Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Ephesus: The Loveless Church" (Pt. 2) (May 21, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Ephesus: The Loveless Church” (Pt. 2)

(May 21, 2019)


          Jesus rebukes the congregation at the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4 by telling them that in the midst of all their business, activity, programs, evangelism, etc. they had forgotten what it was really all about.  The Ephesian church had taken on a life of it’s own and “Christ” was no longer its life!  Christ was to be their first love, their first concern, their top priority; but it had become about other things for this church.  He tells them “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:4)  Incidentally, just because there is “love” in a church does not mean Christ is their “first” love.  C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity that many say “God is love” but what they really mean is “Love is God.”  In other words, the virtue of love itself is believed to make one somehow “Godly,” when in reality Godliness only comes by first truly loving the one true and living God and ordering all that is done around Him and His expectations.

          The greatest commandment of all is found in Matthew 22:37-38 where Jesus says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  How easy it is for us to not keep the main thing the main thing!  In marriage, we vow/promise to cherish one another but then how often we end up cherishing other thing (even other people) more.  How many have worked enormous amounts of overtime with the aim of helping their family, but in the end, it just took time away from the family and the extra money earned was insignificant.  How many professional athletes would continue playing the game if they no longer got paid to play?  But, at one time these people played, and gave their all, simply for the love of the game.  As the church, we can go through the motions of everything we do and be guilty of having “left our first love.”  Your first love has got to be Jesus!

          In verses 5-6 Jesus corrects the congregation.  God is a God of grace, yet uncompromising when it comes to truth.  He is also the great physician and He writes a prescription here for them.  The prescription is this: “Remember from where you have fallen.”  Remember where you once were.  Remember when you first were saved?  Remember how you felt?  The feeling of relief you experienced?  Most people report a strong desire to attend church, pray, read the Bible, tell others about Jesus, and be around other Christians right after getting saved.  All these things are completely normal behavior.  The question is, why do they slow down, or stop altogether for lots of people?  Jesus was calling the Ephesians back to the basics; back to the fundamentals.  The late, great football coach Vince Lombardi was a fanatic about fundamentals.  Those who played under his leadership often spoke of his intensity, drive, and endless enthusiasm for the game.  Time and time again he would come back to the basic techniques of blocking and tackling.  On one occasion his team, the Green Bay Packers, lost to an inferior squad.  It was bad enough to lose, but to lose to that team was absolutely inexcusable.  Coach Lombardi called a practice the very next morning. The men sat silently, looking more like whipped puppies than a team of champions.  They had no idea what to expect from the man they feared the most.  Gritting his teeth and staring holes through one athlete after another, Lombardi began: “Okay, we go back to the basics this morning . . .”  Holding a football high enough for all to see, he continued to yell: “Gentlemen, this is a football!”  Sometimes there is simply no substitute for getting back to the basics!  There is no substitute for your “first” love.

          Ephesus had to have seen a significant drop-off in a single generation.  The Ephesian church had been commended for love (Eph. 1:15-16; 6:24).  Now they are being commanded to “repent” of their “lovelessness” and get back to basics!  The word “repent” here means “change one’s thinking,” and it is clearly connected with changed behavior, which is clarified by the phrase “and do the first works.”  Even though this church did not love as it should, it still hated the evil, wicked works of the Nicolatians, whom Christ says He also hates.  So, the Lord’s rebuke for their lovelessness is surrounded by positive compliments.  The Nicolaitans were a heretical group that troubled the churches of Ephesus and Pergamos (vs. 15).  Apparently their teachings and practices were immoral and idolatrous.  This serves as a warning to all churches and believers as it is always easy to get off track and follow heretical teaching.

          In verse 7, there is a promise to the congregation.  Jesus’ words are similar to those used when He gave the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:9).  It is “The Spirit” of Christ who guides believers into all truth.  We read in Gal. 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.”  He calls upon them to be “overcomers.”  An overcomer is one who perseveres in obedience and is victorious in the face of trials.  Some trials we face are big, coming about only occasionally in our lives, while some trials are daily.  Being an “overcomer” here does not mean earning your salvation by overcoming.  Salvation is secure in Christ for those who have truly trusted Him.  But, a failure to “overcome” means a loss of rewards one would otherwise have.  1 Corinthians 3:14-15 clarifies this a bit for us; “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

          The reward for those who obey God and His promises will eat of “the tree of life.”  This symbolizes a renewing of the fellowship mankind had with God before the fall.  The special access Adam and Eve had with God will be enjoyed by overcomers.  Paradise is the place He told the thief on the cross that he would join Him after death.  Paul uses this term interchangeably with Heaven.  The most important question anyone is ever going to ask you in this life is, “Are you going to spend eternity in Heaven?”  Have you trusted Jesus Christ?  The only way to get to Heaven is through Him.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, May 16, 2019

