I want to speak to you about 'First Love'. So let's pray together, then we will turn to Scripture. Let's pray, and really we are in God's presence - I hope you sense that already. The guys did a really good job of bringing us to a place of sensing God's presence. You know, that is a job, you know - you know that, don't you? It's not just about flicking a switch, and all of a sudden we are in God's presence when we've been in the earthly realm all day. Hopefully we abide in Christ, but we have to actually make an effort to bring ourselves conscious to God's presence. It's not that He's not around, that we have to bring Him down from above or up from beneath, He's always there and He is within us if we are children of God - but we are unconscious to that, and praise is one of the greatest ways to attune our hearts to God's presence - and that's what's been going on. I hope you're aware of that - but we want to become more aware of that now through the word. But having said that, why think we have to wait until we hear (hopefully) a good message (I'm not sure, but we'll see)? Why wait until we hear a good sermon or a good preach, before we start to sense God and do something? Why wait, when God is here now, when God has already been moving? God could have already been touching you tonight in your various needs, whatever you've come in with this evening - so why wait? Just come to God, and it could just be like, in consciousness, just where I'm standing right now, OK, in line with the pulpit, it could be just, for you, a step of consciously stepping into God and His presence. Don't step away, don't stand aloof, but to step in and say: 'Yes, right now, I'm not waiting until the sermon or the preach, I'm not waiting until the decision at the end, I'm going to step into You now, Lord' - whatever that means and looks like tonight. We mightn't even get to the preach if that happens for us all! Wouldn't that be great?
Father, we just worship You tonight, for You are here. We sense You so near, we have glorified Your Son, the Lord Jesus, and we welcome Your Spirit. Father, You are Wonderful, The Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and we just fall at Your feet, and we say: 'Lord, there is none like You'. We honour You tonight, Lord, we do. We just want to say that we are nothing in comparison to You, and yet You have made us something in You. We just want to extol You, adore You, and we want to embrace You as our Father, as our Abba Father. We want to say, Lord Jesus, You are beautiful, You are so beautiful. You're the fairest, the Altogether Lovely. You have won our hearts, and You have shown us, Father, You have shown us what God is like and who Abba in heaven is. You have brought Him to us, and we thank You, Lord Jesus, we thank You for dying for us, we thank You for shedding Your blood. We thank You that You're alive, and You're well, and You're on planet Earth by Your Spirit. Lord, You're here tonight, and we just worship You, Lord Jesus. We bow at Your nail-pierced feet, and Lord, if they were in front of us, we would kiss them and we'd embrace them. We just love You, and we pray, Holy Spirit, that You will come now. If, for anybody, Jesus and Father is not real, if for anybody They are not real, Spirit of God, will You come and make Them real, would You come and witness to Jesus Christ and the Father to our hearts. Do what You do, Spirit, Lord who is the Spirit, would You search our hearts? You who search the deep things of God, would You search our hearts? Deep calls unto deep - Lord, would You come and shed the searchlight, Holy Spirit, upon us and do what You want to do? Whatever needs to happen tonight, we say: 'You are sovereign, Lord, You have Your way'. I've got plans of what to say, You have Your way - whatever happens, happens, as long as, Lord, it's in Your plan, Your purposes, and for Your glory. Lord, we give it all to You. Thank You, Lord, we wait upon You. Lord, I just pray that everyone, right from the very outset, if they're not already, will be conscious of meeting with You right now. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
I want you to turn to the Book of Revelation, please, Revelation chapter 2. Now, before I read the portion of Scripture, you know what the book of Revelation means, don't you? It actually, if you have the correct sort of title on it, it will say 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ'. It's not a revelation primarily about what's going to happen at the end of the world, all the nitty-gritty facts, but it's a revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Really, we could describe it as an unveiling of Jesus Christ. If you like, it's what Jesus is really like - did you ever think of this book like that? Immediately we delve into it to get all the facts and figures and, you know, the insights into the end times - but this book is about a Person, this book is about what Jesus really like now. Now this is as opposed to the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - what He was like then. I know He's the same yesterday, today, and forever, but what I mean is: Jesus, in His disposition, let us say, in even His demeanour, is not the way He was. The way He is, if you want to see the way He is now, you need to read chapter 1 and see this incredible unveiling of Jesus Christ that made John, who writes the book, fall down dead - maybe literally, perhaps figuratively - but he basically expired and collapsed in the presence of the risen, glorified Jesus Christ. Now, is that the way you think about Him? Because that's the way we need to think about Him!
So Revelation unveils Christ as He really is, but it also tells us what He really thinks about now as well. What does Jesus think about what's going on in the world today? What does Jesus think about what's going on in the church today? What does Jesus think about what's going on in my life, little old me - what does He think? You see, if we are going to find out the answers to those questions, more than ever we need a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ, we need Him to be unveiled to us - in other terms, a disclosure, a manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself - that's what we need, that's what the church needs, that's what the world needs: to see Jesus as He really is! Wow!
