First Love 

Revelation 2:4-5
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”

In a very poetic fashion, Jesus describes Himself walking through and observing the goings on, in the church of Ephesus. It is both encouraging and frightening to know that Jesus is so involved with His church. He knows, and intimately describes, the affairs of the church, both good and bad. While He has much that is positive to share, the indictment He brings overshadows their successes. He declares they have left their first love.

“First love” may refer to what some have called the love of espousal. That love, where nothing else matters but the desire to be with and please another. Certainly, we could all afford a greater degree of that kind of love, but I suggest, “first love” is a reference to something more. John explained that we love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), which makes our love for Him is a reflection. If my love for Him is waning, then I must focus upon the love God has for me. Taking time to consider the cross, where the love of God was poured out, will always stir us to a greater degree of love for Him. That is the great value of the communion table. Reflecting upon the broken body and the shed blood of Christ, is an extremely helpful way to return to your first love.

Take some time to reflect upon the cross, and thank the Lord for His great love for you.

Pastor Jim

 

The Rules 

1 John 3:23
“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”

Jesus simplified all of the commandments into two: love God and love others. John, in like manner, states the requirements of God are both simple and straight forward. He writes, God is commanding us to believe on Christ and love each other.

Belief is commanded because it is the requirement for entrance into heaven. When individuals looks at the cross, they realizes they are sinners, Christ is the Savior, they put their trust in Him, and are saved. The sins that once kept us from God are washed away in the blood of God, and our names are written on Heaven’s scroll. All the religious activities, social work, or random acts of kindness, are incapable of doing what simple faith in Christ accomplishes. If you are yet to put your trust in Christ, do so now, and watch as He transforms your life.

Love for one another is the chief evidence that we have truly believed in Christ. It is not the only evidence, but it is the greatest. After years of walking with the Lord, encountering others who have put their faith in Him, and lived lives transformed by Him, John concludes that more than anything else, a person who has met Christ should love others. That is not too difficult to comprehend when we examine the life of Christ, and see it was marked by a continual, even growing, love for others. We read that having loved His own, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

One of the greatest ways to testify to the reality of Christ, is to go out of your way to express love to others. As you go about your day, keep your eyes open as to how you might express the love of Christ to others in a needy world.

Pastor Jim

 

Pattern

2 Thessalonians 3:9
“. . . not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.”

I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, but when I was in the eighth grade, all students were required to take a semester of Home Economics. The eighteen week course was divided between cooking and sewing. In the sewing section we learned the basics of operating a sewing machine and were required to make a pillow as a final project. Most of the students went to the local fabric stores and purchased a pillow pattern. I may have had a slight advantage in that my mom was a seamstress and actually taught textiles and design for fashion students at the university level. When I arrived home with my assignment, instead of purchasing a standard pillow pattern, she made me one in the shape of a surfboard. Needless to say, at the end of the term when I turned in a polka dot pillow, fin and all, I received the highest marks.

“. . . but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.”

Paul desired that the Thessalonians would receive the highest marks, on the day when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In order to ensure their success, he made himself an example. Their walk with the Lord was clearly patterned for them by looking at the way Paul lived. In this chapter alone, he sets the example as a man of prayer, as he prayed earnestly for them. As a man of the Word, not simply one who read and memorized it, but as one who was determined that it be shared with others. I love the phrase he uses in verse one, as he asked them to pray that “the Word of the Lord may run swiftly.” It was his desire that all would hear the Gospel, and all would come to faith in Christ. He was also an example in faith. He speaks of wicked men who are opposing them, and yet he is confident in the faithfulness of the Lord.

Finally, this chapter is filled with exhortations to work hard. That famous statement, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” is found here, and Paul exemplified what it meant to work hard so as not to be a burden to others. My father-in-law and I were discussing basic economics when he reminded me, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying for it. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that as they worked diligently as unto the Lord, they would in turn be an example to others, showing what it means to follow Christ.

