March 9th 2008
Revelation 3: 1-6 – Wake up, wake up, sleepy head!!.
This week we will be looking at the letter John was told to write to the church in Sardis.
Suggested activity: Revisit the maps, and identify where Sardis (modern day Sart) is located.
Look for Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum & Thyatira
Re-stress that all of John's letters were written to real communities of Christians, in real places on earth. People may still worship in the very same places today.
In the large and well farmed valley of the River Hermos, few travellers are likely to notice a small stream near the village of Sart. The Pactolus River, as the stream is called, deserves attention, because it is where money was born some 2,500 years ago
The Pactolus was so rich in gold sands that the king of the area, King Croesus, became the first ever to mint coins guaranteed by the seal of the king. Sardis, as it was called then, was conquered by the Persians in 546 B.C. and it became the western gateway of their immense empire. Very little is left of that ancient period of Sardis, because the city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in AD 17.
Read Revelation 3 1-6
The people of the church in Sardis are told to 'Wake up!'.
Christ tells John to write that he knows of their reputation of being alive, but that he knows they are really dead.
By this he means that people think that the church in Sardis is really cool – maybe they have a fantastic worship band, or a really great preacher, or superb children's work. Maybe their coffee and biscuits are better than anybody else's!!
But really they're not so great after all. Maybe it's all false, and they're actually not very nice people at all!
Maybe they're self-satisfied, lazy or complacent
Suggested activity: Ask the children what things they think make a good church – an alive church. Could you please collect their thoughts and return them in your cluster box – it will be fascinating to see what they think!
We may remember from last time that the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira were under great pressure – peer pressure – to become like the people around them. If our memories are really good, we may remember the time before that, when the devil was going to test the people of the church in Smyrna.
The church in Sardis wasn't under any such pressures or tests. All was quiet.
Maybe that was part of the problem.
Maybe they were just too comfortable.
Perhaps this is why they had 'fallen asleep' and needed waking up!
Indeed, the whole city – not just the church – were too comfortable, and this led to their capture by the Persians.
Croesus, the King, regarded the city of Sardis as being impregnable. After all, Mount Tmoalias was right behind it, and from that mountain there extended a narrow ridge of rock, like a pier. The city of Sardis was perched on top of that ridge. The king judged it safe from assault – and his people caught his spirit of complacency.
When the ambitious Persian king Cyrus besieged Sardis, he was eager to capture it quickly so that he could advance towards his next destination. But how could he attack such a well defended place? In his army there was a soldier called Hyeroeades. One day this man saw one of the Sardis soldiers accidentally drop his helmet over the battlements. Instead of giving it up as lost, he picked his way down the steep cliff like a mountain goat and recovered it.
Hyeroeades made a careful note of the invisible path that this man had used and led a select band of “special forces” up the perilous cliff face, using daggers stuck into the crumbling rock face for footholds and ropes to pull them up. When his men reached the top, the battlements were unguarded. Nobody in the garrison had ever dreamed that anyone could find a way up that sheer cliff – and so the city was taken.
We need to ensure we don't get too comfortable in our lives that we become vulnerable to attack too. Maybe if we're really good at a subject at school we might not revise or practice for a test or a drama properly – simply believing we're so good anyway, we can't possibly fail. We could get so cocky that we do fail, and end up really embarrassed!
How can we avoid becoming like Sardis?
There are two key things we can check – personally, in our own lives.
1. We need to check our weak spots.
This can be quite tough – we have to be careful not to get upset at what we find. Often our weak spots are our blind spots – we don't see them.
Some of our weak points are so obvious though, everybody knows them!!! Maybe we're not patient enough, get angry too quickly or eat too much chocolate!! We know these things about ourselves, and can work on them, to improve our behaviour.
The harder weak spots are the blind ones – the ones we don't see (and maybe don't agree with!) With these we need to find somebody we love and trust – maybe a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister – maybe even the very best friend we have – and ask them to tell us our blind spot! Be careful though, it's easy to get upset when we don't like what we hear. That's why it's SO important to ask the right person – someone you trust, someone who loves you, and wants the very best for you.
Again, once identified, we can begin to work on our weaknesses.
2. We need to check our strong points.
Often it's the things we're really good at that we think we don't have to try hard with. Maybe you're a great footballer, or really good at art. Maybe you think you're so good, you don't need that extra practice – you can just turn up, and produce great skills, produce a great painting.
It doesn't work like that though – God gives us abilities in certain things, but we have to work on them – perfect them, there's always room for improvement.
Our strong points can be things in our character too – maybe we're really generous, or super kind. If we rest on our laurels with these characteristics it becomes easy to become complacent – too comfortable – and then maybe we might begin to miss opportunities to show them.
Suggested activity: Ask the children to draw up lists of what they think are their weak and strong points. They could begin a list of very trusted people they might ask about blind spots. Maybe they could write these in their God journals.
Get them to select one item from each list – weak and strong – and highlight it , underline it, write it in bold. These are going to be the things they are going to watch – to work on, so they don't get too comfortable.
How to we begin to work on these things?
First and foremost we need to ask God for forgiveness.
We need to repent of (to turn away from) how we've been living, from the things we've done wrong. (see Rev 3:3)
The best way to start to change our behaviour is with God's help!
In the Lord's prayer we pray 'forgive us our sins, as we forgive others'.
Forgiveness is not about brushing an issue under the carpet – hiding it away in a dark cupboard – pretending it doesn't exist. We don't forgive somebody by avoiding or ignoring them for ever!
No, we have to take the sin to God in prayer, and ask his forgiveness – he won't ever ignore us!
Sometimes this can be a long process – it might even seem too big to deal with. But we have to start somewhere, so perhaps today make the first step.
Suggested activity: Ask the children to write a prayer to God asking for forgiveness.
This can be specific – for a particular action, or maybe for either the weak or strong point they've highlighted earlier – or a more general prayer for all things we get wrong sometimes.
Again, this could be written in their God journals – or maybe make a feature of the prayers for future cluster meetings – something like writing the prayers on leaf shapes and preparing a tree to pin the leaves onto, or writing the prayers on fruit shapes, and placing them in a large bowl.
Make sure the prayers are all prayed over when collected – commit these prayers to the Lord.
It's good that we've looked today at our own personal lives – and at how we can become too comfortable, and fall asleep – to the point where we need somebody to shout 'Wake up' to us.
But we can also do the same thing for our church, SMB.
Christ told John to write to the church in Sardis, with this 'wake up' message.
What would you write to our church with?
Do we need to wake up?
Suggested activity: Ask the children to write a letter to the church office.
It's important to remember that John wasn't writing what he thought the churches needed to hear, but what Christ had told him to write.
So, make sure you pray before writing. See if you can find out what it is God wants SMB to hear!
Maybe you don't feel a letter is the best way to express what you think God wants to say – perhaps you could write a poem, or do a drawing or painting. Make sure the message you have is clear though!
They can either do this in cluster, or take the idea home.
Again, there is a reward for those who overcome. (see Rev 3:5).
If we overcome the trap of becoming too comfortable – too lazy – too complacent, then Christ will ensure our names remain in the book of life.
Look at Exodus 32:32 for the first mention of this book. Compare Daniel 12:1.
All the citizens of heaven have their names written in the book of life (the book of everlasting life in heaven).
What this means is that if we avoid becoming too comfortable here on earth, then our names will surely be in the book of life. Then we will b able to enjoy all the comfort and splendour of heaven for ever!!!