Goodbye First Love!

Last week, we began a look at the messages sent to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Last week’s blog served to help us understand what the apostle John was seeing during the impartation of the messages to the churches.

We learned that John saw seven golden lamp stands in his vision; each lamp stand representing a church. When I visited the Temple Institute in Jerusalem I saw the recreated lamp stand for the Third Temple.

Now, let’s dive into the first message given by Jesus Christ to John. This message is for the church at Ephesus.

The church in Ephesus is the church of the seven that we are most familiar with. Not counting the reference here in Revelation and the epistle that was written to the church; the city is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament. Here are some excerpts:

Paul sent Tychicus and Timothy to Ephesus – Timothy being sent to command certain people to stop teaching false doctrines in the church.

Paul preached in Ephesus for two years in the hall of Tyrannus because a great door of ministry had been opened for him in the presence of many adversaries.

Paul became aware of the ministry of Apollos in Ephesus.

As a result of Apollos’ ministry, Paul found believers who were not baptized in the Holy Spirit in Ephesus and laid hands of them for the infilling.

The seven sons of Sceva encountered the demoniac who said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about – but who are you?” in Ephesus.

Magic books were burned in Ephesus during the awakening.

Paul fought wild beasts in Ephesus.

Paul told the Ephesian elders before his trip to Jerusalem that he would see them no more.

These are just a few of the events we know happened in Ephesus. Christian tradition tells us that the apostle John was released from the island of Patmos and spent his last days in the city of Ephesus.

Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor or Anatolia as it was also known as in those days. People came to Ephesus to shop in the bazaars, dip in the hot baths, visit the prostitutes, and worship the goddess Artemis. Ephesus was the center of worship of Artemis also known by her Roman name, Diana.

In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress tree were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithya in aiding childbirth.

Outside of the city limits was a large grove named Ortygia which was revered as the birthplace of Artemis.

Into this environment, a thriving church was born.

Now, let’s look at Jesus’ message to this church.

On the surface, it appeared that the church in Ephesus had it all together. Jesus commended their works (how they actually lived), their labor (ministry), and their patience. He also commended their ability to identify false apostles.

In those days just as it is today, teachers were going around seeking a following and money through their claim to be apostles. The Ephesian church did not tolerate or give a place to these liars.  We also have the first mention of a group called the Nicolaitans in Ephesus. While it is not exactly clear who these people were and what they believed, Jesus said he hated their deeds. Several early church fathers said that these people were followers of the deacon, Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6:5. They record that he began to teach corrupted doctrine including such things as the sharing of wives and involvement in idolatrous ceremonies. Clement said that they were “abandoned to pleasure like goats.” Jesus commended the Ephesian church for their rejection of this doctrine.

This church was a strong church; strong in character; strong in biblical knowledge; strong in patient prayer.

Yet, Jesus said that He had this against them:

You have left your first love.

This is a scary insight to me:

How do you maintain strong prayer, a strong biblical foundation, strong discernment, and great ministry and do that without loving Jesus more than anything else?

If they were not operating from a motivation of love for Jesus, what motivation were they operating from?

This causes me to tremble because it lets me know that, if we are not listening to Jesus and following His lordship, we can look like a great church but actually be in danger of having Jesus shut down the ministry of the Holy Spirit among us!

Apparently, this church had lost its sensitivity to the Spirit in the midst of what looked like spiritual success. They were not aware of their condition and were probably celebrating their successes. As they looked around, I wonder if they considered themselves to be preeminent among the churches. Jesus said that they had actually fallen from a high position and needed to repent for their motivations.


Jesus reminded the Ephesian church that He held the destiny of the messengers of these churches and the actual churches themselves in His hand.

What is Jesus saying to Capstone in this message? Will He find an ear to hear among us?

Remember the grove dedicated to the worship of Artemis that was located in Ephesus? People came from all over the world to gain her favor. Jesus used His knowledge of what was happening in Ephesus to say these words:

To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

To him who rejects this deception, I will give to eat from the tree of life found in the midst of the Paradise of God! The tree of life is found in two places: the Garden of Eden and in the New Jerusalem. We know that the way to the Garden of Eden is banned from man on earth. But, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

The word “paradise” is an old Persian word that means “an enclosed garden”.

Want a return to a Garden of Eden like life? Then, keep Jesus as your first love and do not allow anything else to take the place in your heart that only He should occupy! 

Lord, may our church love you more than anything else!




The Churches of Revelation

Over the next several weeks, I’d like to write about the Apostle John’s letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Each week, we will look at the message given to a specific church with the desire to get an understanding of Jesus’ view of the conditions of today’s local church. We will start by taking a look at the vision that produced these messages to the seven churches.

