Branching Out

The continuing growth and development of Tree of Life Church

Hulk Out?

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This is the Hollywood statement on the decision to replace Edward Norton as the Hulk in the Avengers movies:

“We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.

The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”

You can be the best in the world at what you do, but if you cannot embody a creative and collaborative spirit you will always miss out on the biggest projects because the biggest projects always involve working with others.

Do you thrive working as part of an ensemble?

5 Really Bad and 5 Really Good Reasons to Go to Bible College

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Really Bad Reasons to Go:

5. Because you are offended, frustrated or disappointed in the local church.  If you go to Bible College annoyed at church, angry at church, opposed to church, I guarantee you will not have a successful ministry after Bible College.  It’s that simple.  Bible College is designed to make you more effective and more utilitarian to the local church.  An increasing number of people are getting offended at local church for a whole host of reasons, and then running away to Bible school.  It helps them feel superior to other Christians who are working in the factory, looking after small children, serving the local church week after week.  That attitude will disqualify you from ministry sooner or later, and once it is seated in you it is really difficult to get out.

4.  Because you have no other options.  It is a truth that during an economic recession applications to Bible Colleges go up a significant amount.  The church needs leaders with a bit more passion for their ministry and their flock than “I had nothing better to do, so I decided to train as a minister…”

3.  Because you think there is money in the ministry.  There may be one day but going after the money is one sure way to ensure your ministry is so unbalanced you never get a large enough following to get any. 

2.  Because someone prophesied it over you.  Charismatics love to prophesy their own emotions and feeling over people.  There are at least a dozen churches in this country where I am been prophesied over that I will be the next pastor.  Er… no.  You cannot be prophesy led, you must be Spirit led.

1.  Because you hate the daily grind of work.  Here’s the brutal truth: if you can’t manage a secular job and church volunteering you should never expect anyone to do what you cannot do.  If you think Bible College is a key to a lazy, easy life you are wrong.  The world has enough lazy pastors, and the truth is that you will be ministering to people who are in the daily grind that you can’t handle.  That means you have no credibility.  Go to Bible College a champion in your work place!  Go for the right reasons!  Take the same overcomer attitude from the daily grind to college, don’t bring a loser attitude from the work world and assume college will work – it’s an attitude change you need first!  Some pastors get together on Monday mornings and discuss quitting because the weekend was so hard.  They discuss how hard pastoring is.  I was in a couple of groups like that on Facebook and so on, and I quit them all for two reasons: 1.  I never want to quit.  The reward is greater than any cost.  2. I don’t think I could ever with credibility get up on a Sunday and say I have the hardest job in the church.  There’s medical doctors and nurses, school teachers, people who work 12-15 hour shifts in factories, people who are in high-pressure sales environments.  I don’t have it hard, I just need to ensure I use the same faith to make it everyday that I preach about.  

5 Really Good Reasons to Go:

5.  You know that you are called to God to minister the Word of God to people and want to be effectively trained to teach and preach the Word to people.  You are not called to College, you are called to a ministry that requires college to prepare you for that ministry.  That way when college is wrapping up (you can’t stay forever) you don’t become a lost little wanderer, but you have a plan for advancing the kingdom and making disciples.

4.  You are a conqueror at life.  You are winning at work, winning with the family, winning financially and you know you have something valuable to offer people.  You have life and life in abundance and you want to share it.  You don’t want to leave your social network or your job because you have learned to love them both and invest your life into something with joy and peace.

3.  You are an integral part of the local church.  If you have learned how to serve in the local church as laity, you will understand the requirements and expectations of serving in the local church.  If you take on an existing church or plant a new church after college, you will succeed or fail because of volunteers.  The way some pastors treat volunteers and speak to volunteers it is clear they have never ever volunteers in a church.  I know one pastor who went to Bible College and was helping a church as part of his placement, then left college and got a secular job.  He immediately couldn’t juggle volunteering at the church with a part-time job, yet when an opening came the church took him on.  I would never take someone on for a paid role who couldn’t do something for free, because every paid role in a church has to be able to manage volunteers.  If you can’t be a volunteer, you can’t manage volunteers.  You don’t get it!  If you are a volunteer, an integral part of the local church then you can grasp what the volunteers you look after will be doing.  Then you are ready for Bible College.

