Emperor’s Clothes

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realise that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus continues with His observations about what was going on at Laodicea. He has already exposed their apostasy, their spiritual lukewarmness, and how much He hates it. And He now points out that the Laodiceans were guilty of being complacent. The people in that church were comfortably off, it seems, and their wealth seems to have corrupted their spiritual life to the extent that they felt they had no need for God. 

There is obviously a difference between our earthly and spiritual lives. On earth, the natural man and woman work so that, in return, they can receive or purchase the supplies, food, clothing etc., they need for life. A fundamental reality that started when Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden. But in the spiritual, there is a different economy at work. All that is needed for spiritual life is supplied through a relationship with God. And it looks as though the Laodiceans were unaware of their spiritual needs and instead were perhaps rationalising that their wealthy state was God’s blessing. And by so doing they were totally missing what being a Christian was all about.

Jesus goes on to point out that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”. Jesus was of course referring to their spiritual state as history hasn’t recorded stories of blind and naked people at that time forming a church. You would think that anyone told this would be aware of it, but it seems the Laodiceans were so spiritually dead, that they were walking around in blissful ignorance, anaesthetised by their comfortable life and wealth. Jesus pointed out five attributes that marked out their relationship with God. They were “wretched and miserable”, a reference to an unhappy life. Isn’t it strange how people can apparently have everything but still feel within themselves a desperate unhappiness? They were “poor”, meaning they were spiritually bankrupt. Incidentally, how many rich people reach the news, wealthy beyond what most of us can ever dream of, but are still desperately needy? Rich in possessions and money, but spiritually poor. In his first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The reference to being “blind” perhaps related to their lack of a vision. Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) reads, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law“. Finally, Jesus said they were “naked”, exposed for what they had become. Without the spiritual covering of a relationship with God. I’m reminded of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the emperor who was deceived into thinking he was wearing a marvellous suit of clothes but in fact was naked before his people, deceived and vain.

Today’s pilgrims, in our comfortable Western societies, need to take note of today’s verse. We must frequently ask ourselves relevant questions about our spiritual status because it is so easy to fall into complacency. We must always be aware that we are at our most vulnerable when we don’t think we need anything. I can remember two specific periods in my life when I was in a desperate situation, so desperate that only God had the remedy. And that was when I was closest to God. My spiritual vision was sharp and focused. Prayers were answered. My pain was replaced by an assurance that God was in control. And He was.

Pilgrims also need to have a vision. A church or fellowship of believers need a clear vision of where they are going and how they are growing, as a group of Christ’s followers. We cannot go through life without one, because otherwise we will just spiritually drift. If we’re unsure we ask God. That is a prayer He will always answer. 

Dear Lord God. Thank You for reminding us that without You we quickly find ourselves in dangerous territory. Not for us are emperor’s clothes. We want to be clothed in Your love and grace, close to our Source. Please help us on our journey. Amen.

Paupers to Princes

“No one can be compared to God, enthroned on high! 
He stoops down to look upon the sky and the earth. 
He promotes the poor, picking them up from the dirt, 
and rescues the needy from the garbage dump. 
He turns paupers into princes and seats them 
on their royal thrones of honour. 
God’s grace provides for the barren ones a joyful home with children 
so that even childless couples find a family. 
He makes them happy parents surrounded by their pride and joy. 
That’s the God we praise, so give it all to him!”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭113:5-9‬ ‭TPT‬‬

I’ve opened up Psalm 113 this morning, using the Passion Translation. It’s a Psalm that starts with the praise of God, “from sunrise-brilliance to sunset-beauty”. And it continues with how God “stoops down to look upon the sky and the earth”. The Psalmist highlights the poor, the needy and childless parents, the least favoured in the society of his day because he knows God has compassion for them. In fact, the Psalmist says that God “promotes”, “rescues”, “turns” and “makes”, all action words describing what God does for them. So we have read this Psalm and are about to leave it, feeling a warm glow of gratitude for our wonderful God, when this problematic thought lands – how many times had the Psalmist seen a poor person, one who was dirt-poor, hanging desperately onto life by rummaging in a garbage dump, and all of a sudden finding themselves “sitting on a royal throne of honour”? How many times had the Psalmist seen a childless woman have children? But on top of all that, when have we, in the 21st Century, many years after this Psalm was written, seen paupers becoming princes, or the childless having a family? Because even today, with all our societal and medical prowess, we find that there are still poor people rummaging in garbage dumps and there are still childless couples, in spite of amazing medical advances with IVF. At this point, we might walk away perplexed by a situation that seems to be elevating God to a place where He is praised for things He hasn’t done.

