Monday, January 23, 2023

Top 10 Best Quotes from "Live Not by Lies" by Rod Dreher


Have you read the masterpiece by Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies? It's brilliant I'm in the midst of it right now. This needs to go on your must read list for 2023. Do it! It's a real page turner I can barely put it down. I've highlighted and underlined every page. But I would like to share my top ten favorite quotes from the book, but this will only include part one. I'm only halfway through it is why.

These quotes are dealing with the problems we face, in part one. So I want to challenge you to pray specifically for God to move in these areas that concern us. If Christians pray, and ask God to move in these areas, we will see breakthroughs.

"In 2005, the sociologists of religion Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe the decadent form that Christianity had taken in contemporary America. It consists of the general belief that God exists, wants nothing more from us than to be nice and to be happy. In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 12-13

"..the death of God in the West had given birth to a new civilization devoted to liberating the individual to seek his own pleasures and to managing emergent anxieties. Religious Man who lived according to belief in transcendent principles that ordered human life around communal purposes, had given way to Psychological Man, who believed that there was no transcendent order and that life's purpose was to find one's own way experimentally. Man no longer understood himself to be a pilgrim on a meaningful journey with others, but as a tourist who traveled through life according to his own self-designed itinerary, with personal happiness his ultimate goal. This was a revolution even more radical than the 1917 Bolshevik event, said Rieff. For the first time, humankind was seeking to create a civilization based on the negation of any binding transcendent order." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 11-12

"What is happening here? A progressive -and profoundly anti-Christian militancy is steadily overtaking society; one described by Pope Benedict XVI as a "worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies" that pushes dissenters to society's margins." -Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. xiii

"The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people's fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, "Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!" -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. xiv

"This totalitarianism is therapeutic (soft totalitarianism of political correctness). It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 7

"Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party's demands was enforced by the state. Today's totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic - and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 8

Today in our societies, dissenters from the woke party line find their businesses, careers, and reputations destroyed. They are pushed out of the public square, stigmatized, canceled, and demonized as racists, sexists, homophobes, and the like. And they are afraid to resist, because they are confident that no one will join them or defend them." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 8-9

"In Orwell's fictional dystopia, the state installed "telescreens" in private homes to keep track of individual's lives. Today we install smart speakers into our homes to increase our sense of well-being. How did maximizing a feeling of well-being become the ultimate goal of modern people and societies?" -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 11

Almost a quarter century before the fall of the Berlin wall, Rieff predicted that communism would not be able to withstand the cultural revolution coming from the West, one that purported to set the individual free to pursue hedonism and individualism. If there is no sacred order, then the original promise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden- "Ye shall be as gods" is the foundational principle of the new culture." --Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 12

"A Soviet-born US physician told me - after I agreed not to use his name - that he never posts anything remotely controversial on social media, because he knows that the human resource department at his hospital monitors employee accounts for evidence of disloyalty to the progressive "diversity and inclusion" creed. That same doctor disclosed that social justice ideology is forcing physicians like him to ignore their medical training and judgment when it comes to transgender health. He said it is not permissible within his institution to advise gender-dysphoric patients against treatments they desire, even when a physician believes it is not in that particular patient's health interest." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 41

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Death of Polycarp at Smyrna: How to Give Up Everything for Christ




Smyrna as you can see on the map was located on the Aegean sea and was considered the gateway into Europe from the middle east. Smyrna was known for it’s production of fine materials, in fact, Smyrna was known for production of frankincense and myrrh. Primarily for myrrh. And myrrh was a substance known to be used in burial rituals to cover the smell of the dead. Indeed, death would be associated with the church in Smyrna, because they would face severe persecution, and martyrdom.

Many Christians would be killed for their faith in the first few hundred years of Chrsitianity, many of whom lived in Smyrna. Most famous of all these martyrs was a man named Polycarp.

Polycarp’s crime essentially was refusing to worship the government. In ancient Rome it was expected that citizens would regard Caesar, the leader of the government as a god. Now, Jewish communities in the roman empire had gained an exception from worshipping Caesar. But the early Christian communities did not share this exception.

And the Jewish synagogues in Smryna were all too eager to blame controversies on the Christians in the area. And so the Jews were protected from death, and the Christians were burned at the stake and fed to the lions.

So Polycarp found himself staked to a tree. Normally they would be nailed to the post so they wouldn’t run. But Polycarp said no need, I won’t run, I’ll stay in the flames, for Christ.

