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Sermon - Conversion of Paul

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Sermon - Paul's Conversion

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:1-6


The conversion of Saul (his name was changed to Paul later) is one of the most notable in the history of the Church. Certainly within the Bible itself. Indeed the conversion of Saul/Paul, was celebrated yesterday, 25 January, in parts of the Church around the world. Luke tells us the story three times. But was Paul's conversion special? Many people say "I have not had a Damascus Road experience". There were, it is true, special events on that day, which make Paul's conversion unique. However are they in any sense so special that they constitute an example for us today? Let us look together at Paul’s conversion experience.

Conversion Experience

The only possible cause for his conversion is the beautiful sovereign grace of God. It was Jesus Christ who decided for him. Each of the three previous times Paul appears in Luke’s story, he is recorded as opposing the church & persecuting it. Paul even witnessed the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1, 3).

Now Luke resumes his story of Paul by saying that he was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples (Acts 9:1). Paul had tried to contain the church to Jerusalem, but some had escaped to Damascus. Paul then devised a plan to capture the believers in Damascus. Armed with letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus in a bid to stop the spreading of the Good News. He would arrive in Damascus, an unusually vigorous and single-minded man, bent on ridding the city of its followers of Jesus.

Why did Paul hate the believers so much? Because, to his mind at the time, a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all. How could the Saviour of the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross and be cursed by God? Paul considered it his duty as a man zealous for the law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man, Jesus.

Luke's description of Paul seems to be like that of a wild animal trying to destroy a flock of sheep, creating havoc and destruction whichever way he turned. Yet, he had not considered God’s sovereign grace. To a man like this there could only be one reason why he changed his mind, and became the most ardent follower of Jesus. He turned from a wolf who destroyed sheep, to become a shepherd caring for sheep. It can only be through the sovereign grace of God.

Paul and his companions were nearing the end of a week’s travelling on the 150 mile journey to Damascus from Jerusalem Then suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3), brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). It was so overwhelming that it both blinded him and knocked him over (Acts 9:8-9), flat on his face before his conqueror. Then a voice cried out "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And in answer to Paul's subsequent question as to his identity, the voice continues “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

Paul must have instantly realised how closely Jesus Christ identified with His followers. So much so, that to persecute Jesus’ followers, the Church, was to persecute Him. It followed, and he must immediately have understood, that Jesus was no longer dead as he supposed, but was alive and all His claims were true. Paul's companions, while hearing the voice, did not see the resurrected Jesus. They took Paul into the city of Damascus. Instead of arriving there full of pride and bravery, a self-confident enemy of Jesus, Paul entered the city, humbled and blinded, a prisoner of Jesus. The light he saw was the glory of Jesus, and the voice he heard was the voice of Jesus. In his letters to various churches in the New Testament, we discover how Paul viewed this event.

We see:

  • how God arrested Paul (Philippians 3:12)
  • God shone His light upon Paul (2 Corinthians 4:6)
  • God’s mercy overflowed upon Paul (1 Timothy 1:14).

And yet, while it was entirely due to the grace of God, that Paul was converted from enemy of the Christ to follower of the Christ, it was not sudden. Yes, the light was sudden, and Jesus Christ appeared suddenly, but Jesus must have talked to Paul before in some way, whether through his conscience, his dreams or in his thoughts. We may never know!

The Goads

The goads, that Paul says Jesus accused him of kicking against in his third account of the incident, likened Paul to a donkey or a mule being continually prodded to go the right way. The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Paul, prodding and pricking him, and Paul was resisting painfully. But what were the goads that Jesus used to prick Paul of Tarsus? While we are not told specifically what they were, by reading his letters we can gain an insight into what they were.