2. You have already conquered the majority of your life dramas.  Of course Bible College isn’t for perfect people.  I was not perfect when I went to college, and I haven’t found a perfect Bible College student yet.  But you shouldn’t be going to Bible College for discipleship, that’s what the local church is for.  You should be going to Bible College to prepare for ministry.  Bible College is actually a really intense time on you – as your ideas are challenged, money is tight, ambitions are dashed, disappointments happen – it’s a real bubble and a really tough time.  I know more couples who have divorced during Bible College than I can count, and that’s a tragedy.  If they had sorted out their marriage before Bible College rather than trying to use Bible College to paper over the cracks in their marriage those tragic situations would never have happened.  Go to Bible College with a strong marriage, without massive gaps in your integrity.

1.  You can see beyond college.  If you can’t see what is going to happen when you graduate, what sort of ministry you will do, what you might become.  Whether you are travelling teacher, a missionary, an assistant pastor, a church planter.  Plans can change, but if you cannot see beyond the horizon of college before you go, I question whether you have a call of God to go.  Your vision should be bigger than college BEFORE you go.

If you are a pastor, and people in your church are thinking of going to college, don’t be shy about asking these hard questions.  The world is desperately in need of Christian leaders with integrity, with passion, with ministry.  It is not in need of another couple divorced at Bible College, people finishing college and wandering around lonely as a cloud hoping someone will one day give them a ministry.  This is serious stuff, and needs to be considered.

Also, notice I haven’t mentioned instructions from God in this.  A lot of people think God is telling them something when it is just pizza from last night, or just the sheer excitement.  A good Bible College is a fine place to be, and because it is only Christians, and only people who are taking the things of God seriously, it can be a lot faster and a lot more exciting than local church.  That’s why some people want to stay there forever.  But the truth is that joining the fast lane of Bible College is only for a few years, and you need to be able to handle the slow lane of life and church.  Ministry is not about getting there first, it’s about taking as many people with you as possible.  If you don’t learn that before Bible College, I doubt you will learn it there.

 

Difficult Verse 6: John 19.30

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When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This is not really a difficult verse – it’s just that there are a number of similar verses in the four gospels, and unless they are all understood it can seem that the Bible is contradictory or implying something that it never said.  This verse, and Matt. 27.34, have both been used by people to suggest that Christians should be for euthanasia and assisted suicide; that in some way Jesus committed suicide on the cross.  In John 19.30, Jesus is offered wine vinegar while on the cross.  Now the thing to remember is that this is the second time Jesus is offered a drink while he is on the cross – the first time he is offered wine mixed with gall and he refuses it.  If you read Mark 15 from beginning to end, you can see clearly Jesus is twice offered drink.  Luke and John only record the second drink, as per our verse here.

The first drink Jesus is offered is wine mixed with gall.  The second drink is wine vinegar.  So the first drink Jesus is offered (Matt. 27.34) he tasted and refused.  What was this drink?  Gall, or bile, is the product of the gall bladder.  It tastes exceptionally bitter and functions like a painkiller.  While on the cross Jesus was offered wine laced with a narcotic to ease his pain, and he refused.  He was going to go through the full pain of your sin, sickness and suffering on the cross to redeem you.  That just shows again how awesome a Saviour, what a champion Jesus was.  He wouldn’t even take an aspirin while dying for you!  He was going to do it!  He would suffer the fullness of sin to be able to offer us the fullness of redemption.  Jesus was fully aware and conscious while he was dying for you! And he planned it that way!

The second drink was wine vinegar, which was a cheap wine, drunk mainly by soldiers.  It was mildly alcoholic but was the kind of drink you could drink quickly, making it useful to the soldiers as they could quickly quench their thirst.  John tells us that Jesus said he was thirsty while on the cross.  Jesus died as a human, fully human, and on the cross was naked, hungry and thirsty.  He became poor with your poverty so you could be made rich (2 Cor. 9.8).  There is nothing poorer than being thirsty and unable to quench your thirst.  Also, thirsting on the cross was prophesied in Psalm 22.15 that the Messiah would have a parched mouth.  In Psalm 69.21 it mentions that the suffering servant would be offered both gall and vinegar.  This all shows how the death of Jesus was exactly how He and His Father planned it.  Now John is the only gospel writer who let us know Jesus actually received the drink – Luke tells us it was offered, but only John tells us he received the drink.  Now drinking at this stage would have actually prolonged Jesus’ life – making the cross more painful and agonizing!  The drink would have extended his suffering, not shortened it.

