"Return to Your First Love"
Intro: My dog Brick was about three things; eating, napping with a rock in the mouth, and loving his master.
In the nine years I had Brick I knew this about him; he would never ever waiver from those things. Those were what he was about. Those were his first loves. Same for our cat Obi.
So, what are we about? What are we known for, or want to be known for? What is our walk with Jesus about as a church?
We as leadership have begun the vision process for the future. We have begun to meet and start t strategize for the future of CPCC. It is a difficult task at times, but dreaming is awesome.
Here's the bottom line for me: for all of our dreaming about what the future looks like, I know there will be three things that must ever-present, because if they're not, I can't be here.
I've been profoundly shaped in three areas, that wherever I go, they must be there, and wherever they are not, I start to feel like, "This might not be right for me."
First, we will always be a biblically serious church. We're going to preach the Bible, love the Bible, read the Bible, memorize the Bible, take seriously the Word of God. This isn't a pep rally.
We're going to be people of the Book. This can never change, because I don't know how to do anything else than read this book and then talk about it with you.
Second, we are going to be spiritually alive. To be doctrinally pure and dead is not a win. It's rebuked in the Bible, not exalted.
The point of the Bible is love and understanding of Jesus, his preeminence, and his lordship over our lives.
Any knowledge of the Word of God not leading to spiritual vibrancy isn't a knowledge of the Word of God. It's knowing some sentences, not illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
We're going to be serious about the Word of God, we're going to be serious about spiritual life, being alive in Christ. Okay, so are you with me?
Thirdly we are going to be serious about the sent, and serious about going when God calls. If any of those three pillars fall apart, then I probably should not be the front man of CPCC.
We need to pray and fast and seek the face of God, because I wouldn't even know how to preach in an environment that doesn't value those things.
So wherever we're going, those three things will be pillars of our future here. If that's a new building, if that's a new format, if that's a new style, whatever.
I don't know how to go about this any other way. Certainly, there are other things that are important and there are other things we need to consider.
But moving forward, those three things are going to be the things we keep coming back to over and over and over and over again, because it's what I know and what we need to know.
You know, this is how CPCC was birthed friends? These are the pillars this church was birthed on. So has anything changed?
I don't know if you know this, but we know more about the church at Ephesus than we know any other church in the Bible. We watch Ephesus born in Acts 19.
We watch Ephesus be encouraged in the book of Ephesians. We watch Ephesus get challenged in 1 and 2 Timothy. We watch Ephesus get rebuked in 1, 2, and 3 John.
And then we watch Ephesus get threatened by Christ himself in Revelation 2. Can we just talk about how all-star that staff was?
Timothy, who trained under Paul, who trained under Christ, the resurrected Christ. So yeah, pretty good resume of a church, right? Also, Don’t forget about John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.
What a nickname, right? What up “JTDWJL!” The disciple whom Jesus loved. That was his nickname. I was called big man and big guy.
Yet this is a church, despite all of the all-star staff they had through the years, they drifted in a way you wouldn't expect, or at least I wouldn't expect.
Today we will look at the end and then back to the beginning of the church of Ephesus.
I think in the beginning we get some insight into what we need to think about, dream about, pray about, hope for as a family of faith.
Read: Revelation 2:1-7
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this 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. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet 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 the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
There are some things about this church I want to highlight. At the beginning, it sounds like the kind of church I want my kids to join. Let's look at it.
They're serious about holiness. The church at Ephesus, 65 to 70 years after they began is still serious about holiness.
They work. They toil. They have patient endurance. They're serious about holiness. They are doctrinally sound.
The only way you can spot a false apostle, a false teaching is to know true teaching. Right? That's how you spot false teaching.
They're serious about holiness. Look at verse 3. They endure. Let's think about endurance. You know this, but I just want to highlight it.
None of the compulsions of the modern era are new to the modern era. We're looking around like, "Oh my gosh. We are such a sex-crazed, sex-obsessed culture."
Yeah, and in Ephesus the Temple of Artemis existed with thousands of both male and female prostitutes, and you would worship by visiting them.
It's not like, "Oh, look at what has happened to humanity." Humanity has been a train wreck since Genesis 3.
Here is where it looks different. When things get rough in our faith we have a natural inclination, not all the time maybe, to question, “Should I walk away from my faith?"
We don’t endure very well in our faith as a whole. This group in Ephesus were being tormented and persecuted by the prevailing culture.
No one in this room is going to have their house looted today because they love Jesus. No one is going to be arrested. No one is going to be killed. No one is going to have their stuff taken from them.
