Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Lost First Love Church

: To call believers to see where they strayed and return

Text: Rev 2:1-7
Rev 2:1  "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 
Rev 2:2  "'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 
Rev 2:3  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 
Rev 2:4  But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 
Rev 2:5  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 
Rev 2:6  Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 
Rev 2:7  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.' 

When we talk about Revelation we often think of graphic symbolism and predictions of the future. But we forget this book starts out with 7 short letters to 7 churches. These are more like Postcards! Postcards from Heaven! They’re brief, personal and Urgent! In fact, the urgency part is a bit unnerving, because Jesus says things like, “Repent or I’ll take away your lampstand!” And even if we aren’t sure what the lampstand is, it sounds pretty serious!
We are going to spend 7 messages with these postcards. My hope is God will speak to you and me, through these passages, and bring us home!   Now you might think you're already home. And to a large degree, you might be. But let me ask, Is your life as fruitful for Jesus as you would like it to be? Are you as courageous in the Lord as you ought to be? Is any area of your life in rebellion to the Lord? Are you afraid to take a risk for Jesus? If so, open your hearts to these passages in the weeks ahead. Ask God to speak to you, to draw you to himself.
   Acts 19 is the record of Paul ministering in Ephesus. But its believed John also ministered there both before and after he wrote this book. Ephesus was among the largest cities of Asia Minor, about 50,000 around this time, and a famous center for idolatry!
In V1 Jesus is the one who holds the 7 starts and walks among the 7 lampstands. What is that about? See Rev 1:20 As for the mystery of the 7 stars you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.     
What are the 7 stars? Angels? Well the word means messenger. I think it’s fairly safe to say these are the pastors or individual messengers that John sent with each message. But I favor the pastors of the churches. And what are the lampstands? Remember, there was a lampstand in the temple. That was the only source of light in the temple, it was made with pure gold and filled with oil. Oil was the fuel of the 7 flames on the lampstand. That’s some profound symbolism when we remember, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. So, what is the lampstand? I believe it is the life and light giving Spirit of God in the churches. And notice Jesus is walking among these lampstands and churches. He is with them, He knows what is going on.
V2 He says, I know you works, your toil and your endurance. He knows not only the work we do but the pains we take and how we suffer in our work for Him. That’s what He means by toil. And they have endured – they continued working when it was hard.
     He said they didn’t put up with evil. They even tested self-appointed apostles and found them to be false. They understood what the Bible taught about good and evil and sound doctrine. They didn’t put up with false teachers! In those days there were men going around trying to trick churches into false doctrine. Things like Gentiles need to become Jews to be Christians. Or Jesus wasn’t really God in the flesh. Or the God of the Old Testament was bad but Jesus was good. On and on. And the church called these things heresy, And Jesus said, Good!
In V3 He mentions again their patience and endurance and how they “bore up” or held up under stress. This is a good sign of being a true believer.
Ill) I remember reading of two missionaries who brought the gospel to some folks in Indonesia. They were ladies who went there as Bible translators. As they worked there for years some finally left their tribal religion and trusted in Jesus Christ. This made the local witch-doctor pretty angry and he was put curses on them. One of the young women who became a Christian lost her baby just after it was born and everybody said it was the power of the shaman. So there was this fear in the village that following Jesus would cause your babies to die. When the young missionaries heard and rushed to see the young mother who lost her baby they were prepared for the worst. How are we going to convince her that our God is a God of love, and more powerful than the shaman.? When they got there, they found her grieving but she said, shall I receive good from Him and not accept the bad also? And the other believers were all encouraged and even more women came to know Christ.
  Perseverance in trouble is a testimony of true believers!
BUT! Don’t you just hate it when someone is singing your praises but you know there is a “But” coming. “You did a great job!!  BUT – you missed this part, do it over.” Or, when a girl is letting the guy down easy, “I really like you a lot – BUT – can we just be friends?”
Well Jesus says But – and remember He walks among the candlesticks – he knows each church – and He says -V4But I have this against you – You have abandoned your first love!
This is a powerful accusation. And you know its true because Jesus said it! And of all things to have lost, Love is the Hallmark of the Gospel
For God so LOVED He sent! 
Herein is LOVE, not that we loved Him but He loved us! 
By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have LOVE for one another! 
LOVE is important! Its appears over 200 X in the NT!
 What does Left your first love, mean? Well, who is our first love as believers? Isn’t it the one who took our place? Who paid our debt? We have no Genuine Love – no Godly Love – until Jesus comes and rescues us! 
But what can you do about it? 
How do you just start loving again? 
How do you get that back?
1.      V5 Remember. Here is where I start the alliteration. I have 4 “R’s” for you. The first is Remember! V5 Remember from where you have fallen. Can you remember?
Can you remember a time when you loved Jesus more? Is it hard to say the words “I love Jesus” or “I love God”? Can you remember a time when the Grace and Mercy of God was so precious to you? HOW do you go back there? Or how do I get there if I have never really been there?
Ill) For years, I had a hard time singing “I love you Lord and I lift my voice ...” Even though I was grateful and loved the Lord for what He did, I knew my love was nothing compared with His love for me! But one day I accepted that He knew that I knew that! I was able to say ‘I love you.’ Because I knew that while my love was far from perfect, it was a love He had planted in my heart! But lets face it, we don’t always continue in the realization of His love for us and ours for Him!      SO – What do we do?
2.      REPENT. What does this mean? It means think differently. Change the direction of our thinking! After you Remember, Go back to that way of Thinking! But we have to be intentional about it. I saw a great quote the other day – "Nobody ever drifts into Holiness!" You don’t Repent by accident. You don’t keep repenting, everyday, several times a day, without Intentionality! Keep Remembering and Keep going back to that time when you were so thankful for His Grace!
3.      RETURN! Go Back to the First Works! This doesn’t mean, Work harder, or Serve the Lord More! No it means go back to what you did before you started to work for Him.
Remember – He just praised their hard work and faithfulness! They were working. Maybe they weren’t doing everything right but they were working. No, he said do the “First” works. What are those? Pray harder? Sing louder?
   Look at the History of the Ephesian church. Read Acts 19:18:

