Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Ways to Leave Your First Love

Originally published April 29, 2016

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 good things. 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.

Abortion, Forgiveness, Relationships

Throwback Thursday on Friday ~ Aborting People

Originally posted July 24, 2014Aborting People

Cut the negative people out of your life.

Don’t lift a finger for people who won’t lift a finger for you.

Don’t allow people in your life who don’t deserve to be there.

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Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see something like this on Facebook. Clearly, there are people who are violent that we need to stay away from for our own physical safety, and marital problems absolutely must be resolved, but those aren’t what this line of thinking seems to be addressing. It’s talking about the difficult people. We all have them in our lives. You’re probably thinking of some right now.

The constant complainer.

The drama queen.

The narcissist.

The annoyance.

The just plain unlovely.

Maybe it’s a family member, a neighbor, or a co-worker. Somebody who’s in your life for some reason, only you wish she weren’t.

The world’s advice: abort people. If they’re negative, if they don’t further your success, if they drain you, if they’re somehow undeserving of your time and attention. Just cut them out of your life. Abort them.

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Christians are on the front lines of the battle against literal abortion. “Every life is precious,” we say, and that’s as it should be. But somehow, the world’s abortive mentality has crept into our thinking when it comes to the relationships we have with others. Babies are being killed because they’re inconvenient, they’ll hinder someone’s pursuit of success, or they have a disability, and we’re – rightly – grieved and outraged, but do we have any pangs of conscience when it comes to throwing away that inconvenient friend or that personality-handicapped family member? Is every life really precious?

We serve a Savior who loved the unlovely. Took time for the inconvenient. Invested in the drains. He felt their loneliness and rejection and knew the pain of being scorned.

Because He was one of them.

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:2b-3

Jesus stopped along the roadside, not for those who would further His success, but for those who were needy. He called the awkward and personality impaired “brother.” He called a betrayer, “friend.” Even those who wielded the whip, embedded the thorns, and drove the nails didn’t hear, “Go to hell,” but, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Yes, there are people who are so difficult that we may have to love them from afar, taking time between each encounter with them to pray, recover, and forgive.

But we must remember who we were called to be.

I love, not because people deserve it, but because He first loved me.

I am forgiving because I have been forgiven much.

I am kind because God has been so kind to me.

I lay down my life for messy people because Christ laid down His life for the biggest mess of all- me. 

Extend grace. Because in God’s eyes, every life is precious. Even yours.

Sanctification

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 – and even the church – 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.
Homosexuality, Salvation

Throwback Thursday ~ God Loves Gays

Originally published May 8, 2015god loves gays

Last week, as I was mindlessly flipping through Facebook, this picture caught my eye. It was attached to a news article about the Supreme Court’s hearing on same sex “marriage”. I was already at my saturation point with the reporting on the day’s events, but this picture just reached out and grabbed my heart.

“God loves gays,” the young man’s sign says. Rarely, perhaps never, has a statement been so beautifully true and so painfully false all at the same time.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

It’s true. God does love gays. He doesn’t love them because He sees what they might someday become after leaving the lifestyle behind. He doesn’t love them because they’re great “fixer upper” projects. He doesn’t love them because He feels sorry for them. He just loves them. Right where they are. Not after they get cleaned up. Now.


 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Have you ever really thought about the implications of that statement?

God loves the homosexual man while he is sodomizing his partner.

God loves the gang banger while he is pulling the trigger of his gun.

God loves the prostitute while she is servicing her client.

God loves the child molester while he is violating that precious little one.

God loves the atheist soldier in a godless country while he is torturing Christians.

In the deepest, blackest night of our sin, God loves each and every one of us. Only a profoundly, unfathomably good and kind God could, or would, do such a thing.

But the story doesn’t end there.

