But this I have against you…

February 11, 2010 at 6:21 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

“…But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4,5)

This message is to a church, the church (lampstand) in Ephesus (which is modern day Turkey – note: a Muslim nation). How was this church known? Even God affirms the good things this church was doing –

“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you have found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary…you hate the deeds of the Nicolatians, which I also hate.” (v.2-3, 6)

These are all commendable attributes and likely things that we would be high on our list of priorities if we were judging visible indicators of a healthy church. Yet, God sees beyond the actions of this church and points out a dangerous truth – they have forgotten their first love. God gives His prescription and pronounces a clear consequence if they do not heed His instruction. God tells this church in Ephesus, “Repent and do the things you did at first.”

In looking at the first things or the priorities of the church, there are many arguments for what we are supposed to be doing and even how we are supposed to be going about our task as the body of Christ. I don’t see how anyone can read through the account of the 1st Century Church and be discontent when comparing it to the reality of church, at least church in the West.

I believe the prescription for Ephesus is the same prescription for our church today – repent and do the things you did at first. So, lets look at what the church did at first, taking inventory of our practices today and whether they reflect what God’s design for the church is.

Remembering that Acts is a narrative, the second volume in a complete historical presentation of 1) the life of Jesus [The Gospel of Luke] and 2) the life of the early church [The Acts of the Apostles]. In the telling of the story of the early church there is an initial pattern that I want us to reflect upon. Jesus has just ascended and returned to heaven to be with the Father as He had promised. The apostles and several faithful, about 120 people in all, are gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem waiting, as Jesus had instructed, for the coming of the Holy Spirit (see more John 14:16-31; 16:5-22).

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14)…they were all together in one place (2:1) when the Spirit comes and fills them all (2:4). The gospel goes out from them in clarity and power through the public proclamation of Peter (2:14-40) then Luke records, So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (2:41) In one spirit filled day, the church grows from 120 to over 3000 and we see the beginning of a pattern:

1) devoted prayer – utter dependence and obedience to God;
2) faithful proclamation – without mixing words, declaring the truth and calling men to repent;
3) God’s anointing – expressed in this sense through souls being added to their number.

Not only are souls added to their number but those souls are eager and devoted to experiencing God’s anointing daily and together (see 2:42-47). They continue to be devoted to prayer and to knowing God’s word, their fellowship is robust and they follow God’s outlines for the church. God is binding them together in true unity and showing His anointing through healing, freeing from demons and continually adding to their number.

The pattern we noted earlier is repeated, we have the newly expanded mega church devoted to public and private prayer (2:42), again the gospel is proclaimed with clarity and boldness (3:12) and God honors His anointing by increasing their number to nearly 5,000 (4:4 – note: this is just the number of men in the gathering).

The church faces opposition, fierce and heavy from the get-go. Yet in this opposition we see how the church is known even by its oppressors – Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and begun to recognize them as having been with Jesus. (4:13)

Peter and John are released from captivity, go back to the church and they all pray (4:24) – “…and now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” (4:29-30)

How does God respond to this church that is devoted to prayer, faithful to proclaim His gospel and whom abide in His anointing? And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (4:31)

They pray (4:24), they proclaim (4:31) God anoints with healing (5:12) and multitudes…were constantly added to their number (5:14). And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

The apostles declare the focus of their role in the administration of the gospel, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”(6:4) Even in a seemingly simple decision of selecting men to minister to the widows, they pray (6:6). After a short detour to take care of this internal matter (which do matter to the apostles and to God), we are back to faithful proclamation (6:7), this time by Stephen who speaks boldly knowing this is likely his last sermon – not to be met with cheering crowds or a rush to the altar, but the hurled stones of his death (7:58). Even as he is being stoned Stephen is praying and proclaiming (7:59-60). From this the church is scattered, yet God’s purposes are not deterred as He intended for the church to spread, and faithful proclamation continues – those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. (8:4)

A simple pattern, the first things wherein the church: 1) devoted prayer – utter dependence and obedience to God; 2) faithful proclamation – without mixing words, declaring the truth and calling men to repent; 3) God’s anointing – expressed in this sense through souls being added to their number.

The church in Ephesus was remarkable by today’s standards and probably looked like an exemplary gathering, “But I [God Himself] have this against you, that you have left your first love.” God is gracious and gives them His prescription with clear consequence, “Repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.”

