Friday, April 26, 2013


In the photograph to the left Mary and I are standing in the ruins of the old city of Ephesus located in biblical Asia Minor, now modern day Turkey. There we and our group shared together the Revelation 2:1-7 passage addressing the Ephesian Church specifically. As you know, the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John from the Island of Patmos where he had been exiled for his faith. Seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 were written to the pastors of the seven churches of Asia Minor beginning with the Church at Ephesus and concluding with Laodocia.

We were on a journey that would eventually take us to those seven historical locations. The first one, where we are standing in the picture, was the ruins of the city of Ephesus,  John, while complimenting most of those seven churches for something good, also challenged them over something that was a failure in their lives and needing correcting and to the church at Ephesus the problem he addressed was one of "forsaking their first love."

"Forsaking their first Love." What does that mean?  Let me tell you what I think it means.

Generally, it is taken to mean that they had grown kind of cold in their love for Jesus so their service to him was lacking. That idea is presented in sermons by those who hold to the concept of "love" being equated with "works." In other words, the Ephesian Christians had somehow gotten somewhat complacent in their service and were not doing spiritual things with the regularity they once had. They just didn't love Jesus like they used to.

I suppose that was proven by their church attendance falling off because they were more excited about doing other things than they were going to church on Sunday. Or maybe they were not witnessing to the lost as much as they used to. Worse yet, they may not have been giving their tithe the past several months because of their busyness doing other things that had taken them away from church attendance.

You get the picture. 

When this is taught in the pulpits today what follows is a warning that if the hearers do not repent and rekindle their passion [love] for doing spiritual things instead of secular things they are in danger of the lamp-stand being removed. That is, the Holy Spirit will be on the outside of the church and there will be no power to do all the right things that need to get done by the church.

In that condition the church cannot function with the effectiveness it needs. Workers can't be found for the organization, new members aren't being added to the rolls, and money will be tight and programs have to be downsized as a result. The church is simply in a bad way because it's members have "Lost their first love."

After hearing the preaching of this message some Christians often get under conviction with a "guilty as charged" mentality and rededicate their lives to doing better. They, then, do do better, for a while. But inevitably, laziness about spiritual things overtakes them again. Never fear however, a time of rededication will arise in the next church meeting because another passionate message will be heard with the same results. Conviction to do better. 

The problem with this view isn't true. It isn't biblical. It isn't even what the passage meant. From my perspective at least. I think that view completely loses the message John wrote to the church at Ephesus and Christianity is reduced to an organization that is trying to work hard at getting certain things done but is never able to do them because it's members are not being faithful at the task. So what John REALLY said is totally missed by many preachers like ships passing in the night.

To get the message John was really giving to that Ephesian Church, which they WOULD NOT have missed, you have to understand another passage Peter's friend and fellow Apostle, Paul, HAD ALREADY WRITTEN TO THEM while he was in prison in Rome, around 60 AD. His message to them was called Ephesians. Paul said this in that letter..."I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God." (Ephesians 3:17-20 GNB)  

This Ephesians 3 passage is Paul simply telling the Ephesians to never forget how deeply and wonderfully they are loved by Christ. His love is broader, longer, higher and deeper than we could ever imagine and HE IS OUR LIFE, and don't ever forget that. They would remember THAT when John wrote and told them to return to their first love in his Revelation letter to them which was written some 7 or 8 years later.   

Why is this important? 

Paul had a profound and deeply held belief that he passed along to the Ephesians. It is that the knowledge of the love of Christ FOR US is our motivation for all of life and not our love FOR CHRIST. That belief was first stated by Paul in 11 Corinthians 5:14 where he said it this way, "The love of Christ constrains me..." This was in a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians around 55 AD [That's maybe 12 years before Revelation] where he used the word  συνέχει, (sunechei) which in English is the word "constrained." 

This word can be and has been translated "to hold fast or to hem in" in some translations. But a better translation, I think, is found in the NIV which translates συνέχει  as, "To urge, to impel, to excite one to press on."  Paul is saying that Christ's powerful love for us is the driving inner force for the living a life of grace and love. In other words, knowing "How much we are loved by Christ" is our motivation for the doing of anything because then it will simply be our responding to His love. Paul had passed this idea along to those in Ephesus as well. It was obviously a real conviction with him. 

