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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.

God is YOUR FATHER!

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God is Your FATHER!

http://treeoflifelondon.weebly.com/the-father-and-his-family.html

God loves you. It doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter what you do, God loves you. It is a lie that God’s love for you depends on your performance.

In this bold, uncompromising sermon Benjamin preaches the truth about a God who is not a harsh God looking to get you, but a tender Father looking to get stuff to you. This is a foundational message that every Christian needs to build into their life – it will set you free from worry, fear and sadness for EVER!

Romans 2.13

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(For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

This is a verse that without paying careful attention to context and to systematic theology is one that you could easily take to mean the exact opposite of what Paul actually means.

Paul is talking to religious people.  He has essentially just told that God has no favourites and that they will be judged by the law.  They think because they know the law they will escape condemnation and be welcomed into heaven.  There are still people like that in the world today – I go to church, I will therefore go to heaven.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  You cannot be justified by hearing the law.  You cannot be just (righteous) by hearing the law.  It does not matter how many times I stand up in the pulpit and tell people “Do not lie”, that will NEVER make them right with God.

So many preachers seem to have no idea of this Biblical truth: you cannot be made righteous by hearing the law.  I could get in the pulpit and go to people “Do not lie”, “Do not commit adultery”, “Do not steal” and it would not make anyone right with God.  It might make someone feel guilty or condemned, it might make someone feel out of sorts, depressed and sad, but it will never make someone right with God.

Yet today there are whole sections of the church where if you go to their churches and conferences, you will be a hearer of the law.  They will tell you what to do, what the law says, what holiness is all about.  I was in discussion with someone about one of these preachers once and they say “I love that preacher, when he preaches it is like a kick in the kidneys”.  Who wants a kick in the kidneys?  Who goes to church to be told how vile and horrible they are and how much they have broken the law?

Yet some people want to get involved with sermons that tear them to pieces.  Some people venerate sermons that are hard-hitting and condemning.  One example is a sermon once preached called Sinners in the Hands of Angry God.  We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God.  God’s not an angry God – He is a loving Father.  Sending Jesus to redeem us was HIS IDEA!  The man who preached that we were sinners in the hands of an angry God depressed people in his church so much people went and killed themselves!  When he was told, he said that God made them kill themselves.   That’s not Biblical – and no matter how much law you hear, it will never make you right with God.

But religious people think because they have heard the law, they are right with God.  Because they went to church heard the sermon and now feel like dirt, they think they are right with God.  Everyone else who has not heard the legalistic message of the law is not right with God, and being religious they then judge everyone else.  Especially if you know about grace and love and you have some joy and some contentment and some security in your walk with God.  They want to drag you down to their level and have you meditate on how evil you are.  There is one guy even calls his radio ministry “Wretched” to emphasis that we are wretches.  That is true without God’s grace and goodness, but we are never without God’s grace and goodness.

But then Paul says this: you are made righteous by obeying the law.  Now, in several places in Romans Paul makes it more than clear that we are not made righteous by obeying the law.  But here Paul says: doers of the law will be made righteous (justified).

How can this make sense?  It makes sense when you realize the point Paul is trying to make: if you want to use the law to be made righteous, you need to do it.  Yes, all of it.  Every single bit.  Just hearing a message on the law is not enough, you need to put it perfectly into practise.  Paul is trying to take the sails out of the wind of the religious people by saying just hearing a condemning message is not enough – you need to put it entirely into practise!

If you cannot obey God perfectly and obey the entire law of Moses perfectly, then you are never going to be made righteous listening to the law.  So, go and listen to the gospel instead.  The word gospel means good news – find a preacher preaching good news.  Find someone preaching life and faith, find someone preaching repentance and the kingdom.  Stay clear from people who punch you in the kidneys and find someone who places a hand on your shoulder and tells you: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

Romans 2.4

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Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

Paul is talking still about religious people: about people who come to God on the basis of what they have done, not on the basis of what He has done. Religion ruins lives.

As we have seen in verses 1-3, religion leads you to judge people for things that you do yourself. It leads you to criticise people for doing things wrong that you do yourself. It leads you to having a double standard for judging people – if person X commits sin Y then you condemn them and judge them. When you commit the same sin, you justify yourself because of your motivation or your other good works. In short, religion makes you judgmental, critical, acerbic and rude. No-one likes a religious person.

Jesus on the other hand is gracious, kind, redemptive, helpful, gentle and easy to live with. If people truly know Jesus they are great people to be around. They are easy to live with, they are kind, patient and gentle.