The first of three goads used by Jesus on Paul, was Paul’s own sub-conscious doubts. With his conscious mind, he proclaimed Jesus as an impostor, who had been rejected as the Messiah by his own people, and died under the curse of God on a cross. Yet, Paul would have heard reports about Jesus' teaching and miracles, claims and character, together with the talk that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Secondly, the goad of the testimony of Stephen. Paul had been present at the trial of Stephen and had seen his execution, both his non-resistance while being stoned to death and his face shining like an angel. He had heard Stephen's speech at his trial, his prayer for forgiveness of his executioners and his astonishing claim to have seen Jesus at the right hand of God. There was something about these Christians, that Paul could not explain - the divine living power of Jesus in the lives of His followers.
Thirdly, the goad of the inadequacy of the law to save. Paul clearly had a very extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. He must have become increasingly aware that Jesus fulfilled a great many of the prophecies of the Messiah who was to come even if he wasn’t exactly the sort of Messiah that he, Paul, and everyone else expected. In private Paul knew that his thoughts & attitudes were not clean. For example his sin of covetousness. Therefore he had no inner power or peace, and it was the goads of Jesus. His conversion was a sudden climax, to a long drawn out process with Jesus having pursued him.

Yet while his conversion was not sudden, it was not forced upon him. Although he was blinded and forced to the ground he did not change his character and it did not turn him into a robot. When Jesus asked those questions, Paul did not have to answer them. He still had freewill. Paul’s conversion, while not sudden or compulsive, was due entirely to the gracious pursuit of Jesus. Not everybody sees sudden flashes of light and hears voices that say his name. No one else has seen the historical fact of the Jesus' resurrected body and a call to be an apostle.

Yet our conversion experience today can have similarities to that of Paul. To be converted, we did not and do not, need those things to happen, any more than we have to travel to the same spot Paul was at on the road to Damascus. We must experience a personal encounter with Jesus. In doing so, we must surrender to Him our will in faith, and receive his order to serve Him. Jesus Christ has pursued all people everywhere, over the past 2.000 years, to return into a dynamic relationship with Him. Just as He did with me and I handed my life over to Him. Millions of other people have also done that down through the centuries. My final question to you is – have you?

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Sermon - Love in Practise

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Sermon

Romans 12 - Love in Practise

Paul is speaking a letter to the Church in Rome, those he calls “God's beloved”. He has not yet been to Rome and is currently in the great Greek city of Corinth, and it is about AD57-58. A man we know as Tertius is acting as his scribe and writing down what Paul is saying. Tertius would later go onto be a Bishop in Iconium.

So far in this letter, Romans 1 to 11, Paul has been drawing a word picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel which demonstrates that God gets his hands dirty. The Gospel which tells us that God has done all He could do, in order that humanity could be saved, be in a living and dynamic relationship with Him, if they choose to be so. Paul then goes on to investigate in depth about this Gospel, the nation of Israel and the Gentiles.

That is where we are up to with the passage before us, Romans 12. Now, just as Romans 1-11 shows us that God got his hands dirty, in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, so must all those who call themselves His followers and children. As we will hopefully see together, if you are a Christian, you also must put your faith into practice, exercising it as you do your muscles. If muscles aren’t exercised or used, they wither away. The same can be said concerning our faith. How we live our life as Christians, is to reflect the life and love of the God whom we declare openly that we follow and love.

This morning, we will look at this chapter before us in two sections. Firstly, in v1-8, then we will have a break for a song before concluding with our second section in v9-21

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Sermon - WOW Jesus

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The WOW factor of Jesus

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16v24-26)

The Jesus I hear about today from some people outside the church, as well as inside the Church, bears no resemblance to the Jesus who said those words. They are comfortable with a Jesus who is at their mercy and who doesn't ask too much of them! They like putting Jesus in a box and only opening the box to let Him out when required! That Jesus is an insipid, nodding head, Jesus - worthy only of being on the back shelf of a car and that's about all.

But that is exactly the opposite of the Jesus who said those words from Matthew - the Jesus who commands obedience and sacrifice! As I look through the Old Testament, I read about how the world fell out of a living, dynamic relationship with God! But I also read how a Messiah, a saviour or rescuer if you like, was to be sent by God, in order to restore the world back into an intimate, living relationship with God Himself! I read the Gospels in the New Testament and I see this Messiah as the God-man, Jesus Christ.