So, I think it's safe to say that those Ephesians had not stopped working at all. John had already said this to them in Rev. 2:2-3, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know how you can't tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." That's REAL church work. 

So they hadn't stopped working at all. But what they had done, tragically, was to forget how much they were loved by the Lord and the fact that His life of love is our life as well. I think they were a church that had simply become a NON-LOVING congregation. But it isn't their love in view, but His.  

So the real problem with the Ephesians was that their busy works were based on them trying hard to love God.  Sound familiar! But that won't be corrected except by remembering how much He loves them and how their Christian life is Him BEING life to them.

They needed to "repent" of that [change their way of thinking] and "return" to their original heart of responding to God's grace and love. [Loving Him and others BECAUSE He loves them.]

They started out in grace and love but they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort and had lost their love for people. Our FIRST WORK as believers is to love as we're loved and to forgive as we've been forgiven. But we'll never do our first work without remembering HIS LOVE FOR US. How much we do in terms of church work will never replace the loss of the knowledge of His grace and love for us.

The "protos agape"  [first love]  for ALL BELIEVERS is not our love for Him, but His for us.

Paul B.

Monday, April 22, 2013



[Disclaimer_____My pet peeves are usually something I've found in my own life and had to try and correct and I tend to be too hard on others about those very things. Much as a dry alcoholic is usually far too strong in their condemnation of anyone drinking. This pet peeve is no exception.]

Sometimes people think of sarcasm as humor. But I think it is more often, as I read recently, "a way for people to express hurt feelings, to criticize others, or to disapprove of someone's action or words without actually coming out and saying what they really mean."

It was pointed out that television sitcoms are sometimes loaded with remarks dripping with sarcasm and, because so many laugh at them, they're mistaken for humor.  Don’t be fooled, they aren't. What sarcasm really winds up being is more a tool for embarrassing and wounding others. It's the chosen tool of "word bullies,"and young people in our society are growing up believing it to be socially acceptable.

If sarcasm doesn't immediately hurt someone else, it certainly runs the risk of being misunderstood since there is usually a "hidden message" being communicated. But I think when we resort to sarcasm to get a point across in a disguised manner, we're really showing a lack of courage to say what is really meant. 

I anticipate someone saying that an occasional sarcastic remark is harmless. Maybe so! But don't ever forget that true character is revealed by our words as well as our actions and both are judged every day. The collective result of that judgement is our reputation.

While I recognize that reputation and character are really two different things and that character is much more important as evidenced by the fact that a reputation that is gained without character is hypocrisy,  while a reputation that grows out of a good character is simply recognizing reality. try convincing some one else of your character when you're reputation is settled in their mind because of the sarcasm they've heard from your lips.

 I urge us all to consider today whether the use of sarcasm is worth risking wounding, or worse, alienating another person in the interest of getting a laugh.

Paul B.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Someone said this, and I SO agree..."Every addict I’ve ever known__every person who has crashed and burned and, as a result, come to terms with their own powerlessness__has taught me something about God’s grace that I would’ve never known otherwise."

Brennan Manning is a case-in-point. His alcohol addiction was a life-long struggle. But his understanding of grace came in the midst of that struggle. He authored books like "The Ragamuffin Gospel" and many others that presented the grace of God in ways that are astounding.

He has gone home and into the presence of the One whose grace astounds us all. He was 78 years young.

Here's one article of his that says it all.

"Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand. We resonate with slogans such as:

“There’s no free lunch.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“You want love? Earn it.”

“You want mercy? Show that you deserve it.

“Do unto others before they do unto you.”

“By all means, give others what they deserve but not one penny more.”

A friend told me she overheard a pastor say to a child, “God loves good little boys.” As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort–no pain, no gain–I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion.

Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation–that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase–our spirituality often starts with self, not God…We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas.

Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps–indeed, we can do it ourselves.

Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut. Once the fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear. We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality.

We begin to resemble the leading character in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Great God Brown: “Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”

Something is radically wrong.

Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat out denial of the gospel of grace."