By confusing the two drinks, some people see Jesus deliberately medicating while on the cross.  They then say it is ok to over-medicate a patient and actively euthanize people.  Nothing could be further from the truth – Jesus rejected the drink that would have eased his pain, and instead chose a drink that extended his pain and suffering.  Why?  Because he was suffering for you!  He died your death and did it deliberately, made it as difficult as possible, ensured he did it with a sound mind – to make sure that he paid the full price for your sin so you could be the righteousness of God in Christ.

That’s not a difficult Scripture – it’s a powerful one!

 

The Church is Not A Business…

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One of the cries I often hear is the church is not a business.  This normally happens as we formalize something, such as organize a rota with an online planning method or we use a “secular” means of advertising such as billboards or leaflet distribution.  I have read a lot of business leadership books and marketing books and they have helped me with the church so much.  The truth is that the answer to the question “is the church a business?” is not as simple as “yes” or “no”.

What you normally have on one side of the debate are the people who are sitting in a living room, running a church of 6-8 people who decry anything that involves hierarchy and organization.  For them, church isn’t a business.  But it also isn’t going into all the world and making disciples, it isn’t fulfilling the great commission.  Or the pastor who inherits a church of 30-40 people, who hire the pastor, and he maintains church isn’t a business.  No, for him it is an extended family.  It could grow – it could have so much potential.  Often I think the reason so many pastors don’t like the word “business” is because it comes from the word “busy”, and they don’t want to be busy.

On the other side of the debate, there are people who see ministry purely as a means for financial gain.  There are vulnerable people in the church, and selling snake oil that will heal cancer can be a lucrative business – anointed prayer clothes, holy water from Israel and so on and so forth.  They have made church a business and ripped Christ out of the church to do so.   I have been in services where the offering has taken hours – 4 to 5 times as long as the preaching of the Word.  That is not right!

Both of these extremes are clearly wrong.  So where is the balance.  What can we learn from the world of business, and what must we reject.

Things We Can Learn from Business

  1. The importance of excellence.  People come to church and the building is delapidated, the paint is coming off at the walls, and the place is falling apart.  The grass outside is 10 feet high, the usher hasn’t washed or shaved for 3 days and worship band are all out of key.  They are not going to be repeat customers.  But that’s carnal you cry – people should come for just the Word.  Some people will, but you want to reach carnal people.  Or do you only want to gather disciples, not make disciples?  If you want to make disciples, the people who come to your church are not disciples.  Therefore, you need to ensure a standard of excellence.  Remember we are serving the Lord not man, we are offering eternal life, not burgers and photocopiers.  We should be doing things with excellence.  
  2. The importance of customer care.  Services industries have spent millions of pounds on how to get repeat business by caring for people.  For us, called to love one another – filled with the love of God, it is embarassing that a shoe company can get repeat business better than the church just because they care more.  Love is not a feeling, it’s tangible actions, and we can learn some of those tangible actions from business
  3. The importance of planning ahead.  So many churches live from day to day without a vision, a goal, a dream.  Companies don’t – they know the importance of a mission statement, a plan to live from and a place to step forward to.  Dreams and visions are supposed to be in our realm, and Toyota has a 500 year vision plan, and most churches don’t know what is happening next Sunday.  You need to learn how to plan, and businesses can help you with developing a plan, and communicating the plan
  4. The importance of culture.  There’s no point in getting where we need to go if we forget who we are on the way.  Culture is who we are on the way.   All good businesses do culture on purpose, and all healthy churches do as well.  There are some great business tools on developing culture and building culture.
  5. The importance of leadership.  If you can’t lead people, you are just going for a walk.  There are some great resources on leadership, on developing people, on raising teams, on building volunteers in the business world.