There are a lot of examples out there, but not all of them are worth following. If you want to succeed in following Christ, determine to follow the example Paul set, then go one step beyond, and make yourself a pattern that others may follow.

Pastor Jim

 

Treasure 

Colossians 2:3
“. . . in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Knowledge is a word which speaks of information. We increase in our knowledge of God as we read the Word of God and walk with Him daily. However, wisdom is another thing all together. We might define it as “the proper application of knowledge,” or more simply as, “knowing what to do.” How many times have you faced decisions in life where you were not sure what to do, because you have not been that way before? Wisdom is acquired by experience, by careful observation of the experience of others, or by receiving it from heaven.

Notice, Paul writes “All wisdom is hidden in Christ.” We can find great comfort in knowing, while we might not know what we are doing, Christ has been that way before and can provide direction through the fog of life. Notice also, Paul says this wisdom is hidden in Christ. It is not something hidden from us, so we cannot have it, but something hidden so we will seek after it. The primary purpose of salvation is to know God, and wisdom is hidden in Him so we will seek Christ more. The question is, how do we access the wisdom that is hidden in Christ?

James 1:5
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

The first step is to pray. We are exhorted to understand, that through prayer, we can cast all burdens at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes, the greatest burden can be facing situations for which we have no answers. Parenting can certainly be like that. As the children grow, we are constantly walking down roads we have never traveled before. We want desperately to make decisions that will positively impact our children for the kingdom of heaven, and ensure they have a bright and successful future. The problem is, we often do not have a clue as to what we are doing. It is encouraging to know, “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom”. The secret to receiving His wisdom through prayer, is to be willing to do things His way. Sometimes, we do not seek the mind of God, because we have already determined we do not want to do what He says.

Deuteronomy 4:6
“Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Prayer is where we ask questions, and the Word of God is where we find answers. Sometimes, we will pray for things, then spend our time thinking up a solution, without considering what God has written to us in His Word. Israel was told, if they followed the teaching of the Word of God, it would lead to wisdom, and the people around them would be shocked at how smart they were. You see, doing what God says, even when it might not make sense, will always lead to the wisest roads. Other people, when the fruit of those decisions come to light, will be shocked at how smart you seem, all because you chose to do things God’s way.

If you are in need of wisdom because you are on a road you have never traveled before, or perhaps you went the wrong way in the past, the key is to lay your life out before the Lord in prayer. Then sit before His Word, and allow Him to write your road map for you. Using a concordance can be helpful to look up the subjects you are facing, and is a great way to learn to think and act Biblically.

Pastor Jim

 

Price Cut 

Ecclesiastes 10:7
“I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.”

Years ago, I heard a story, whether it is factual, I do not know, but it told of a group of men who broke into a large department store in a metropolitan area. These cunning thieves did not actually steal anything. Instead they changed the price tags on everything. Items that were of little value were given high prices, while things of great worth, were sold for pennies. The next morning, when the store reopened, it did not take long to realize that things were a mess. The management determined, the only solution was to close for the day and reprice everything.

We live in a world that is not unlike that department store. Things that don’t matter much are pursued as though life could not exist with out them, while the things in life that matter most, are often ignored or neglected. This is clearly not a new phenomenon, for Solomon saw it happening in his day. People were living by the wrong value system, and as a result, were pursuing all the wrong things.

This reminds me of a poem written by C.T. Studd

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”

Pastor Jim

 

Come In 

1 Corinthians 16:9
“For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”

As Paul comes to the conclusion of this letter, he writes to his friends in Corinth about his future plans. Notice, his plans all centered around serving the Lord and bringing the Gospel to others. He mentions a number of places that he will be traveling, including Ephesus, where he has “an open door.” This is a common phrase, both in our vernacular, and in the New Testament writings. We understand it to mean a way in, and use it with a wide variety of applications. We may refer to an open door for a new job, new house, or even a new relationship. When the term is used in the New Testament, it is restricted to speaking of opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul explained this clearly when writing to the Colossians,

“. . . meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:3-4

The term “open” is used throughout the New Testament to refer to things that were closed until the Lord opened them. We read of eyes, ears, and graves being opened. We also read of the heavens being opened, and even the sealed scroll in Revelation was opened by the Lord. When Paul speaks of an open door in Ephesus, he is referring to an opportunity to minister where there was none before. Ministry is like that. There are people in your life who you have attempted to reach out to, and been rejected, but as you continue to walk with Jesus and pray for them, the Lord will open up a future opportunity to reach out to them.

