Sanctification

Six Ways to Leave Your First Love

6 ways first love

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

Love…exciting and new….

If you’re a child of the 80s, you probably recognize those few words as the opening line of the theme song from the TV show, The Love Boat. It was all about romance, attraction, and the first blush of new love. Perfect strangers met, fell for each other in a matter of days and walked off the ship arm in arm when it sailed back into port. (There was also a lot of fornication, so that’s not an endorsement of the show.)

Anyone who’s ever fallen in love before remembers that excitement, the nearly illicit drug-like rush of those first days and weeks of romance. Your heart and mind are consumed with him 24/7. You can’t wait to see him again. Just having a conversation with him sets your toes a-tingle. You start realizing your friends are constantly changing the subject because he’s all you can talk about.

I remember those days when I first met my husband. After twenty-three years of marriage, that initial seedling of obsessive infatuation has grown into a sturdy, sedate, deeply rooted California redwood of love and trust. Our love for each other may not look like it did when we first started dating, but it’s still there. In fact, that love is bigger and stronger now than it ever has been.

It saddens me that it’s not that way for every couple. Sometimes, instead of puppy love growing into mature love, it’s more like a Fourth of July sparkler that burns brightly at first, and then fizzles down to a smoking ember as time goes by. Couples let things get in the way of their relationship. They pull away from each other instead of toward each other. They stop talking. They stop spending time together. Outwardly, they can be going through all the right motions, but, behind closed doors, their love has died.

And that’s where we find Christ’s bride, the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2.

This is not a bad church where sin is running rampant and false doctrine is being taught. This is basically a good church. Christ commends the Ephesian church for their good deeds, hard work, endurance, and, especially, their discernment. Outwardly, they were doing all the right things, and doing them well.

But that wasn’t enough for Christ. Just like it wouldn’t be enough for a husband whose wife is simply a good cook, a good mother, and a good housekeeper.

Christ doesn’t just want the good deeds and doctrine of His bride. He wants her heart, too. Not just her labor, but her love. And because you and I are the church, He wants that from us as individuals as well. He wants our love for Him to steadily grow from that first spark to deep maturity, not to burn down to a smoldering wick.

Have you, like the church at Ephesus, left your first love for Christ? It can be so easy for our affection toward Him and our enjoyment of Him to slip away that sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. Maybe it’s time for a little evaluation? Got any of these dynamics playing out in your walk?

1. You spend a lot of time hanging out in one particular area of the faith.

It’s no secret that I hang out in Discernment Land a lot. Maybe that’s why this passage in Revelation hits me so hard. First Church of Ephesus spent a lot of time there, too. Discernment and contending for the faith are a good thing. Christ praised this church for standing strong against false doctrine and comparing every teaching to Scripture.

There are a lot of other wonderful areas of Christianity to explore and grow in, too. Studying theology is a good thing. So are prayer, worship, serving, giving, hospitality, evangelism, Bible study, and so on. But too much of one good thing can squeeze out time and desire for other good things. It can be challenging, but we’ve got to maintain a balance of all the good stuff in order to have a healthy relationship with Christ.

2. You’re in a “perseverance” season of life.

Life as a first century Christian was no picnic. People’s families turned against them, many lost their livelihoods, there was the constant threat of torture and persecution nearly inconceivable to us today, and false doctrine continued to creep into the church and had to be fought off. We get a little hint of this when, in the first three verses of this passage, Christ uses the words “endurance,” “grown weary,” and “perseverance” (twice).

When God is allowing or causing circumstances to occur in your life that put you through the wringer, you can slip into survival mode. But it’s not really survival without regularly communing with Christ. It’s vital that you spend time with Christ during these difficult periods of your life so your relationship with Him doesn’t grow cold.

3. Good works are overwhelming your schedule.

The good works God has called you to are a good thing. Just as Christ recognized the “deeds and toil” of the Ephesian church, He has prepared good works for you to do and wants you to do them. But there are those good works that God has prepared for you to do and will provide the time for: serving your family, serving your church, being a faithful employee; and then there can be additional good works you over-extend yourself for. When you are so busy serving – even at church or in ministry activities – that your personal relationship with Christ suffers or your primary area of service to your family suffers, you are too busy. It’s time to reevaluate and cut back somewhere.