Things the Business World Doesn’t Know

  1. The leading of the Holy Spirit.  The business world is limited to sense knowledge.  We have access to a much higher realm of knowledge – God’s knowledge.  Sometimes God will call us to do things that make no sense in the natural, but when we step out in faith in His Word, amazing things happen.  We have access to a source of wisdom beyond anything the business world has.
  2. The power of sowing and reaping.  Business is about getting all you can.  But we know that by sowing financially, giving generously and investing wisely, we can see an abundance of harvest.  
  3. The importance of the one.  In business, everything is about metrics.  I am all for metrics – I measure everything.  But there are somethings you can’t measure.  When a marriage gets a bit better.  When someone sleeps through the night.  When someone is alone and feels peace rather than despair.  When someone gets a revelation of grace.  Sometimes, it is important to remember that the change of one life can change everything.  
  4. The value of eternity.  Toyota may have a 500 year plan, but God has a billions and billions of year plan.  You are going to be around for all eternity.  What we do doesn’t just impact earth it impacts heaven.  If the church is just a business dealing in the here and now, that’s a real loss.  We are the gateway to heaven, the doorway to eternal life.  We are not just a business.

The church has a lot to learn from business.  It needs to become efficient, it needs to know it’s mission and it needs to operate in excellence to win the world.  It needs to dream big.  But we have to go beyond business and ensure we never lose touch with our unique place as the body of Christ on earth.

Difficult Verses 5: 1 John 5.16

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Someone emailed me this week asking about the meaning of 1 John 5.16, saying it had always been a puzzling verse to them.  And I agreed – it is a strange verse.  Read it for yourself in the KJV:

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.  

So it would appear there are a number of questions: what is the difference between a sin leading to death and a sin that doesn’t lead to death.  Any why would there ever be a divine instruction in Scripture not to pray for someone – especially someone in trouble!

Some people use these verses to justify an idea that there are different levels of sin: generally the sin that they do is acceptable, but other people’s sins are unacceptable.  Two things we need to consider so we can discard that idea: firstly, John had just finished saying that all unrighteousness is sin (1 John 5.12), so it seems very unlikely that John is then after putting all sin in the same box separating sin into good sins (or less bad sins) and bad (or worse) sins.  Secondly, it is clear that it is about seeing the sin: it’s not about gossip and finding out that way.  It’s that the brother sees the other Christian commit the sin that does not lead to death.

Well the answer is not that there are different scales of sin, but that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23).  Sin pays wages and the wages sin pays is death.  But not every day is pay day!  If you see your brother sinning, you should ask (pray) about it.  But this is where the grammar of this verse gets confused.  Most people translate the personal pronouns like this: 

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he [that man] shall ask, and he [God] shall give him [the sinning brother] life for them that sin not unto death

So the idea is that you see a brother sinning – you go round someone’s house and catch them watching a porno, you are with them when they explode in anger at someone and plan to hurt them, they tell you they are having an affair, you use their bathroom and the towels say “Hilton”.  So you pray, and because your pray is so awesome God will pour life into that person and wipe away that sin.

That’s not how things work, and you know it!  People sin – born-again, Spirit-filled, Christians sin.  And your prayers don’t change that because prayers don’t override free will.  You can pray for people in sin, don’t get me wrong, and if you rebuke the devil and pray for peace, they may suddenly regain a freedom and start living for God, but they could equally choose to keep sinning.

The point is that is not what this verse means.  The pronouns in Greek are all referring to the same indiviudal, so the best way to translate this verse is:

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he [the man that sees his brother sinning] shall ask, and he [the man who sees his brother sinning] shall give him [the brother sinning] life for them that sin not unto death

In other words when you catch someone in a sin, when you see it (not when you hear Sister Bucketmouth tell you all about it) then you don’t just pray.  You give life to your brother.  What does that mean?  You tell them that they are righteous, you point out that sin is evil and its wages are death.  You tell them that Christ has already paid the full price for their sin, and that they are dead to sin, and alive to Christ.  You give them the life of the gospel of redemption and you love them will all the love you have.  You are not the accuser of the brethen, you are the brethren of the brethren.  Did you know in law courts judges aren’t allowed to judge family?  That is because even this nation recognizes that family-ties overtake the role of being a judge.  Yet most of the church want to judge their family in Christ.  No!  Love your family in Christ, be family to your family in Christ.  Bring life to them.  Speak words of life and hope and freedom!  Whenever you see someone sin, let them know how much you love them and how free they are!