The book of Revelation is a prophetic book. Like a lot of prophetic writings, Revelation contains a lot of simile and figurative language to describe what is being seen by the Apostle John. Imagine that you are a first century man trying to describe what you are seeing, not only in heaven, but in centuries far beyond your own! It is a difficult task. John had to compare what he was seeing to things that he knew in an attempt to describe them. We see this imagery used in the part of the vision that produced the letters to the churches.

Let’s start this teaching with where John received the vision.

The Apostle John was on an island named Patmos when Revelation was revealed to him. Patmos is a small Greek island off the coast of Asia Minor. It was a part of a group of islands to which Roman political prisoners were exiled. The Bible tells us that John was exiled there because of the Word of God and his witness of Jesus Christ. He was sent to Patmos during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Domitian had some history with the Jews. His father, Titus led the Roman legions in the war against Israel that saw the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Domitian saw himself as an enlightened Augustus destined to lead Rome back to its glory days. He declared himself perpetual censor, which meant he exercised control over private and public morals. It was during his reign, that a terrible persecution was unleashed against Christians. Christian tradition states that John was dropped in a vat of boiling oil before he was exiled to Patmos. This is what John received on Patmos:

John states that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and he heard a loud voice like a trumpet behind him instructing him to write in a book what he was about to see and to send it to seven churches:

Ephesus – Smyrna – Pergamum – Thyatira – Sardis – Philadelphia – Laodicea

These were actual cities with active churches during the time of John. There are some who believe that these churches themselves are “representative” of different periods of church history. I often wonder if we try to complicate scriptural interpretation when there is no need for it, but whether these letters are to the literal churches or representations is not my focus. My focus is the message sent to the churches.

When John turned to see who was speaking to him, he saw seven golden lamp stands. The golden lamp stand has a rich biblical history. God instructed Moses to make a golden lamp stand with seven lights to light the Tabernacle of Meeting. Hebrews 8:4-5 tells us that the earthly tabernacle was a type and shadow of that in heaven. In Revelation 4:5, John saw the heavenly throne room. Before the throne sat the heavenly lamp stand which was the sevenfold Spirit of God. Zechariah, an earlier prophet described a similar vision this way:

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” “No, my lord,” I replied. So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. Zechariah 4:1-6

It is most likely that that seven lamp stands that John saw were exactly like those described above. Verse 20 of Revelation 1 tells us what the lamp stand represents: the church.

Many numbers, colors, and some materials and objects are used over and over in the Bible. Through this repetitive use, we have come to understand that they are representative. The number seven was used in the Bible to represent perfection. Gold is used to represent deity, worth, and purity. The church of Jesus Christ has two sides. It has the divine side and a human side. The human side of the church is growing in sanctification, but the divine side of the church is perfect. We find our perfection as a people in Him. The gold of the lamp stand represents the churches authority, worth, and purity. A lamp stand is used to represent the church because we are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14) and because the Holy Spirit is the agent of ministry dwelling among us (refer to Zechariah 4:1-6).

Walking among the lamp stands was someone John described as “like a son of man”. The term “son of man” literally means that it was a man that John saw. We know Jesus used this term to describe Himself. But, the rest of the description of this man reveals that He is no ordinary man.

The man among the lamp stands speaks to John identifying Himself as Jesus Christ through a series of phrases:

First and last, the living One, I was dead and I am alive, I have the keys to death and Hades. His appearance is amazing: gold sash around his robe representing royalty; hair white as wool representing wisdom and Ancient of Days; eyes like a flame of fire representing passion; feet like burnished bronze representing beauty of mission; and His voice was like the sound of a thousand waterfalls. In His hand, He held seven stars; out of His mouth came a two-edged sword; and His face – like the sun shining on the brightest day.

Jesus walks among the churches. Jesus walks in your church. As for the seven stars in His right hand:

The right hand is the hand of favor and blessing. The word “stars” is the Greek word “angelos”. Most often, this word is used to describe supernatural messengers such as angels, but it can refer to human messengers as well (see Matt. 11:10). In this case, I believe it means the human messengers of the churches, maybe the teaching elder. Why? For two reasons:

When addressing the messengers of the churches, Jesus says, “I know your….”  In other words, Jesus was specifically including the messengers in the description of the condition of the church. Another reason I believe this is: how could John write letters to angels? Who would deliver the messages? How would he address them?

Jesus, who walks among us has a message for us! Beginning next time, we will find out what it is!

Useless or Useful?

Last time we were together, we talked about the book of Philemon. This is a book that is not studied much in the corporate setting in the church but it has something very powerful to teach us about success in the kingdom of God.

Here’s a short recap.