“Ephesus: The Loveless Church” (Pt. 1) (May 16, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Ephesus: The Loveless Church” (Pt. 1)

(May 16, 2019)


          The famed “Seven Churches” in Revelation 2-3 are “types” of churches as well as literal churches in literal cities, which Jesus addressed.  The issues covered in chapters 2-3 with the seven churches of Asia Minor are characteristics/tendencies of “the church” throughout time.  Each of the letters to these churches are addressed to “The angel of the church of . . .”  The “angel” or “messenger” of the church is, most likely, referring to the pastors of these churches.  The letters are, with only minor exceptions, organized in a particular pattern.  1) A description of Christ based on the vision in Revelation 1.  2) A compliment(s) of the congregation.  3) A rebuke of a problem(s) or spiritual deficiency.  4) A correction of the problem or wrong.  5) A promise to those who overcome.

          The word “love,” and the concept of “love,” saturate our modern culture, but many only partially understand what love really means.  Those who have no real background in church, for instance, do not understand Christian (Christ-like) love.  Further, they do not understand the fact God sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of people, therein demonstrating an incomprehensible love, for which all are undeserved.  The world’s understanding of love is severely limited.  Often lust is mistaken for love.  Frequently sentimentality is mistaken for love.  It is not unusual for warm and fuzzy feelings to be mistaken for love.  Even when there is real/genuine love it often lacks the depth it could have if Christ were involved. 

          Children, beginning at an early age, have an understanding of love that is developing.  It can be comical to listen to how they understand it, but there is also an unmistakable seriousness.  Ideally, children are simultaneously learning love by experiencing love given to them in their home by their parents and other family members.  Simply by observing the love between parents and other adults, children can potentially learn a lot about God’s love for them and people in general.  Children, even with limited knowledge and understanding, would really struggle to understand a “loveless” marriage, knowing it was just not supposed to be that way.  What about a “loveless” church (not loving one another), or a church that no longer loves Christ supremely?  These would seem like glaring contradictions!  Indeed this is a contradiction and it was exactly the problem identified by the first church Jesus addressed - Ephesus.

          In Revelation 2:1-7 we read Jesus’ Words “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars, and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  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.  But, this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’”

          Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor at the time Revelation was written.  It was the center/hub of the worship of Artemis (or Diana; Acts 19:28), who was the goddess of fertility.  It was a strategic commercial center and great seaport much like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or San Francisco would be today.  Because of these realities, the Apostle Paul had invested a lot of time there.  Nearly 3 years he had spent establishing the church at Ephesus.  By the time of John’s writing, Ephesus had obviously declined from where it was when Ephesians was written and Timothy had been the pastor there.  The second half of vs. 1 clearly points back to the vision of chapter 1 of the book and points directly to the person of Christ.  Christ’s position was to be front and center, or in the place of the most prominence within that church and in all the churches.  Yet, often He is not.  Christ can be crowded out much easier than many realize.

          In verses 2-3 the Lord pays a compliment to the congregation.  As the judge of everything, Jesus particularly mentions that He has evaluated their works, their labor, their patience, and the fact they could not bear those who are evil.  Evidently, they were hard-working people.  They exhibited a great level of patience, or long-suffering.  And, they recognized and dealt with evil, or evil people very swiftly.  Further, they had held firm (persevered) with patient determination all in the name of Christ and had displayed no signs of weariness in doing so.  In modern terms, they were a church very busy with all sorts of programs and activities which were all done in the name of Christ.  They had sincere desire to see great things happen.  Jesus wants that from the modern church.  After all, He commends the Ephesian church for it all.  But, there is just one problem, and beginning in verse 4 we will see what it was.


In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

“Jesus and All Authority” (Pt. 2) (May 7, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Jesus and All Authority” (Pt. 2)

(May 7, 2019)


          When someone writes a scholarly work or if they make a speech or give a presentation about something they will regularly cite other authoritative voices from the past and/or present.  These citations will include known scholars in their field who have weighed in on the subject.  If it is a book or article there are footnotes with names, book titles, titles of articles, publishers, dates, etc. as they are simply adding to the research and advancing and interacting with the thoughts of those who came before them.  The goal is to offer as much credibility as possible to the argument set forth.

          In Matthew 7:29 we read, in reference to Jesus, “For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  In New Testament times, scribes would often cite other authorities in order to lend as much credibility to their statements as possible.  In sharp contrast to the common practice of the scribes, Jesus’s words were self-authenticating.  In the body of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had used clear, direct wording to establish authority for His Words.  These were words and concepts previously unknown.  In Matthew 5:20 He says “For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  In 5:22 He says “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever says to his brother ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”  In 5:26 He says “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”  In 5:28 He says “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  In 5:32 He says “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