Now, what we're going to read tonight is a letter to a church in Asia Minor. There are seven of them, we're going to read the first one to Ephesus. But imagine, for a moment, try and put yourself in the boots of the people that are receiving this. These are real people, OK? It's a real church, in a real place, inhabited by real, ordinary people - and they get a real letter from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, via the Apostle John. Now, just imagine that! The equivalent would be to get an email from Jesus - imagine your church gets an email from Jesus, 'Ding', email from Jesus! Sunday morning, you're notified there is a written statement that is going to be read from Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords - I think everyone would be in attendance that Sunday, what do you think? Imagine what it would be like, all sitting there, I don't know who would be reading it - the angel of the church, whoever you think that is - but the leader of the church, or leaders of the church, and everybody is on tenterhooks, everybody's sitting on edge: 'What is He going to say?'.
So this is what He says to Ephesus, chapter 2 verse 1: "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''".
So this is the church at Ephesus. It's widely believed that John, who writes this book, the Revelation, who has received these seven letters, is the primary leader, some say the Bishop of the church at Ephesus for many years. In fact, the character of the church reflects the character of its first bishop, perhaps, its leader, John. The two sides of the John of the New Testament are: he is the Apostle of Love, and yet he is also one of the Sons of Thunder. That's reflected in two fascinating stories that have been passed down concerning his later years in the church at Ephesus. On the one hand he refused to be under the same roof as a heretic by the name of Cerinthus; and yet in his later years, as he travelled around in his itinerant ministry as a very old man, he had reduced his whole message down to a one sentence statement that he preached everywhere: 'Little children, love one another'. So there is this balance of truth and love, and Ephesus as a church, likewise, reflected both love and zeal.
If you know your Bible, you will remember that Paul, in Acts chapter 20, in his farewell statement to the elders of the church at Ephesus, warned them that after his departure they should be very careful as shepherds of the flock, because there would be wolves who would come in amongst the flock, speaking perverse things and drawing away disciples. He says that for three years he, with tears, did not cease to warn them about what was going to happen regarding false doctrine. For that reason, the Lord Jesus, in this letter, commends Ephesus. You see it, first of all He says that through hard work and patience they performed many righteous deeds, verse 2: 'I know your works, your labour, your patience'. He also tells them that they do not tolerate sin in the church, verse 2: 'You cannot bear those who are evil'. They allow only sound doctrine to be taught, verse 2 at the end, 'You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars'. They also suffered for Jesus, verse 3, 'You have persevered and have patience, and have laboured for My name's sake and have not become weary'. They hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, verse 6, whatever that is, we're not going to go into it tonight, it may have been a kind of pagan cult or it may have been people who have separated the clergy from the laity to a degree - but, whatever it is, they had such doctrinal vigilance that they held fast to the truth - but their doctrinal vigilance continued whilst their love had begun to wane. Their warmth of love had given place to lifeless orthodoxy.
This is the reason for the critique that Jesus brings to them. But you remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:2: 'Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am' - what? - 'nothing'. Think about that! That is Christ's appraisal of all of us. He asks the question: 'Have you learned to love?'.
So let's look at this critique in verse 4: 'Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love'. Now, what is first love? Well, there is a bit of a debate, we don't actually know absolutely what the point was here, in the sense of: is it 'first' in the sense of time, the way you used to love, you no longer love the way you used to love in the beginning; or does the word 'first' imply first in importance, meaning love for God and love for others? Well, I think it's either, and it's probably both. The New Living Translation translates verse 4 like this: 'You don't love Me or each other as you did at first' - that's legitimate. 'The love that you had for Me is no longer there', or another translation is 'Your first love you have abandoned'; in other words 'Your love for Me is something you have let go of'. I think all would be in agreement here that what the Lord Jesus is critiquing in the church of Ephesus is that they have lost their conjugal love - do you know what that is? Marital love, that they should have had as the church for Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom.
I think it's a bit of a throwback to Jeremiah 2 verse 2, where God says to Israel there, 'This is what the Lord says: 'I remember the devotion of your youth; how, as a bride, you loved Me, the love of your betrothal, espousals, and followed Me through the wilderness, through a land not sown'. The Amplified Bible translates Jeremiah 2:2 like this: 'I earnestly remember the kindness and devotion of your youth, your love after your betrothal in Egypt, and marriage at Sinai, when you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown'. You see, God, Jehovah, considered Israel as His bride. He sought her in Egypt and bought her out of bondage and, at Mount Sinai, with the giving of the covenant, He married Himself to them. She was, Israel was, Jehovah's wife - but then we read through the Old Testament this tragic story, very graphically typified in the prophet Hosea. Hosea is the servant of the Lord, and God says to him: 'Hosea, go and get yourself a wife of harlotry'. Imagine if a young fellow came to you and said: 'God has told me to go and marry a prostitute'' 'I don't know who you're hearing, fellow, but it ain't God, God doesn't tell people to do that!' - well, He did here. It might be an exception, but He did it. Not only did He tell him to do that, he went and did it and he took on her children as well; but as the story transpires that girl who had been melted by love - when she thought she was never going to be loved like that ever in her life - she then decided to go back to her prostitution, leave him, ends up in slavery, and what does God say? 'Scrub that, didn't work, just go and get a goody two shoes girl' - no, He didn't. He said: 'Go after her, and buy her back'.