Tradition tells us that they lit the pile of wood but the wind blew so hard it wouldn’t burn Polycarp properly. So finally they ordered a guard to go over and stab him with his sword, and Polycarp did at last die for Christ. That was 155 AD.

And today in the United States, 2023, we Christians today may also face persecution. Not necessarily being fed to the lions or burned at the stake, but, a salvation army soldier when to witness to a drug dealer, and he got a gun put to his head, and the trigger got pulled and he died. At a shooting in California about 10 years ago, people were asked are you a Christian and if they said yes they got a bullet. So yes, even death, and in China or North Korea or parts of the middle east, yes, death is a danger everyday. But in the USA, and Europe, today it’s like a few weeks ago, a woman was arrested and put in jail in the UK, because she was standing outside a planned parenthood facility, silently praying. She wasn’t even praying out loud, just standing there, praying in her head. And the police were called and she confessed to committing this crime of praying at this facility and she was taken to jail. Her name is Isabel Vaughan-Spruce.

But it’s not often in the United States something where the police will come get you. It’s more just a quiet pressure, all around us, to stay quiet, and just be nice and polite. Just a quiet pressure to not say anything. Because you might get criticized. People might think you’re a weird religious type. And it’s interesting how this keeps us quiet. And we’re afraid to speak up. That is the oppressiveness in our nation today I think for Christians is simply the quiet pressure to shut up. And I’ll tell you this, you have to train yourself to be brave and courageous. And you do so by speaking up. And as you speak up, your courage grows.

But I’ll also tell you this, as you refuse to speak up and stay quiet, the fear grows and pretty soon it’s harder to speak up. So do speak up. And yeah, it may cause controversy. But be ok with that. That’s your calling. Just speak up anyway. And be brave. Because then you’re training yourself to be brave. And that develops a pattern of behavior. And pretty soon it’s normal and easy. But at first it might be a little tough. That’s 2023.

But back in 155 AD Polycarp died for the truth. His words were striking, before the Roman procouncil Quadratus, when the procounsel asked him to deny Jesus.

Polycarp's last words: "Eighty and six years I have served Christ, and He has never done me any harm. How then, could I blaspheme my King who saved Me? ... I bless You for considering me worthy of this day and this hour that I may be among your martyrs and drink the cup of my Lord Jesus Christ."

And about 60 years earlier, John knew the body of believers would face persecution. And he received a message from Jesus Christ our savior, for the persecuted church. He wrote the words down that Jesus gave him, word for word, to the church in Smyrna. So let’s look at them. They say this…

“The First and the Last, who was dead and came to life, says these things: 9 I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich). And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

God is speaking to this church in a very intentional way. He says I was dead, and I’m alive again, and that will be you too. Recognize the long game. Recognize death is not the end. Do you understand that? You have to understand that if you’re going to be an overcomer.

Because the Christian life is full of trials and tribulations, but the greatest trial is the trial of physical death. All of us will face it one day. But for the church in Smyrna they are offered either turn away from Christ, or die. And that means I’m going to die before my time. We all want life. But could we die for Christ? That’s the challenge. Most of us here may never face that challenge. But we may face the challenge, will I speak up for Jesus or will I stay quiet? And we need to decide firmly in our hearts and minds to speak up boldly, even if our voice shakes. Even if we stutter a little. And even if we get in trouble. Or lose our job. Or even get arrested. And I think we need to have it in our minds and hearts, that if necessary I will die for Christ.

Would you die for Christ? Honestly, would you? You’ve got a family, you’ve got a wife or husband, a nice home, a good apartment, children even, you need to care for, would you still die for Christ?

That’s what would happen in this church in Smyrna. God says to them, “9 I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich).

Jesus says, I know. Jesus knows us. He knows what we go through. I received a word from God once, in my life, and Jesus said in that word, I know you. What a wonderful thing. Truly wonderful. God knows.

He knows their sorrow, their hard work, their difficulties, and their poverty. All three things Jesus personally experienced in His own life on planet Earth. So he really does know. And, he says, you’re really rich. It seems like you’re materially poor, you’re actually rich.

Do you understand that? Do you really? Material wealth. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, I’m richer than them all,, because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I have the life of God living within me, and if you really do know God and follow Him, and love Him, you’re richer than a billionaire. That’s a fact. If you don’t really believe that yet, that’s OK, you’ll get there. You’re still a bit brainwashed by the world and the flesh. But you will get there God willing.

