Return to your first love

RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise

The goal of this message is to exhort you to fall in love with Jesus again.  Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of delivering this message to several groups of believers.  I come away from each gathering of believers encouraged by the deep desire many have to love Jesus with their whole mind, body, heart, and soul.  I pray this message will encourage you as well and cause you to forsake all other loves and return to your first love, Jesus Christ, our Lord. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit of God has to say through this message . . .
 

‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write, “These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. (Rev. 2:1-5)

Just like the Church in Ephesus, today’s church – in Northern Nevada and beyond – has left her first love. I think the Spirit of God is yearning to kindle and to rekindle a love for Jesus Christ, His son, but I am afraid that in the practice of our faith that we have quenched the spirit’s learning and we have substituted our love for Jesus for “things.” What things? Think about this for a minute. What things are suffocating your love for Jesus Christ? You know, life is so full of things, isn’t it, so many things.  Things that steal the affection of our heart and grab the attention of our mind.  Now, I am not just talking about the obvious things that we call sin, although certainly sin and our sin nature war against the Spirit of God within us for our love.  I am talking about the many things that we allow to engage our minds and hearts in which are not obviously evil in and of themselves, but they become evil because they crowd our heart and choke out the love that we once had for Jesus Christ. Things. “What things?” you may be asking again. Well, let me focus on what the lead scripture for this post says, and then you can inquire of the Lord on your own to understand what things may be stealing your love for Christ. The scripture that we started this message with says the following: “I know your works . . .” (Things! FYI- He is talking to a church. So that must mean church works.) “Your labor . . .” (Things!) “Your patience . . .” (things!) “Your stand against evil of all kinds.  . . .” (things!) “Your love for truth and distaste for those who are false.  …” (things!) “Your commitment to your calling, your persistence to see the work get done. … ” (things!) “You have labored in my name.  …” (things!) “Your commitment to your calling.  …” (things!) “Your persistence to see that work get done.  …” (Things, things, things!) You can do your things if you want. Go ahead and do them. God’s not going to get in your way if you’re so determined to have these things become your identity. Go for it! Those things may fulfill you, but you won’t have Him. You’ll have a form of something you think looks like Him, but you won’t have the power that comes from His love.  And really, when you boil it all down, all the listed things listed in the passage we are considering in this post, all these things are idols when they supplant our first love. Friends, I’m not saying that the things we do aren’t good and important.  I’m saying that even Spirit led things can become idols. You see what I’m saying? They become our identity. Now, listen, because I have worked with and contributed to several ministries over the years that were Holy Spirit inspired and produced good work.  These ministries made a lasting difference in the lives of people.  However, somewhere in the earnestness of serving, the people in these ministries lost their love for Jesus Christ and for one another.  I would submit to you that it would be better to quit your ministry than lose your love for our Lord. And at some point in your life you may need to be willing at any time to lay down your ministry and fall in love with Him again. I mean really fall in love with Him.  And there’s no dishonor bringing the ministry to a close in exchange for falling in love with Jesus again.  You haven’t failed if you are make that choice. If you’re listening to the Holy Spirit in your ministry, there are going to be seasons when you’re functioning and there are going to be seasons when He’s not going to have you functioning. And you need to be okay with Him leading you along that path in life from time to time. Let’s clear something up right now: You’re not God. Right? The fate of the human race does not rest on what you do or don’t do.  Rather, it rests with our Lord.   While you have a part in His plans and purposes, He’s not a God that’s got an agenda with respect to you as His beloved. You’re not a means to an end. Right?  He loves you and certainly He wants to work in and through you, but He’s more concerned about you than this thing you are doing in His name.  He’ll get that done. Really, He will.  He’ll produce his fruit in you, but you have to listen. You have to be willing to lay down your life. You have to be willing to be pruned by Him so that you can truly be fruitful. Ministry really is, I think, the most seductive idol.  The many amazing things we do in the name of Christ, but without love for Him.  Ministry is a jealous mistress, isn’t she?  Calling you away from your love for Him.  Spending time in scripture preparing for the next message without taking time to connect with the God in the scriptures who simply wants you.  She’s calling you all the time, “Come on. Do this. It makes you feel good.” Really being intimate with Jesus Christ can sometimes be difficult because you go before Him and sometimes He’s silent. Right? And sometimes it’s an insecure feeling. You come before the living God and maybe in your heart you’re doubting. Does this Lord that I serve really love me? But you’re afraid to even admit such doubt. So you just say what you always say in prayer. “Oh, God, you’re good. You’re holy,” but sometimes you’re not willing to say, “God, I just need you” or, “God, I’m pissed off at you. I’m not really happy with where my life is at right now,” or, “God, I need you to set my heart and mind right.” Some people say fake it till you make it and, you know, for some that may work. I say never fake it. Never fake it. You know, if something’s going on, be real. Be real with Him. David was real before God in his prayers and in his worship. Any time in the Psalms will expose you to the raw and real emotions of a man after God’s heart.  God is after that type of authenticity from you and I. Not to long ago, I had a friend put his arm around me and he said, “You know, sometimes God will come alongside of you, just put His arm around you, and share His heart with you. And He wants you to share your heart with Him and He listens. He listens to what you have to say to Him intently, like a father to a son.”

