When Love Grows Cold

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4)

We are creatures of habit. Day after day we go through our busy routines, knowing exactly what to do, but oftentimes having little passion as we do it. Routine can lead to complacency. This complacency is often demonstrated in our most important human relationships, where over time, the love, passion and commitment to that special someone ceases to exist. It is when peripheral issues are allowed to take precedence that relationships break down. Perhaps more common in our day for a whole host of reasons, complacency and a lack of commitment in our relationships need never be considered acceptable, or for that matter, even normal.       

            The people in the church at Ephesus had a problem with commitment, if not to each other, certainly to Jesus. The apostle John received and recorded the Revelation from its Divine author, Jesus Christ. While it was a revelation from Christ, it is also a revelation about Him. At the beginning of the book, we find seven letters written to seven different churches that existed in the first century, churches that are thought to also represent churches throughout the entire church age. Though not all the churches received both, a common pattern of these letters included things in which they were to be commended, as well as things deserving of rebuke. The church at Ephesus received both. They had a lot to be commended for; the work they did for the cause of Christ; their perseverance, spiritual discernment and their refusal to tolerate evil. But despite that, they had flaws, and these flaws mattered.

            Those to whom John was writing had abandoned the love they had for Christ in the beginning. Over time, their hearts had grown cold. Has yours? Do you still burn with the same passion for Christ you had in the beginning? Is your relationship with Him still your first priority? We’re not told exactly why what happened in the church at Ephesus happened, but we are to know that when our love for the Lord diminishes, our love for others diminishes as well. Although they knew their doctrine, the people in the church at Ephesus forgot that their Christian faith was first and foremost about a relationship with Christ, and with each other. We would do well to learn from their mistake.

            When our relationship with Jesus takes a back seat to anything, we can’t assume consequences won’t follow. They will. Our relationship with Christ affects every other relationship. It’s naïve to think we can be all God created us to be if He’s not our first priority. A right theology and a right relationship always go together. Commitment follows true love. A deliberate effort to guard our time with and commitment to the Lord is critical. Effort on our part is not being legalistic or so the Lord will love us more. It’s recognition of how much He has already loved us. It is so our worship would be true. Ultimately though, it’s that we would live for nothing short of what the Lord is due, His glory.

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Pastoral Faithfulness

Death happens. It happens as a result of the normal aging process. It happens when disease invades the body. And it happens when tragedy strikes. No matter the circumstance, all cause great suffering for those left behind. But it’s hard to imagine any death that challenges our faith, and quite frankly makes us question God’s goodness more than a death that results from especially tragic circumstances. When we suffer, how is it possible to still find satisfaction in God? In an article entitled, Preparing People to Suffer: What Expectations Do Our Sermons Create? John Piper addresses from a pastor’s perspective that very question, not only in the case of suffering due to tragic circumstances but suffering due to any circumstance at all.

            “Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” In this section of Psalm 90, Moses appealed to God to pour out His grace so that people would find satisfaction in Him above everything else. This would enable them to rejoice all their days. Piper suggests that in times of personal suffering, the wise pastor cries the very cry of this passage and then preaches its truth to those he shepherds. This doesn’t mean that the hurt doesn’t hurt. Nor does it mean that tragedy will not bring about questions. But thankfully, through the hurt and the questions, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s help, we can accept the truths taught in Scripture. Thankfully, we have a God who sees where we can’t, whose purposes are perfect, and though it may appear otherwise, who is always working for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

Pastors have an awesome responsibility to preach the whole truth of God, including the reality of suffering. It may not be easy to preach, and it may not be what people most want to hear, but it has got to be done. Piper says by teaching the reality of suffering and God’s sovereign goodness in and through it, when tragedy strikes, it leaves you needing only to embrace those in the midst of their pain.

I’m thankful for my pastor for his faithfulness in not dodging the difficult truth of sufferings reality. Even in their pain, I’m sure many in our congregation have been blessed because he didn’t. However, teaching it is not only a pastor’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of all who minister in any manner. So be grateful for your pastor for preaching it and anyone else who teaches it. Because when they do, it not only better prepares you to deal with suffering in your own life, but also minister to others in theirs.