Immediately after that Jesus says to them, “And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

One of the chief problems for the church in Smyrna was the jewish synagogue there, they were denounced by this synagogue again and again and again. This group had protection from the laws of Rome, about worshipping the government. But, the Christians were an easy target, a new group, that were considered outsiders.

In fact when Polycarp was killed for his faith, many in the crowd were the Jews from the synagogue denouncing Him before the roman authorities. Very similar of course to the crucifixion of Jesus, brought before the romans, denounced by the pharisees and taken to the be killed in the end.

God tells them next: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.”

Don’t be afraid. I’m with you. And here is what is going to happen, he says, “Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you will have tribulation for ten days.”

Who is throwing them in jail? Not the Romans, not the Jewish synagogue, no, it’s Satan, the adversary.

Same with us today, when we face persecution, it is not the people doing it, it is the spirit of the anti-christ, it’s Satan, attacking us. And our job is to bear up, stand firm, persevere, and God helps us. He protects us. He gives us the faith and courage to stand firm.

And often we come out the other side of the trials and difficulties victorious. And our enemies are defeated. We win the victory.

But it can also go another way. Often times when we face difficulties and persecutions if we hold close to Christ and love our enemies, the end of the ordeal is God preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemy. Our enemies are powerless, but can only watch as God blesses us, and it ends that way. That’s it. Victory.

But it can also go like this, like it did for Polycarp, or Justin Martyr, or Perpetua, or William Tyndale or of course the first martyr Stephen. Our enemies take us, bring us before the authorities, the authorities deem us guilty, and we are killed for our faith, or our enemies capture us and kill us.

That’s why Jesus says at the end, here is my command to you in this situation: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Some Christians today have this idea that if we pray and stay strong in the faith, we’ll have victory over all our problems, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes that is how things go. But, it may come to that point where we must be faithful unto to death.

It reminds me of a woman who I met with several times when I was in upper Michigan, at a nursing home, she was a godly woman, had been a Sunday school teacher, very active in her church, loved Jesus, came to the Bible studies I would have at the facility, bishop noa home it was called, her name was Margaret.

But her last few years had been difficult. She had lost her eye sight, it kept getting worse and worse until she couldn’t see anything at all. Then she had a fall and broke her hip. And she was bed ridden, sickly, could barely function and she struggled in those days to keep hope. She just wanted to go home to be with Jesus. And I’m sure one day soon she did. But she had to be faithful unto death. That’s not the end we all dream of, left alone in a nursing home, going blind, broken hip, and feeling forgotten. But I believe, she was faithful unto death.

That is one way to be faithful unto death. And someday some of us here may fae the same challenge of the church in Smyrna, give your life for Jesus, be martyred for Jesus. We don’t know what the future holds for the United States of America. Christians are not particularly well respected in the USA. In fact by many, we’re viewed as backwards bigots and haters. Would it really a stretch to say that we might one day face persecution in the way of death? In 25 years or 40 years? Consider the changes that took place in the USA from the 1950s and 60s to today. I don’t think it’s a stretch.

So, I think it is wise, if we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church today. Be willing to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. And I want each of you to consider now, this question: If necessary, would I give my life for Jesus? If I was told by some governing authority or some group, you must abandon your relationship with Jesus Christ, or be killed, what would you say? That is the question.

My suggestion is this: Decide and commit in your heart today, not just your mind, but your heart: I will die for Jesus if necessary. I would rather be physically killed then give up my love for Jesus.

Because what would happen, if I gave up my faith in Jesus? What if I did renounce Him? Well, I’ve saved my physical life. But, I’ve condemned my soul to a eternity in hell. So we should see the eternal picture. If I die for Jesus, I’ll receive eternal life, and in the next life, it will be a table prepare for me in the presence of my enemies just like Psalm 23 says, because I’ll receive eternal rewards, they will receive condemnation. But if I give up my faith to keep my physical life, well, I’ve given up my eternal soul.

Monday, January 16, 2023

A Man after God's Own Heart: David's Early Life as a Shepherd

  
We’re going to examine the life of the one of the great historical figures, a man named David. If there’s one person I want to mimic in my devotion to Christ it’s David. He is the prime example from the Old Testament of a godly man, a man the Bible says, was a man after God’s own heart.