As I read the rest of the Bible's New Testament and the history of the followers of Jesus Christ and the spread of his followers, the church, through its birth and early life, I get a WOW factor about Him. But for a lot of people today, including those who would call themselves a Christian, their view or vision of Jesus is still too small. So I wonder, is your Jesus too small?

1. Who is my Jesus?

As I regularly read the Bible, I see at least a six-sided portrait of Him! There are many more, but we don't have time for that today, you might be thankful to hear!

a. Unique : The first word I would use for Jesus is Jesus is unique - totally unique! Never before and never to be repeated ever - Jesus Christ is the standout person from all of history! Indeed, history is divided into BC and AD - ‘Before Christ' and ‘After Christ'. In all of history, Jesus Christ is incomparable and totally unique!Yet in human form, we read that during his earthly ministry he had no physical beauty that would draw people to him. We read that Jesus' body on the cross was disfigured and tortured beyond that of human likeness. His perfect life, His salvation work on the cross and His subsequent rising from the dead, is what makes Jesus Christ unique - a once and for all lifetime Messiah or Saviour for the entire world! WOW!!

b. Majestic: Then the Jesus I see is full of majesty and awe! He is not simply a king with a crown on his head. He is the King of all Kings! This Jesus Christ did not decay in the grave - He overcame death in the grave and was raised again majestically! Paul writes in Colossians 2v3, that in Jesus Christ, all the majestic treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. Jesus Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who with unparalleled majesty is the head of the church.

c. Tender : Next I go to look into his eyes - his tender eyes! Jesus looks upon people with love, adoration, justice, tenderness and compassion. Eyes filled with the tears of mercy, grace, love and compassion. Eyes that are also filled with rage at injustices! His penetrating eyes that can separate flesh and spirit!!This Jesus is kind and sympathetic - his look of love on a world that is separated from God, and a world He is calling back into an active relationship with God. The love Jesus had when he wept in the garden as he sweated drops of blood, before he was betrayed and crucified.

d. Wise: Then there is Jesus the wise man! When Jesus spoke words, people were amazed! They were astounded that He spoke with elegance and yet with authority. They had never heard anyone speak like He did - with both grace and authority. The same is true today, if we are listening. That is why we read the Bible to find out what He would say to us. That is why we seek to hear Him speak to us and why we speak to Him. That is why preaching is to be seen as an act of worship - by both the preacher and the listener!

e. Strong: Jesus is strong enough and capable enough, to carry any burden that we can lay upon Him. Jesus Christ gives a solid and sure foundation for all aspects of life. If something has a solid foundation, it will not fall and cannot be destroyed. Indeed Jesus Christ will never fall or decay such is His imperishability as the everlasting God. He is solid, dependable and strong; nobody and nothing can stand against Him. If we are truly His, then we ought not to fear or worry about anything, for we will be under his protection, forever!

f. Lovely: finally, my Jesus oozes loveliness! He gives out a sense of exaltation and joy. Joy is not always externalized loudly as some people think but also internalized quietly! So if somebody is filled with joy, don't always expect it be seen! Jesus is altogether lovely and lovely altogether! Jesus is beyond compare for the things He has done and the things He will do. He is altogether lovely in regard to his person, humanity, birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, exultation, glorification, grace, protection, tenderness, power, wisdom, vengeance, judgment, majesty, redemption and pardon. I could go on and on!That is my Jesus -unique, majestic, tender, wise, strong and lovely. Is this your Jesus?

2. Jesus - So what?

That is my Jesus, whom I seek to serve and obey every second of every day. This Jesus I seek to obey in every facet of life. And it is this Jesus whom I depend upon and personally know to be totally reliable in every way. But so what, you may say - those outside the church certainly ask it! All through each day, I know He has been dependable, going ahead of me! Amazing!

This is the Jesus who commands self-sacrifice and obedience. This Jesus who commands His followers to rely solely on His sacrifice and have dependence on Him for all things. Jesus Christ who commands all His followers to a life of total obedience to Him and Him alone. This Jesus who died on a Roman cross two thousand years ago was the same Jesus who was raised from the dead, without decay, into newness of life and ascended to the right hand of the Father.There is only one Saviour for the world and there will never be another.

Despite the bleating of other religions and faiths! Jesus never said, "I am a true vine; a way, a truth and a life". Just as He did not say "I am a shepherd, a door, a light or a bread of life.No - Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. Jesus is the only great shepherd and the only door to life with God. Jesus is the only light of the world and the only bread of life. Jesus calls everyone to partake of the nourishment and shelter only He can provide. Sadly only a few respond: "Yes!" Are you one of those?

3. Jesus! WOW!

Jesus WOW! What does WOW stand for, I hear you asking yourself? It means "Worthy Of Worship!" Jesus Christ most certainly is that! The Jesus WOW factor involves Jesus being radical and relevant! Even a brief look of the Gospels will reveal that about Jesus! Some people even back then didn't get Jesus, and people still don't get Him two thousand years later! And whose fault is that? Its not Jesus' fault that people today still don't respond to Him! It's a result of the church and Christians down through the ages, including today, not following Jesus and obeying His commands as closely as they could or should!

People out there are looking at the Church and Christians - looking at how we behave, how we speak, how we drive our cars and looking to see if we are any different to them and looking to see what difference Jesus Christ has made in our lives!

That's why my parents thought churches were dangerous places and Christians brainwashed and deluded people. They did not hesitate to tell me that that is what they thought about Christianity! But I responded to the call of Jesus, rebelled against my parents and became a follower of him 30 years ago next year. You could say I am the white sheep of my family - so far anyway!

4. We are to be little Jesus'

The word Christian, means little Jesus. When living in London, after church each Sunday, we would go to this one particular Chinese restaurant for lunch each time. Often as a group of us entered and walked up the stairs to take our seats, they would say: "There go the little Jesuses!" They would mean it mockingly but we took it as a compliment!

That's what being a Christian is to be - a little Jesus! In our local community, wherever we happen to live, work or be! We are to live lives worthy of Jesus Christ, being transformed by the Holy Spirit who lives inside each one of us if we are His, and being totally and willingly obedient to Him! Loving God and loving others - by, showing compassion, helping others and being the voice of Jesus Christ to a community out there, which is rapidly decaying.

The world out there and this community will know you and I are Jesus' followers, if we are obedient to Him, practically showing love to all! Oh that we as the church would love each other instead of fighting with each other!Imagine this community transformed for Jesus Christ, having got the WOW factor! Imagine this community filled with people seeking to know about our Jesus, because the Christians were sacrificing their time and possessions, wanting in every aspect of life to give Jesus the glory and honour that is worthy of His name alone - just as they did in Acts 2!

Loving God and loving each other as He commanded would spread the WOW factor through our local communities, both large and small! Transformed communities of people devoted to Jesus and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in bringing people back to God the Father! The WOW factor is not always an exuberant experience but also covers the silent, contemplative and gob-smacking experiences! Jesus Christ doesn't just live in the loud, as some would proclaim, but also in the quiet where the small, still voice of God is whispered.Don't be like the only man who left Jesus' presence in sorrow. Let me read about him to you.

Matthew 19v16-30 from The Message:"Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus said, "Why do you question me about what's good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you." The man asked, "What in particular?" Jesus said, "Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself." The young man said, "I've done all that. What's left?" "If you want to give it all you've got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me." That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go. As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom." The disciples were staggered. "Then who has any chance at all?" Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it." Then Peter chimed in, "We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?" Jesus replied, "Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields-whatever-because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first." "

Now riches aren't necessarily a problem but they were for that man because nothing could take precedence over them - they were his ‘god' as it were, and he was placing all his trust in them, even if he didn't realise it at the time! What are you placing your trust in, over and above, Jesus Christ?

Conclusion!