Now, if that wasn't in the Bible, I wouldn't believe any of that stuff - but it's there. What was it all about? God was trying to get the attention of His people, that they have prostituted their love for Him, they have substituted that pure devotion of their espousals and their marriage covenant with God Almighty for idols. Of course, we today, we are the bride of Christ - it's the same imagery, isn't it? It says of Solomon that 'Solomon loved the Lord', 1 Kings 3:3, 1 Kings 11:1, 'but King Solomon loved many strange women'. You know where that brought him. Those foreign brides brought him to a place of idolatry.
First love. 'I have this against you, you have left your first love'. They say everyone remembers their first love. Few experiences will ever be as intense as your first crush, if you can remember it. They say falling in love as a teenager is much more intense than the experience in adulthood. In fact, researchers have identified pathways in the brain which light up when teenagers are in love. Falling in love appears to have similar effects, they tell us, on the brain as using cocaine. It's so pleasurable, that falling in love - especially in your youth - can become an addiction. Have you ever been addicted to Jesus as a first love? I'm talking about being infatuated, enraptured, intoxicated, inebriated by the Person of Christ. Have you ever been crazy about Him? That's first love!
For some of us the honeymoon is long over, and first love has flown away. It's like a man first married, who won't go out to work in the morning without kissing his wife - but as the years pass by, she's up the stairs, he's going out, and she just shouts down from upstairs 'Cheerio dear!'. Making the beds, cleaning the bathroom, lifting up the clothes and maybe she is more taken up now by the place than the person. That can happen. Vance Havner says 'Revival is falling in love all over again with Jesus'. That's my message: getting back to first love. If we want a revival, OK, one of the first things we need to do is get rid of the rivals - yes? Now the most obvious rival, of course, is sin, isn't it? We all understand that - but what I want to really highlight tonight (and, by the way, I'm preaching to you, but really this is a message for me, and this is a message that God has given me personally) - the rivals that are most problematic in our lives, that steal first love devotion and espousal to Jesus, are usually more subtle than mere overt sin. One of the major ones that I have struggled with is busyness. It was Socrates who said: 'Beware the barrenness of a busy life'.
Who of us haven't been affected by this in some way? But I'm here, I'm just going to share very personally my own experience of this. I was born again very early in my life, I grew up in a Christian home. I have to say - and I'm not saying this in any proud way, it's just the grace of God in my own life - that I longed to know God from as far back as I can remember in a deep, intimate way. Even as a child, and in adolescence, I would seek to spend time with God. I thank God for those who instilled that emphasis within me. I can remember some quality times waiting in the presence of God as a young person. Very early in my experience the light went on, that lightbulb epiphany, that the Father seeks worshippers, that God seeks lovers. One of my frustrations when I eventually - this is going in fast forward very quickly - into pastoral ministry, which I was in for eleven or so years in total, was the fact that I was so busy doing the work of the Lord that I hadn't time to minister to the Lord. Ministering for the Lord is different than ministering to the Lord, which is a priestly ministry just for Him. So that was one of the reasons, and it wasn't the sole one, but it was a very fundamental reason why, in faith, we stepped out of pastoral ministry. But guess what? Do you think that all of a sudden, when you didn't have to run around the hospitals visiting, or weren't preparing three brand-new sermons every week, that with the spare time that you had, you would just naturally fall into the default of waiting on God? It didn't happen.
I'm confessing, hands up here tonight, that it is still one of my greatest struggles. Now January, as a month, has often been time when I have laid aside a few weeks to seek God in a deeper way. There was one year in particular, and it must be going back five or six or more years, I didn't look up the journals to see, but I remember spending the whole - largely - the month of January, and just giving all the mornings to God to spend time in prayer, and wait before Him, and listen to what He was saying. Primarily, I suppose, at the core of my motivation was: 'Lord, what do You want me to do?'. You know, I was at a stage, coming out of pastoral ministry, and I had embarked upon the novelty of it all, what it was to have an itinerant ministry and moving around, but that had worn off, the novelty had gone, and I was just saying: 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' - I was in a sort of wilderness place. 'What is it You want me to do?', and I heard the Lord say, not audibly, but in my spirit, in maybe ten different ways: 'This, this is what I want you to do'. He was talking about waiting on Him, specifically 'Be in My presence. Seek Me the rest of your days'. I did hear Him say: 'I want you to be a man of My presence'. That wasn't the message I was looking for, I'll be honest with you, it was not. It is a message that I have so easily forgotten, and I have to be completely transparent to you and say that there have been many times, whether consciously or unconsciously, in my life when I have looked for more than that, or wanted more than that, because it wasn't enough - isn't that awful?