One of the difficulties we face, is how to recognize when we have an open door. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas began their missionary campaigns. As we read the accounts, it was clear they had a wide open door to bring the Gospel to their world. Thousands of people were won to Christ, and dozens of churches were planted throughout Asia Minor and Europe.

But, how did they know it was the Lord who was sending them out? Two key elements in determining the will of God are revealed in their story. First, we are told, while they prayed and fasted, the Lord spoke to them. If we want to see doors open to minister to others, we need to seek the Lord. Jesus told us to ask, seek and knock. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit your prayer list and add praying for an open door to share Christ with family and friends.

Second, Luke records, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went” (Acts 13:4). Once they heard from the Lord, once they recognized they might have an open door, they began to walk through it. The only way to be sure we have an open door into someone’s life to bring them to Jesus, is to take steps in that direction. Make a call, text, email, tweet, IM or meet them face-to-face and simply invite them to come with you to church. Or meet for coffee and share the great things that the Lord has done for you.

Keep in mind that with an open door comes adversity, but the difficulties are more than worth the treasure of seeing our friends come to Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Platforms

Esther 4:14
“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

It is not easy to figure out why one person is given certain gifts and opportunities, that are not afforded to another. We see two people with relatively the same skill level, yet, one is chosen for a task and the other is not. Instead of allowing this to discourage us, we should keep in mind, whatever station we find ourselves, it will give us a platform to tell others about the hope of eternal life found in Christ.

Esther found herself exalted to the highest position a woman of her day could attain. She was the Queen of Persia. Her uncle Mordecai encouraged her to remember she would have an opportunity to be used by the Lord that few others would ever have. Years later, the Apostle Paul found himself on the opposite end of the spectrum; he was incarcerated in a Roman prison. Rather than complaining about how unfair things were, he used his situation as a platform to share Christ, and found he was given an opportunity to share with family members of the king.

Whether it is a promotion or a demotion, a seeming success or failure, whatever we find ourselves facing, we should realize, we are in the midst of it for such a time as this. Esther’s actions resulted in saving the lives of many. It would do us good to realize our actions and the ideas we share can also result in saving lives.

Look for an opportunity to use the platform you have been given to share the love of Christ and the way to heaven with someone today.

Pastor Jim

 

Growth

1 Corinthians 3:1
“I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.

Paul mentions four types of people in the opening verses of this chapter. He refers to mere men (some versions read natural man), babes in Christ, carnal men, and finally spiritual men. These terms represent a natural development in the spiritual life of an individual. Natural man refers to a person before they place their faith in Christ. The natural man is living, breathing, walking, talking, perhaps even loving, giving, sharing and caring, but the natural man is separated from God, and living in sin. It is when the natural man hears the message of the cross, recognizes his need for a savior, and places his faith in Christ, that his sin is forgiven and he is born again into the family of God. At that point, he becomes a babe in Christ. Like all babies, the new Christian must be cared for. He needs constant companionship, encouragement, example, and a diet of the simple teachings of the Word of God.