Fearful, Foolish and Flawed

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32)

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as the “Hall of Fame of Faith”. It is the account of some of the Old Testament saints who demonstrated great faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). They are the “cloud of witnesses” meant to inspire us as we live out our own faith. In this chapter, with varying degrees of detail, you will find the stories of people who were commended for their faith. In verse 32 you will find several people who are mentioned only by name ─ Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. Naturally, we know more about some of them than we do others. I suspect most of us would be more familiar with Samuel and David as their stories are told more broadly in Scripture. Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah are perhaps a little less familiar. Their stories can be found in the book of Judges. If you were to study the text in which these people’s stories are told you would find that each of these men had their own shortcomings. In a general sense, you would find that they largely fall into one of three categories: Some of them were fearful (Gideon, Barak). Some were foolish (Samson, Jephthah). And some were flawed (David, Samuel). The most likely case is that, at least at some point in their lives, they were each all three.

In God’s Word we find clear examples of people whose stories warn us about the dangers and consequences of sin. Yet at the same time we find teaching that encourages us as to how God uses imperfect people to bring about His will. All these men were sinners. They all had their own “issues”. But in a moment, they exhibited faith that God used to achieve His purpose. Their stories aren’t an endorsement of a sinful lifestyle. Nowhere does Scripture endorse that. Their stories instead teach us that there is no amount of evil that can thwart God’s will, that in the end, all power belongs to Him. The encouragement for us is that as we trust Him, no matter how far short we may fall, no matter what our “issues” may be, as we step forward in faith, there is a sovereign God to guide us. Be encouraged by that. God is the faithful one.

We can all be fearful, foolish and flawed at times, even at the same time, but God can still use you. Let His love, His grace and His mercy be motivation for your faithfulness. We will always be a work in progress. Fortunately for us, our God is, has always been, and will always be, both powerful and perfect. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).  

Nothing But the Blood

“…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22)  

There are people and even some churches that would deny or downplay the necessity of a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Scripture, however, is clear. “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Under the old covenant, repeated blood sacrifices were required to atone for sin. These sacrifices were never meant to permanently deal with sin, but only to point forward to the new and everlasting covenant mediated by Christ. “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). The blood of bulls and goats dealt only with external cleansing while the blood of Christ was meant to “purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). So, whereas the old covenant sacrifices were incapable of changing people’s hearts, the sacrifice of Christ could.

            Though the author of Hebrews is not known, the purpose for which he wrote is. A primary purpose of the book of Hebrews is that we might see the supremacy of Jesus above all things, greater than the angels and the Mosaic system; the truly great High Priest whose once for all sacrifice cleanses us from our sin. 

            In our day, there is an increasing tendency to deny the necessity of the cross for salvation. I suppose if we could, we might choose another way; a way that didn’t require the cross or a blood sacrifice, but instead a more palatable way, a way good enough for all to enter in. But it’s not our way to choose, only God’s. He is the author of salvation and as such, the manner in which redemption comes belongs only to Him. Salvation is in Christ alone. All of us need forgiveness for sin. If you have received it, it came only by the blood of Christ; if you haven’t, it’s the only way salvation will come. For us to accept anything less is less than Christian, and if it’s less than Christian, it’s not Christian at all. Don’t believe the world. Believe the Bible. Your salvation depends on it.

Getting Our Priorities Right

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Francis Chan once said, “Our greatest fear should not be failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter”. Whatever we do, we should do it well. A commitment to excellence is a good thing. However, too often is the case that we take this advice more seriously in the less meaningful matters in life than we do in the things that are most important.

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount was directed at the disciples and subsequently through them to the whole church. In this sermon, Jesus taught on various topics that dealt with outward actions as well as inward motivations. He set forth important principles throughout the sermon. In this specific section of the sermon, Jesus set forth principles for everyday life (Matthew 6:19-34).

God’s purposes are perfect, and His promises true. He will attend to our every need. If we focus on the things of this world as opposed to prioritizing our commitment to and relationship with Christ, ultimately it will bring not only dissatisfaction, but also anxiety and worry. This is a distraction from what our goal as believers should be, to keep Christ at the center of our lives. It is also inconsistent with what God would have for us.

We need to constantly take stock of what is keeping us from a deepening relationship with the Lord and a life that is committed to Him. What is keeping you from strengthening your relationship with the Lord and living out His will for your life? It may be something important or it may be trivial, but if it’s keeping you from time with Him, it’s an idol and needs to be put in its proper place. Ultimately, it’s God alone who can meet our needs. Sometimes, we just need to peel away other things for Him to do so.