What prevented the church at Ephesus from changing? God was obviously on their side, clearly communicating His intentions and instructing them in the way He wanted them to go. Jesus is clear that our responsibility as followers of Christ (Christians) is clarified to the irreducible minimum of “Love God – Love People” (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love, He speaks of the kind of love we are to have – “Love the Lord your God with all your hearth, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul shares with the young pastor Timothy, “The goal of our instruction is love, and qualifies what sort of love by continuing, from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) Paul shares in Corinthians, what God Himself affirms to the church in Ephesus, stating, “…but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…but do not have love, I am nothing…but do not have love, it profits me nothing…the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 13)

Even the people that hated the early church, who wanted nothing more than to kill all Christians and wipe their memory from the face of the earth could not escape the glaring reality that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). The early church had a thriving love for God and operated in a love for each other through fellowship and a love for the lost in faithfully proclaiming the gospel.

There was a disconnect in Ephesus, whatever they had going they apparently were satisfied with that and would not repent and do the things they did at first. Are we so attached to what we are doing that we are willing to allow God to remove our lampstand? Are we willing to settle for what we are rather than allow God to transform us into what He intends us to be? Remarkably, God’s path isn’t a bunch of hoops we have to jump through, the outlines are clear, they are simple but obviously they come with a cost.

Devoted prayer – faithful proclamation – abide in His anointing as we Love God and love people.

To the church in ________, write…

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Churching Peoples – A Renewed Perspective

January 31, 2009 at 7:12 pm (Biblei-Octopi) (, , , , , )

A good friend, or spiritually should we say brother, peeked my interest in Mars Hill and pastor Mark Driscoll’s work (particularly in the arena of Christian sexuality – I encourage you to investigate). I’ve added the churches blog The Resurgence to my bloglines and recently found this posting:

Most church-goers conceive of church as a building. On Sunday mornings they get up, get dressed, and “go to church.” However, this is not how the early Christians conceived of church. They did not go to church—they were the church. Church is a community, not a building or a meeting. Church is all week, not just on weekends. Church literally means a “public assembly of people.” It has to do with people gathering, not with program-participating. (Jonathan Dodson)

This posting struck me, as I have often been of the mindset that the ministry of the church is the reason we arise on Sunday mornings and struggle to get our family out the door. I’ve also been blessed with the deep benefits of Christian relationships that have challenged and encouraged me. Church, as the Bible (Acts 2 in particular) describes it, is not just a polished message that we dress up for nor is it a social gathering for like-minded people. In these extremes, the church takes on 2 basic forms:

  1. Going to church only to be ministered to by the message and/or the music, in this focus the people can easily become unnecessary and often your “edification” is predicated on whether you felt the music or were touched by the sermon for that day. If the church has this perspective then the ministries/programs, the tools of ministry, can become more important than real connections or actual spiritual growth
  2. Going to church as a social gathering. This doesn’t just affect teenagers, there are plenty of adults that get fancied up for their spiritual parade while building up the body and being spiritually fed are a distant second in their priorities for the day. I’ve been around leaders who believe that getting more people in the door is the main focus of their efforts. Their theory is that as long as they are coming eventually they will reap something of benefit.

Acts 2 shows us people who were committed to people with a clear purpose of learning and living the teachings of the disciples (agents of Christ). Of vital importance is the understanding that both elements must exist in unison in order for the Biblical picture of the church to play out. In a separate post on The Resurgence, author Tim Chester summarizes this concept by stating:

The content of our ministry is the gospel. It’s a word: gospel means good news. So being gospel-centered means being word-centered. And it’s a word to be proclaimed: gospel means good news. So being gospel-centered means being mission-centered. That’s the content of ministry. The context is always the Christian community. Ministry is not an event, still less a performance. It takes place in and through the shared life of the Christian community. So whether it’s evangelism or social involvement or children’s work or apologetics or pastoral care or training, these two principles shape what we do: gospel-centered and community-centered.

Chester’s post further elaborates on the concept of fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to be more of, “As you are GO-ing,” as opposed to the static command to GO-for-a-time. When you understand the content of your ministry (the gospel of Christ) and the medium through which this content is to be communicated to the world (the church) the natural application for the individual is to always be about living the truth in all aspects of life. Chester does well to summarize it this way:

Here’s another way of thinking about it. One of the catchphrases we use to capture our vision is “ordinary life with gospel intentionality” or “ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.” In other words, what we do is ordinary life together: household chores, trips to the movies, meals, neighborhood volunteering. But running through all these activities is a commitment to speaking and living the gospel. We pastor one another at the kitchen sink. We evangelize by talking about Jesus over a meal.

I believe that Christ made things very simple and clear, His commands are far from easy, but He made them simple. I found these posts from The Resurgence to be refreshingly simple and applaud the application of these principles. Let Christ prepare His bride.

The two posts referenced can be found here:

Dodson’s post – Gospel Centered Community

Chester’s post – Ordinary Lives With Gospel Intentionality

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