4. You’re not faithfully attending church.

If you’re regularly choosing travel, ballgames, birthday parties, sleeping in, shopping, visiting family, or any other non-essential, non-emergency activity over faithfully attending church, you are sinning, and you need to stop it and get your heiney back in the pew every week. When Scripture says gathering for worship with other Christians is your first priority, you need to obey that.

But it’s more than just adhering to some arbitrary rule. God doesn’t make arbitrary rules. His commands are always for our good. When you miss church, you’re missing out on the teaching and proclamation of God’s word, the celebration of Christ with your brothers and sisters, the opportunity to fellowship with and help bear the burdens of other believers, the encouragement and sharpening of running the race with your teammates, and the chance to serve the body of Christ. All of these things direct our focus to Christ, His beauty and His love for us, which, in turn, grows our love for Him.

5. You’re neglecting personal time in the Word and prayer.

I spend a lot of time in and around the Word. I’m normally at church, Sunday school, and Wednesday night Bible study every week. I teach my children the Bible every morning. My husband leads us in family worship. I write about biblical topics, which requires study of the Word. I listen to sermons and Christian podcasts all the time. But even with all that, when I don’t get up and start the day alone with God in prayer and in His word, I can feel myself slipping away from Him. And I know from experience that if I let that go on long enough, there’s going to be a rift between us, I’m going to keep pulling away from Him, and I’m not only going to miss out on that intimate, loving communion with Him, I’m going to leave myself wide open to temptation to sin.

Neglecting your Bible study and prayer time has a similar effect on your relationship with Christ as refusing to talk to or spend time with your husband would have on your marriage. Don’t give Christ the silent treatment. Stay in close fellowship with Him through His word and prayer.

6. You’re cherishing sin.

It’s a sin. You know it because the Bible clearly says so. You do it anyway. You keep doing it because you like it. Maybe it’s something “big” like pornography or embezzlement. Maybe it’s something “small” like coveting or gossip. But every step you take toward that sin is a step away from Christ and your love for Him. Every time you commit that act, you’re saying, “I love my sin more than I love Christ.”

 

Have you left your first love? Are you going through all the right motions outwardly, but inwardly your heart is far from God? Are you committing spiritual adultery with sin, letting busyness crowd out your relationship with the Lord, neglecting time in the Word and prayer? Do you long for that intimate communion with Christ you once had? Great news! He wants that for you, too.

…remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.

God is gracious and merciful, and He wants your heart, not just your right actions. He stands ready to forgive you, reconcile you to Himself, and restore that sweet love and fellowship.

Sanctification, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Jesus Wants You to Be a Hater

Originally published February 26, 2015

hater

Hater. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot these days. If you disagree with someone, you’re a hater. If you believe the Bible when it says something is a sin, you’re a hater. If you vote pro-life or pro-marriage, you’re a hater. Gone are the days when a Christian could stand on her convictions without being accused of hating everyone else who does not hold those same convictions.

In fact, when you first read the title of this article, I’m betting that’s what you thought I was saying Jesus wants us to do: hate everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

And I hate that.

I hate the fact that Satan has sold the world the lie that those of us who love Christ with all our hearts hate the sinners He died for.

Did you know that the Bible actually tells us to hate certain things? Not people who disagree with us or people enslaved by sin- that’s the world’s definition of being a hater. Luke 6:27-28 tells us:

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

We are not to hate, but to love, do good to, bless, and pray for those who, because they are at enmity with Christ, are at enmity with us.

But as Christians, the Bible tells us there are certain things it is good and holy for us to hate. If we don’t hate them, we’re being disobedient to our Lord.

We are to hate evil:

The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Proverbs 8:13

We hate evil, pride, arrogance, and perverted speech because God is good and holy. Evil stands in rebellion against God’s person and in opposition to God’s purposes. Pride and arrogance exalt self over God, who alone is to have preeminence in all things. Dishonest, wicked speech can damage God’s beloved children and lead them away from Him.

We are to hate opposition to God’s word:

Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way. Psalm 119:128

When we love the Lord and His ways, we will necessarily come to hate false ways and false doctrine which defy His word and lead us, and others, away from Him.

We are to hate our own sin:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:14-15

While it is good to hate evil in the world, we must also hate the evil that lurks within us in the form of sin. Those who have been born again loathe their sin and continually and sorrowfully turn from it, flinging themselves upon the mercy of Christ for forgiveness.

We are to “hate” all things in comparison to our love for Christ:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

Our devotion to Christ must run so deep that we are gladly willing to sacrifice any relationship -even with our closest family members- any worldly goods, even our lives, if required to by our Lord in His word. Our love for Him should so far surpass our affections for all others that any other love relationship seems like hate in comparison.