Brennan Manning

I could not agree more and "thank you" Brother Manning

Paul B.

Monday, April 15, 2013


People seem hell-bent [literally] on trying religion as their hope. "Doing" the right religious things and doing them "right" is often the measurement of success in our culture of Christianity even when that kind of success is deadly to the soul of man.

 "Doing the right thing right" could even be defined as  keeping the ten commandments, having a quiet time, going to church, or doing what Jesus would do and it would still be deadly. It is the same sin committed by Adam when God told him to NOT eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he did anyway. 

Knowing what is "good" and what is "evil" and trying to do the "good" the right way is as bad as doing the "evil." It is that same independent spirit Adam had originally that is found at the heart of rules keeping and being religious, with the same results. Death!

What we discover is that even doing a "right" thing right and trying to please God, is the "wrong" thing because, as already stated, it evidences that we're caught up in that original independent spirit instead of walking in FAITH trusting that He's accomplished it ALL on our behalf and we must remember that.." Whatsoever is not of sin."

What God is after is relationship and it has nothing to do with following any rules. It is trusting Him explicitly, from start to finish, because it is a grace thing entirely with the very gift of His life as our own. We don't do "good things right to have a good life." He IS our life. 

It is a CHOICE between relationship OR rules/religion, because a real relationship can NEVER be defined or reduced to RULES KEEPING even if they're religious rules. That may be religion but it is not the relationship of grace

But when we choose to rest in who He is and what He is___on our behalf___which is what faith is___we may do right things well, [even wrong things on occasion as well] but the motive will not be to get Him pleased with us, but rather, celebrating who and what He Is to us by grace. That's a real relationship.

Paul B.

Friday, April 05, 2013


I absolutely LOVE that verse in Luke 15 where the prodigal son is seen making his way home from the sorry mess he'd made of things. These words describe it.. “And he arose [the prodigal son] and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20)

Notice the father! Can you imagine it? He bear-hugged him.The word "fell" is the Greek word ἐπέπεσεν which means "to embrace or to hug." It goes on to say the father "Kissed" him Now THAT'S what I would call a real bear hug.

Will it surprise you to know that's EXACTLY the same word used in Acts 10:44 where it says, "The Holy Spirit fell [there it is] on all those who heard the word." When His Word is heard in brokenness, remember Peter had just preached a whopper of a sermon and they were really broken up over their condition, there is a real bear hug from the Holy Spirit in the making. That's just what the prodigal got upon his return in brokenness.

[I'm discounting neither the anointing of the Spirit nor the baptism of the Spirit that places us into the Body of Christ when I say this.]

This seems to me to be part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He makes God's love real to us relationally and it seems to happen__ with some regularity__ when we've really messed up. I think that's extra special in that it characterizes the kind of love our Heavenly Father delights in bestowing on us as His kids. ESPECIALLY when we come clean about messing up. He doesn't love us MORE when we DON'T mess up and He doesn't love us LESS when we DON'T come clean about it. But I do think we are able to RECEIVE AND EXPERIENCE His love more when we learn our mess ups are a heavenly hug and a Kingly kiss "moment in the making." Maybe we haven't learned this because we've lost sight on His love being lavished on us ON THE BASIS OF THE CROSS instead of our success or achievements. We tend to think He keeps His distance when we've not done well. Not true!

You see, God's love is not cold and distant at all, especially when we foul things up, But it is a close and passionate experience when we don't think of His love in cold doctrinal terms. I believe we're to see the Father's agape love as an embracing and enfolding of us with a purposeful and passionate flinging of His arms around us, when we need it the most. The thing to remember is...This is not a momentary emotion with Him, but it is the constant expression of His divine nature and character through the Holy Spirit. HE IS LOVE. All this because the Cross HAS ENABLED HIM TO BE JUST in the doing of it. [Romans 3:26] That is INCREDIBLE.

So the next time things are rough or the bitter taste of defeat is in your mouth, just let God be who He really is to you. Let Him bear hug and kiss you as you readily admit exactly where you are  [It's called confession.] because He doesn't love you any less because of failure or love you any more because of faithfulness. He just loves you. That's who He is.