That’s why it’s not a sin unto death – you brought life before payday.  

The next thing John says is: There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.  

That seems harsh until you realize there is a mis-translated word in there.  And it is the word “pray”.  The Greek word here is not aiteo, the normal Greek word for prayer, it is eratao – which means to ask questions about.  This verse is not saying “yeah, some sins are so bad that if someone does a sin from the bad list you should simply then not pray for them or help them because they are such bad Christians” – though I know a lot of people see it that way.  It’s not saying that, it’s saying something else, something far more profound and far more Christ-like:

There is a sin unto death.  I do not say [another Christian brother] shall ask questions about it.

You see sometimes a sin is hidden until it explodes in someone’s face.  It’s not one of those times you find out about it, show love and life to the person and help them.  You only find out when the person is suddenly dealing with the consequences.  It’s now payday, the wages of sin are now being paid out in full.  His wife turfs him out, his car is repossessed, his boss fires him, his friends abandon him.  In those cases, the Scriptures are not telling you “don’t pray for such a wicked person”.  It’s saying “don’t ask any questions” – mind your own business, don’t ask for all the juicy details.  Get involved by loving, showing life, helping, praying, being kind.  Don’t get involved by trying to find out all the juicy details, and give them your tuppence worth.  No-one when their sin harvest comes in wants your tuppence worth, they want your love and life and abundance.  We live in an age of gossips, and this verse is a timely encouragement to focus on what’s important.

So if you see someone sinning before their sin payday, pray and show them love and give them some life.  If you see someone sinning after sin payday, show them love and grace and don’t get hung up on the details.  Never ever forsake someone for messing up, but love them!

Difficult Verses 4: 1 John 1.9

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Well, thanks to the people who suggested this verse as a difficult verse they want an explanation on.  I will do my best to help you grasp what this verse is saying.  The verse says this:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1.9, ESV)

And it is a difficult verse because it seems at face value that it contradicts the wealth of New Covenant Scriptures that we are forgiven because of the work of Jesus, not because of anything we do: that we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2.8-9), that the way to salvation is through believing in the work of Christ (Acts 16.31) and not by our works (Romans 4.16, 24).  If our forgiveness is dependent on our ability to confess, then we are in trouble – you don’t remember all your sins, and nor do I – so how can we possibly confess them all.

This verse is initially so difficult to reconcile with the New Covenant that some people actually seek to remove it from Scripture.  I have heard that, against all principles of letter-writing and grammar, that 1 John 1 was written to non-Christians and 1 John 2-5 was written to Christians.  I will give you three reasons why this cannot possibly be true, but firstly let’s just realize this: if your theology has to rip a New Testament letter to the church in two to avoid a verse, you are letting your theological system have more weight than the Word of God has.  That can only be reading into the text, not reading out of it.  

There are three clear reasons this verse applies to Christians today:

  • There is no chapter break between 1 and 2 in the original text.  You have to rip a letter written to the church into two to make this idea work
  • John uses first person plural pronounsin the verse: “we”, “our” and “us”.  Now if John says “we”, “our” and “us” he is including himself.  You cannot argue that this verse is not to Christians unless you want to make the case that John was not a Christian.  If this verse applies to John, it applies to you.
  • People haven’t thought through the implications of what they are saying.  For people who claim this verse isn’t for Christians, they have to then accept it is for non-Christians.  Some people say it is for all non-Christians, others have a special group of non-Christians that 1 John 1 is apparently written to (again, against all possible logic and grammar!).  One prominent teacher tells us that this first chapter of 1 John 1 is written to the Gnostics.   Now, let’s just ignore the fact that there were no Gnostics around in the 1st century when this letter was penned, and let’s just say that if it is not written to Christians then it must be written to someone!  Do the people who think that it written to non-Christians think that non-Christians (whether all of them or just a special group of them) think that non-Christians have to confess all their sins to be righteous?  Do they believe that for a certain group of Gnostics the normal rules of salvation by faith don’t apply?  It’s just not been thought through. 