V.18 many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. 

Among other things they did when they first believed is they put away their idols! Now I don’t think any of you have little idols set up in your house – if so – that’s got to go!  I am really surprised that some Christians STILL follow horoscopes! That’s an idol. I’m surprised how many people get their beliefs from bumper stickers and the internet! We need to get away from catchy phrases and believe God’s Word! We need to get our principles from the Bible! If you follow worldly wisdom and Facebook more than the Bible you’re doing it wrong!
We need to put away things we worship. How about our comfort zones? Are you willing to give those to God and burn them in a bonfire? That’s Hard, right? You bet it is.           
But, Before you ever started “Working” for Jesus, look back and see if you didn’t have a heart for Jesus. And you realized, NOTHING – NOTHING – compares with the Love of Christ.
4.       One more R in this passage. (V5). REMOVE. Now this is not Removing our salvation or Jesus leaving us. But it has to do with the Question, Why does Jesus need a church that has left their Love for Christ? Does that do the Kingdom any good? When he removes a lampstand, there are other churches to carry on.

Will you Remember, Repent and Return To Jesus as your King of Kings today?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reason for the Season: Why Angels? Why Shepherds?

"Fear not, I have Good News." 

Luke 2:1-2

I know the phrase “The Reason for the Season” is pretty overdone. But "The Point of Jesus’ Coming" didn’t sound as catchy. And there are not too many words that rhyme with point! It’s kinda like the word Phoenix, hard to rhyme! There’s point, joint and anoint and that’s it! So, "Reason for the Season." (No, I never considered using "The Point the Anointed One came to this Joint")
     Now I’m not talking about the Season of Santa Claus, or the season of shopping, or even the season of holidays and food and family and Football! Even though ALL of those are better than the "Season of Politics" we just came thru! The Season I am talking about is remembering the Coming of the Son of God to earth!
    Why is that a Big Thing? Why do we celebrate the Birth of this man 2000 years later? There have been other great men and women, we don’t tend to celebrate their births, do we? Abraham Lincoln: We celebrate the Gettysburg address or the Emancipation Proclamation, but not his birth. Certainly, not his death! Madame Curie: Great Scientist! Nobody celebrates her birth! OK, we do celebrate Washington’s birthday with a holiday but it’s not like he gets fireworks and songs! All he gets is President’s Day Sales!
     Bible Study is kind of like being a detective. It’s asking the right kind of questions. There are many things we could ask about the message the angels had that day. But I want to start with two simple questions: 
Why was it announced by Angels?
And why was it announced to Shepherds?
I understand God sending a messenger to Mary! She was going to have a baby and she was a young virgin! And Joseph! He was engaged to her and this was a shock! But Shepherds?
     Luke 2:8 And in the same region there 
     were shepherds out in the field, keeping 
     watch over their flock by night. 

In the same region, near where Jesus was born, near Bethlehem, were shepherds. It doesn’t say how many, how old, or how Godly they are, just ‘shepherds.’
Now, if God had a PR man he might have suggested a different group. “Let’s announce it to the Governor.” Or to Congress! They couldn’t put it on TV, but how about sending an angel to Ceasar? Nope. God told shepherds.
You may remember that shepherds were near the bottom of society in those days. They couldn’t even testify in a trial because a) they weren’t trusted and b) they weren’t considered smart enough! 
But how did God want us to picture Him? David said, The Lord-is-my-Shepherd! Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
   What if somebody was running for president and announced, “I am the Good Used Car salesman!” People would laugh. I know I pick on used car dealers, but I have known a couple good Christian men who sold used cars. Great guys! Honest guys! But that’s not the reputation they have! Same with Shepherds!
But that’s who God chose to make his first public announcement to. God is not worried about PR. God loves the world. Especially the ones no one else cares about. God was targeting a certain group with his Angelic advertising! Who did He target? Listen to these verses: First a prophecy about Jesus:     
     Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD
     is upon me, because the LORD has 
     anointed me to bring good news to 
     the poor; he has sent me to bind up 
     the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty 
     to the captives, and the opening of the 
     prison to those who are bound;
Luke 1:52 (Mary said) 
     He has brought down the mighty 
     from their thrones and exalted 
     those of humble estate; 53 he has 
     filled the hungry with good things, 
     and the rich he has sent away empty.
1Co 1:26 
     For consider your calling, brothers: 
     not many of you were wise according 
     to worldly standards, not many 
     powerful, not many of noble birth. 
     27 But God chose what is foolish 
     in the world to shame the wise; 
     God chose what is weak …to shame 
     the strong; 28 God chose what is 
     low and despised in the world… 
     29 so that no human being might 
     boast in the presence of God.
WHY Shepherds? Not because they were great and special. Because God values people over position.
Because God doesn’t value people the way the world does.
God took Moses from being a Prince and made him a shepherd before he used him to deliver Israel from bondage! In God’s estimation, shepherds have a noble duty. That’s why Jesus called Himself a good shepherd. Think about it!
They were out in their fields with the sheep. Not at home, under a roof, in a comfy bed.
“Watching over” means they put themselves between the sheep and dangerous predators.
They lived with the sheep, led them to water and green pastures, they didn’t just give them orders to follow!
Likewise, Jesus left the comfort and glory of heaven, to come down to be with us, here on earth.
Jesus was lifted up on a cross to put himself between us and dangerous predator who would take us to Hell with himself.
Jesus comes to walk with us, and live in us, not just give us rules to follow! He became sin that we might become the Holiness of God! God elevated the shepherds! Jesus became the Shepherd!
    And notice, he didn’t say, "now go to Bethlehem and find the baby!" No, these shepherds did that on their own. I think these  shepherds took the promises of a Messiah, seriously. There were many in Israel who did!