Hebrews 6 gives a list of the foundational truths every young Christian must understand: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

When the young Christian ingests a healthy diet of the Word of God, he will begin to grow. Thoughts, words, and actions change, and many of the practices from the old life, are replaced with practices that are pleasing to God. Soon, the young believer is growing in Christ, and impacting others for the kingdom of God. They are no longer controlled by emotions, or by the influences of the world around them, but are now controlled by the Spirit of God. They begin to live a life that sets an example on earth, and stores up treasures in heaven. Paul refers to that individual as spiritual. Sadly however, this is not the route for every Christian. Some, after placing faith in Christ for salvation, never seem to grow out of infancy. Even years after coming to Christ, they are still struggling with the same doubts, fears and sins. Their Christian life is more like a swinging pendulum, than a walk with God. They “feel” close to Him at moments, and far away other times, they let the influences of the world influence them, and are constantly falling into sin. Sometimes, because of the guilt of constant failure, they seclude themselves from other Christians, and may even accuse the church of wrong doing. It is not uncommon to hear them use phrases like, “Christians are judgmental” to help justify the sins they have not outgrown.

Paul minces no words, he refers to that person as carnal, a word meaning worldly. While it is expected, and even cute, to see a baby act like a baby, it is sad to see someone still acting childish as a an adult. Now would be a good time to evaluate your walk with God. Are you growing? If you have been a Christian for only weeks, you should be seeking to surround yourself with godly influences and get to know the Word of God. If you have been a Christian for many years, you should see a dramatic and constant change in your life, because of the daily investment of the Word of God. The Christian life is a life of growth; like a tree, we only stop growing when we are dead.

Pastor Jim

 

One Mind 

Romans 15:5-6
“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

imageThis chapter contains many prayers of which this is the first. Paul is praying that the church might be like-minded, or rather, have one mind. As we look at the church today we see it is anything but one-minded. Worship styles vary from rock bands to congregational hymns; some churches meet in traditional buildings, while others meet in schools, parks or store fronts. Doctrinally, some churches are Calvinistic, Arminian, or somewhere in between. We have pre-, post- and mid-tribulation teachings, and there are even different views on how to perform a baptism.

Individual Christians, within the same church, also have a wide variety of opinions. From week to week, one thinks the worship or sermon was excellent, while another complains about the length, delivery or content. Who is right? If Paul is exhorting us to have the same mind, which mind should we have? I suggest to you, Paul is not instructing every Christian to have my mind or yours, but to have the mind of Christ. Writing to the Philippian church Paul said,

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, . . .” Philippians 2:5

The mind we must develop is the mind that was in Christ; a mind-set that sought above all else, to be pleasing to the Father. “For even Christ did not please Himself…” (Romans 15:3). Practically, this was worked out as He lived for the things that please God, and exalted others above Himself. As we follow the life of Christ, we read of the needs of others being placed above His own. We know of times where He was hungry and tired, but that never stopped Him from investing in the lives of those around Him. The sick, weak, hurting, and unloved, all found a place of honor when they came into contact with Christ.

When I filter my thinking toward God and others, with the way Christ lived, I will find I am developing His mind. It is seen in laying aside the sinful things in life, placing the needs of others above my own, and seeking to please God above all else. Notice this is a commission given to every believer. It is not for a select few. Every Christian must live life by thinking of God and others, the way Christ did.

Pastor Jim

 

No Man Is An Island 

Romans 14:7
“For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.”

A Christian by the name of John Donne (1572-1631), is credited for the saying, “No man is an island.” He wrote it in a devotional message speaking of how our lives effect one another. Paul is writing about the same idea, because we are part of the body of Christ, our lives effect one another. The decision I make to follow the Lord will have an impact upon those around me, and their decision will impact me. In more recent times, a song was written with the chorus, “I don’t need anyone, I am really having fun being all alone, I am an island.” The song was a parody, where the artist was addressing the modern idea that our lives are our own, and our sins do not effect anyone else. Paul goes on to write,

Romans 14:8 “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

What a beautiful concept and wise way to live. When we come to the realization our lives do not really belong to us, but have been purchased by the Lord, we are free to live for His glory. There is no greater freedom in life than to live for the purpose for which we were designed. Instead of thinking of freedom as the ability to do whatever we want, we should realize, true freedom is found in living for Christ and others.

Pastor Jim