I appreciate the passion people have for Christ and the complete work, but ripping verses out of the Bible, or relegating them to a secret group of people who no longer exist, because they are difficult to understand is not the way to honour the Word of God.  We have to engage with the Word and find out what it means.

So what does 1 John 1.9 mean?  Well, firstly, we have established that it is definitely written to Christians.  It is written to born-again, righteous, pure, holy, redeemed people.  John includes himself in the recipients of the letter – so it is definitely written to Christians, even mature Christians and leaders and elders!  Let’s just be honest – sometimes Christians, whether they are new Christians, older Christians or even church leaders – sin.  We get caught up in patterns of sinful behaviour and we need to get out.  This verse actually gives us a powerful route out of sin, and to relegate it to a 2nd century cult or rip it out of the letter is to do Christians a great disservice because this verse is powerful and will help you when you rightly understand it.

The first thing we need to do to find the meaning of the verse is examine the words that make it up.  Let’s start with the word “confess”, which in Greek is homologia.  Homo- means the same as, and logia means words, and homologia means to “say the same words as”.  It doesn’t mean we have to ball and squall on the floor and weep and wail about all our sins.  It isn’t talking about an emotional experience, although sinning, dealing with sin and making declarations can be emotional at times.  It is talking about you saying the same thing as God about your sin.  So what does God say about your sin?

Firstly, God says that sin is sin.  So stop calling it something else.  It’s not your personality type, it’s not a bad habit, it’s not my oopsie. It’s sin.  Gossip is sin.  Stealing is sin.  Outbursts of rage is sin.  Looking at a woman with lust in the heart, watching porn, is sin.  Sex outside of marriage is sin.  Cursing Christians is sin.  Pride and arrogance is sin.  Call it what it is.  Face up to the issue – man up and own your sin! Say out loud: “I have sinned.  This action I have done is sin, and I want to be free!”  Let’s exercise some responsibility.

Secondly, God says that your sin has been paid for on the cross.  It has been dealt with.  2 Cor. 5.21 tells us that Christ became sin with your sin so that you could be made the righteousness of God.  So your sin has been forgiven and you have died to sin.  Sin is not your master anymore because you are under grace (Romans 6.14).  Now you have accurately diagnosed your problem as sin, and are not hiding behind an excuse start to declare that you are free from sin, that you are forgiven, that you are redeemed, that you are righteous, that your spirit is pure and holy, that you are born again.  Start to declare this outloud.  That is confessing your sin – saying what God says about it.

You see you can only have God’s remedy for your problem when you admit God’s diagnosis for your problem.  Keep denying it is sin, keep blaming the other people for making you behave like that, you start to distort the world.  Your thinking darkens and you become corrupt.  Admit it is sin, declare it is sin, then you can declare God’s solution to sin: the blood of Christ and the cross of Christ.

So now you have confessed your sin, we find out that God will do two things.  Not because He is merciful and kind (though He is!) but He will do these things because He is faithful and righteous.  You see if you have sinned, and you have confessed that sin, then you need to know that God isn’t going to do what He does next because of His goodness but because of His righteousness and faithfulness.  Christ died for your sin because of God’s goodness, but now that Christ has paid the full price for sin, it would be unrighteous for God not to help you in your sin!

How does God help us?  Well, the Scripture says He forgives us and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  This again causes problems for us complete work people, we read this and go “well, I am forgiven” and “I am righteous” so what is this about?  Let’s just look a little deeper and find out.

Firstly, God forgiving us?  Aren’t we forgiven because of Jesus at the cross, rather than because of our awesome confession?  It depends what you mean by forgive.  The Greek word for forgive is also equally translated as separate, and even as divorce a couple of times.  It means to firmly and deliberately separate two things.  This verse isn’t talking about God forgiving us because we finally said sorry – I know it’s been preached that way, but God is not waiting for an apology!  Forgiveness is rooted in the cross, not our apology.  It’s talking about the fact that God will separate you from your sin – when you start declaring what the Bible says about your sin, you find that sin loses it’s power to tempt you, to control you, to hold you.  When you start declaring that you are free from sin, and sin has no dominion over you because you are under grace not law, that sin loses its power to con you into thinking you have to obey it.  That is what 1 John 1.9 means by forgiveness – it’s about being free from that sin.