They also have the full force of a secularized, enraged, Christianity-hating, "Let's wipe it off the face of the earth" government pressing in on them.
What Jesus says is, "You've been faithful. You've endured. You haven't turned your back. You keep moving forward. I'm proud of you. I see you." That's what's being said.
This is feel good story! I mean I’m ready to join the church, right? Yet I think the critique is devastating and undoes all of that.
The critique is that they have abandoned their first love. They've abandoned it. See ya! In fact, the rebuke from Jesus says, "Remember the heights from which you have fallen.
You were at one point in the heights, and you're not in the heights anymore. You're in the valley, and you chose, you abandoned, you turned." There's this rebuke that just hits, right?
Despite their seriousness about holiness, about doctrine, and despite their endurance, they're in danger of the presence and power of Jesus being removed from their midst.
This haunts me to this day. You can be serious about holiness, you can be serious about doctrine, you can be ferociously walking in endurance and abandon the love you had at first.
You can fall from the heights at which you began. What I want to do is highlight how serious of a deal this is. It’s not just about a breakup kind of love. But love is the point.
That's where this church in Ephesus is. It is in a lot of trouble regardless of how pretty it looks.
In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment in all life is. You know what His response is? “Love.” Love the Lord your God with your all, and love others.
The response to "What's the point of this whole thing?" according to Jesus, is love for God and love for others, a vertical reconciliation that leads to a horizontal reconciliation.
You see, if a church loses love, they lose the point of what's happening. A church that knows about Jesus and does not love Jesus is a dying church and a church that will not be around long.
A church that has knowledge of the character of God and does not find himself or herself captivated by the beauty of God is a church on the clock.
Love is the point…love for God, love for our neighbors. The point of it all is that you be reconciled to God, that you would love God, and that it would spill out in love for neighbor.
You don't conquer fear by being courageous; you conquer fear by growing in love. Love stabilizes our souls. Love received can be love given. Listen.
If you ever get God’s love, you can actually love other people, but as long as you think you have to fix something up in yourself before He cares for you, you are in a world of trouble.
You cannot love others if you feel like you're unloved. You can't do it. It's white-knuckled nonsense. It might feel nice, and look nice, but it has no meat on the bone.
It's not a soul transformed, walking in joy that can empathize, weep, and rejoice with others.
The danger, if we're not careful, is that we'll do a lot of things well and that'll get lost.
Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is…what? Love. Let's talk. Can we just agree that faith is a pretty huge deal? What about hope?
The Bible says faith is necessary, hope is a gift of God's grace, but love is the greatest. In fact, if you don't have love, it doesn't matter if you know all the mysteries of the universe; you're like a clanging cymbal.
No one I have ever met has said, "Hey, cue up that song with just cymbals clanging together. It just brings me peace, restores my soul.
Just bang that cymbal over and over and over again as close to my head as possible." No! No one says that.
Think about 1 Corinthians 13. But if I have not love. " Love is the point. Love is why we've been called unto Christ.
The Spirit of God establishes love in our hearts love that bleeds out into love for others.
A couple of quick things. Ephesus used to extoll the name of Jesus. Now, since my guess is you have not used the word extol this week… Anybody?
Here’s what extol means. Extol means to lift up, to esteem, to praise.
So, whatever else they were doing, one of the works we see in Ephesus at the beginning is they are captivated by the supremacy of Jesus Christ. They lift him up. They esteem. They praise.
They love him in song, in prayer, in the Lord's Supper, in study, in conversation. This is not overly complex.
One of the things the Spirit of God has been doing in our midst that I'm so excited about is people are taking a step of faith to live lives of affirmation and encouragement.
I can't tell you how many stories I'm hearing lately of some of you who took the risk of going, "How can I pray for you?"
You’re doing it at work that has led into gospel conversations that have led to people coming to church to hear the good news of the gospel that has led into you getting to share the gospel.
Too simple, right? "Hey, how can I pray for you?" If you're like, "That doesn't quite sound like extolling the name of Jesus," I'm telling you that's exactly what extolling the name of Jesus is.
It's not "How can I fix your problems?" It's "How can I take your problem to the one who can, and then how can I introduce you to the one who can?
Because your problem actually isn't your marriage, finances, etc, etc; your problem is a corrupt heart that needs to be born again."
Love for God that then horizontally works. Just story after story of people going, "I want to live more boldly in my faith. I don't want to sit in the stands and judge how others run. I want to run."
God is really starting to grow that movement here, and I'm just asking him and pleading with him to continue to grow it here.