This letter is written by Paul to a believer saved through Paul’s work in Colossae. This brother in the Lord had a slave working for him named Onesimus. At some point, Onesimus ran away and went to the area in which Paul was preaching the gospel. Upon hearing Paul, Onesimus was born again, giving his life to the Lord Jesus.

Paul could see that the young man had ministry gifts and would be of great benefit to Paul in the ministry. But, before proceeding any further in ministry, Onesimus has some things that he needed to take care of from the past.

To create a foundation for a successful future in the Lord, it is important to successfully handle the past. Even though we are new creations in Christ and we are not to live in the past once we are born again, we still must learn to successfully reconcile our past so that we can move forward in our lives with integrity.

We made an observation last time that reconciliation is not just a relational term but an accounting term as well. Auditors look at the books of a company and seek to ensure that the company is operating with financial integrity. Are funds received going where they are supposed to? Are accounts payable being taken care of lawfully and expeditiously?

These “audits” testify to financial integrity on the part of the owners of the business.

When we are saved, the Holy Spirit does an “audit” of our lives with the same intention: to ensure personal integrity for our lives. The Spirit will bring up things from the past in which we “owe” someone a debt so that we can get these “debts” taken care of in a biblical manner.

Taking care of these “debts” biblically become part of our testimony. They prove several things:

We are truly under Christ’s authority.

We are serious about living a righteous life.

We can be trusted with the things of God.

Onesimus had not been freed by Philemon, he was a runaway. That broke laws of the day and caused a rift between Philemon and Onesimus. Before God would use Onesimus further, Paul sent him back to take care of the debts of his past.

Here are a few things we can learn from this:

  1. God’s plan for progress includes closing out “open accounts”.

Most of us come to God with a lot of brokenness in our background. Some have broken relationships that have not been healed. Others have people they have stolen from. Others may have lies they have told others to benefit themselves. Whatever the case may be, for our testimony to carry any spiritual integrity, we must close our open accounts from the past. It is very easy to look back at the mess and say, “Oh man, that’s too much to dive into. I’ll just let bygones be bygones and move forward”. The problem with this is that God is concerned with the people we owe things to and He is also concerned with our integrity. How you respond to your past builds a foundation for your future. Ignoring things is not God’s way of reconciling them. To make them right, you make a decision to deal with them God’s way.

  1. Coercion leaves behind a poison that causes a situation to live on rather than healing it.

Paul was an authority over Philemon spiritually. He could have commanded Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to send him to Paul. But, Paul understood that a gift not given freely is a gift given in bondage. Philemon and Onesimus needed to truly deal with the issue before them scripturally. At that point, Philemon and Onesimus would be free from the past and would be able to move forward into God’s will. Paul’s integrity before Philemon was at stake – Paul’s love for Philemon was at stake – Onesimus’ integrity was at stake. Give no place to the devil to bring an accusation against you. Take care of past “debts” so that the future will not expose your lack of integrity.

  1. Use as your example God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to us.

Paul told Philemon, “If you count me as a partner, receive Onesimus as you would me. If he has wronged you or owes you anything, put it on my account. I will pay for it. Not to mention that you owe me your own self besides.”

We owe God our own being. We live because of His intervention. We are commanded to love one another as He loves us. We are commanded to forgive as He forgave us. We release forgiveness to others, not based upon their worth but based upon Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance of us! If you don’t feel as if the people you are going to with past debts “deserve” your forgiveness, keep this in mind!

  1. God will turn something useless into something useful.

Onesimus’ name meant “Useful or profitable”. Paul makes a play on words here to get his point to Philemon. Before Onesimus knew the Lord, he was useless to you in his behavior. But now, God is turning this into something useful to Philemon and profitable for the kingdom. God will do the same for you. Even things that appear to have no redeeming value, God can turn around and use is for good.

Have you dealt with the “debts” of the past? It takes a lot of humility and biblical focus to do so but God uses our actions to teach us obedience and integrity. And, He also uses our reconciliation of debts as a testimony to the reality of His existence and as a testimony to the reality of our change.

When a tornado goes through an area, it leaves destruction behind. Before rebuilding can start, clean up has to occur. If you past life has left destruction in its wake……to the best of your ability, clean up after yourself! Then, redemption becomes more than just a hope – it becomes a reality!

Reconciling the Past

The twelve step program of recovery developed many years ago and used by many drug and alcohol programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous has been very successful in giving people a road map to healing and deliverance. Its power to release freedom comes from its biblical framework. The steps are taken directly from scripture and, when correctly applied bring about freedom and hope for the future.

The eighth and ninth steps of the twelve step program read this way:

8. Make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make

amends to them all.

 9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

A key to moving forward is to successfully deal with the past.