I'm just giving you wee highlights here. A couple of years ago my sister-in-law, who's got eight kids and lives in Londonderry - yes, eight kids, you heard that right - she was moving house, imagine what that would be like! My wife, her sister, decided to go and help her - and I thought 'That's not for me! This would be a good opportunity to go away somewhere quiet and seek God just for one night'. I decided, I have a friend who is a farmer up the Mournes, and he actually owned the side of a mountain which was his field, and he let me pitch my tent (a Tesco's tent by the way, don't buy Tesco's tents), I borrowed that off a neighbour as well. I pitched the tent on the side of the mountain and decided I would seek God. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I could actually walk from the tent, just around the corner of the mountain, and there was Spelga Dam. There was a huge big slab of rock, it looked like an altar, and I just lay on it, and the sun was shining, and I thought 'This is going to be wonderful'. I spent a bit of time there, went into the tent, and there was a storm came that night, OK? I didn't know this, by the way, when you're up a mountain you can hear absolutely everything down the valley - did anybody know that? I mean everything! People were cutting their lawns, I could hear cowbells, dogs, kids, you name it, half the night that's what I was hearing, tractors into the wee hours of the morning taking in the silage, all that sort of stuff - maybe that's an aside. The tent nearly blew away, I don't know how I actually managed, I think it was a miracle! Anyway, the next morning I went for a fry with the farmer, and there were trees down on the roads and everything, and my little tent just stayed there. Anyway, God did speak to me - OK? Again, I'm looking for God to show me: what is the purpose of my life? What is my destiny? What's the big plan that You're going to unfold for me that's going to change the world?
He spoke to me through Jeremiah 45 and verse 5, and it's a word to Baruch who was Jeremiah's scribe, listen to what it says, you don't need to look it up: 'Do not seek great things for yourself'. Basically it says 'I'm coming in judgement', and then He says: 'But I will give you your life as a prize in all the places wherever you go'. I'm trying to hear the voice of God, the rhema word of God to my heart, the specific word out of the logos word, I'm looking for what God is saying to me - and what is He saying to me? I took this: 'Listen, you're not going to have anything great for you, you're not going to build an empire, it's not going to be a great organisation - but wherever you go, I will give you life!'. The question is: is that enough? 'Oh yes, that's enough, you know, you've life, you've God's presence' - but let's be real here: there is a part in all of us that wants something more, for me. This is staggering now, but this is naked flesh that we've all got to face, OK, because we've all got it.
It's like Moses, Moses had the choice. God says: 'I'm not going with you folk any more, you're cracking Me up, you are a stiffnecked people, I can't deal with you. If I stay any longer with you, I'll exterminate you all!' - that's basically what God said. God said: 'Plan B, I'll send an angel, he will lead you into the Canaan land, the Promised land, milk and honey and all that, but I'm not going'. Moses at that moment could have said: 'Yes, that's what I want, Plan B will do me'. Who of us would not have chosen Plan B? Who would not have chosen blessings, milk, honey, prosperity, health, wealth, you name it? A little caveat: but the presence of God is not there. Moses said: 'Do not lead us up if You don't go with us'. What he was saying is, to paraphrase: 'I'd rather have You without Canaan, than Canaan without You'.
Now, that's very pious of you who are saying 'Yes, yes', and nodding your head right now - but in the cold light of day, when that is the choice before us: God's presence and nothing else - I mean nothing else, not God's presence and revival, God's presence and nothing; and everything without God's presence - what would we choose? It's good that you don't have to make that choice, in a sense, because if you seek first the kingdom you get everything, but that's not the point: you've got to be able to bring yourself to that point of choosing Him, when it's Him and Him alone.
So that was me up the Mournes, and I have to say to you that those were clear messages from God - but this has been my constant struggle. My struggle has been for Sabbath rest, do you understand what that is? Those 'selahs' in our life, those pregnant pauses where we still ourselves before God, where we wait upon Him, where we are renewed with wings like eagles, where we are weary and then we start to run - but to actually punctuate my life with that; in fact, rather than punctuate my life, to actually punctuate my life with work, but practising the presence of God as the norm. It should be the other way round, do you understand? Are you with me?