selective focus photography of child s hand on person s palm

So let’s go back to the lead scripture:

“But I have this against you . . . You have left your first love . . .”

There are four important messages Jesus is communicating in this passage that relate back to important things he said during His ministry when He walked the earth.     (1) To know me, is to love me. I don’t know you! “22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:22-23.

  • The Message Bible puts it this way, “‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit.”

(2) You are so busy, but you have not chosen the good part that is me!!And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42.

  • Fall in love with me – that is the “good part” and that will not be taken from you.

(3) You have embraced a form of Godliness – things that may look and feel like love for me, but are not. In so doing, you deny the power of my authentic love working in and through you.

  • This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 2 Tim 3:1-5.

(4) You are committed to your calling, but you do not love me.

  • Remember: Peter was called to be the Rock.
  • With this mind, Peter announced to the Lord that, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. Matt. 26:33-35
  • You all know the story. Peter failed. Thank God he failed!
  • But, Jesus restored him by asking him one simple question three times:
    • “Do you love me?”

HEAD OVER HEALS IN LOVE

silhouette of people

How many of you have ever fallen “head-over-heals” in love? What did that love make you feel like? How did that love change your thinking? How did that love effect your behavior?  Could you go a moment in your day with out considering your loved one –without desiring her? What was it like to be separated from the one you loved?  Could you carry on a conversation without mentioning the one you love at least once? CONSIDER THIS: GOD IS HEAD OVER HEALS IN LOVE WITH YOU MAN OF GOD (John 3:16 “FOR GOD “SO” LOVED THE WORLD . . . THAT HE GAVE US HIS SON”) YOU ARE PRECIOUS TO HIM

  • CONSIDER THE TREASURE (MATT. 13:44);
  • CONSIDER THE PEARL (MATT. 13:46)
  • CONSIDER THE ONE LOST SHEEP OR THE LOST COIN (LUKE 15)
  • CONSIDER THE PRODIGAL

Jesus longs for us to return His love to Him and become head over heals in love with him. I don’t know about you, men, but I am at a place in my walk with our Lord were I want to fall in love with Jesus again.  His love for me has wrecked me to the point where I can not think of anything more than him.  I now desire to be overcome with passion for Him. I want to know Him intimately.  I want this love to transform me in every way so that I can become the embodiment of his love and passion for humanity.  I want love for Him to change my thinking, behavior and my feelings. Best-selling Christian Book author, Frank Viola, made this important observation, “God is not so much about fixing things that have gone wrong in our lives as He is about finding us in our brokenness and giving us Christ. When Christ is not central and supreme in our lives, everything shifts out of orbit and moves out of kilter. So for Christians, our first task is to know Jesus. And, out of that knowing, we will come to love Him, adore Him, proclaim Him, and Manifest Him.” I have communicated this desire to Him through a simple prayer as I read His word, “Lord, I want to fall in love with you. Show me something about who you are that will cause me to swoon in my spirit and transform my mind and heart. Reveal something about who you are that will cause me to cry with joy and love like you love.”  I think the Apostle Paul prayed something similar. See Phil 3:7-11. In response to this kind of prayer, God often reveals special attributes about who He is and who you are in Him.  For example, no matter what I am studying – faith, hope, love, wisdom, truth, – – – all I can see is Christ. It is as if each word, each concept, each phrase in the bible reveals some aspect of Him.

  • Faith – the substance = the person of Christ
  • Hope – found only in Christ – he is the hope of our salvation!
  • Love – is defined by Christ and what he did and what he does in and through us
  • Truth – he is the truth
  • Life – he is the life. There is no other life.

