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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FNB WIRe 9.5.09

September 7, 2009 at 5:13 am (Biblei-Octopi, Words (Not Mine)) (, , )

Flesh & Blud – Week In Review [09.05.09]

>Items That Grabbed My Attention This Week<

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>>Church structure (ecclesiology) is fresh on my mind because we are going through team development and principles of recruiting/developing people into followers of Christ. In thinking through this, some clear principles come to the forefront to guide strategy:

:: The Command (our foundation for life) – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31)
:: The Commission (our focus/process for ministry) – Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20)
:: The Tool (God’s breath of life for all we do) – All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God many be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
:: The Mechanism (our obedient service) – Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
:: The Application (our relational approach) – We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
:: The Gospel (clarifies our message) – See 1 Corinthians 151-9

It is incredible how much information and “this is the way” material is out there. Another point that seems clearer to me now is that we do not serve a purpose, we serve a person (person obviously in the sense of a being not exclusively corporeal – although Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man and ascended bodily into heaven). As in all of life, we must guard against improper extremes wherein our good intentions override our clear calling. Jesus made things incredibly simple – Love God with your all. Love people as you love yourself. Everything God commanded is pretty much summed up in these two. (paraphrase) We love God by living out the gospel and we love people by showing and declaring the gospel. The church serves to uphold, instruct and equip the body of Christ Love God and to Love People, thereby fulfilling the mandates of it’s commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

>>An brutal post by Phil Johnson in which he quotes JC Ryle, speaking on pastors:

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Those who think that unsound ministers ought never to be exposed and held up to notice, and men ought never to be warned against them, would do well to study this passage. No class of character throughout our Lord’s ministry seems to call forth such severe denunciation as that of false pastors. The reason is obvious. Other men ruin themselves alone: false pastors ruin their flocks as well as themselves. To flatter all ordained men, and say they never should be called unsound and dangerous guides, is the surest way to injure the Church and offend Christ.

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>>Francis Chan popped up on my radar, surprising that we were that close (I used to live in Ventura, CA and he has been pasturing in Simi Valley, CA) and I was ignorant of his presence. He challenged me with two things: 1) to pray the prayer uttered in Proverbs 30:7-9; 2) his message Lukewarm & Loving It (link to video here – WARNING: This message is brutal as it will transform certain passages of Scripture from, those guys to, “He’s talking about me!” I don’t yet know much about Chan, but this is worth the 40 minute investment.

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AccounTEXTability

May 24, 2009 at 11:33 pm (Biblei-Octopi, Inspirational) (, , )

Tools Needed: cell phone w/ active text capabilities

[WEEKLY]

At the beginning of each week (i.e. Sunday):
1) Text or call each other with an update on a prayer focus for the week;
2) Share a verse that you’d like to memorize for the week (option of memorizing each others verses)

[DAILY]
1) Agree on a time to regularly expect a text from each other (i.e. AM, PM, lunch break, etc). Text a simple prayer (most cell providers cap out a single text at 120-160 characters) – can be as simple as “I’m praying for you today” but I recommend you to be more specific, as this will go along way to provide a boost of daily encouragement to each other.

[RECOMMENDATIONS]
>I’ve been doing this for a week now with 3 close friends and have been blessed/encouraged beyond what I initially imagined. My friends have been very specific and challenging in their prayers which has both refreshed me and given me something to ponder for the day. I look forward to praying for them and the discipline of doing so reminds me to be praying more fully for other people and aspects of my life.
>Augment your texted prayers by calling/meeting each other regularly, whether weekly or monthly. My friends are all long distance, so the power of technology has been well used to bring us closer.

[TRY IT TODAY…]
Send a simple text to your friends (not everyone that I sent the initial text to responded or wanted to do it, that’s fine, it’s not for everyone). Text I used (took 2 messages):

[MSG #1] Would you like to commit to accounTEXTability w/ me? Rules: DAILY 1) send a quick text prayer for each other, as simple as “Im praying for you” or a specific…
[MSG #2] prayer. 2) send a verse, request or praise as it comes up. WEEKLY (on Sunday) 1) prayer request for the week, 2) a verse for the week (option to memorize)

Let me know how it goes.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

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The Sheep Dog Perspective

April 3, 2009 at 5:34 am (Biblei-Octopi) (, , , , , , )

Our former pastor (Reverend Clifford F. Howery) had frequently referred to himself as a sheep dog stating that the church has but one shepherd, Christ, and as a pastor, his calling was to be as a sheep dog serving the sheep under the direction of the Shepherd.

I appreciate this attitude as it recognizes the True/Primary Shepherd (Christ) and places the role of the pastor (as well as leaders/overseers) in accountability to the role of Christ.

Sheep Dog At Work

Sheep Dog At Work

Christ clearly casts Himself as The Shepherd of His flock, the church, and nowhere is that more clearly expressed than in John 10. In John 21:16 Christ gives the command to Peter, “Shepherd My sheep,” which is further expounded in passages such as Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2-4.

The duties of the pastor do not derive their authority from the pastor himself but from Christ. Scripture is adamant that there are clear and certain character requirements that must be met to be even considered for leadership (note 1 Timothy 3), but the pastor’s role and authority is founded solely in Christ.

Pastors are therefore accountable to be diligent to look to The Shepherd for their instructions and in the integrity of that accountability to uphold the commands of Christ for the flock (church).

When the pastor conducts Himself in submission to Christ, His Word and Holy Spirit, then he does and must operate in authority to teach, encourage and reprove the flock.

As a sheep dog, the pastor should be tenacious in protecting the sheep: 1) To protect them from themselves, from wandering away from The Shepherd; 2) To echo The Shepherd and ensure that His commands are being obeyed; 3) To guard them from assailants, external as well as internal, that seek to lead them astray or devour them.

The New Testament is full of instructions and examples for ministers, pastors, leaders and the church as a whole. This discussion is in no way exhaustive on the topic of the pastor, but I believe that the humility and accountability of what we will call the sheep dog perspective serves as a valuable encouragement to pastors and the church.

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The Spiritual Realities of Busyness

February 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm (Biblei-Octopi, Words (Not Mine)) (, , , , , , )

Identify spiritual and cultural encumbrances that may be silently affecting your relationship with God and your effectiveness in completing the work he has put before you. This is a message of freedom from cultural pressures that if left un-confronted will distract and undermine your spiritual growth.

Enclosed is the link to the first in a series of messages from Pastor Micheal Kennedy of Faith Evangelical Free Church in Moline, IL.  If you need a formal introduction, here is Mike’s bio from the church website.

This series of messages serves to enlighten the followers of Christ on the roots of busyness, the effects of materialism and the often un-confronted cultural pressures that have been adopted even in the fabric of the believer’s thought process and the church at large. You are invited to take a humbling look into the principles of Scripture and the life of Christ and how completely different our current mindset is undermining what we often quote as our Christian mission. Allowing God’s word to test and weed out these hindrances, we can operate in the freedom and power of God’s Spirit.

Message 1 “Jesus and Simplicity (part 1)” from Sunday 01-04-09

Sermon Archive note messages entitled “Jesus and Simplicity”

I have a personal connection with Mike Kennedy as I enjoyed his love for God, love for others and practical-sincerity in his approach to Christianity. If you choose to listen through these messages, you may not have the relational context that I enjoy, but you will certainly benefit from the truths that are presented.

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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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