And then, more latterly, things start to get busy, preaching, ministry with people - and I decide 'I've got to spend more time in prayer, I've got to spend more time in prayer'. I decide to have days of prayer, so one day a week - it happened to be a Wednesday - I decide, it has to go in the diary or I'll not do it. Wednesday I go to the Portadown House of Prayer, don't tell anybody, and lock myself in and just spend time with the Lord. Guess what? That worked for a while, but it wasn't very long until that started to get squeezed out, and it was squeezed out with good things - usually people ringing up 'Oh, I need prayer ministry'; and you get busier and busier, 'Oh, I need to prepare there for those meetings' - and time with God gets pushed out. Coming almost up to now, a little bit more, but running up to Christmas I was really, really busy, really busy. Busy preaching, busy organising, busy praying with people. I couldn't wait for the Christmas holidays, and the Christmas holidays were heavenly - nobody came near me, it was wonderful. I'm not saying I prayed all the time, I didn't, I watched films, sat by the fire, ate chocolate, all the rest, but it was wonderful - but when I quietened my spirit during that time, I went to church one Sunday morning around Christmas (and sorry Pastor, it was nothing to do with anything you said, or anything that was in the service) - I sat down and God spoke to me in my spirit: 'You have left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen and repent, and do the things you did at first'. 'Am I hearing things, is that for me?'.
So I decided, right, and I said to Barbara: 'I have sinned here', I didn't quite put it in those terms, but 'I have squeezed Wednesday's day of prayer out here, and I need to get this back in, and I need to make sure my times with God are protected' - and, you know, all the rest. Guess what happened? January, guess what happened? Hamster wheel again, back in, back in the groove - what's the groove? Preparing, ministry, courses, people need help, people are ringing up, people are sending their emails, people are broken, people are demonised - half term! Can't wait until half term comes, please hurry up half term! I take off with the kids, the kids are off, I take off two or three days - it was wonderful, it was refreshment to my soul - and guess what God says? 'You've left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen and repent, and do the things you did at first'.
On Valentine's Day, a week or so ago, I'm reading 'Daily Light', Baxter's 'Daily Light', you know the wee verses for every day, and the portion that day is 'I am your portion and inheritance', Numbers 18:20, 'I am your portion'. Valentine's Day! 'I am all you need. I am all you should love, all you should want'. Again, it was Psalm 73:25-26, 'Whom have I in heaven but You, and who is there on earth that I desire beside You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever'. We are all a kingdom of priests, if we are in Christ, we are all a kingdom of priests. The Levites were the tribe of priesthood, and they owned nothing, they had nothing - why? Because the Lord was their portion! They lived to minister to the Lord - but I was, and I am torn, torn between Him and it, torn between Him and them, torn between ministering to Christ and ministering to the church. So many needs, and there are, I tell you: it is crazy, the brokenness, the demonisation, the tragic circumstances, the sin, the compromise that is in the church - it is staggering! There are so many opportunities, I mean it's exciting, the good and great opportunities that there are today going on. I mean, you hear all the doom and gloom, but there are crazy things happening in the kingdom of God right now. I'm getting invitations to do things, and I just think 'I could hardly resist this, this is incredible!'. But the Spirit of God is saying to me: 'You are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that better part which shall not be taken away from her'.
I remember thinking of - and I'm not trying to be overdramatic here, I'm just baring my heart to you - people who want to come for help, some of them time wasters, but most of them are not, most of them are not. They are broken and bruised, bleeding and desperate - but the Lord came to me one day and He said this through the story of the alabaster box, and Judas said: 'That money, the worth of that vase and the ointment should have been given to the poor'. Jesus said: 'The poor you have always with you, but Me you do not always have'. What was Jesus saying? 'There's always going to be a long queue at your door down the street, but Me you do not always have'. There are always going to be broken people, there is always going to be need - but here's a principle for you if you are involved in ministry at all: you must not be need-driven. You cannot be need-driven, you must Holy-Spirit-led. If you're need-driven, you will burn out - I'm talking from experience.
Let me tell you a story, maybe you've heard it before. There was a widower and his daughter, his only daughter. They lived together, and every night after the farmer worked and the girl came home from her studies, they would sit beside the fire and they would talk of the day and share the evening together and then go to their bed. But there came a time when the daughter, after tea, after clearing up and so on, she passed a few moments and then she would disappear from sitting with her father at the fire, she would go up to her room. He was a little perturbed at this, but obviously he was thinking 'She's coming of age, and maybe this is a bit cringeworthy for her, to sit here with me every night, she has other things to do, maybe she needs to study more' - he tried to make excuses for her, but he was really quite pained by this. The weeks transpired and passed by, and Christmas came. On Christmas morning, his only daughter came down the stairs and presented a parcel to him. He opened the beautiful parcel to find a handmade pair of leather slippers, that's what she was doing up the stairs! Night after night after night, painstakingly, with loving devotion, preparing this gift for him. Tears started to stream down his face, and he thanked her, but this is what he said: 'I would rather have had you than the slippers'. Wow! That's the way our Father thinks.