Then the cleansing from all unrighteousness.  Look, we all should know that our spirits are righteous the moment we get born again. You are totally righteous in your spirit.  Therefore, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this Scripture is not talking about our spirit! Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to realize it’s talking about our souls.  Your spirit is righteous, but your soul – not so much.  If you had an x-ray machine that could see spirit and soul, and you were standing next to Jesus and you set the machine to spirit – you would not be able to tell the difference between you and Jesus.  You are one spirit (1 Cor. 6.17).  That’s awesome – your spirit is the righteousness of God.

But if you turned the dial on the machine and set it to soul – to thought processes, to how we think and respond and feel.  I am guessing it wouldn’t be that hard to work out which one is Jesus and which one is us!  Our souls are not yet fully renewed and not yet fully restored – we are a work in progress in our souls.  But when we start declaring the Word of God and what God says about sin – confessing our sins – then God, in His faithfulness and righteousness – starts to cleanse our souls from that unrighteousness.  Our thoughts start to line up with His thoughts, our ways subsume into His ways.  It’s awesome!  You see now why the power of this verse means that it should not be relegated to non-Christians or Gnostics or ripped out of the Bible!  It’s part of grace!

Now you sin and most of the time, you can pick yourself up again.  This verse isn’t saying to confess all our sins, it’s talking about those times where a sin or group of sins just seems to be having the victory over us and our life.  Sometimes, and it happens to all of us, a certain sin just seems to get the better of us.  It seems to be winning.  In those cases, here are the 4 steps to victory:

  1. Agree with God that it is a sin.  Stop making excuses or blaming the others, or your DNA, or the situation.  It is sin.  Confess (declare) that your actions are sinful.  This is the diagnosis that allows the remedy – if you can’t make the right diagnosis, you won’t take the right cure!
  2. Agree with God that sin has been dealt with on the cross.  Start to declare and agree with God that sin has been dealt with.  That you died to sin, that sin is not your master.  Read Romans 6.1-14 out loud.  Declare that it is for freedom that you have been set free.  Declare that your spirit is righteous, that you are pure and holy.  Confess (agree with God) that this sin has been dealt with on the cross.
  3. God will then forgive (separate) you from your sin.  You will find as you declare and agree with God what He says about your sin that it’s power is dethroned.  Your confession gives you authority and wisdom.  It dislodges the sin from your thoughts, and God jumps in and separates you and your sin.
  4. God will cleanse you (your soul) from all unrighteousness.  He will start to help you renew your mind and think God thoughts.

The Christian life is not just health and wealth, it’s also manifest righteousness.  It’s living free from sin, living free from selfishness.  Never having to lose relationships because of your selfishness is one of the best blessings about living the Christian life.  And confession of sin, as defined Biblically – not culturally or dogmatically – is one of the most powerful tools in the Christian life.  Don’t follow the people who because of the misusers of this verse have become non-users of this verse!  Become a user of this verse and learn how to live a life free from sin today. 

Difficult Verses 3: Revelation 2.4-5 (part I)

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Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place

 

Revelations 2.4-5 has been used to condemn and beat Christians up.  A lot of verses are!  The carnal nature of man is always looking for hooks of fear and guilt to control other people.  And because we read any information or text through the lens of our mind, we can find whatever we want in the Scripture.  This verse is traditionally used to say: the Ephesian church had a problem, it stopped loving God.  It didn’t love God enough.  It didn’t love Jesus enough.  Therefore, it has fallen, and needs to repent of this lack of love for God and if it doesn’t repent it will lose it’s lampstand.

Then the application is made: you don’t love God enough.  You don’t love God enough.  You need to change and love God more.  If you don’t God is going to kill you – curse you – stop you – hurt you.  And the only way to avoid God ripping apart your lampstand is to love Him more.

There are a lot of problems with the traditional understanding of these verses, and we need to unpack each of them one after the other to create a new lens to see this verse properly.

