Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Fresh Start

With summer’s passing, and a crisp wet chill in the air, we begin a new season with new adventures. Pastor Brad appropriately chose this theme for today’s message: A Fresh Start. In his opening welcome he shared that his goal is not for new programs, but that everyone here would individually and corporately fall in love with Jesus.

Your humble blog writer regrets not having a camera along today to capture the brightly colored helium filled balloons that had slipped loose in the sanctuary. The bright colors gave a festive air to the service. Next week be sure to remember that Sunday School begins again at 9:00 a.m. and our worship service returns to a 10:15 start time.

Scriptures today were read by Eric Borndal.
Exodus 12:1-14
Matthew 18:15-18

During our prayer time it became apparent that there are many needs among us. We were reminded to lift one another up in prayer as those among us face many challenges.

A Fresh Start

Pastor Brad opened by sharing how he loves remodeling projects. Sometimes, for his own amusement, he likes to stop at houses that are for sale to see what kind of remodeling they require. One time he looked at an abandoned house that was so rundown it had a sign that said, “Uninhabitable.” He imagined the people who had once lived there, the happy times and laughter that once resonated within those walls. What a contrast to the old abandoned house that now remained with its broken windows and peeling wallpaper.

He then told of a pizza place he once ate at in a revitalization district in a major city. While eating he noticed the stained glass windows and realized it had once been a church. He felt saddened that this former house of worship was nothing more than a pizza parlor.

These images were designed to set up his message about the Letters to the Seven Churches from the Book of Revelations, chapter two.

Brad began with the context of the seven letters. In Revelations 1:4-8 we read these powerful words about the author of these letters.

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and 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 loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

The scribe for the letters was John, one of Jesus’ closest friends while He walked on earth, who took care of Jesus’ mother Mary after He was crucified. John had been a pillar in the early church, but under the reign of Emperor Domitian was exiled to the island of Patmos. It was here that John wrote the Book of Revelations in the twilight years of his life and service to Christ.

Chapters two and three of this last book of the Bible are a set of seven letters to the inboxes of seven churches. “You’ve Got Mail!”

The first letter is to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a significant city in the ancient world. It was a major center for emperor worship. It was also where the Temple of Diana was situated. Diana was the Goddess of Fertility, and the area surrounding the temple had become a swamp of immorality in the name of religion.

The Ephesian church had been founded by the Apostle Paul himself, who spent a great deal of time there. It was an important church and he cared deeply for it, weeping many tears when he had to part from those he’d poured himself to serve. It was a church with strong leadership. And when this was written, forty years after its founding, it was a period of new leadership, a new generation of Ephesian Christians now carrying on the work.

“You’ve Got Mail.”

The inbox for the Ephesian church had a message from Jesus, written by the hand of John. Jesus begins by reminding them that He walks among them still and cares about this church. It is a reminder that we, too, have Jesus walking among us. Jesus cares about our church today because it is His church.

Jesus begins the letter by commending them. He knows their strengths, their deeds and hard work on behalf of the Gospel. It’s a happening church that has demonstrated legendary perseverance.

In verse six He notes that they hate the teachings of the Nicolaitans, another plus. The Nicolaitans were a sect that believed in cheap grace. The Ephesians didn’t go with them, which was a good thing.

But then, the letter’s tone turns with these somewhat attention getting words. “I hold this against you…” The chastening is, in effect, “You’ve got everything except the Real thing. You’ve lost that initial passion that flows out of the first moment you had realizations of God’s amazing grace.”

It’s a sharp word. “You don’t love Me any more. You used to be a flaming inferno and now you’re barely a pilot light. I want people who will burn with passion for Me.”

Brad turned to Paul’s earlier letter to the Ephesians to illustrate some of what has happened to the church. Paul’s letter can be broken into two halves. The latter is practical, outlining things that we should do if we are believers. For example, Eph. 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” And Eph. 4:31 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

The first half of the book of Ephesians flows out of the abundance of Paul’s overflowing heart with passionate passages like these: Eph. 1:15-18 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”

And again, Eph. 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Our tendency is to jump to the second half of the book, to make practical checklists of rules for behavior. This is not our greatest need, to have more rules. We need to revitalize our love for Jesus. We become like Jesus when we spend time getting to know Him. Yield to the Holy Spirit and let Him lead you. Our goal is to become like Jesus. The way we become more like Him is by knowing Him better.

The three key words are Remember, Repent and Return.

Remember how far you have fallen from your first love. Remember, too, the pit from which you were rescued and how it felt when you were first forgiven.

As we entered into a time of Communion, we were asked to think about our commitments to God’s word, to our relationships, to obedient living and to worship. These four items form the acronym GROW.

God’s Word
Obedient Living

After sharing the bread and wine, Pastor Brad ended our service with a fervent appeal to be passionate about Jesus.

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