My mother was an optimist.
It couldn't have been fun, packing up a family of seven every 7-8 months to move yet again, but she did her best to make a game of it, once packing the lot of us into an oversized box with the promise that she would send us to Timbuktu if we didn't stay out of her way. I can still hear the childish giggles, inside and outside of the box.
I really hated moving. A lot. Mom's recommendation to me with each move was to "look at it as a fresh start -- new house, new school, new friends." It worked the first 1/2 dozen times or so, but by the time we made what would be the final move of my childhood in 1967, the pep talk had lost its pep.
I'm sure Mom had to give herself a pep talk in preparation for each move as well. After all, as I learned after her death, the moves were necessary, not because her second daughter desperately needed yet another "fresh start," but because she and Dad were the poorest money managers in the history of the world and apparently, we were skipping out on the rent, again.
The older I get, the more I admire my mother, who would have been 75 today if death hadn't stolen her on Feb. 24, 1986. She not only endured the stress of all of those many moves made under threat of eviction, she never burdened her children with the weight of those woes. And I think she firmly believed that with each move, things would change for the better. Indeed, something must have changed because after that final move Mom and Dad stayed put until 1978 when they moved back to Texas, where they lived in the same house until Dad, widowed some 10 years, moved back to Colorado.
Mom never gave up hope. On anyone. Not even me. Even though I tried her patience and tore her heart more than once during my rebellious youth, she forgave seven times seventy, her mercy my first taste of the Lord's all-sufficient grace.
He is still pouring that all-sufficient grace over all the world that his Father loved so much that "he sent his one and only Son." (John 3:16)
Evidence of his careful shepherding of his flock can be found as far back as the letters he directed John to pen to the seven churches while John was exiled on Patmos.
The letters have been exhaustively studied over millennia and are still "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)
The first and universal observation is that the letters were written to seven literal churches in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey.
Additionally, many believe that the seven churches are representative of seven distinct church eras with the Laodicean church representing present-day Christianity as the lukewarm church Christ will spew out of his mouth. Every time I hear the warning to that particular church, my heart shudders. "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 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. 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.'"
Others believe that the churches are represented in every age and finally, there are those who believe that the Lord had yet another audience in mind when he commanded John to write. The audience of you and me, individually.
It bears further study. The church at Ephesus, busy though they were with good deeds and careful as they were to shun false teachings, was warned, "You have forsaken your first love." Presumably the first and greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," had fallen to the wayside.
The church at Pergamum had fallen into idolatry and false teachings as had Thyatira. They added sexual immorality to the list while the church at Sardis had allowed their faith to wither and were about to die.
Of the seven, only two churches found complete favor in the Lord, the church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia. Smyrna was poor and afflicted in the eyes of the world yet the Lord exclaimed, "... you are rich!" And at Philadelphia, the Lord saw their patient endurance day-by-day, that in spite of opposition they did not fail to keep his word nor did they deny his name.
Hope yet comes to each church and to each believer, whether we have forsaken our first love, bowed our knee to other gods (who take on many forms), debauched ourselves in sexual immorality or neglected to nurture our faith by failing to obey the Lord's teachings. Even if we have become so careless in our faith that we have failed to take a stand for even the most basic tenet of our Lord's teaching, "I am the Way, the Truth and Life. No one comes to the Father except through me," as expressed in John 14:6, each church and every believer, when reading the seven letters, is given yet another opportunity to taste his glorious grace if they can see themselves in one -- or as one -- of the seven churches.
"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." Revelation 3:19 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.