There are many ways to examine scripture, we can look at it from a historical perspective, from a devotional approach, but for this series we want to look directly at the character of David himself, and how he responded to the story God had playing out for Him. And it wasn’t an easy journey for David. He had a hard life.

David starts off as the youngest of many brothers. Probably often forgotten. Often

1st Samuel 16: 11-13 And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is shepherding the flock.”

Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

12 So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy with beautiful eyes and a good appearance.

And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord came on David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.”

David was anointed as the king of Israel as a young man, and that would define his life for many years. He was a young king in exile. Because technically Saul was still king. But Saul had displeased God. And so God would slowly work in David’s life to bring him to the seat of the throne. Which is our first point today, God may appoint you to something before you’re actually there. It’s in your future, but God has already declared it over you. Now you’ve got to wait until it comes to pass in the real world, and that takes time, and patience. One of the core aspects of David’s character was patience, an ability to wait well.

Does that define you as well? Are you good at waiting?

Notice in verse 13, as soon as Samuel anointed David, it says the Spirit of the Lord came upon David, and stayed with him from that day on.

Next it says in 1st Samuel 16, “4 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord terrified him.

15 So the servants of Saul said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God troubles you. 16 Let our lord now tell your servants, who are before you, that they might seek out a man experienced in playing the lyre. And it will come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he will play with his hand, and you will be well.”

17 Saul said to his servants, “Find me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.”

18 Then one from the servants answered, and said, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is experienced in playing music, a mighty man of valor, a man of battle, and skillful in words, even a man of fine appearance. And the Lord is with him.”

19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.”

Second point, God is the one who will bring about turns and twists in events to get you where you need to be. Don’t try to force it on your own, or figure out how it will happen.

Does it say that David incessantly worried about what events he needed to try to make happen so he would end up on the throne of Israel? No. Because David knew God would make it happen. And sure enough, David played the harp. And God made sure the right person noticed him playing the harp, who was an advisor to King Saul, and just like that, David ended up face to face with the King of the country.

That’s point number two, you need to trust God to make it happen even if it seems impossible. Faith. That’s trust and faith. And also linked to patience. Trust God to orchestrate events to make things work out the way they should, not necessarily the way you want them, but the way they should.

In verses 21-23 “David came to Saul, and stood before him. And Saul loved him greatly and he became his armor bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”

23 It happened that when the evil spirit from God came on Saul, David would take the lyre in his hand and play. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”

Thirdly, not only does God arrange for Saul and David to meet like this, but God arranges Sauls response to David to be very positive, where he senses God’s spirit with Him, and David is then hired on as an the armor bearer for King Saul. He now has direct access to the throne room, he’s in with the king’s court, he’s favored by the king, and God has him on His way toward his destiny. All of it orchestrated by God.

David did the foot work, he went when he was called, played his instrument, followed God, and the Spirit of the Lord abided in Him. He let God be in control, and simply walked the path, as God set things up in His favor.

Patience. He waited many years, I’m sure knowing in his heart he was meant for something more. And God brought it to pass, and yet at soon as he was anointed another season of waiting began. Patience.

Secondly, faith, David didn’t try to manipulate or control events, he let God be God. He had trust, that God would bring it to pass. He simply trusted and waited, and God orchestrated events to bring him in.

Thirdly favor, God made sure as David walked in faith, that he would find special favor with Saul, and Saul would hire him on.

Patience, Faith, and Favor. Just like David we want to live with those sort of characteristics, which are ours in Christ jesus our savior. He brings them out in us. Which is amazing. Let’s walk in that way today. God bless you.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation: The Church in Ephesus


What are the authoritative sources in your life? Who do you trust for information? This is more important than we might realize. Most people would probably say the education system, television, tv news, doctors, academics, trusted friends, or college.

When we receive information from these various sources we tend to trust the information as being something we can believe is true.

I have certain sources that I trust completely. There are other sources that I kind of trust. And there are other sources that I distrust. Still other sources I outright reject.

What are your authoritative sources?

Prior to becoming a Christian my highest trusted sources would’ve been news media, doctors, things I learned in college, science, experts, and so on.

Today after becoming a Christian that list would be very different. I tend to distrust the news media. I tend to distrust things that I had been taught in college, I tend to be more skeptical of the claims of experts and scientists. Today my highest trusted authority is of course the Bible, the word of God. I also tend to trust many teachers of the word of God.