You could be running around the country doing the work of the Lord, as I can be doing too, when Father wants you, when Jesus is saying to you - like He said to Simon Peter on the beach that day when He prepared breakfast - 'Do you love Me more than these, Simon Peter?'. What are 'these'? Well it could have been 'Do you love Me more than the disciples?', because he always thought he did love Jesus more than the rest of them; but I've a funny feeling it was the fish Jesus was talking about. Some believe it certainly was, because he had gone back to fishing - 'Do you love Me more than these?'. But there can always be a 'these', whatever it might be, whether it's a career, whether it's competition, whatever it might be - there can be substitutes that rob us of first love devotion to Jesus! Can you remember a time when you were head over heels in love with Jesus Christ? Can you? Infatuated, intoxicated by His love?
Jesus gives Ephesus counsel in verse 5: 'Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come'. Remember, remember from where you have fallen. Let's just wait a moment, let that sink in right now. Can some of you remember first love? Can you? William Cowper wrote many a hymn, one of them was 'Oh For A Closer Walk With God', and he says in a couple of the verses:
'Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill'.
Remember. What has come between you and Jesus? What has come between you and Jesus? What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. What is coming between you and your conjugal, marital love with Jesus Christ, your Bridegroom? What is it? Remember from where you have fallen, and repent. Now I have said many many times that 'repent' is made up of two Greek words 'metanoia', but it was a revelation to me even this week to realise that that literally translated is 'change of mind'. But when we use the expression 'change of mind', we think of 'Oh, I fancied salad for my lunch today, I think I'll have soup instead'. That's not repentance, 'metanoia' is a different mind, an altogether changed mind - are you with me? It's not your mind, it's the mind of Christ. So you need to maybe completely de-program - and this is what I'm going through at the minute, and it is not easy, in fact it's a pain because it's upsetting my diary and my desires - but it means it's more than just mental, it's actually volitional, to the extent that you're actually going to need to do something about this. You're going to need to deprogram your mind, reprogram it, your priorities and your motivations, and your actual regime, your behavioural patterns - and that might look like (and this is what it's looking like for me at the moment), saying 'Sorry, no' to people 'Sorry, no'.
We've got a thing here in the West, a philosophy in Christian circles, an industrial philosophy: hard work is good, invest your energies, and things like that. The converse of that is that we often deduce that sitting around waiting, praying, is doing nothing - when in fact it is everything, it's everything! If we don't deprogram our Christian psyches, and reprogram them to understand what the priorities of the kingdom of God are, and the King of the kingdom, we are not going to make the changes that we need to in our society. I spoke to a man (I'll try to make it as confidential as I can, because I don't have permission to share this), but just to say that he was very busy in ministry, and a friend of his was given a dream - and when I say that this man was busy, I mean he was busy to nearly the point of the breakdown of his own marriage, because if he got a phone call or an enquiry to go to help someone, it wouldn't matter what he was doing - he could have arranged some kind of romantic meal or weekend with his wife, but he would drop it all to run to this other person. This friend had a dream from God, and it was him standing there, and there was a circle of needy people around him - and they were all clawing and drawing upon his attention, all of them. But then the dream, like a film lens, started to pan out to the broader frame - are you with me? So there was one guy, a circle of people around him, and then the camera goes out, goes out, goes out, and there was the devil ushering all the people his direction.
Remember where you have fallen from, and repent. Now listen, I'm repenting tonight of being too busy. I'm repenting of squeezing out prayer time and time with God. I'm repenting of prioritising other things, rival things, idols, even ministry, helping other people, being there for other people before being at the feet of Jesus. Now, please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying I haven't been at the feet of Jesus, I have. I have, I can say that before God tonight, that I have been at the feet of Jesus. I haven't been slacking in prayer, I haven't. What I am saying is: first love has grown cold for secondary things.
Remember, repent, and look at what it says: repeat, repeat, do the first works, the things you loved at first. So there is first love, and there is first works. Please note, it doesn't merely say 'first feelings', and we've talked about the feelings of first love and all the rest, but it's not saying 'Repeat the first feelings', it's saying 'Repeat the first works'. You see, this is a problem that we often have in Christianity. Feelings are very important, and you know that I'm big on feelings, God created them and He wants us to enjoy them - but if we sit around waiting on the feelings coming and kicking in, we'll never do anything; that's what discipline is, and it's very important. I'm not talking about just going through the Christian life doing things for the sake of doing them out of ritual, and we're never any better for it and the feelings never come. There's something wrong if that's the case. But you've got to engage your will, and decide 'Whether I seem to get anything out of this or not initially, I believe God. He says 'Seek My face', and I said 'Your face, Lord, I will seek'. Wait, I say, wait patiently on the Lord. I am determined to do that, whatever it feels like initially'. If you do that, you will break through. I'm telling you, you will break through - but there is something to do. Do the things you loved at first.