This is the Foundation to all we are: Christ. Nothing More. Nothing Less. See 1 Cor. 3:1-12 [read][emphasis “no other foundation can be laid other than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.”] Unfortunately, many of us have made the gospel about so many things – things other the Christ. We have made the gospel synonymous with the church we go to and the way we pray and worship. Who cares what church you go to? If you are not in love with Jesus Christ, it really does not matter. Who cares if you pray loudly “with authority” or you pray quietly “with conviction” if you are not in love with Jesus Christ, it does not really matter. We have made the gospel synonymous with the Pastor we listen to at church.  Who cares who your Pastor is? Is your Pastor worthy of the love Christ himself demands from you?!! He is a jealous God and he will not share is thrown of Grace with another – even our Pastors. We have made the gospel synonymous with a program, a spiritual truth, a value, a gift, a cause, etc. It is all too possible to emphasize the church we go to, or the prayers we pray and the way we pray them, or a person we follow, or a spiritual truth, value, or a spiritual gift, or to promote a cause or develop a program, yet miss Christ, who is Himself the embodiment and incarnation of all these things. What is Christianity? o  It is Christ. Nothing More. Nothing Less. o  Not an idea. Not a philosophy. o  Not morality, values, social ethics or a world view or a political party “Christianity is the good news that love, beauty, truth and goodness are found in a PERSON.” – Frank Viola

  • Our individual and collective experience is [or should be] founded on and experienced by connection to that person.
  • Conversion is more than a change of direction – conversion is a change in connection.

Jesus is being replaced by justice, moral codes, values based teaching and leadership principles.  Go into a Christian book store and consider all the book titles about “me” and “my” and “us” and compare them to the number of books about Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;(L) others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”(M) 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”(N) 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,(O) but by my Father in heaven.(P) 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b](Q) and on this rock I will build my church,(R) and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys(S) of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.”(T) 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone(U) that he was the Messiah.

Think for a moment about the importance of this question.  Every generation since Christ’s ascension has been presented with this question to answer. o  Unfortunately, who do you say that I am? Is no longer the only question.

  • What are you doing to build the kingdom?
  • What are you doing for social justice?
  • In what causes are you engaged?
  • What bible study do you attend?
  • What are you doing to evangelize the word?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • What is your gift?
  • What kind of leader are you?

However, again, Jesus only asked one question . . . who do you say that I am? Jesus does not want leadership or justice from us.  He wants use to know him and to love him.  Unfortunately, we can not properly love Him if we haven’t caught sight of how incredibly glorious he is!  Jesus Himself said that when He is lifted up, he will draw all people to Himself.  Because we don’t trust Jesus to do what he says he will do or believe that he is who he says he is, or have not caught a glimpse of His infinite glory, we sit at drawing boards and draw up programs and methods and strategies that we hope might bring people to Christ.  But Jesus could not have been more clear: if we lift him up, he will draw people to himself. Our mission is simply to lift Him up.  Whenever this happens, the rest will take of itself. Christ is all. Loving Him is our calling How do we rekindle this first love?

  • FIRST, REVELATION 2:5 SAYS:
    • REPENT
    • RETURN TO THE WORK OF LOVING CHRIST THE WAY YOU DID WHEN YOU FIRST BELIEVED!!
  • SECOND, Colossians Chapter 3 OUTLINES WHAT “HEAD OVER HEALS LOVE FOR CHRIST LOOKS LIKE.”
    • v. 1 – remember – you have been raised with Christ. You have His life residing in your body. Your life is not your own. You have been bought with a price. You are the pearl of great worth!!  v. 2 – Set your affection on treasure, that is the prize, your special place, in heaven – which is found in Jesus Christ (don’t look for things).
    • v. 3 – Accept the fact that you are now dead – you have no affection for anything or anyone – only Christ Jesus. Your life is not inextricably linked to His. He is the vine and you are His branches. (John 15)
    • v. 4 – Stand in anticipation – YOUR BRIDEGROOM IS COMING SOON. Be ready!!! The wedding is about to begin and the bride is going to be called to the bridegroom.
    • v. 5 to 7 – Wage war against the sin that is trying to steal your heart away from Jesus. KILL IT! Do not harbor sin or give it any quarter!!
    • v. 8 to 11 – Love your brothers. Put away the attitudes and actions that destroy relationships. Part of putting on the “new self” is understanding that the “new self” includes the other members of the body.  Look to the right and to the left the next time you go to church. What will you see? PART OF YOUR NEW SELF.  Your new self shares in a sense the communal aspect of the trinity (we are made in God’s image and likeness)
    • v. 12 – Put on Christ (Like Iron Man – except the super powers you will be given to save the world in your suit are: compassionate hearts; kindness; humility; meekness; patience; forbearance; forgiveness; and LOVE.