The Bible went from having zero authority in my life, to having prime authority in my life.

What is your authority? Is it the Bible? Or do you trust the news and the experts and the proclamations of society more?

It’s not something we’re suddenly immune to once we become Christians. Even as Christians we can distrust the Bible and put too much trust in culture and society and the television. That’s why you see Christians who support abortion or gay marriage. That’s why you see Christians who champion political causes they’ve seen in the news that actually contradict the word of God.

This world has many deceptions. Be careful what you’re believing. Be sure to trust God over any man or woman.

So, today, we begin a new series, where we’ll be examining 7 letters that Jesus gave, in the book of Revelation.

We talked about how even as Christians we can be deceived. Many Christians refuse to open the book of Revelation. They’re afraid of it. And they don’t like the way God is portrayed in Revelation. Even someone like Martin Luther the greater reformer disliked the book of Revelation and didn’t regard it as Holy Spirit inspired for many years. But later in his life he did begin to speak more positively of it. He said similar things about the book of James as well. Should we dislike Revelation? Or run from it? No, absolutely not. The book of Revelation is wonderful. It's part of the trusted canon of scripture. 

And I think in the letters to the seven churches we can find a great deal of useful and wise teachings.

As we begin this series I’d like to give you a proper introduction. Tradition indicates that all of the disciples of Jesus lost their lives as they traveled to proclaim the message of His resurrection. All of them aside from one, John, who was poisoned, but survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos.

While John was on the island of Patmos, he received a vision from God, through Jesus Christ, describing the events of the end times, as well as messages to seven churches, the first churches, of the body of Christ, giving each church a different message about their journey in serving Jesus on the Earth.

Each of the seven churches received a different and unique message. Many of the churches were encouraged, others were rebuked, some received only praise, other received only correction. I wonder what Jesus would say to our little church today? Would he encourage us, rebuke us, or both? I wonder.

Let’s dive into the word, you can open your Bibles to the book of Revelation.

From Revelation 1:1-3 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His servants things which must soon take place. He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bears record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it, for the time is near.”

We’re told we’ll receive a special blessing by reading these words aloud, which is wonderful. We see this Revelation, singular, is from Jesus, given to John, to be shared with us, the body of believers today.

So I’m just going to read through the first chapter here, and try to give you a feel for what John is seeing and what is being shared, it says this:

"Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7 Look! He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him,

even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Here we have the initial greeting as John forwards the message to the seven churches in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. It’s interesting that Jesus is cited as the current ruler of the kings of the Earth. Same would true today, wouldn’t it? He is the ruler of every king, president and prime minister on Earth. Period.

And Jesus we know is one day coming with the clouds, like he left. And it says every eye will see Him.

God is the alpha and the omega. First and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Who is presently, who was, and who is also in the future, is to come.

It continues, “9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle that is called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice like a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks, 13 and in the midst of the seven candlesticks was one like a Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and with a golden sash wrapped around the chest. 14 The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters. 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His appearance was like the sun shining brightly.

17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though I were dead. Then He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, though I was dead. Look! I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

19 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.”

Powerful images. A vision. One minute you’re standing on the shore, or in your bed, the next moment you’re taken and you see things few could imagine. Truly astonishing.

Why does God work this way? Why a vision or a dream? It’s common throughout scripture. But it’s clear God wants to communicate truth to us a particular way. It brings up a lot of different questions. Why doesn’t everyone get a vision? Why only certain people? Can we trust the vision? Was it just a hallucination? All sorts of questions come up.

But it’s interesting that a vision like this, it’s mysterious, it’s symbolic, and it fills us with wonder. It makes us wonder at the glory and majesty of God. And it preserves our choice. We can either trust and believe God, or we can doubt and question God. Will I believe? Or will I reject it? Free will, choice is preserved. My choice. Who will I believe? God or the world? I choose God. It’s real. And I can trust what it’s saying to me.

So today we’re looking at the church of Ephesus, and the specific message given from Jesus, to them. This was in AD 95. The disciples of Jesus, along with the Apostle Paul began planting various faith communities across the roman empire. Probably the most famous would’ve been Ephesus. Though there were churches planted in Philippi, Thessalonica, Jerusalem, though they had to flee the area later, even in Rome. So it makes you wonder why did Jesus only send these messages to these seven churches? There are others. We don’t really know.