This is the primary lesson from a book rarely studied in the church: 

Most of us interpret this book to be a personal admonition to someone concerning an issue that has little to do with any of us in the present. But, this letter contains a scriptural key for a successful future. The key is successfully reconciling the past.

Reconciliation is not just a relational term but an accounting term as well. An auditor will reconcile items on the general ledger – amounts that have been “spent” to actual dollars in the bank account. By doing this process, the auditor ascertains the financial integrity of the organization. Auditing your life is an important part of the twelve step program we spoke of earlier. You are to make a fearless moral inventory of your “accounts” in the present. This helps you to know where your current resources are being “spent”. This effort reveals what is needed to be eliminated from our lives so that our focus and energy is actually going toward something that is healthy and furthering the goals of the Spirit for us.

But, an audit also reveals outstanding accounts or amounts still owed to others. You cannot correctly ascertain how much you really have going forward until you know how much you owe. Outstanding balances that go unpaid can become judgments against your life.

So, one of the keys to moving forward is to eliminate bad habits that drain you of your God given resources and to pay off your debts owed in the past. This process produces accountability and integrity in your life.

The book of Philemon is about an unpaid debt owed to someone.

Scholars believe that Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this letter. He writes to a wealthy, Christian convert in Colosse named Philemon. It appears that Philemon had been born again through Paul’s work in the area. This letter was not only addressed to Philemon, but also to Apphia, Archippus and to the church that meets in their home. We have heard mention of Archippus before in Colossians 4:17. Apphia may have been Philemon’s wife, but we can’t be sure.

It is interesting that the letter is a personal letter but is also addressed to the church. It appears that the matter written about is known by the whole church so Paul addresses it to all that are aware of the issue for their knowledge and for accountability sake.

The matter concerns a runaway slave named Onesimus. He was owned by Philemon but ran away and apparently went to where Paul was located. During his exposure to the gospel taught by Paul, Onesimus was born again.

Paul could see the power of God at work in Onesimus and could foresee that God had a plan to use Onesimus to help in the ministry. But, as an inventory was taken of Onesimus’ life, it became clear that he had an outstanding debt owed: there was something in his past that he needed to make right.

As a side note, the teachings of Jesus Christ and the spreading of those teachings by those who followed Him were directly responsible for the abolishing of slavery. True historical rendering of our history as a nation reveals that most Abolitionists were Christians whose study of the Bible revealed that all men where brothers and to be free of slavery to their fellow man. Paul does not mention the evil of slavery in this letter.

The reality of the time was that slavery existed and many of Paul’s converts were slaves or slave owners. While Paul’s teachings about Christ, were key to the abolishing of slavery, he had to teach biblical responses to evil situations that existed just like we do in our own time.

The truth of the matter was, Onesimus had been in service to Philemon. He was not released by Philemon from slavery but ran away. For Onesimus to be free to be used by God in the future, his debt to Philemon must be made right.

If you allow the Holy Spirit to be honest with you and to tell you the truth about your past by doing a fearless moral inventory, do you see any outstanding debts that you owe anyone?

What you do with these debts is key to your present and future plan for your life. We all have new life in Christ when born again, but God, when reconciling our life, insists that we do our part to bring healing and reconciliation to outstanding debts and wounds we have caused before we knew Him.

By this, it is revealed that we are truly under His authority. By this, it is known that we are serious about living a righteous life. By this, integrity is established in our life and integrity is a key to being used in the future by God.

Fearlessly allow the Auditor of Life – Jesus to inspect you. His inspections are for your healing and the revelation of the integrity of your conversion in Him. Get right with those you “owe”.

Next time we see one another, we’ll expound on this a little more.




A Holy Terror!

There is a story in 1 Samuel 14 about a king’s son named Jonathan. One day, he took his armor bearer and went out on a recon mission to see where the enemy was encamped. Jonathan and his companion were in a valley between two ridges. They saw the enemy garrison at the top of one of the ridges. Jonathan told his companion in my paraphrase: “There’s only you and I but God can save by many or few. Let’s let the enemy see us. If they say, ‘Wait until we come down to you and we will fight you’, then we will know that we are not to engage them. But, if they say to us, ‘Climb up and we will fight’, then we will take that as a sign that God wants us to fight and will give us the victory.” Jonathan’s companion said to him, “Do all that is in your heart for I am with you heart and soul.”

In this set of passages, there are four central characters:

  1. Jonathan – Son of royal blood. Man in covenant with David – the father of the Messianic line.
  2. His armor bearer – This young armor bearer had a purpose: to be with Jonathan in battle.
  3. Philistines – The warrior enemy of God’s people.
  4. God – The King of Kings.