You see, as unbelievable as it is that God could love someone so drenched in evil, He takes things a step further. God’s love motivated Him to act.


while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Rescue. Redemption. Salvation. However you want to put it, God personally came down and sacrificed Himself so that even the most wretched sinner would have a way out. No more enslavement to evil. No more being pawns of the devil in his never-ending quest for revenge against the King. No more separation from God, now, or in eternity.

God drove a cross-shaped stake into the ground at Calvary and said, “No more.”

God does love gays. And murderers. And child rapists. And hookers. And even prideful, rebellious, good little Sunday School girls like me. But not like this young man’s sign implies. He thinks God shows love by approving of his homosexuality. But an all-powerful God who would say He loves sinners and yet leave them to rot in their sin without lifting a finger to help them isn’t loving. Isn’t all-powerful. Isn’t God.

God does love you, my young friend. You simply have no idea how much.

Faith, Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Reasons to Rejoice that Christ is Enough in Our Suffering

Originally published March 20, 2015christ is enough

It seems like so many people are hurting these days. There are personal hurts that come our way like health issues and broken relationships. Many of us are hurting because we’re watching someone we love suffer- an adult child going through a divorce, an elderly relative with Alzheimer’s. And the birth pains the world is going through – ISIS murdering our brothers and sisters in Christ, the rampant filth and debauchery that’s flooding our own culture here in the U.S., and so much more – make it burdensome just to inhabit the planet. It’s no wonder so many of us are limping around in pain just trying to make it through. Everywhere we turn, it’s bad news.

But for those of us who are in Christ, there’s also good news. Good news that trumps any piece of bad news we could possibly receive.

Good news: It’s OK for you to feel sad or overwhelmed during difficult times.

I know that may sound obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded. We’ve all heard stories about a person who received the diagnosis of some terminal disease with a smile and a “Praise the Lord!” We’ve all run into that lady whose hair could be currently on fire who would brush off our concerns for her with, “Honey, I’m too blessed to be stressed!” And if that’s genuinely the heart of those people, that’s great. They can be very inspiring.

But that doesn’t mean you’re any less of a Christian, or that you don’t trust God, if your doctor tells you that you have cancer and you fall apart. Or if you get that devastating news and you don’t bounce back right away.

Whether we realize it or not, there’s often a subtle pressure we church ladies put on ourselves to walk into God’s house and paste on a smile and pretend like these devastating things don’t bother us. We think that’s faith. We think that shows that we completely trust God. But is that what faith and trust really mean?

Some of the greatest men and women of faith in the Bible were hurt deeply and mourned over that hurt.

God said David was “a man after God’s own heart,” yet look at so many of the Psalms he wrote, especially when he was running for his life from Saul.

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Psalm 6:6-7

Time and again, we see passages like that in David’s writings. God never rebukes him or tells him to just put on a happy face.

And what about Jesus? Remember the shortest verse in the Bible? In the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, John 11:35 says “Jesus wept.” The Bible doesn’t tell us precisely why He wept. Maybe it was for one of the same reasons we suffer- the personal pain of losing a loved one, the pain of watching Mary and Martha suffer, or the pain of experiencing a broken world where sin causes awful things like death and disease. But whatever the reasons for His pain, Jesus didn’t plaster on a fake smile and pretend everything was fine.

On the cross at Jesus’ moment of greatest anguish, when the weight of the sin of the world was bearing down on Him, and the wrath of God was being poured out on Him in all its fury, and Jesus was experiencing first hand that it was the will of God to crush Him, Jesus cried out from the depths of His soul, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

David, Jesus, and so many other faithful men and women of God grieved. God’s people hurt sometimes, and that’s OK. You do not have to smile and pretend everything is OK when it’s not. It is OK to be sad when you’re hurting.

But the second piece of good news is this:

Good News: We may grieve, but we don’t “grieve as those who have no hope.” 

Because those of us who are truly born again believers have hope. And His name is Jesus. And He is enough. Jesus is enough for anything you’re going through.