The church in Ephesus, well, they had a lot to contend with. Ephesus was a major trading city in asia minor. And it was well know for the worship of the Greek goddess artemis. In fact people from all around the roman empire would make pilgrimages to ephesus to worship artemis. Artemis was the goddess of fertility. And the way that worship to artemis took place was, they had a massive temple to artemis in ephesus, with hundreds of temple prostitutes, and you would go and sleep with the temple prostitutes, as your act of worship. Very difficult thing to compete with, like trying to compete with nfl football or bars or night clubs. But God is greater than evil. And false gods stand no chance against the true living God.

So the church at ephesus was growing and vibrant. They were doing very well. And over time they would ultimately be victorious in ephesus over the false gods. About 175 years later, the temple of artemis was destroyed by invaders. And the roman empire had become so Christian by then, the temple was never rebuilt. Though at one time it was considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

In any case, this is the message that was given to the believers at Ephesus, from Jesus, in

Revelation 2:1-7: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, says these things: 2 I know your works, your labor and your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles, but are not, and have found them to be liars. 3 You have endured, and have been patient, and for My name’s sake have labored and have not grown weary.

4 “But I have something against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your candlestick from its place, unless you repent. 6 But this you have: You hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give permission to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

Encouragement: Jesus says I know your works, your labor, and your patience. He is pleased that they do reject all evil.

Also, they’ve seen false apostles going about, which was common during Pauls time, of the early church, people claiming to be apostles, but they were false. And Jesus again praises them for being wise and testing people to make sure they’re from God or not.

Jesus says you’ve endured difficulties, well done. You’ve been patient. Probably referring to persecution from the city.

I found this interesting he praises them because they quote “have not grown weary.” There have been times in my life that I’ve grown weary. But this tells me that I can find ways to avoid becoming weary, like the ephesians did. They labored for Jesus name sake, and that was also pleasing to God.

Those are the encouragements, Jesus saying, good job, just as he says to you in your life at many times, good job because of this, this, and this. Amazing. We need that encouragement.

Next we see correction, just one line, but very important, he says you’ve abandoned the love you had at first. Other translations say you’ve abandoned your first-love. Just one line, however, our Bibles say, without love, what are we? Useless. It’s a big problem to have abandoned love.

This I see in many churches even in our modern day and age. It’s a common scenario. They start off very focused on love. And the enemy attacks. They have to fight off a lot of evil next. And they face persecution. And they begin to fight evil by hating evil. Which is a good thing. They fight for their doctrine. They resist false teachers. They battle it out and become mature believers. But in all those battles they become hard, and strained, and burned out and bitter. And slowly over time they get so used to fighting evil, they no longer have love in their hearts for Jesus or for the lost. That is very common for a body of believers. They’ve fought the battles over the years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and they’ve fought so hard, they’ve lost their ability to love. And Jesus says return to the love you had at first. Find your love again.

Are you there today? Tired from the battles? Exhausted from fighting? So used to dealing with all the evil in the USA that slowly your genuine love has faded to brokenness and bitterness? Return today to the love of God. Ask Jesus to fill you again with His love, so you may pour it out to others.

There was a time in my life when I’d become so involved in cultural battles, activism, apologetics, politics, government, theological debates, that I had begun to lose that first love. But we can always find it again.

Two paths are shown to the Ephesian church. Jesus says for those of you in this church who do overcome, I’ll give you the right to eat from the tree of life. Wow!

But, if you do not repent, and find your love again, I will remove your lampstand from it’s place. Basically saying, your church will become a dead church, no more Holy Spirit, no more love or power, empty. Have you ever walked into a church like that? It’s just dead spiritually. I’ve felt that, and it’s ugly.

Reward or disaster, is the offer to ephesians. I believe they chose life. Because they overcame the evil one, and the temple to artemis as toppled. But only God knows for sure.

So in conclusion today, let’s learn from this first letter to the church in Ephesus. Your homework today is to go home and read Revelation 1 through Revelation 2:7, and do some highlighting and underlining.

Who is your source of authority? If it’s the word of God, then believe these words are true and for you today. Apply them to your life. If they really are the words of the creator of the universe, follow them carefully. Structure your life around these words. Keep your first love first, your love for Jesus, and his love for you. It’s perfect. So seek Him today. God bless you.