          In John 7:45-52, John records an incident where Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders of the day.  In the midst of the back and forth seen there, we have an astonishing and candid comment made in vs. 46 by officers to the chief priests and Pharisees.  It says “The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’” (John 7:46)  Even those who were not necessarily looking to recognize “authority,” immediately recognized authority coming from Jesus.  It was obvious, undeniable, and right there in plain sight before their eyes and ears!  The authority of Jesus is obvious to anyone who will take an honest look.  There has never been another like Jesus!  The Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached is brimming with all manner of authority.  The implied question for those who first heard it and for anyone who ever reads it is “What will you do now?”  When I consider the response all should have, I cannot help but think of the words of the great hymn written by John H. Sammis, “Trust and Obey.”  The first stanza reads “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way; while we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.  (chorus) Trust and obey, for there’s no better way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  The last stanza reads “Then in fellowship sweet, we will set at His feet, or we’ll walk by His side in the way; what He says we will do, where He sends we will go; never fear only trust and obey.  (chorus) Trust and obey, for there’s no better way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, May 2, 2019

“Jesus and All Authority” (Pt. 1) (May 2, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Jesus and All Authority” (Pt. 1)

(May 2, 2019)


          We live in a day and age where authority is highly questioned, and often outright rejected.  Young people are widely being taught to be their own person and reject their parent’s ideas, teachings, and even parental authority itself.  Many are rejecting the authority of elected officials to make decisions, laws, and policies.  Many are rejecting the police and all law enforcement officials because they do not see their “authority” as legitimate or worthy of being obeyed.  Many students are rejecting the authority of their teachers and causing chaos in the classroom and schools fearing lawsuits let students get away with things that would have been unheard of in previous generations.  College professors are frequently defiant of the authority of their supervisors and will say/teach off-the-wall things because they are not respectful of Deans, College Presidents, and Trustees.  Authority, as we knew it in our culture, is all but gone. 

          The single worst rejection of authority we see in our world however; is the rejection of biblical authority.  There are multiple ways this reality has displayed itself.  It is teaching kids things that are contrary to God’s Word. It may be rejecting God outright.  It may be silencing people from talking about their faith, about God, and about what the Bible has to say.  It is rejecting the ethical/moral teachings of Scripture.  The rejection of biblical authority is the root cause of the rejection of all authority.

          The rebellion against, and even total rejection of authority, is nothing new.  It has gone on since the Garden of Eden and continues to this day.  But, what is worse now is that there is no shame, no remorse, and no apologies for the rejection of God and His Word which carries all authority.  Adam and Eve, at least hid from God due to shame, but today there is no shame!  Jesus is, quite frankly, not very well received in modern culture.  Jesus was not very well received by the religious leaders and those in authority in His day either.  The people largely were astonished at the things He said and taught, but many saw their status/position on the line and therefore resisted and even rejected Jesus and His claims to authority.  In Matthew 7:28-29, as the Sermon on the Mount was concluded, we read “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

          Some were, we are told, astonished at His teaching.  Occasionally someone comes along and they have a special giftedness to get people to listen and even follow them in some way.  We have seen positive examples of this and we have seen negative as well throughout history.  Positive examples include people like Billy Graham, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and other great preachers, evangelists, and even some good politicians and world leaders.  Negative examples would be Hitler, cult leader Jim Jones, and many politicians, world leaders, and certainly false teachers within the church.  The ultimate example of the negative will one day be the “Antichrist” that the Scriptures speak of.

          The Jews were used to a certain type of teaching; a certain pattern of teaching; a certain type of teacher.  They noticed immediately that Jesus did not fit the norm at all – not even close!  As they tried to rationalize it all in their mind, they were somewhat confused because they could only really see things in earthly terms.  We see a clear example of their “earth-centered” pattern of thought recorded for us in Mat. 13:53-58 as Jesus was teaching in His home town of Nazareth.  There we read “Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.   When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this Man get all these things?  So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’  Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”  It is made clear here the “unbelief” and “rejection” hindered the work of Jesus in that place.  It was not that His power was limited there or anywhere else, but He was not willing to show accompanying signs and wonders to people who were highly skeptical and rejected Him for earthly, worldly, non-sensical types of reasons.

          Today, men are often not “astonished,” not “impressed,” and not concerned with Jesus’ teaching.  Many reject the Bible who have never really read it, much less studied it.  They do not see it as relevant, believable, credible, or important in any way.  They simply dismiss it in favor of believing other things, whether they have solid evidence or not.  “Belief” is a matter of the will.  If we work hard enough we can find a reason or a way to reject almost anything we do not want to believe.  There is a saying which says “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  This is the truth on display here.

          To know, to really know, Jesus’ teaching is to be utterly astonished!  It is to be blown away in the same way these people were here who heard The Sermon on the Mount.  Some people claim to be Christians, some even go to church, but they are not enamored with the teachings of Jesus.  There is no awe, no “Wow” factor.  The more one studies the Scripture, the more they should potentially be “wowed” by it.  God’s Word is truth, not only for the head, but also for the heart.  Jesus, the Son of God, has all authority.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor