The Thermostat of the Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
When Janet and I were married in 1980 I became a bigamist. I was already married to a 1966 Ford Mustang coupe. From the beginning we were a marriage of three, much to my new wife’s chagrin.
I had to sell my Mustang a few years later after a neighbor wrecked it while it was parked on the street. I’ve always suspected my wife of complicity in the crime. She was delighted to see her competition drive away. I still miss that car.
My Mustang was perfect in every way except one: the thermostat. This was the device which regulated the temperature of the car’s engine. Unfortunately, the “289″ Ford engine had a thermostat which was too weak, and the car would eventually overheat. So I had to replace it two or three times a year–a small price to pay for love.
I soon became an expert on thermostats, at least for old Mustangs. I learned the basic difference between a thermostat and a thermometer: a thermostat controls temperature, while a thermometer reflects it. One changes its environment, the other becomes like it.
What we are in public is the thermometer. Everyone knows that it was hotter than Hades around here in August. We’re all hoping for a better September. What we are in private is the thermostat. How healthy is the one in your car? Do you even know where it is? But if it breaks, pretty soon the entire engine overheats and the car shuts down.
We’re going to work on our spiritual thermostats today, because they are the key to spiritual success, joy, and power; or to spiritual defeat, frustration, and failure.
Checking your thermometer
Jesus’ letters to his seven churches are addressed in a circular route. From Smyrna the road north followed the coastline some 40 miles before turning in a northeastern direction up the valley of the Caicus River. About 10 miles inland from the Aegean Sea stood the city of Pergamum.
Because of her inland location the city could never attain the commercial and trade importance of Ephesus and Smyrna, but in political prestige she surpassed them both. If Ephesus with her trade and wealth was the New York City of Asia, and Smyrna with her beauty and culture was their San Francisco, then Pergamum with her political significance was their Washington, D.C.
Built on a cone-shaped hill a thousand feet in height, Pergamum dominated the valley below. From this height her inhabitants could see the Mediterranean Sea fifteen miles away. Her name in Greek means “citadel,” and she was. A citadel of evil, that is.
Jesus calls her the place “where Satan has his throne.” The reason was simple: this was the seat of emperor worship on the continent of Asia Minor.
The city had been given to the Romans back in 133 B.C. In 29 B.C. they became the first city on earth to build a temple to the worship of a living emperor. When they became the capital of the Empire on the continent, such emperor worship became the mandatory requirement of every inhabitant.
Once a year, every resident was required to bow before a bust of Caesar, burn a pinch of incense as a sacrifice, and say “Caesar is Lord.” The person then received a certificate proving that the sacrifice had been made, and was required to carry it at all times to show to any who demanded it.
According to tradition, by the end of the first century such sacrifice was made at the Temple of Trajan, a magnificent marble structure which still stands today.
It was here that Antipas, the only person named in the entire Book of Revelation, refused to worship Caesar and died for his faith. His name means “against all,” a commitment he honored with his death.
Every other Christian in Pergamum could expect the same fate. If parents would not deny Christ, their children were brought to the Temple, where their throats were cut unless their mother or father worshiped Caesar. What would you do? What would I do?
The Bible requires that you “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). To give our “bodies” is to give our lives, completely and totally to God. Why is this so hard for us?
I have been taught that religion is a private, personal thing, a kind of spiritual hobby. Who wants to sacrifice for their membership in a garden club? I enjoy playing tennis, but I’m not willing to die for the game or to defend a tennis court. I have long admired Charles Spurgeon, but I’m not going to lose my job to defend his theology.
In a world which separates the spiritual and the secular, Sunday and Monday, church and the “real world,” why pay a price to follow Jesus in public? Because such an integrated commitment to him is the only way the Christian faith works. He can bless only what he can touch and control. He can bring the car safely home only when he is driving it. He can heal a body only when he can operate on it. When I separate God from Monday, I lose all he can do for my work, my family, my money, my life.
Are you paying a price to follow Jesus in public? When last did it cost you something to stand for him? A client, because you would not compromise your integrity? A friend, because you would not do what he or she wanted to do? When last did you share your faith? When last did you take an unpopular stand for him?
It may cost us something to serve Jesus on Monday, in public, in the “real world.” But we gain far more than we lose.
Checking your thermostat