They extolled the name of the Lord, but they also walked in transparency. This is not new to us. What you see them doing is confessing and divulging their practices.
Now, confessing and divulging their practices means they were talking to other people about these things.
You can see the residue of this in Revelation 2. They're serious about sin, but they're serious about sin with one another. They banded together to fight against it.
Confession is something, but then there's this divulging of practices that I think changes the game. The divulging of practices is the details of the confession that brings the grossness of it into light.
"I am struggling" is a lot different than "Here's the dirty grossness of what's going on in my heart and my life.
Here's what I'm involved in, and I am embarrassed and ashamed. I'm just trembling, hoping you don't reject me here." That's divulging practice, and here's why it matters.
Xerxes sent a two-million-man army to overthrow all of Greece. Surely you know about the 300 Spartans. Three hundred Spartans holed at this pass.
They all die, but they inflict, I think, 20,000 casualties on the Persian army. It messed with Xerxes so badly it ultimately turns the tide.
One of the stories written is about one of the Hellenist slaves whom survived. They pulled him out of a pile of bodies, and he's in front of King Xerxes.
Xerxes is trying to figure out how 300 guys just killed 20,000 of his. This slave is unpacking to him the way Spartans did battle, how they held their shields.
He shares the seriousness by which they approached war, how they thought about it, how they came together.
On more than one occasion, he describes the importance in how the Spartans fought by linking up their shields together and then, with a long eight-foot spear, striking over the shields.
The only way a warrior could be safe is that a brother on his left and a brother on his right had their shields together to protect from the Immortals, the onslaught from the Persians.
If all you know is I'm struggling, what can you do? Just kind of ignorantly pray. "Oh, he's struggling with something somewhere in his life. Who knows? You know. Bless him, God."
Which I'll take, but the transparency to step in and go, "No, this is how broken I am. This is how much I need a Savior. This is how much I need you" flanks you with brothers and sisters.
It puts people around you. Ephesus loved Jesus enough to go, "Yeah, I'm gross, but he's not." What happens if you don't love Jesus is you have to go, "I'm awesome, and so is Jesus."
But if you love him, if you see him as who he is, you're able to go, "Isn't he wonderful? In fact, let me tell you how wonderful he is. I am a moron.
I have compulsions that lead me to such dark places, and he is unmoved in his love for me. The things I have been a part of are so grotesque.
I get nauseous when I think about them, and he delights in me. He has never regretted calling me unto himself."
When you love Jesus, you don't have to be awesome. You get to just be what you are: broken, scared, hoping, longing, wandering, unsure, and yet resting in the One who isn't any of those things.
This is why love is so important. But they didn't just walk in transparency, which brought about community and accountability, they were also serious about sin.
Then the last thing I want to highlight here is that while all this is going on, they increased and prevailed so that the Word of God continued to spread. All of these things are connected.
Being biblically serious and spiritually alive and being a sent people are interconnected. They're almost one and the same thing. They're not different things; they're one thing.
What we need to fight for, what we need to contend for, what we need to pray around, when all is said and done, is that we're a church that extols the name of Jesus Christ;
We must walk in transparency; that confession and divulging of practices, accountability, and walking in the light mark us as the people of God in this place.
We take sin seriously and we embrace God's call to go neighborhood to nations. There are steps each of us will need to take here. We are bent a certain way. We're wired a certain way.
You're uniquely wired in a certain way. You're drawn to some of these things over others. You don't need to kick against that; you just need to be aware of it.
Not all of us have the same gifts. Not all of us have the same abilities, but you have been called into this place, gifted uniquely, gifted and seen by God as an individual.
Yet in the same sentence not to be seen individualistically, because you are a part of a whole, not a single.
You have been called into the community of faith, filled with the Holy Spirit, gifted by God, and when all of us buy into that, you have something special.
So, what's your step? Maybe this is a season in which extolling the name of Jesus is something…
You have felt your affections for God wane, and maybe, if you thought about it, you'd be like, "Oh, I know why. Because I don't confess and I haven't been transparent."
Or "You know what? I don't take sin seriously. I actually try to treat it as a pet and think I have it under control."
Or maybe it's "I have not embraced that God has uniquely wired me and called me and sent me out to be light in the darkness and salt in a dying world.
I just have not embraced that, so my work and family life is completely separate to my church life," and that's not what God is doing. He hasn't asked you to be a spectator.
This isn't a conference; this is the body of Christ. This is the body. So, what's that step? We're meant to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Let me pray for us.