Paul B.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Mary and I just sailed the Aegean sea this past week. It was rough on occasion and totally delightful on occasion depending on the condition of the sea. I noticed especially two of many interesting things on board that ship. One was the anchor and the other a life ring to be tossed in any "Man overboard" moment. Different things with different purposes and they worked correctly only when fulfilling their true purpose. Don't ever try to stay safe above water with an anchor tied to you and don't ever try to keep a ship stable in the water with a life ring on a chain. You see what I mean.!

I find it interesting that the true gospel message is often lost and becomes what it really isn't. Good news is what it is, and it is like a life ring to people who are drowning when heard and received. But when the true gospel is lost the message being preached and received will become like an anchor that sinks the person holding on to it. The aroma of Life results from the former but the stench of death from the latter.

How can we know if we've lost the true gospel as our message? it would help to ask certain questions about any message being preached or being heard.

One question is... does the message you're sharing or hearing cause people to fix their eyes exclusively on Christ and what He alone has done? At the risk of sounding simplistic, whatever a person's need in life, our answer always starts with Jesus and His finished work at the Cross.

I was reminded of this as I visited the old ruins of first century Corinth last week. Paul stayed eighteen months there and later wrote a letter to them from Ephesus, a letter we call 1 Corinthians. In it he said he came to them determined to know nothing "except Christ and Him crucified." [1 Corinthians. 2:2]  He had just experienced the philosophy and wisdom of man in Athens and smelled the stench of death permeating the entire place and saw the hopelessness found in any other god or message. His message [the true gospel] revealed Jesus Christ and His Cross and the resurrection and was the power for salvation and life to all who received it.

Any other message [man's wisdom] would only be a powerless substitute, a flesh fling, and a wasted moment in time. That's because only Jesus is the supreme manifestation of the character and purpose of God. Any message that diminishes Jesus actually insults the Spirit of grace. Jesus is without peer and nothing compares to Him. He has become for us wisdom from God and Paul would boast (preach) of nothing less. (1 Co 1:30-31)

Another question to ask is...does the message being shared or heard demand an utter faith dependence on Jesus? Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Granted, the call to follow Christ brings us face to face with the impossible. How do we love as He loves us when people act the way they act? How do we forgive as we've been forgiven when people hurt others so deeply? How do we remain pure to vows and promises when others flaunt their broken promises and words?

Let me put your mind at ease immediately: I guarantee that in our own strength and effort we can't. But when we CHOOSE to TRUST His life in us, the power flows and we will see the impossible accomplished. But all, including each of us, will know whereof the power.

Sadly, much is being done apart from His life and Spirit in us and most of it is OTHER STUFF__ like church attendance or bible reading or conference attending__ which can be used to measure our success as Christians. And, because we’re so busy doing OTHER STUFF [all good things perhaps] we’re worn out and miss real opportunities to do the greater works such as unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness, all of which have the aroma of the Christ-life about them. The true gospel will always inspire us to risk relationships with the outcasts, wounded people, hated people, in His name, but the false message will only promote activity in the name of religion.

Finally, ask the question...Does the message I'm sharing or hearing release peace and joy as it's fruit? It's interesting to me that Paul began every one of his letters with this: "Grace and peace to you from God the Father." It is ONLY a revelation of God's favor that brings true peace. If the message you're sharing or hearing doesn’t reveal Jesus and the gift of His righteousness, then you will never experience the peace and joy that comes with it. It really is all about Jesus. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness (2 Co 5:21). This is what the gospel reveals – a righteousness from God that is received by faith from first to last (Rm 1:17). When you know that God sees and counts you as righteous as Jesus, you will be empowered to reign in life (Rm 5:17).

So the real key is actually knowing His righteousness has become ours: Are we resting in His or are we trying to impress Him with ours? A false message will seek to manufacture righteousness through works and holy living. it will prescribe a course of action for us to take and it will instantly fail the above three tests. It will burden us with loads we cannot carry and expectations we cannot live up to. Before you know it, we will be as stressed and as joyless as Martha. There will be the stench of Athens [death] about us instead of the aroma of life. [Christ]

The gospel really is the message with the aroma of life.