Jonathan was the son of King Saul but was distinctly different from his father. He did not carry the desire to be recognized – but carried a desire to please God.

Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 1 Samuel 23:16-17

Saul knew the prophesies regarding David and he sought to kill him because of them. But, Jonathan cared more about God’s plan than his position. He recognized his place and embraced it.

Are you in your place?

His acceptance of his purpose in God positioned him to be used in mightier ways than sitting in the seat of a king.

Jonathan moved out without his father knowing that he was even gone. I believe Jonathan understood that his father made plans based upon fear and selfishness rather than the audacious plan of God.

Jonathan and his armor bearer encounter the enemy garrison. It is here that Jonathan makes a decision that I believe is a word from God for us. Jonathan tells his armor bearer:

“Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us.”

Say that to yourself: Let the enemy see you!

So many have been hiding out – afraid of what the enemy might do – afraid of his attacks and his backlash. It is time for the people of God to come out of hiding and allow the enemy to see them! It’s a shame that the army of God has been hiding for so long. Even the enemy was surprised when they saw Jonathan and his armor bearer:

“Look!” said the Philistines, “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.”

We, the people of God are coming out of our holes and making ourselves known to the enemy!

When Jonathan told his armor bearer his plan the armor bearer said to Jonathan:

“Do all that you have in mind. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Everyone needs a companion in the spirit willing to go into battle with you at the word of God!

But, Jonathan did not act foolishly. He told his armor bearer that they would depend upon God’s leading to decide what to do.

If they say, “We’ll come down” we will know that God is saying don’t fight. If they say, “Come up to us” we will know that God is saying to join the battle.

Use a word from God as strategy not some foolish feeling.

Here’s where it gets cool.

Jonathan and his armor bearer climb up – two against a garrison. Every move they are making is crazy in the natural but a part of the strategy of God.

As a member of the army of God, you know something significant:

There is nothing to prevent the Lord from saving by many or by few.

Then, you wait for the specific strategy for your situation.

Faith in God’s power teamed with strategy from God’s throne will result in miraculous victory.

The Philistines fell before Jonathan and his armor bearer. In that first attack they struck down twenty enemy fighters in a half an acre. But, because of their boldness and obedience, another warrior joined them in the field.

Suddenly, the ground shook and panic struck the entire Philistine army – not just in that one outpost but in all the outposts! Do you want to be a warrior who strikes terror in the entire enemy army?

When you obey God without fear, you release a terror upon the enemy!

Want to be a “holy terror?”

  1. Let the enemy see you.
  2. Believe in God’s power to save by many or few.
  3. Follow the strategy of God.
  4. Have faith that the Lord of Hosts will join you on the battlefield.

Upon This Rock

Now when Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13

I just returned from Israel. On this trip, I visited Caesarea Philippi for the first time. Jesus took His disciples on a thirty mile trip north in Israel to ask them a very important question and to drive home a very important truth.

In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi was an important center. Seated at the bottom of the slopes of Mount Hermon, the center was the place that one of the headwaters of the Jordan River was located. Out of the mountain flowed water which made the area lush and beautiful. Just up the slopes above the center was a pit that the ancients could not find the bottom of. The pit fascinated the Greek people of the area and the area became the center of the worship of Pan, the half man – half goat god of panic. A temple was built on the site for Pan and niches were placed in the temple to honor Echo, the nymph consort of Pan and Hermes, Pan’s father. The pit became known as a gate to the underworld; the gate of Hades into which sacrifices were thrown.

When the Romans conquered the area, Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus, the Roman Emperor next to the temple of Pan in gratefulness for giving him jurisdiction over the area. There was also a temple built there to Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, Zeus, the ruler of all the Greek gods, and a couple of places that honored sacrifices to these gods and rulers.

It was at this particular place, that Jesus chose to ask His disciples the question of His deity. Simon Peter answered the question for all of the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Now, picture the scene if you will:

Jesus and His disciples sat at the bottom of the slope of Mount Hermon. Just about forty yards above them sits the temples of Pan, Augustus, Zeus, Nemesis, and the pit to the underworld.

I believe that Jesus purposely chose this pagan place to make known to His disciples who He is. Jesus tells His disciples this in the Amplified Version:

“And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros – a large piece of rock), and on this rock (petra – a huge rock like Gibraltar) I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal regions) shall not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18

The temples to the pagan gods of Caesarea Philippi are in shambles. The church of Jesus Christ built upon people like Peter who know their God is still alive! The gates of Hades and the powers of the infernal regions of darkness shall not – cannot prevail or overpower it!

This truth is brand new to me after visiting this place for myself. I am a part of that huge rock! If you are Jesus’ disciple, then so are you! The gates of Hell will not prevail against you!