There is a time to love, and a time to hate. When we love Christ, we will hate what is evil and cling to what is good. The hatred of the things the Lord calls us to hate is evidence that we love Him and are having our hearts and minds conformed to His.

If you’re a Christian, by God’s definition, you’re a hater. And that’s not a bad thing.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.

Wednesday's Word

Wednesday’s Word ~ Nahum 1

nahum 1 7

Nahum 1

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
    the bloom of Lebanon withers.
The mountains quake before him;
    the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
    the world and all who dwell in it.

Who can stand before his indignation?
    Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
    and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
    But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
    and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
What do you plot against the Lord?
    He will make a complete end;
    trouble will not rise up a second time.
10 For they are like entangled thorns,
    like drunkards as they drink;
    they are consumed like stubble fully dried.
11 From you came one
    who plotted evil against the Lord,
    a worthless counselor.

12 Thus says the Lord,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
    they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
    I will afflict you no more.
13 And now I will break his yoke from off you
    and will burst your bonds apart.”

14 The Lord has given commandment about you:
    “No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
    the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

15 Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
    who brings good news,
    who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah;
    fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
    he is utterly cut off.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Which genre of biblical literature (epistle, wisdom, prophecy, historical narrative, etc.) is the book of Nahum? The theme of Nahum is God’s judgment against which people? (1) Which book of the Bible would you read to find out more about God’s dealings with Nineveh?

2. Why was God going to execute judgment on Nineveh? (8,11,14) How and why would God’s judgment of Nineveh have been a comfort to Judah? (12-13,15)

3. Verses 1-3a and 6 highlight which attribute of God’s nature? Verses 3b-5 showcase His power over what? What emotion and response are these verses designed to evoke from the enemies of God? From God’s people, Judah? How can it be a comfort to Christians to know that God will one day judge His enemies?

4. What does verse 7 say about the nature and character of God? Does this contradict the previous six verses showcasing His wrath and power? Why not? How can God be simultaneously good and wrathful? Would it be right to say that God’s wrath against sin demonstrates His goodness?

5. Compare verse 3 to Jonah 3 and 2 Peter 3:9. What do all of these passages teach us about God’s patience towards sinners and His desire for them to repent? Is God’s patience ever an excuse to put off salvation or obedience to Him?

Complementarianism

Fencing Off the Forbidden Fruit Tree

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I usually publish a mini-blog there each Sunday afternoon. Here’s a recent one.

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Often, with regard to 1 Timothy 2:12, husbands and pastors will reassure a woman that it’s OK for her to teach that co-ed Sunday School class or step into a church leadership role reserved for men because she’ll be doing so “under his [husband’s or pastor’s] authority.” A reader recently asked me about this, and I wanted to share my (slightly modified) response to her with you.

“When God tells us (in context, rightly handled, correct covenant, etc., of course) not to do something and we do it anyway, that is sin, right? Only God has the authority to say what is sin and what is not. No one – not your pastor, your husband, your parents, your best friend, the Pope, nobody – has the authority to tell you that it’s OK to do something God has said is sin. That authority belongs to God alone.

Try inserting any other sin into that situation. Does your husband, pastor, etc., have the authority to tell you it’s OK to lie? Cuss? Covet? Of course not. And why would they even consider doing such a thing?

My point exactly.

The issue here is that this particular sin (teaching/exercising authority over men) has become so acceptable in the church that we no longer even see it as sin. If you were to ask [your husband and pastor] to show you from Scripture where God says it’s OK for them to allow you to teach men, they would quickly realize that they are not basing their decision on Scripture (because there is no Scripture that allows them to do this), but on their own opinion that it’s OK, which has been heavily influenced by the fact that this sin is now so widely acceptable in the church at large.

Beth Moore is a perfect example of why husbands and pastors should not allow or encourage women to violate God’s word by teaching men. Beth Moore started out teaching a women’s Sunday school class in her home church. It grew. Men wanted to attend the class (a problem I’ve addressed here). She was hesitant, so she talked to her husband and pastor about it. They both told her it was OK because she would be teaching the men “under their authority” (despite the fact that there’s no passage of Scripture that allows them to say that or gives them the right to lay some sort of mantle of authority on her) That initial compromise led to another and another. Fast forward to today, and this is still the argument Beth Moore – in all of her false doctrinal glory – uses for preaching to men. And she has influenced thousands of women (and their husbands and pastors) to do the same.