So, what are you succeeding at that really doesn’t matter? What do you have too much of that if you looked closely you know you could do without? Or what is it that takes so much of your time that it leaves little time for Jesus? What are you willing to put aside so your priorities might be put in order? Search your heart and ask yourself, what am I willing to give up for the One who gave up everything for me?

Detours

“The mind of a man plans his way. But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)

A detour is a longer, less direct way to get where we’re going. Sometimes the detour is intentional, perhaps to visit something or someone. At other times, they’re unintentional, taken to help us avoid a problem and get us back on track as soon as possible. This is the sort of detour that frustrates us. It’s the kind that gets in the way of our plans and the course we’ve set for ourselves, the one where we lose control over things. And for many of us, that’s a problem.

I think most of us probably like to be in control. We make our plans fully intending they be carried out just as we devised them. But that doesn’t always happen. Providence is defined as God’s ongoing relationship whereby He is actively involved in His creation, though distinct from it. Providence denies things happen by chance but are instead divinely planned. Though a weighty and somewhat controversial doctrine, God’s providence is clearly affirmed in Scripture. One such passage is Proverbs 16:9, which simply teaches that all our actions are under God’s providential care.

Sometimes, God allows detours in our lives, some alternative route we never saw coming. The detour may be for no apparent reason at all, or it may be because we’ve strayed off course. Whatever the reason, they can be painful. I read a great quote that says, “God has His own way of getting His own way”. It’s true. Overlaying every choice we make is God’s hand. His providence often encroaches into our lives for reasons that He alone knows. John MacArthur says that as Christians, “rather than being content in the success of our plans, we need to find contentment in God’s sovereign, providential control. We need to remember that even when things don’t go our way, God is still on His throne, orchestrating events for His glory and our good”.

God has a plan for each of us. It might not be the plan we would have set for ourselves, but we can rest assured it’s a perfect plan. God knows what’s best and He often uses these detours as a way of rerouting us back into His will. The writer of Hebrews tells us these “detours”, these times of training serve an important purpose and are meant for our good (Hebrews 12:11). The choice we must make is whether or not we will be trained by them. Will we become better, or will we become bitter? God allows these challenging moments in our lives to teach us that we really don’t have control of things. He uses them to teach us that ultimately, all we have is Jesus. And the truth is, He really is all we need.

Rooted and Built Up

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…” (Colossians 2:6-7)

One thing this world counts on is that we know so little about Scripture and the truths of God that we will be captivated and carried away by varying worldviews regardless of how ungodly they may be. False teaching, influenced by Satan isn’t new. Satan has been influencing from the beginning, promoting lies all along the way. Since he can’t change our relationship with God, he will try anything to influence our fellowship with Him. The first question is, will we let him? The second is, how can we defend against it?

Satan often uses very subtle tactics to get us off course. That’s exactly what was happening when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Colossae. The people in the church weren’t denying Christ. They were dethroning Him in the sense that they were allowing false teaching that denied the sufficiency of Christ for salvation to take root in their lives. This false teaching was a mix between Jewish legalism (works-based salvation) and pagan mysticism (belief that knowledge of God is attained through subjective experiences). Both teachings denied the gospel of grace as Paul preached it. Salvation comes no other way than through Christ alone. Paul wanted those in the church to have a deep and abiding faith. He wanted their faith to have strong roots, as he believed this would help protect them from the influence of false teaching. He also knew it would take this kind of faith to encounter the ups and downs of the world in which they lived.

Too often, we occupy our time with things that crowd out time we could be spending with our heavenly Father. We allow the busyness of life and our desire for human entertainment to keep our focus off the most important thing we need to nurture−our relationship with Christ. Let’s not be deceived. If we’re going to walk the Christian walk, our faith must be grounded in truth. Truth can never take a back seat to what feels right or to what we might prefer. God’s Word must truly be a light to our path. This happens as the Holy Spirit illuminates our minds and conforms our hearts to follow God’s leading.

There are many false teachings that conflict with the gospel of grace. There are also many things that happen in life that challenge our faith and shake us to the core, things that don’t seem to align with our vision of God. That’s why our vision of God must be rooted, not in our perceptions, but in truth. And that’s why we must seek God with energy and passion, so we can live out the gospel and lean on its truth in both good times and bad.