Is Hell Real?

The reality of Hell is a hotly debated topic. Many believers in Jesus do not believe in a literal “Hell” even though Jesus talked about it at length. Should we discount His words regarding Hell? If so, how can we be sure that the place called Heaven exists? Jesus referred to a place that literally existed in His time to emphasize the existence of a literal Hell. The place was called Gehenna.

What is Gehenna?

Gehenna is a place – a specific location. It is first mentioned in the book of Joshua as the boundary between the lot of land possessed by the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. It is a valley that lies south of Jerusalem bordering the old city of Zion, heading west and runs into the Kidron Valley.

Gehenna – Ge: “valley” and henna: “Hinnom”. “Valley of Hinnom”

In Joshua 15:8, we see this valley called the “Valley of the Son of Hinnom”. Who the “Son or sons of Hinnom” are is not known for certain, but the valley carries this name to the present day.

God spoke to Jeremiah these words concerning the valley:

Jeremiah 19:1-6: Thus says the Lord: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle. “Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, not the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind), therefore behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.”

On the southern brow, overlooking the valley at its eastern extremity Solomon erected high places for Molech, (1 Kings 11:7) whose horrid rites were revived from time to time. In the same vicinity the later idolatrous kings, Ahaz and Manasseh made their children “pass through the fire” in this valley, (2 Kings 16:32 Chronicles 28:333:6) and the fiendish custom of infant sacrifice to the fire-gods seems to have been kept up in Tophet, which was another name for this place – Tophet meaning, “the place of burning”.

Before the time of King Josiah, this valley was the place of the worship of Baal and Molech. To put an end to these abominations the place was polluted by Josiah, who renders it ceremonially unclean by spreading over it human bones and other corruptions, (2 Kings 23:10,13,142 Chronicles 34:4,5) from which time it appears to have become the common cesspool of the city, into which sewage was conducted, to be carried off by the waters of the Kidron.

It has been a common opinion that the later Jews, in imitation of Josiah, threw into this place all manner of filth, as well as the carcasses of animals and the dead bodies of malefactors; and that with reference to either the baleful idolatrous fires in the worship of Moloch, or to the fires afterwards maintained there to consume the mass of impurities that might otherwise have occasioned a pestilence, came the figurative use of the fires of Gehenna, that is, valley of Hinnom, to denote the eternal fire in which wicked men and fallen spirits shall be punished.

The prophecy of Isaiah describing the last days mentions a place of continual corruption and burning (Isaiah 66:24) to which Jesus referred when speaking of the seriousness of dealing with our sins:

Mark 9:47-48: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—“where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Jesus referred to hell as Gehenna at least 11 times. It was a literal place which Jesus used to illustrate a literal place of final punishment for evildoers.

Now, does Gehenna represent the heart of man or the heart of God?

Gehenna/Valley of Hinnom does not represent the will of God but the will of those who reject God and the will of heaven. The things that went on there in the worship of idols; the destruction that is depicted there does not represent the will of God. When speaking to Jeremiah, God said that things that man did in the Valley of Hinnom never entered into His mind to do. They were products of demonic influence and human activity.

God must judge evil. The removal of evil and the judgment thereof is part of justice, which is a component of love. You cannot have true love without justice for the oppressed. Judgment of evil is as sure as the reality of sin. Does sin exist? Then, so does judgment for sin.

But, God’s heart is salvation. He desires to save all who will be saved.

Does society have a problem with the existence of hell? When you look at how many people believe in a literal hell, you would think so.

God has an even bigger problem with it. He hates it more than you do. In fact, He hates it so much He gave His life to save you from it.

Hell was created for the devil and his fallen angels. They not only wronged God; they wronged you and me as well. Without the ability to choose evil, you don’t truly have free will. Without free will, you and I are not created in the image of God. For choice to exist, you must have something to choose between. That’s why there were two trees in the Garden of Eden – that’s why there are still two “trees” available for us to choose today – good or evil.

God has destroyed the power of hell. Through His Son, Jesus, God took your “hell” upon Himself. If you are a believer, this present existence is as close to hell as you will come. If you are not a believer, there is something worse than anything you can experience in this life. Give your life to Jesus. Avoid Hell. When you really think, the choice is an easy one.


A Kingdom of Violent People

This scripture is one of which I am very familiar. It was used a lot in the church that I was saved in. To give you some background:

The church that I was saved in was one that believed in doing things first in prayer and then in action. We saw prayer as an act of fellowship with God and one of aggression toward the enemy. We were taught to be people of the Spirit; grounded in the Word of God, led by the Spirit of God – refusing to take no for an answer when it came to the enemy’s interference in the plan of God.

