddaughter, Kate’s swimming lesson.

Boy does that girl have a mean backstroke. When we were leaving we ran into Jim and Gale Arthur who were there to walk around the track. And as I was driving home, I thought Jim and Gale went to the Rec Center to get in better shape. I was there to sit and watch. A lot of good that did me. And I need it because I’ve gotten a little soft and flabby.

It’s time for us to think about going to the gym to ‘strengthen what remains.’

Is it true that some of us have gotten soft and flabby because we have become lackadaisical about our faith? We need to step on God’s scales and weigh our Christian lives and compare our weight to what it was last year at this time.

Have we made any changes? Are we growing in Christ? Are we overcoming the sins that plague us? Are we becoming more loving and kind and patient? Do we worship more or less regularly? Are we growing our financial commitment to the Lord and His Church? How many people did we invite to church? How many did you share your story with?

Do we see any growth? Are we getting stronger in the Lord? If not, why not? Is it because we are allowing the things of the world to interfere with our becoming all that we could be and should be?

This is the time of the year to rededicate ourselves to cultivating holy habits. I’m talking about reading and studying the Bible. If you never have, start with a gospel, a portrait of Jesus, I like Luke. Or use Our Daily Bread, which contains a reading the Bible in a year plan. Or download YouVersion to your phone or tablet where you will find dozens of Bible reading plans from a few days to a few weeks in length. Or if you wish to join my Disciple class we meet on Thursday nights at 7pm to study the New Testament.

After you encounter the word of God, talk to God it; in other words, pray. George Gallop says, “Any revitalization of faith in this country will have to start with prayer, in which we gain a sense of the living presence of God.” 1

And it goes without saying how vitally important worship is in spiritual growth.

Bible, prayer, worship; these three activities are absolutely essential in becoming more like Jesus and will enable us to ‘strengthen what remains.’

It may not be easy as many if not most of us are busy people. However; as Martin Luther said: “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

That great preacher of yesteryear, and author of Silent Night, Philipps Brooks said: It does not take great men to do great things; it only takes consecrated men. However; please realize our goal to become more like Christ, to strengthen what remains is not just for our own sake, but rather for the sake of the church.

This is not just about you and me. This is about the church, the body of Christ! We become stronger in the Lord not for ourselves, but so that the body of Christ might prevail. Christianity is not an individual sport, it is a team sport!

May I remind you that Jesus said, “Wherever two three are gathered in My name, there I will be in your midst” (Matthew 18:20) He didn’t say one; He said, two or three!

Chuck Colson, one of the clearest theological thinkers of the 20th century in his fine book, The Body, wrote:

The fact is that even Christians who understand their personal identity as followers of Christ will not make a widespread difference in the decline and decay around us unless we have a high view of our corporate identity as the Body of Christ.

Many Christians have been infected with the most virulent virus of modern American life, what sociologist Robert Bellah calls “radical individualism.” They concentrate on personal obedience to Christ as if all that matters is “Jesus and me,” but in doing so miss the point altogether. For Christianity is not a solitary belief system. Any genuine resurgence of Christianity, as history demonstrates, depends on a reawakening and renewal of that which is the essence of the faith—that is, the people of God, the new society, the body of Christ, which is made manifest in the world—the church. As we will argue in these pages, there is no such thing as Christianity apart from the Church. 2

The church, the church, the church, the body of Christ made manifest in the world. Church revitalization involves the people of God being revitalized; strengthened “strengthen what remains” (3:2).

For when we as individuals grow stronger in the Lord, the church collectively gets stronger in the Lord. Very practically speaking, the more of us who individually reach the point in our growth where we decide that we are going to join forces with like-minded people to serve the Lord with gladness, the more efficiently we will be enabled to pull off our quarterly Gather to Scatter Missions or the upcoming Polar Bear Event.

I was reading Our Daily Bread Friday morning where the scripture reference was Hebrews 12, part of which says:

So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong (12-13).

Work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord (14) For you have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness (23-24).

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire (28-29).

A consuming fire? What’s that all about? I thought God was Jesus. Jesus is love, Jesus forgives, Jesus showers us with grace. I like the imagery of Jesus as shepherd or even batter Jesus as a gentle lamb. Consuming fire? No way!

William Barclay writes:

We must worship God with reverence and serve Him with fear; for nothing must be allowed to disturb that relationship which will be our salvation when the world passes away. So the writer to the Hebrews finishes with one of those threatening quotations which he so often flings like a thunderbolt at his readers. It is a quotation from Deuteronomy 4:24. Moses is telling his people that they must never break their agreement with God and relapse into idolatry. For He is a jealous God. They must worship Him alone or else find Him a consuming fire. It is if the writer to the Hebrews was saying, “There is a choice before you. Remain steadfastly true to God and in the day when the universe is shaken into destruction your relationship with Him will stand safe and secure. Be false to Him and that very God who might have been your salvation will be to you a consuming fire of destruction.” It is a grim thought; but in it is the eternal truth that, if a man is true to God, he gains everything, and if he is untrue to God, he loses everything. In time and in eternity nothing really matters save loyalty to Christ. 3

Loyalty to Christ, loyalty to Christ, loyalty to Christ. You better believe it; loyalty to Christ.

Jesus is the ultimate architect of church revitalization!

The Book of Revelation does describe the Risen Christ as the Lamb of God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end. I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come the Almighty One.” (Revelation 1:8). I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look; I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17b-18).

Jesus is the champion, the cheerleader, the chief executive, and the head coach. He is the Creator, Savior, Sustainer and Architect of His Church and because He is He has a vision for His Church to be the best it can be!

For many years Admiral Hyman Rickover was the head of the United State Nuclear Navy. His admirers and his critics held strongly opposing views about the stern and demanding Admiral. For many years every officer aboard a nuclear submarine was personally interviewed and approved by Rickover. Among them was Ex-President Jimmy Carter who, years ago, applied for service under Rickover. This is his account of a Rickover interview:

I had applied for the Nuclear Submarine Program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time, current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery, and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat. Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a Plebe, I had done very well and I swelled my chest with pride and answered “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” I sat back to wait for the congratulations which never came. Instead the question came. “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir”, but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”

He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for a while shaken, and then slowly left the room. 4

1 George H. Gallup, Jr. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 4.

2 Colson, Chuck. The Body. [Dallas: Word Publishing, © 1992), p.32.

3 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series; the Letter to the Hebrews. [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, © 1976]. page 189.

4 Twelftree, Graham. Get the Point Across. Crowborough, England: Monarch Press, © 1996]. pages 34-35.