What is that? What did you use to do? Did you use to spend leisure time with God? I mean unrushed, did you use to go into the countryside? Did you use to take Sabbaths? Did you use to fast? Did you use to listen and journal to hear the voice of God? Did you use to evangelise? Did you use to engage people in personal ministry? I don't know what it is, but go back to the honeymoon, go back to first love, go back to it and try to remember. Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that we all have to press rewind and become what we were when we were immature Christians. I don't want to do that, because there are things that I have learned and come into now that I wouldn't have known then. We're not suggesting that, but we are suggesting - in fact, more than that, we're saying the revelation of God is that first love passion needs to be rekindled, and there is nothing more important than love for Jesus! That's what it's all about!
Whatever repeating for you means, you need to do something radical, because there are serious consequences here. The negative is, look at verse 5: 'or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place; unless you repent'. Now I don't want to go into this in much detail, but the lampstand is being removed - and, simply, what that means is that the witness is gone, the witness is gone. I hear people in local churches say 'Oh, the numbers are going down, and people are leaving, families are leaving - oh, it's terrible'. I'm not suggesting the devil can't be involved in that, but we often blame the devil - but here in Revelation 2, who was shutting down this church? Who was going to shut it down if they didn't get their act together? Jesus. Do you know that He closes down churches? He takes away their lampstand because they're not fit for purpose. Look at Ephesus, on the outward appearance, what did they look like? They've got it all together, but they had lost their first love - and the fire goes out when you lose your first love. Effectiveness is found in the secret place with Jesus, and if you haven't got that love for Jesus your fire will go out. But the positive - if they remember, repent, and repeat - the positive is, look in verse 7, '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'. The tree of life, let's not go too deep here, the tree of life is Jesus! Now there is a literal tree of life and all that, I believe it, but it's a picture of life in Christ: He feeds us, He satisfies us, He sustains us. Do you love Him? Do you feed on Him?
I want to show you two verses and I'm almost finished. Turn with me to John 14, these are the two most favourite verses in the whole Bible to me out of them all. I'm not saying they're any better, I'm just saying they're my favourites, OK? John 14 verse 21: 'He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him'. If you love Jesus and keep His word, He will manifest Himself to you. Have you ever had Jesus manifest Himself to you? Well, what does that mean? Well, I don't entirely know what it means for you, I only know what it means for me, and I only know what it can mean biblically speaking, what it has meant for people in history. Why not test it? Who would like Jesus to manifest Himself to them? Well, guess what? Love Him and He will come to you - it doesn't get more complicated than that. Look at verse 23: 'Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him'. What!? 'Love Me, keep My word, and the Father will love you, and We', that's the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, 'We will come and make Our home with you'. What? Love Him, and you get Him. Love Him, and you get the Father. Love Him, and you get the Son. Love Them, love Jesus, and you get to become a temple, a tabernacle, a dwelling place where God comes. 'Oh God, please come down, oh please come down and help us' - God comes into you, lives with you, becomes a part of you!
Let me tell you a story and then I will quit. Has anybody heard of Johannes Facius, have you ever heard of Johannes Facius, anybody? He was a Dane of German descent, and I think he lived in Germany - but he was the director of an international intercessors ministry, went all over the world, a very busy man, encouraging people to pray. He was invited to Australia for three weeks waiting upon God. The invitation just said 'This is not a preaching conference, it's not even a prayer meeting, it's just three weeks set aside to wait on God'. He thought to himself: 'I can think of better things to do with my time than spend three weeks just waiting on God, I have so many engagements, so many people to see, so much to do, too many commitments - three weeks just sitting about waiting on God?'. He was just being honest, put yourself in his place, if you got that invite. I mean, going to Australia for three weeks to sit about waiting on God? Then the Lord said to him: 'Oh, you think that there are better things that you could do than just spend time with Me?'. He felt so challenged about that, that he did go, pack his bags, and decided to attend. There he arrived, he says: 'You can just imagine, pastors everywhere, Christian workers, people who are instinctively busy; and all met together in one place, but told 'You're not allowed to speak, you're not allowed to do anything, we're just waiting on God''. He said there was a convener, and the convener didn't really have much to do except oversee that everybody did what they were meant to be doing, which was just nothing but waiting on God. He said it was quite humorous, because they would be sitting there in quietness for the first week, and all of a sudden there would be a rustle of a few pages, and somebody was getting a word to share; or in the back someone would sing 'I love you Lord', or somebody would break out in tongues, or want to give a word of prophecy - and the convener would have to stand his feet and interrupt, and would say 'Excuse me, we value the word of God, we value singing, we value prayer; but that's not why we are here, we are here just to wait on God'. He says the first week was excruciating, all these pastors were like heroin addicts going through cold turkey - yes? That was the first week, torment. The second week, things in their lives that had been covered up by frantic ministry and activity started to come to the surface: issues, brokenness, bondages. But the third week, Johannes Facius says: 'There was great revelation into people's lives about where their ministry needed to go, challenges to them'. He says that in his own life, God revealed to him in that third week more things about his future ministry than he could ever imagine - and at the moment of writing this story, they were still being fulfilled, all outworking from that third week just waiting in the presence of God.
