On the outskirts of our neighborhood, there sits the coolest little chapel that you have ever laid eyes on.  This chapel was built by whoever owns the property behind us and is separated by a fence with a gate from our neighborhood.  In all the times that I have ever walked to the fence to enjoy the view of the chapel, the gate has always been closed.  Lately, however, it has been left wide open.  You would think that a wide open gate would mean that whoever wanted to come in was welcome.  But that chapel is on the same private property that it was on when the gate was closed which means I still walk to the fence to enjoy the view, but I don’t go in.  Maybe if someone introduced me to the owners, they would welcome me to visit the chapel any time that I wanted.  Maybe they would even allow me to work around it or in it to help take care of it.  But chances are that there would be rules to follow if I wanted to visit and there would be instructions given if I wanted to caretake.  After all, it is on private property.  The owners have all the rights.  What they say goes.

The Church of Jesus Christ is on private property.  Yes, Jesus flung that gate wide open so that all could enter in, but not without knowing the Owner, and not without an understanding that there will be rules and instructions for living.  He is pretty serious about His Church…much more serious than we are these days…and He is coming back for a Bride who is spotless and without blemish, One covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Jesus spoke to the 7 different types of churches in Revelation.  I was reading these letters last night and was totally intrigued.

To the first church in Ephesus, He assures them that He knows their works and their labor and their endurance and the fact that they cannot tolerate evil.  They also have shown an ability to discern between true and false apostles.  But He leaves them with a warning that they have abandoned the love that they first had for Him. “Remember then how far you have fallen and repent.  Otherwise I will come remove your lampstand from its place.”

To the second church in Smyrna, He praised. “I know your tribulation and your poverty, yet you are rich.  I know the slander of those who say they are Jews, but are not, they are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer…be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.”

To the third church in Pergamum, He noted that they had held on to His Name and did not deny their faith even after a faithful witness was killed among them, but then He warned “But I have a few things against you.  You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the sons of Israel; to eat meat offered to idols and to commit sexual immorality.  In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore Repent! Or I will come to you quickly and fight against them with sword of My mouth.”

To the fourth church in Thyatira, He warned that Jezebel was in their midst.  That she, too, was teaching and deceiving others to commit sexual immorality and eat meat sacrificed to idols.  He goes on to say that He gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she refused.  So He promises to “throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, until they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.   Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines the minds and hearts, and I will give each one of you according to your works.”

To the fifth church in Sardis, He said this, “Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God.  Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief in the night and you will have no idea what hour I will come against you.”

To the sixth church in Philadelphia, He gave this glowing review. “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My Word, and have not defiled My Name, look, I have place before you an open door that no one is able to close.  Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying – note this – I will make them come and bow down at your feet and they will know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming quickly.  Hold on to what you have so that no one takes your crown.”

To the seventh and final church in Laodicea, He gave one of the most scathing rebukes in all of Scripture.  “I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither cold or hot, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.  Because you say, I am rich and have become wealthy, and need nothing, but you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you make be rich and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness be not exposed and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent.”

Seven churches He told John to write to…and every time, He began by establishing His Authority to praise or correct them.  You should really take the time to read Revelation 2 as it is fairly eye opening to God’s seriousness about His Church.

Just like Israel is God’s chosen people, the Church is God’s private property.  He is Owner and He makes the rules and gives the instructions.  He invites all to come through that wide open gate, but once inside, He also expects us all to live by the Instruction Book that He left for us as we enjoy the property. As a matter of fact, the Instruction Book is the only way that we will be free to enjoy the property. Thankfully He didn’t leave us alone on the property to do that by ourselves.  He left us with a wonderful Guide…the Holy Spirit.  He directs us to the places He wants us to see and reminds us of the instructions we have been given.  He gives us the power to live by the rules.

Unfortunately, as you probably noticed in the letters that John wrote from Jesus to the Church, there are infiltrators that have trespassed onto the private property of Christ.  Without an intimate relationship with the Owner, they have entered into the Church and however innocently or well meaning have begun moving around, changing, and even defacing the Bride of Christ.  They don’t know the Owner and they don’t care about living by His rules.  As a matter of fact, they have more of a desire to convince others that the rules have changed.  Just like the serpent, they whisper in ears, “Did God really say that? Surely He didn’t mean exactly that.”  And suddenly the property that once belonged to Christ…His beautiful possession…His glorious Church begins to be vandalized.  There is graffiti spray painted on the walls.  The cross has been broken and tossed to the floor.  The windows have been broken out.  Trash is strewn across the floor, carelessly discarded after stomachs have been filled.  The faithful ones left can’t seem to clean up one mess before another has been created.

As I picture this little chapel down the block and what might happen to it if the wrong people were to walk through that open gate…people who didn’t know the owner or respect him…people who were not just sincerely seeking to make use of the chapel in what it was created for…people who wanted to make up their own rules, never mind that they have no right…my heart sinks.  That chapel could be completely destroyed by just a few.

I think this is why Jesus gave such a serious warning to the Church…to former “lost” people.  “You are on private property and I am about to take action.”  By all means, let us bring in the lost…let us be merciful as we disciple…let us love in word and in deed, but lets be oh so careful about the Private Property that we have been invited to enjoy and to take care of.  Let us protect it just like it belongs to us.  Let us serve the Owner by holding up His standard.  Let us love the visitors, but never give them any cause to think the rules can be changed.  They are as welcome as we are, but they are as bound to the instructions as we are too, if they decide to stay.

Because of Jesus, we are welcome to walk through that wide open gate, but let us never forget that we are on private property.