But then, why the Angels?
God uses his angels as messengers. When he drove Adam and eve from Eden he put a messenger at the gate to remind them they were no longer welcome! Angels appeared to Abraham and Jacob and Joshua. In Deut 33 we learn that when God brought the law it was with 10,000 of His angels. In fact, in the Jewish mind, it was angels who delivered the law of God. Well the law was the Old Testament, or covenant. God is about to put in place a New Covenant. Angels are still His messengers!
But notice something here in Luke 2:9 an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
The angel didn’t come alone. He didn’t come incognito. The Bible says angels can appear without us noticing them. That’s not the case here! He came with the Glory of the Lord.
Listen, until that last year before the birth of Jesus, The Glory of the Lord hadn’t been seen on earth for almost a thousand years! Joseph and Mary may have glimpsed it. The shepherds saw it in a big way! But the last time was the dedication of Solomon’s temple, when God’s glory came down! There may have been an occasion a couple hundred years later when Elijah’s sacrifice was burned up by fire that came down from Heaven. But it had been a long, long time!
The glory of God was with Adam and Eve in the garden before they sinned. Moses saw it in the burning bush. The Israelites saw it in the pillar of fire that led them out of bondage. They saw it come down on the tabernacle in the wilderness.
But the Glory of the Lord had just become a legend. Here, however, the shepherds saw it when the angel appeared!  God was doing something brand new!
Later, Jesus took 3 disciples up a hill and was transfigured before them. The Glory of the Lord burst out of the Man Christ Jesus. Hebrews explains why. Jesus was the "outshining of the Glory of God.” Paul wrote that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God. Before Jesus, God appeared as light and fire, not primarily with a human body. He is the invisible God. But God is doing something new! He is sending His Only Begotten, His One and Only, the 2nd person of the Eternal trinity in Heaven; Jesus the Christ, the God/man. And on that day was born a baby in Bethlehem, with the fullness of the glorious Glory of God bottled up inside of Him.
God came down! Oh what a Thought!
God Himself, in Human flesh was wrought.
Born of a virgin, this God most high!
In an unknown stable,
Our Holy God came nigh! 
Our God came down.
Our God came down. Our God came down!
When you are giving presents this Christmas, remember the greatest gift of all! Given for you! When you open a Christmas Card, think of the gift inside those swaddling clothes!
If you don’t know Jesus – He paid for your sins 2000 years ago – Today is the day to trust Him!

Reason for the Season Part II

Who is this Baby and What is a Savior?
 Luke 2:1-11
What does the World think of Jesus? More specifically what does the world, that lives in the USA, think of Jesus?
Just last year a study was done by the Barna group showing that over 90% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person.[i]

That’s nice. But, with each generation it’s a little bit less. The youngest generation tested, the Millennials, about 35 and under, only 87% think he was real. Who knows how low that will go in the next generation, those who are just children right now.
But even though that’s a pretty high number, less than 60% (56) believe Jesus is God or divine. Guess where the millennials stand. Less than 50%! Now if Jesus isn’t God, our faith is as pointless as if he didn’t exist at all!
But even though slightly over 50% of all America thinks he is god, LESS than 50% think he was sinless! In other words, most people think Jesus sinned like everyone else! There is one lie from the devil that has really taken hold in our culture! If Jesus sinned, he could not be our sacrifice or our savior.