Now here's the question: do I value that? Do I love Jesus enough to spend that prodigal, wasteful, indulgent time in His presence? If God was to come to you tonight, and to come to me, O Lord, and say 'I want you to schedule a week out of your diary, I want you to take that week out of ministry, out of church, out of your job, I want you to take it out and I want you to do nothing but wait on Me' - do you value it? Do you value it enough? 'Martha, Martha, you're anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that better part, which shall not be taken away from her' - first love. You have lost your first love, remember where you have fallen from, repent, and repeat the first works that you loved at first.
Let's pray. Now listen, this really is what it all comes down to. Remember what Paul said at the beginning? 'If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love' - it's all about love. Is your heart, is my heart: 'One thing I desire of the Lord, and that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, and behold His beauty, and enquire of Him'? That's all there is.
Maybe you need to repent tonight of substitutes, losing your first love. Will you remember it, and will you repeat? What is there that needs to change in your mindset and in your behaviours? How do you need to be radical? Do you know what it might look like? Leaving a ministry - 'Oh, don't tell that to our Sunday School teachers and our board of elders and deacons', that's the way churches work. 'Oh, we need workers, don't put anybody off work!' - listen you'll have better workers if they're working out of worship, if they are worshippers before they are workers, if they're called to be with Him before they go out to do ministry, like the disciples. First He called them to be with Himself, and then He sent them out. You see, we've got it all wrong - and do you know something? The enemy, the Antichrist in the last days, Daniel 5 says, will wear out the saints of the Most High God. If he can't get you with porn, adultery, embezzlement, alcoholism, addiction - if he can't get you with those things, do you know what he gets you with? Being a busy Christian! He loves that one, it's one of his favourites, busy Christians.
Oh Lord, help us. Help me, I repent tonight, Lord. I repent of busyness and barrenness. I repent of worrying more about what people think of me on the end of a telephone line, than what You think. I repent, Lord, that I, in childlike faith and devotion, could spend more time - had times with You then, way back, more precious time, more leisure time, more being lost in You time. All of a sudden - it's not as if, Lord, we think we've hit the big time, far from it; but, Lord, we've got a few things to do for You, and we think that's more important. Lord, forgive me, I repent. Lord, I pray that You will give me grace to make room for You, to make room for You above all else. Lord, would You just fall upon lives right now. Lord, would You just minister to hearts right now. Lord, I know there are people here and this is not what they came to hear - but, Lord, it's what You've given me, it's what You're doing in me. I pray for those - as You said, Lord Jesus, to Ephesus, and to those other churches - 'Whoever has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says'. Lord, unplug the ears and let them hear. Lord Jesus, we just take time right now to worship You, to worship You - the Bridegroom of our hearts. Jesus, we love You, You are beautiful, You are magnificent, You are glorious, Your majesty is blinding, Your holiness, Your purity, Your righteousness is unapproachable - and yet Your love is as a fire, a devouring fire that both warms us and consumes us. Lord Jesus, we see You high and lifted up, enthroned above the heavens, above all principality, above all power, above all might, above all dominion, above every name that is named - not only in this world, but that which is to come. You have been given a name that is above every name, that at Your name every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that You are Lord, to the glory of God the Father. We worship You, Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, blessed and only Potentate. We worship You. You are our Darling, You are our Beloved, You are our Delight, You are the only One who died for us, You're the only One who shed Your blood, You are the only One who rose for us, You're the only One who is going to return to receive us. You are our only hope, Lord. Lord, would You capture our hearts again. Draw us and we will run after You. Draw us and we will run after You. Lord Jesus, come and meet with us now, come and minister to people right now.
I wonder can we just now, just start to worship the Lord Jesus Christ? To worship in your own way - I'm not saying to dominate, I want you to be conscious of other people around you - but you worship the Lord now in a quiet and sensitive way. Let's worship the Lord Jesus Christ, let's get rid of consciousness of the person beside us, and this meeting mentality - that we're all sitting in wee rows, and it's lovely. Let's forget about that garbage, and realise that Jesus is here, Jesus the Christ of God is here, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world is here; the Word of God who created all things and without whom nothing was created that has been created, that Word of God is in this room right now! Worship Him! Worship Him!
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Stables in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "First Love" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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