If you are already in a relationship with Him, He wants to give you freedom, true independence on this Independence Day, to live a life worthy of Him. Is Jesus your whole life and your whole life Jesus? That means does He have total authority over every aspect of your life. All aspects of life such as relationships, family, work, bank accounts, possessions, worries and troubles? By authority, I mean power!Following Him and carrying your own cross means that - a life sacrificed for Him and obedience to Him alone! Jesus wants to influence every area of your life - not just certain parts you are willing to give up but all aspects of life!

Jesus came to earth to give comfort to the uncomfortable and we are to do the same - give comfort to those in need.Maybe you are feeling the desolation and loneliness because of decisions made in the past. Give it up willingly to Jesus and don't keep trying to take it back like a security blanket! If you have something even partially blocking your relationship with Jesus, get rid of it - ask Him to take it away!

Finally, you may not yet be a follower of Jesus Christ. I don't know. If that is you, then accept His call upon you. For He is calling you, urging you to return to a relationship with God through Him and Him alone. You may not get another chance. Usually, with a small still beckoning voice, Jesus whispers: "Come! Come and follow me alone!" This Jesus wants to connect with you in an intimate, dynamic, active and spiritual relationship - remember His eyes wander the earth looking for those wanting to submit themselves willingly to Him. If that is you, then please do speak to somebody today about finding out how you can start this relationship with the Living God, Jesus Christ. He calls you by name.Jesus says to all here "Come! Let me get in the driving seat and you hold on to Me! Follow me and follow me wholeheartedly and with all aspects of your life, obey Me alone! I will take all your burdens, give you true freedom and independence and help you in all aspects of life! Come! Follow me!"

As I conclude, let me read to you something CS Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity, about my Jesus."I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." I ask again: Is your vision of Jesus too small?

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Exploring Romans

Part 8. Romans 12:9-13

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.


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Sermon - Leviticus 9-10

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Obedient Service of God

 

Introduction

How to read Leviticus today? What is the best way for us in the 21st century to read these ancient laws of Leviticus? Is it just to simply ignore them or are we to slavishly follow them? Perhaps the best way is to simply let Scripture interpret Scripture and see what the New Testament says about the Leviticus laws.

Take for instance the food laws. We know in the New Testament that all food is now permissible, whereas under the Old Testament, certain foods were not permitted to be eaten. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter had a dream in which all food was declared clean!It is also wise, not to see them as merely a list of "not do" statements, but also as "do statements".

Rather, we should see them as a love letter from a God who wants to save His people from distress and anxiety in order to give them a life of peace, unity, health and a joyful life in all its fullness.All these laws were to lead ancient Israel to be a holy nation. Holiness was about being set apart for a purpose and making wise, conscious decisions about what was right or wrong. It involved being obedient to God and keeping His decrees and regulations.

Being holy, involved having a lifestyle, which was contrary to the cultures surrounding them. To be holy was a lifestyle choice of worship, to reflect their holy God.They were called to be loyal! Called to be distinct! Called to worship! What has all this got to do with us? Where does the Day of Atonement and these laws fit into the life of a Christian in the 21st century? We will take a look in the third part in al little while!

Outline:

Introduction

  1. Great joy Leviticus 9:22-24
  2. Great tragedy Leviticus 10:1-11
  3. A God of Judgement
  4. A God of Wrath
  5. So what’s all this got to do with us today?
  6. New Covenant?
  7. Called to service
  8. Judged for our service

Conclusion

Listen to the mp3 file to see what this fabulous piece of Scripture is about and how it is relevant to you today...

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Sermon - Keep Loving

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Has your love gone cold?

Revelation 1:12-16 - I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

That figure is the risen and ascended Jesus Christ! The one we Christians down through history have proclaimed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! He was the greatest gift of all, freely given, in order to save the world! Salvation, as a gift of grace, imparted to all those who would accept Jesus Christ as saviour! And one group of people had taken Him up on that offer,  a church we read about in Revelation 2:1-7

 

Revelation 2v1-7 - "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices 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 the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

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