I was also taught that complacency is a killer. Becoming casual in the faith was something that produced casualties. Now, when I say something like this, many hear legalistic threads in my words. They immediately think that I am saying that I had to be at church all the time or that, if I didn’t pray, God wouldn’t favor me.

The truth is actually quite contrary: I don’t feel as if I “have” to do something to secure God’s favor or salvation. I know that these things are an act of God. What I am saying is that it is very easy to justify complacency in life and when we do, we are forgetting the very nature of the faith and the place in which we live our lives.

To expound on this, let’s go back to Matthew 11.

The passage we read earlier is found in the midst of a discourse by Jesus on the times they were living in and the tools God was using in those times. Disciples of John the Baptist were sent to Jesus to ask if He was the One or should they look for another messiah. This is an interesting question. I have to ask myself what brought John to the place of confusion about Jesus.

After meeting Jesus at the river Jordan, John said these words to his disciples:

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

“This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me. I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained on Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God. John 1:30-34

John was sure when he baptized Jesus that He was the Son of God. Why was he confused later?

In Israel, the story is told that John was raised in an Essene Jewish community. John’s parents were old when he was born. It was widely know that the Essenes took in orphans. Many believed that they were an off-shoot of the Zadokite priests. They were a desert-dwelling sect who believed in ritual cleanliness and strict adherence to the Law. They are believed to be responsible for the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Was John a product of that community?

We cannot know for sure, but we do know that John, like the Essenes used water in acts of repentance. John was also one who lived ascetic lifestyle separated from the comforts of the world.

What he saw in Jesus was a miracle worker and a preacher, but Jesus lived a lifestyle that was so different from John’s. Jesus lived among people of the world – sinners. He also was a drinker of wine.

John may have been confused. Could God use a drinker of wine? One who spoke to prostitutes and ate with tax collectors?

Jesus was not a legalist and neither are the people of God, but Jesus was a warrior and so are His people! This was what John and Jesus had in common.

Jesus said that things had changed since John appeared. A new dispensation in the Spirit had arrived. From the days that John began to preach, violence became a characteristic of the kingdom people.

This is what Jesus means when He speaks of a violent people:

Violent: positive assertiveness; used of the believer living in faith (“God’s inworked persuasions”) guiding and empowering them to act forcefully – i.e. “fired up” by God to act by His revelation.

John told the people when he preached:

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even know the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:8-11

We are living in the period of the “ax”. God’s people are people of the “ax”. They are people of fire. Axes and fire bring change to the landscape.

Jesus’ people are warriors. They understand that spiritual enemies exist who seek to destroy the work of the Kingdom of God and its advancement comes through aggressiveness on the part of kingdom people.

The kingdom is not made up of people who sit on a cloud in a night shirt and a diaper playing a harp. The kingdom is achieving Jesus’ objectives by force. Those who are achieving growth and fulfilling their ministry in the Lord are doing so forcefully – not through complacency disguised as liberty.

Liberty can become complacency. We see it every day. Our definition of liberty has become my ability to do what I want – to be comfortable. Can we tell the difference any more between liberty and complacency? I wonder. Beware of “hitting the wall” spiritually. I’m speaking of the place where we settle short of what God has for us.

Where are you settling? What are you settling for?

There are some unsettling trends in the Body of Christ.

Why in the body of Christ are our younger believers leading the older? Why are they the most zealous? Shouldn’t it be that the longer we know Christ, the more in love with Him we fall and the more like Him we look?

Are you a “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” type of believer?

Where are the aggressors – getting new revelation from the Lord and putting that revelation into action? We are in the days of violence and kingdom people are violent people

Does this describe you?

There is a church that looks a lot like the kingdom of God. Is it Capstone? I sure want it to be. God, set me on fire!



I’m Coming Mimi!

As I was spending time in prayer this week, I felt the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit tell me to write about the return of Jesus.

While there are differences of opinion among our family members as to when Jesus’ return will happen, the key point that we must focus on is that He is coming!!!

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16-17

When Jesus returns, there will be a shout, and the sound of a trumpet, and the emptying of graves and the flight of the believers. No fear of heights! No need for wings! Jets will have to move out of the way to prepare a pathway to the reunion of the righteous! Get out of the way stars! Get out of the way sun and moon! The victory parade of the righteous is happening!

I grew up with people who believed in Jesus and I heard about His return all my life. My grandmother used to talk about something called, “The Rapture”. She would say, “Parkey, you have to be ready! Jesus is returning for those who are His!”

What is this “rapture”?

Rapture – the Latin word for “caught up, to seize, to carry off, to snatch away”.

