7 November 2019
What happens when a reputation doesn’t match the reality? Maybe it’s the celebrity scandal, where someone’s true colours show. Or riding on the coattails of yesterday’s success, even though things aren’t going so well anymore. Or those parts of us we know aren’t true anymore, but nobody else has realised yet. There are two choices really:
- Rest on reputation, ride the wave, and let the world keep on believing what we know it isn’t really true
- Face facts, be honest about what the reality is, and get to work on building a reality we don’t want to hide
On Sunday night, in our 7pm service, we looked at Jesus’ letter to the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6). In it, Jesus has this to say to the church there:
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up…”
Strong words. A church who are known for being alive, vibrant, successful, but who – Jesus knows – isn’t like that under the surface. In Sardis (unlike the T.A.R.D.I.S.), they were bigger on the outside than they were on the inside.
Whether you were there Sunday night or not, here are some things to ponder.
Your Reputation and Your Reality
Maybe you’ve been asked it in a job interview: “How would your friends describe you in just a few words?” Maybe it matters to you hugely what others would think of you. Maybe it doesn’t concern you at all. But we are all seen in certain ways by the people we know. We all have a reputation.
You don’t need a big profile to have a reputation. You just need to know another human being.
The bigger question isn’t what our reputation is, but whether that reputation – how we’re known – matches with our reality – how we really are. If the two don’t match up, we have some choices to make.
Let’s narrow this down just to our spiritual lives. What would others assume your relationship with Jesus is like? Close, honest, distant, real, regular, confused, non-existent? What is it really like? Just like with the church in Sardis, Jesus knows you. He knows the reputation, and He knows the truth. He knows which bits might look alive but are really dead or dying. I don’t, and I likely never would unless you told me.
Just one question for you on this: where in your life can the mask of your reputation come off so the reality of your life is seen, known, owned and then can be built up by Jesus?
Gold Hill’s Reputation and Gold Hill’s Reality
It isn’t just individuals who have reputations; churches do too. Both within and beyond our communities, churches can are known about by people not in them. They can be known for good things or for bad things. As a church, Gold Hill has had a profile and reputation within our community, and beyond it, for many years. And by and large, those reputations are good! We are known for good things and there is so much to thank God for in our history, our heritage and our story.
Just like individual reputations, our church’s reputation can match the reality or not. We can rest in reputation or seek God for the reality he wants to foster and nurture in us. On Sunday, Stephen Walker-Williams prayed this prayer and it was a powerful moment. Maybe you could pray it with him?
“Jesus, as a leader in this church, I lay before you our past reputation, our current reputation. Whatever it is in people’s minds. Whatever it is in our minds. And we want you to raise up your reality.
In Ezekiel, we read of a city where it’s name is, “The Lord is there,” and Jesus I thank you that that is the reality of this church, that you Lord Jesus are here. May that be our reputation. And as a church family, whether we’re on our knees, on our seats or on our feet, whether we’re here in this building, watching online or wherever we are, make that our reality: that Jesus is here! And He is Lord! And His power, His name, His beauty, His truth, His grace is in this place and in our hearts and in our lives and flowing out of here.
Lord help us not to rest on past heritage but to move forward as one body with you at the head. May that be our reality. Make us a people who are dependent on you in prayer, talking with you, listening to you and doing what you say. Not just talking about you, talking to each other about you, talking about obeying you. Let us have unblocked ears and obedient minds and bodies. Jesus, birth your reality in this place.
And would that reality of this church, your reality, be our current and future reputation.”
God’s Reputation and God’s Reality
Before finishing, I just want to share one more thing, and it is about God’s reputation and God’s reality. Because unlike me, unlike you, unlike every church there’s every been, every person there’s ever been, God’s reality really does live up to the reputation! He really is who He says He is, and really does what He claims to do.
In fact, His reality is even better than His reputation.
It is so easy to take the circumstances of our lives and the things we see and question God’s true character because of them. We tarnish His reputation because of our own realities. We can view Him through the lens of our experience, instead of seeing our experiences through the lens of who God is.
But with God, the reputation and the reality go hand in hand. He is known as good. He is good. He is known as truth. There is no lie in Him. He is known as Saviour. He died for you. He is known as powerful. The tomb is empty.
So let’s be honest about our own realities instead of settling for a good reputation.
Let’s lay down our church’s reputation in favour of the reality Jesus wants to build.
And let’s trust in God’s reality because we know it matches the reputation.