But in spite of that low number – When asked if they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that affected their lives – are you ready? – 62% said yes! Some of these people don’t even think Jesus is God, or know he was sinless! It’s hard to believe 62% of the USA is truly saved.
There are people all over the USA today, sitting in churches this morning, who think they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, but He never made a commitment to them!
   But one final point. Among those who say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ - people who say they’re Christians - how many believe they will go to heaven because they confessed their sins to Christ, believed in and accepted Him as their savior? 63%. Basically 2 out of three. Not 2/3 Americans, but 2/3 of those who say they believe in Jesus.
Over 30% of people who claim they believe in Christ, who say they made a
commitment to Him – don’t understand HOW to be saved!
20% say its because they tried to keep the 10 commandments or because they were basically good, OR because God loves everybody and won’t let anyone go to Hell!
IN one sense this is Good news, It means there are lots of folks who need to hear the gospel! But its also bad news. After 300 years of gospel preaching in America only 60% call themselves Christian and 2/3rds of those don’t even know how to be saved!
     I bring you good news of great joy
     that will be for all the people. For
     unto you is born this day in the
     city of David a Savior
WHAT IS A SAVIOR? Have any of you noticed a drop off in the use of the word “saved?” I have. I even feel funny using it just because I’m not sure people know what it means. But it’s a good word. We could replace it with rescued or delivered. But delivered makes many think about babies, boxes, and mail. Rescued is good because it implies a sense of danger or trouble or even death! But I think we need to keep the word “Saved” alive! Or else nobody will know why Jesus is a Savior!
A lifeguard rescues people from drowning. He SAVES them. People still know the meaning of saved in that context. It happened to me once. When I was about 12 I was swimming the rapids in my hometown of New Braunfels, Texas. I felt the tug of a whirlpool and just before I went under I yelled "help." Now these are pretty weak whirlpools in the Comal river and with one kick I was back above the water. Just in time to me hit smack in the face by an inner tube. Which stung, but I was glad to have it to grab on to. That lifeguard (I think his name was Max) was my savior that day. (Well, kinda, I wasn't really going to drown but he didn't know that.)
   Jesus came, as a Savior because God had already planned to save people. People who really needed saving! If you are saved today let me tell you something amazing. Before Jesus ever came, God knew, from before the foundation of the world, that Jesus would save you. Your eternal life would be guaranteed when His only begotten Son took your place on the cross! Jesus came as a Savior!
BUT SAVED FROM WHAT? That’s a good question.
Some think we need to be saved from our unfulfillment or our terrible life situation.[ii]
A)  Sometimes when we talk about our salvation we talk about how our life wasn’t complete. Maybe our marriage wasn’t too great till Jesus came along. Or we didn’t have the career we hoped for. Our kids didn’t turn out how we liked or we didn’t have the kinda of life we hoped for. We look at vacation brochures for skiing the alps but all we get is 3 nights in Oklahoma City! Now that might make most people turn to Jesus!
But we can give off the idea that Jesus came to deliver you from a bad marriage, or give us a better career. Or at least help you like the crummy career you got! Sometimes the idea we give people is Jesus came to help out our lot in life. With Jesus I drive a Lincoln, ski in Colorado, get promotions at work and my kid goes to Harvard!
B)    Sometimes we give people the impression that Jesus came to deliver us from bad habits or addictions. We treat Jesus as if he’s the “Higher Power” that some people in AA use as a "hook in heaven" to help them pull themselves up. Maybe its drugs or alcohol or even sexual sin. Maybe you had a bad temper, were a serial glutton or a serial murderer until Jesus came.
    Now these things I mentioned are certainly within the power of the gospel. Knowing Jesus can give you a new outlook on life. It can make you the kind of loving caring person who might get that promotion at work, or have a better marriage or raise better kids.
   The gospel – the good news of Jesus - can give you power over drugs and alcohol. It can deliver you from a wicked temper or the power of lust. But is that ALL Jesus came for?

     Further, what about those people who do feel fulfilled? They have a nice house and car, vacations galore. Their kids are doing great. They aren’t addicted to drugs or alcohol. Do they not need Jesus? There are millions of people in the world who get up every day, work in the fields, live in a hut, and marry their kids off to the neighboring village, who are content to do just that. They can’t imagine anything else! Don’t They Need the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
C)    Luk 2:10 And the angel said to them, 

     "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good 
     news of great joy that will be for all the 
     people. 11 For unto you is born this day 
     in the city of David a Savior. 
Saved from what? In the Matthew story of Jesus’ birth-
an angel – maybe the same angel here – appears to Joseph and says, 

     1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall 
     call his name Jesus, for he will save 
    his people from their sins. From Their Sins!
That’s what we are saved from. May not be as exciting as getting off drugs, or being fulfilled in their careers or helping them have perfect kids. It’s not a fulfilling as finding your purpose in life!   But salvation from sin is what God provides! 

For one thing, its universal. Everyone has a sin problem. 
Not everybody "needs" purpose or a better life!
  Why would God save us from our sins? Because that is the only way we can be right with Him! When you realize it’s not just about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is GREAT! But God will deliver you from the Penalty of sin, the hell created for the devil. He delivers you from the power of sin, which includes deliverance from addiction, and every sin that damages our relationship with Him! He also delivers from the Presence of sin. Jesus saves you from your sin that you might dwell in the House of the Lord forever!
The church needs to get back to telling the world what Jesus really came to do! Not to be your best friend, but to be your savior. Not to manage your career but to remove you from your sins. Not to help you stand head and shoulders above other men but to fall to your knees at the feet of Jesus!
You know the angels didn’t even tell the shepherds the baby’s name. They said you’ll find him in a manger, a feed trough. But they found him and his name was savior, not just his title. Because Jesus means the Salvation of Jehovah. The Savior sent by God.
That’s the Good News! God sent his Son to save us from the thing we try to deny we need saving from. We don’t like to admit we are sinners. But we are and God has a remedy!
A Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
This is what makes us truly understand the love of God. Not so much the things that Jesus does for us to help have happy lives. But the fact that He saved us from our sins.

[ii] Borrowed partially from John MacArthur.