If you watch “Christian TV” or read a lot of the books you’ll find in Christian bookstores by preachers with shiny teeth and even shinier hair, or, heaven help you, if you’re on Facebook, the message you will often hear about suffering is this:

“The pain you’re going through right now is nothing compared to the size of the blessing you’re about to receive.”

or

“It’s never God’s will for you to be sick or in lack. If you just have enough faith (and sow a seed into my ministry), God will bless you.”

or

“Your words create your reality. If you speak positive words (I’m wealthy, I’m successful, I’m healed), you will attract those positive things into your life. If you speak negative words, negative things will happen.”

So if you listen to these guys, in addition to the difficult circumstances that are going on in your life, you now have the pressure of “I’m still sick. I must not have enough faith.” or “Oh no, I accidentally spoke a negative word! I’m doomed to a life of poverty.” or “I thought my blessing was right around the corner. Why am I still suffering?”

Don’t believe those lies. God doesn’t promise any of that malarky in the Bible, because our hope is not found in “everything’s going my way” circumstances. Our hope is found in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. Your circumstances may not get better. You may get that terminal disease and die from it. Your husband who left you for another woman may never come back. Your baby might be born with a disability. Sometimes circumstances don’t get better, but Jesus gets only gets better and better with each passing day.

God never promised you “Your Best Life Now.” He promises you Christ. And Christ is enough. And you can rejoice in that.

Why?

Because He knows what you’re going through.

Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah 53:3 says:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

There’s nothing you can go through about which you can honestly say, “God doesn’t understand.” Jesus has been there. He knows what it’s like.

Why can you rejoice that Christ is enough?

Because He loves and cares for you more than you could ever imagine.

Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, left all his glory behind. For you. He lived a sinless life. For you. He endured being hated, mistreated, and misunderstood. For you. He was whipped, tortured, and humiliated. For you. He took the nails. He took your sin. He took the wrath of His Father. For you. And three days later, He got up out of the grave. For you.

Jesus loves you. He hurts when you hurt. He wants to be the one you run to and pour out your heart to when everything is falling apart so He can comfort you with His presence and His word. He wants you to “cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.”

Why can you rejoice that Christ is enough?

Because the One who went through it all FOR you will walk through it all WITH you. And when you’re too weak to walk any more, He’ll carry you through it.

In Matthew 28:20, the Great Commission, Jesus says,

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Hebrews 13:5b, He says,

be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Jesus isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be right there with you no matter what.

Why can you rejoice that Christ is enough?

Because He sends you brothers and sisters in the faith to help you.

Church family is such a precious gift to us from Christ.

Matthew 25:36-40 is about the final judgment, and when Christ’s people stand before Him, He talks about how they have ministered to their brothers and sisters:

I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

When we’re hurting, we allow our church family to minister to us because that is Christ’s gift to us. When we’re able, we turn around and minister to our church family out of love for Christ. We carry our brothers and sisters because Christ carries us.

Why can you rejoice that Christ is enough?

Because what He wants to do IN you is better than what you want Him to do FOR you.

You want Him to bring relief to a temporary problem. He wants to do the eternal in you- make you more like Christ. Romans 5:3-5 says:

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We rejoice in our sufferings because, through them, God makes us more like Christ. And, as Christians, that’s our number one desire- to be like Him.

Why can you rejoice that Christ is enough?

Because you have the hope of Heaven.

Some days the only thing that gets me through is knowing that this life with all its hurts and problems won’t last forever. One day all of this is going to be gone, and God is going to set everything right. In the scope of eternity, this life and the suffering we endure is so short. James says our lives are a “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Revelation 21:3-4:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Keep things in perspective by keeping your focus on the hope of Heaven.

 

If you are in Christ, you have every reason to rejoice in the Lord, even in suffering, because Christ is enough: He knows what you’re going through, He loves you, He’ll walk through it with you, He has given you church family to help, He’s making you more Christ-like, and because you have the hope of Heaven.

He is enough, so rejoice. Because if Christ isn’t enough, what is?