Religion is awful.

Now, this verse contains some wonderful instruction. It explains why religious people are so condemning, judgmental and hypocritical.

The reason is this: they hate the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering. Never, ever hate God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering.

Let’s look at these three elements of God individually:

1. God’s goodness

The Greek word for goodness is chrēstotēs. It can be translated as goodness or benignity or kindness. It means that God is never mean, never malicious, never hurtful. It means that God does not have plans to harm us, does not want revenge on us when we sin, is not holding back anything from us.

It means God is good and good means good. God loves us and God is for us. You can cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you. He adores you. He only wants to do good for you, He only speaks good words about you, He only acts for your good. He truly is awesome!

Religious people do not realize that God is rich in goodness. They think that if you do something wrong, God will immediately withhold His blessing and get revenge. Some religious people will tell you that God is behind all the evil in the world. Others will tell you that you are not healed or not wealthy because of your sin or your lack of goodness or lack of service.

All these ideas have their root in despising the goodness of God and not having a clue of who God really is!

2. God’s forbearance

The Greek word for forbearance is anochē. It means the ability to put up with things. God is rich in forbearance. God is tolerant.

If you have messed up today, God is not looking to get you and beat you up for it. God is rich in the ability to put up with things. Look how much you did wrong before you were born again! God put up with all of that, and still when you repented and believed accepted you fully and made you fully righteous.

Now you are in God’s family: He puts up with anything you do.

Religious people are not tolerant. They will not put up with anything. If you sin you are out the door. Heaven forbid if you do something wrong that people find out about. If you break the religious community rules you will be shunned. That is what religious people are like: they will turn on you as quickly as you can imagine. They are not tolerant because they do not know the tolerance of God. God is gracious! God can put up with things.

The more you realize the goodness and graciousness of God, the easier it is to develop a real genuine relationship with Him.

3. God’s longsuffering

God’s forbearance is God’s ability to put up with anything you do wrong and not shun you or kick you out of the community. It is a form of mercy: God’s mercy is God’s ability not to treat you as your sins deserve.

God’s longsuffering is God’s ability to love you and care about you and passionately desire to be with you no matter what you have done. It is a form of God’s grace. God’s mercy is not giving you what you deserve, God’s grace is giving you what you do not deserve.

God’s longsuffering is God’s ability to love you and bless you even when you do not deserve it. It comes from the Greek word makrothymia, which is translated patience or longsuffering in the KJV. It comes from two words: makro, meaning long; and thymos which means passion or heat.

Listen: even on your worst day, God still feels passion for you. He is the God of macro-passion. He dotes on you, cares for you, loves you passionately.

Religious people cannot deal with this. They cannot sustain their passion for God or for people. They cloak their lack of passion for God and for people with religious cliches. They hate people who turn up and who pray with passion, preach with passion, love with passion, serve with passion. Religious people portray an austere God, not a God hot with passion.

There is even a doctrine many churches in the UK teach called impassibility. This means that God cannot experience pain or pleasure from our actions. It is heresy – the Bible is clear: he CAN be touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Hebrews 4.15). Not only that: it leads to people not being able to understand God, so it stops people having a real relationship with Him.

Muslims also teach that God has no emotions, no passion, no heat. It is simply not true: God can be made happy by your actions. God can be grieved by your actions.

Listen: God adores you. He is passionate about you. When you fail and you feel pain, He feels it more. His love for you is boundless, it is passionate, it is red-hot. He adores you.

Conclusion

When you realize that God is good, longsuffering and tolerant you start to enjoy His company. It is when you accept the lie that God is some short-fused difficult to please monster that you run far far away from Him.

People often get worried and concerned when you teach that God is good, that God forgives, that God does not hold sin against you. They start to panic: if you do that they say, people will do whatever they want. They will live in sin and rebel.

That is absolutely not true. It is the truth that sets people free. When the truth that God is good and kind is preached, it leads people to repentance. The Greek word for repentance means to change your thinking.

It is ONLY when you realize that God is good, can you actually change your life and live a pure, holy, loving, kind life. Religious people do not live a pure life, they are critical hypocrites. They are cruel, mean and condemning. If you sin they will judge you and fail to love you. They are not godly. They have a form of godliness, but no power. People who think that God is out to get them may look holy, they ARE NOT.

When you realize that God is good and that He adores you, that does not make you want to go and do what you want. It makes you want to tell God how much you love Him, to go and show that love and goodness to some stranger, to go and serve your family, to honour His life and goodness and to go and preach the gospel to the world.