And then we realise – there are two kingdoms – the earthly kingdom and the Kingdom of God. And from the latter, God looks into our world, with compassion and love, His heart breaking when He sees the life-challenges and agony that some people are enduring. Of course He is able to perform miracles because he is all-powerful, but in our Godless world, riven with a lack of faith, where He is rejected by those who deny that He even exists, in a world blighted by sin, His opportunities are limited by our choices. Even Jesus was constrained on one occasion from doing many miracles by the people’s lack of faith (as we read in Matthew 13:58). But nevertheless, God’s love for mankind knows no bounds and so He offers the opportunity for us all to translate from being a pauper in the world’s kingdom to being a prince in His Kingdom. 

We all have this invitation. We all have this opportunity. By repenting of our sins, looking in faith at Jesus, God’s Son, acknowledging who He is and what He has done for us, we can become citizens of the Kingdom of God. We can become princes, royal sons and daughters of the Creator of the Universe. And we can bank our heritage, waiting for the day when we are welcomed into Heaven and shown the “royal throne of honour”. 

But what about today? How does this impact the pilgrims like us, trudging through the mud of this world, perhaps wishing that we had some of our eternal benefits in this life now? Well, we do. We may be poor in worldly terms but we are rich in God’s kingdom. We may be paupers in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes we are princes. And we have the wonderful presence of God’s Spirit with us regardless of our worldly status. Wherever we are. Wherever we go. But more than that, somehow God’s provision in this life is always available in answer to our faith-filled prayers. We only have to ask. “That’s the God we praise, so give it all to him!”

Poverty

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
The LORD rescues them when they are in trouble.
The LORD protects them
and keeps them alive.
He gives them prosperity in the land
and rescues them from their enemies.
The LORD nurses them when they are sick
and restores them to health.
Psalm 41:1-3 NLT

The very first line of the first verse in this Psalm associates joy with showing kindness to poor people. Sadly, for people in affluent societies, being poor is associated with negative connotations, and perhaps unkind judgements about why they are “poor”. We tend to look at poverty as being a lack of finances, but that is to neglect so many other forms of being poor. There are, perhaps, a few hints in these verses about other kinds of poverty. The poverty of being in trouble. The poverty of being in physical danger. The poverty of sickness. I would add too the poverty of being lonely, without friends or family. 

In Matthew 5, Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” are those people who recognise that they lack the resources God puts value on. Heavenly currency is not anything of earthly value, like gold (we read in Revelation that it is used to make roads!). Having spiritual currency starts with the realisation that we have nothing to offer God of any value. Because of our sins we are destitute before Him and have to recognise this by coming to Him in faith for the salvation He has offered through Jesus. In Matthew 6, Jesus encouraged His disciples to build up “treasure in Heaven” through their service to Him.

But what was David referring to in these verses in Psalm 41? In verse 1, he was, I think, referring to Godly people in his day, who were looking after the needy people around them. And through them God was providing for them. Although God can directly provide the resources people need for life, most of the time He chooses to deliver His provision through His people. So we are encouraged to be His servants by looking out for those who are poor, in our communities, in our families, supplying fellowship, a helping hand. Nursing those in need. Providing a listening ear when needed. The opportunities are endless. There is a young woman in my community who every week, uses her lunch hour to walk the dog of an old lady, now immobilised following a fall. A young woman banking spiritual currency for her future.

So we, as God’s people, have a challenge today. As the King’s servants, what does He want us to do to relieve the poverty around us? There may not just be financial needs, there will be others as well. In our communities, who can we find who is “poor”?