You see the most common way this verse is used is “get back to loving Jesus the way you did when you first met Him”.  Normally, this is used as an emotional thing: have the same feelings as you did back then.  I can’t disagree more with this understanding of the verse.  I have been married 17 years now, and I love my wife more than I ever have.  When we first met, I was so nervous around her because I fancied her so much, I could barely speak.  That’s great – but you can’t do 17 years of marriage like that!  In the last 17 years, we have had 4 babies, faced the death of loved ones, planted 3 churches, fought false accusations, struggled with different issues and problems.  In all of that our love has matured and grown beyond all measure.  To give that up for an immature, teenage love again would not be a step forward it would be a massive step back!

It’s the same with Jesus.  I love Him more now than 20 years ago when we first met.  Together, we have faced adversities, seen the sick healed, and I have found out more about His grace and goodness than I ever had.  I love Him more now than ever.  It may not be the full rush emotional feeling I had back then, but that’s a sign of maturing not backsliding!  Growing up means realizing that romantic love is more than an orgasm, friendship love is more than going out and getting smashed together, and love for God is more than just a rush.

Last week, Dave Duell was with us at the Tree of Life Network.  He did a men’s breakfast for us.  A guy was prayed for who none of us knew and he started yelling and screaming how much he loved God.  It was loud, it was shocking.  I have nothing against that – but it was not a sign of maturity, it was a sign of starving.  If there is someone who is eating regularly, and I buy them a bacon roll, they will say thanks.  If I buy someone who is starving and who hasn’t eaten for weeks a bacon roll, then they will make a lot of fuss and noise as they eat it and be over the top in their thanksgiving.  It’s not maturity that makes them like that, it’s starvation.  I am not against loud and not against expressiveness, and not against any of that – but there’s more to love than just an emotional experience.  True love is about commitment, loyalty, humility and service; not screaming, shouting and blood rushes.  The guys in that room who are in church every week, in living church every week, serving the church, giving to the church – they weren’t shouting and hollering – their love is grown and mature.

So if that’s what Jesus meant when he said return to your first love, he would be telling us to be more immature.  That doesn’t make sense.

So to find out what forsaken first love means, let’s broaden the search and see what hte Bible says about love.  In Ephesians 3.18 Paul does not pray that the Ephesians would love God more, but that they would know more about God’s love for them.  God doesn’t love us because we love Him – but rather we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).

So if we only love in response to Him… what then is the FIRST LOVE?  It’s not our love for Him, that comes second.  The first love is His love for us.  The Ephesians were working hard (read Rev. 2.1-7), they were serving God, but they were not serving out of a revelation of His love for them.  That sums up a lot of churches today – doing a lot, but it is not rooted and grounded in His love for us.

And there is only one way to forget and forsake the first love – to mix some law in with the grace.  To pollute the blood of Jesus with the blood of animals.  To stop preaching the good news of the unconditional love of Christ and mix in some rules and regulations with it.  To stop proclaiming His complete work, and start addressing that people need to complete the work with some of their good works.  That is forsaking the first love: that is rejecting the love of God.

That is what the Ephesians needed to repent of.  They didn’t need to get on their faces and try and work up some immature rush of love.  They didn’t need to weep and wail and try and force themselves to love God.  They needed to change their thinking about Christ and Him crucified, and realize that His work is complete because His love is perfect.

You see without that you can do good works, but they are not the works of Christ.  Putting a bandage on a sick person is a good work, healing them is a work of Christ.  Feeding a homeless man is a good work, praying for him and seeing a supernatural job and house appear is a work of Christ.  Counselling is a good work, transformation through the preaching of the Word and seeing people released from addictions and depressions is the work of Christ.  Leadership training is a good work, bearing fruit is the work of Christ.

You can only do the works of Christ with a revelation of the love of God and an understanding of the complete work.  You have to repent from thinking you can or need to add to the complete work of Christ.  You need to return to your first love: His love for you!

If not then the lampstand will be taken!  That’s not a personal verse, it’s a verse to the whole church.  The lampstand was the light in the church.  You see if a whole church forgets the love of God, it will lose it’s light.  Not because God wants to punish a church like that, but because you cannot put new wine in old wineskins.  It doesn’t work… the skin will rip.  You cannot put the new wine of the love of God into the old wineskins of the law and performance.

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