When our family was transitioning between Abilene, TX and the College Station area we did a lot of travel through the small towns of central Texas. One town in particular was a good place to rest and we knew lots of people who specifically recommended a particular Barbecue Restaurant for lunch during those trips. People raved about how good the food was. We were told it was some of the best barbecue in Texas. The ribs and brisket and chicken were all supposed to be juicy and flavorful, while the sides were to die for. Everybody told us over and over how amazing this restaurant was. So, on our first time through, we stopped at this barbecue restaurant for lunch.
It was awful. The brisket was so dry I had to take a drink just to re-moisten my mouth. The chicken was overdone. The ribs were coated with some kind of barbecue sauce that was so sour it made my face pucker like a fish. The sides tasted like someone had opened a can and dumped them in our bowls. The cobbler was bland and cold. The only thing we enjoyed was the rolls. My wife and I couldn't believe how bad the food was because so many people had told us this place was wonderful. We assumed that we must have caught the restaurant on a really bad day and that we would give it one more chance the next time we had to make the trip. The second time it was even worse and I think I discovered why. As we left, we saw a big sign announcing that they were changing their sauces and frying oils to more healthy alternatives. While that didn't explain why the brisket was so dry, that one sign told me why this restaurant that had a reputation for being so wonderful was so awful. They had changed what they were doing and were surviving on their old reputation.
Through the apostle John, Jesus sent a letter to the first century church in Sardis. Jesus told them, “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what little remains is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again (Revelation 3:1-2, NLT). The church had gained a reputation for being alive but, somewhere along the way, it had faltered. The church in Sardis had begun to believe differently and to act differently and its life had nearly vanished completely. Jesus wanted to remind them that having earned a particular reputation did not mean they still deserved it.
Because of the cycles we go through in life, we can easily gain reputations for wonderful things and then continue to believe our own reputations even when we have stopped doing the things that earned that reputation in the first place. Renowned prayer warriors stop praying. Eager soul winners stop witnessing. Bold preachers start playing it safe. Christ-like servants stop worrying about others and focus on themselves. Cheerful givers become stingy with their money and time. Loving parents become obsessed with their work or hobbies at their children's expense. Life changes constantly and a reputation that we once earned through consistent living can become a lie that used to be true.
Whatever your reputation is, don't become content with it. Don't allow yourself to ease up in doing the right thing just because people still talk like you are wonderful. Take a good look at yourself. Where you've faltered, repent and turn back. Earning a good reputation in the past doesn't mean you deserve it now.