But it doesn’t matter how sound our doctrine is, when women stand in front of co-ed groups and teach (or accept positions of authority over men in the church) we are teaching more than just what’s coming out of our mouths. We’re teaching that group of people by example that it’s OK for women to teach men. That God’s word can be ignored and disobeyed in this area while we stand there urging them to obey it in other areas. How can a woman exhort a group to obey God while she is standing there disobeying Him herself?”

It’s my prayer that we’ll begin to see more husbands and pastors uphold God’s word and protect their wives and female church members from sinning by encouraging them to fulfill all of the wonderful roles God has for women in the church and by fencing off that one tree in the garden that bears the forbidden fruit of teaching and exercising authority over men.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Women evangelizing men & women teaching at co-ed conferences

mailbag

When it comes to 1 Timothy 2:12, what about women preaching or teaching the Bible at co-ed Christian conferences, campus ministries, youth ministries, or parachurch ministries? Is that OK since they’re not preaching and teaching “in the church”?

Here, we need to remember what the definition of “church” is. The church is not a building, it is a body of born again believers gathered for the purpose of worship, prayer, the sacraments, and/or the study of God’s word. Those things can take place in a church building, a home (as with the first century churches in Acts), in a campus or office building, outdoors, in a conference center, in a sports arena, or anywhere else. So, when a body of believers comes together for these purposes, regardless of the building in which they meet, or whether you call it “church” or not, they are the church, and the biblical parameters about women teaching and holding authority over men applies.

What about evangelism? Can women share the gospel with men at work, among friends and family, at the store, through an outreach ministry?

Women not only can share the gospel at every opportunity, the Great Commission mandates it for every Christian. However, it is important for godly women to use caution and wisdom when interacting with men in any situation, especially one that can turn out to be very personal and emotionally intimate, as with witnessing.

My counsel would be that you’re generally OK if you’re in a public place and it’s a one time encounter (for example, witnessing to a stranger at the store). However, if we’re talking about multiple encounters – for example, a male friend or co-worker who wants to continue meeting with you over time to talk about the gospel – it might be best to meet with him a couple of times (in a public area) and then “hand him off” to your husband, pastor, elder, brother, friend, etc., for further discussion.

There are several reasons for this.

It protects your reputation. If people see you meeting with a man on an ongoing basis (especially of one or both of you are married) they can jump to the wrong conclusion, and your reputation, and Christ’s, can be sullied.

It protects your virtue. Unfortunately, some men, who have no interest in the gospel, might see your eagerness to meet with them as an opportunity to take advantage of you.

It protects both of you from temptation. A personal relationship with Christ is exactly that- personal. Discussing sin, conviction, and other matters related to salvation can lead to emotional intimacy, which can then lead to physical intimacy. You don’t want what started as a witnessing encounter to end up as sin.

When it comes to outreach ministries (for example, a meal for the homeless, followed by a group gospel presentation or Bible lesson), it’s best for a man to lead co-ed (or male only) adult groups in anything that could be construed as preaching or teaching the Bible. Not because this is in the church setting and the situation falls directly under the parameters of 1 Timothy 2:12, but because…

…there are a lot of highly visible female preachers (Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Gloria Copeland, Christine Caine, etc.) out there, all of whom are in disobedience to 1 Timothy 2:12 and teach false doctrine (usually Word of Faith/New Apostolic Reformation).

The Bible says we’re to avoid even the appearance of evil, and you don’t want to appear to be one of those women if it’s avoidable. Having a man lead the teaching helps distance you and your church from those types of sinful women and their bad theology, and sets a godly example for the people you’re ministering to.

…the Great Commission is clear that we’re not just to make converts, we’re to make disciples. That means the ultimate goal of evangelism is to get the newly saved person plugged in to a local, biblical church. Why confuse a new Christian by having women lead out “in the field” when it’s not going to be that way in the church?

…there are very few examples in the world of what it really means to be a man. Men are constantly emasculated on TV and in society and receive all kinds of conflicting messages regarding what real manhood is. What an impact on lost men (and women) to see an example of a godly, masculine man who leads well, fulfills his duties and responsibilities, and is totally sold out to Christ. If you have someone like that, why wouldn’t you want him to lead?

For more questions and answers about women’s roles in the church, please see my article Rock Your Role FAQs. I’ve added both of these questions to that article.


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.