My grandmother told me that we need to be busy while we are on the earth to minister to others, yet her focus was always upon this “Rapture”. Everything she did revolved around the certainty of this singular event.

Jesus talked about this event; angels talked about this event; the apostles talked about this event – the return of Jesus Christ is the central event of all Christianity!

 Jesus talked of His return over and over. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says:

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. 22:12

Believers in Jesus need not fear hell. Jesus has taken their punishment upon Himself. Yet, a sobering and wonderful thought lies in the fact that each of His children will stand before the Lord to receive our reward. The seat of reward is called, “The Bema Seat”.

The concept of the Bema Seat comes from the ancient Olympics, where a judge would sit on the Bema Seat at the finish line. The judge’s purpose was to determine what position the runners came in-first, second, and so on-and then to give out the appropriate rewards. That is the imagery behind what is known as the Bema Seat. 

Also known as the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Bema Seat is described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

 “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

Your gold, silver, and costly stones are works done for the glory of God, with the right motive, and in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Each of us who are believers will have this appointment with Christ.

The Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are separate events.

The Rapture occurs when Jesus returns for His church. 1 Cor. 15:51-52

The Second Coming of Christ occurs when Jesus returns with His church to defeat the Antichrist and begin His Millennial Reign. Rev. 19

When will this rapture occur?

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matt. 24:36

Many have tried to predict, and up to this point, all have been wrong!

People are still trying to predict the time of Jesus’ appearing. While He gave us signposts to know it is near, prediction is not to be our focus. Look at what Jesus said to His disciples upon His departure:

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time, restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8

This is a word for you and I. We are to focus on being His witnesses not trying to figure out His return. If you’re ready, you’re ready whenever He comes!

For those who are not living in view of His return, the day WILL catch them unaware.

But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:48-51

What are they going to say when the church is gone?

That a cataclysmic leap in evolution took place? That the “weakest” of society were suddenly destroyed to make room for the survival of the fittest? That the sky rolled back and those who were stuck in the past were abducted by aliens?

I don’t know but you don’t want to be here while they try to explain it.

But, for those who live with His return at the center of their existence:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”

Then one of the elders answered saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”So he said to me, These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

Can you see yourself in that gathering? If not, how do you get there? 

I see my grandmother there! “I’m coming, Mimi, just like you told me!”





Its What Happened After Easter

A view of the resurrection of Jesus Christ through the eyes of a non believer. When a non believer looks at what happened on that day, what do they see?

The death of a good man? – a rebel? – a maniac? What else is seen? An empty tomb – the product of zealous followers? – grave robbers?

Is the story a fairy tale? A myth? A misinterpretation of facts?

The truth be told – people all through history have followed the trail of this story to find out what happened after the resurrection and, despite all of our technology and despite all of those seeking to either prove or disprove the resurrection of Jesus, no one has been able to locate evidence that proves a different story other than the one found within these pages.  

We know He was there and now, He is not.

But, factual evidence doesn’t stop there.

Soldiers commanded to guard the tomb against this exact scenario reporting a vision of an angelic being and a missing body.

A plot conceived to cover the failed attempt to keep His body in the tomb.

A group of women stating they had seen Jesus alive.

A gathering of 500 people witnessed His appearance to them within 40 days of His death.

A group of twelve men known as His disciples willing to die to stand by their story that they had personally seen Him alive.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there were 120 believers. 2000 years after this event, 2.2 billion people say that they believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

That number represents those alive today. It does not take into account the great number of those who believed in His resurrection down through history who have already died.

What causes such a tidal wave of faith? How did this story cause such a “fire” that it has affected such a large number of people?

It’s what happens after the resurrection that answers the question.

Before His death, Jesus told His disciples this:

But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. John 16:5-7

Jesus said that it was to our advantage that He go away. Like most of us, I believe the disciples could not believe that they would have an advantage through Jesus’ absence.

Jesus stated that the advantage for the believers would come in the arrival of the Helper. In verse 13, Jesus called this Helper the Spirit.

After His death, even His most ardent followers were scattered abroad for fear. After His resurrection, something happened that changed everything.

And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, He said, you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5

Then Jesus elaborated on what would happen to the believers that would make them change and change everything:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8

It is one thing to know who Jesus is. It is another to have seen Him do things. It is another to have memories of Him from the past. But, what Jesus is revealing after His resurrection takes things to a whole different level.

You may know what happened after this conversation: Jesus ascends to heaven; leaving His disciples behind. But, then:

They were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

In other words, the disciples caught fire! And, it was the fire that made all the difference in the world!

This was the day that changed everything! True, it wasn’t possible until the resurrection of Jesus, but after this event – Jesus went viral!

Its after Easter. Have you experienced the “fire”?