I adjure you: NEVER NEVER NEVER despise the riches of God’s goodness, God’s forbearance and God’s longsuffering. Rather enjoy those riches and share them with the world!

Glory and freedom,
Benjamin

The Death of Conscience

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The Death of Conscience By Rebecca Hagelin

(from: http://www.worldviewtimes.com/article.php/articleid-5224/Brannon-Howse/Rebecca-Hagelin)

Our teenagers are more sexually active than any generation of youth before them. They also are consuming more pornography and compromising basic moral standards more often. It seems that many of them have lost not only their innocence, but their conscience, too.

The plethora of negative and immoral behaviors glorified by a media world that’s gone stark raving mad — combined with graphic, non-judgmental sex education and a highly sexualized culture in general — causes many of them to lose understanding of what is wrong and what is right.

When a young child’s sensibilities are constantly violated, and he begins to ignore the natural pangs of guilt after yielding to cultural pressures, he can end up being miserable, and begins to develop a hard heart and weak spirit.

If we as parents blindly turn our own hearts away from them because we’re scared of confrontation, or because we’re too lazy to do “the hard stuff” like fight for their integrity, we have a hand in dooming their young spirits to inner torment. And, ultimately, if the pattern continues, to the loss of basic decency and sensitivity to evil.

In chapter 32, the Psalmist reflects on the misery that comes with ignoring a guilty conscience:
“When I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me. I moaned all day long. Day and night you punished me, my strength was gone as in the summer heat.”

Do you really want your child to live that way?

It’s critical as a parent to take control and do everything in your power to make certain that the culture does not molest your child’s young mind. Setting standards for media consumption can help avoid a lot of regrets, especially when it comes to the evil of pornography. But since we are all sinners, we also need to learn to recognize when our children might be feeling uncomfortable and guilty — and offer them hope and a way out of their despair.

Talk often about God’s miracles of forgiveness, redemption and restoration. These concepts are foreign to our modern world, yet they are as tranformational today as they were for the Pslamist and when God offered his forgiveness to a sinful world as he sent his son to atone for the sins of all who would accept him.

I John 1:9 promises: “When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Our children experience the beautiful gifts of wisdom and grace when we help them develop their conscience and teach them how to respond to feelings of guilt. We need to be bold about sharing with them the life-giving power and joy that comes with confession. Tears of repentance over wrongs done makes our hearts strong, yet maleable in the hands of a a loving God. Ignoring our sins turns us into desperate, weak souls with hearts of stone.

In Psalm 32, the author actually begins the passage with what we can look forward to when we confess our sins to the loving and merciful God:
“Happy is the person whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs have been pardoned. Happy is the person whom the Lord does not consider guilty, and in whom there is nothing false.”

The forgiveness and joy that comes with sincere repentance is the  best news mankind has ever heard! Have your own children heard it?‬

March for Repentance

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Yesterday I had the privilege of taking part in the UK March for Repentance.  The march ran from Hyde Park past Westminter Abbey and the Houses of Parliament down to Trafalgar Square where there were a number of speakers and prayers for the nation.  I phoned up the organisers of the event a week or two and asked if there was anything I could do to help, and ended up wearing a day-glo yellow-green jacket and helping steward.

This was not a difficult task because the crowd were very peaceful.  The hardest part of the march was carrying people’s bags, chairs and a large number of bottles of water!

There was a strong sense of the presence of God on the march, and it was remarkable how people stopped as we marched and looked at us and were very interested and open in our message.  I am convinced that there were more people at the end of the march than when we started.  The route of the march led right past the office I work in during the week and that was surreal marching past my office with hundreds of Christian praying for the people around, singing Christian hymns and being in the presence of God so strongly.

As always at these events we meet new people from all over the globe, and I met a lovely Welsh lady called Heather and her friend Steve who are involved in a prayer ministry in north Wales.  I am sure we will meet again and maybe help extend the kingdom of God together.

I will write a little bit on the state of the nation during this week and put on my photographs from the event.

Church in the 21st Century… (William Booth)

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William Booth (Founder of The Salvation Army) when asked to comment about the issues confronting Britain at the turn of the century said:-

* There will be religion without the Holy Spirit

* There will be Christianity without Christ

* There will be Forgiveness without Repentance

* There will be Salvation without Regeneration

* There will be Politics without God

* Heaven without Hell...  Selah.

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