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.

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.

As Christ Loved the Church

 

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)

Today, Karen and I celebrate 26 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

            There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is the case for a couple of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under Satan’s attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s tough because it involves two imperfect people prone to sin. Too often, we take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing while at the same time ignoring what God may be trying to say to us. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. For husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

            I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His desire or expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all other relationships.

            I thank God for His grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I’m sure I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 26 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our future. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Equipped for Every Good Work

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It would be a mistake to assume the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, known collectively as the “Pastoral Epistles” are meant only for ministers. They’re not. Although these letters were written specifically to instruct these two close ministry associates of the apostles and contained topics having to do with church organization, they are meant for every Christian. We are all ministers of the gospel.

All of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation was inspired by God. And for this reason, the Bible not only carries with it authority, but is also sufficient for us to know what is right. The words of Scripture are God’s words, and to disobey Scripture is to disobey God.

Timothy had ministered beside the Apostle Paul for a long time. He had been taught the Word of God. He knew the Word of God. Now it was time for him to proclaim the Word of God without Paul at his side. The apostle knew his own earthly ministry was ending and he wanted to reinforce to Timothy the value of God’s Word as he carried on. Timothy needed encouragement and Paul gave him just that. He reminded him that Scripture was profitable for:

  • Teaching – a set of beliefs or principles that are held and taught, a doctrine.
  • Reproof – to rebuke or reprimand.
  • Correction – a change that rectifies an error.
  • Training in righteousness – to think and act in accordance with God’s will.

I love how Warren Wiersbe explains this passage. He says Scripture is profitable for teaching what is right, what is not right, how to get right and how to stay right. He goes on to say that “a Christian who studies the Bible and applies what he learns will grow in holiness and avoid many pitfalls in this world.” I also believe that is exactly who God chooses to serve Him.

False teaching was prevalent in Paul’s day. It’s prevalent today. In equipping people to battle against this false teaching, we must first understand that it needs to be fought on every front, not just from the pulpit. We must be equipped for this “good work.” The apostle Paul wasn’t perfect, neither was Timothy and neither are we. But God is perfect and His Word is perfect and as we continue to mature in it we become more and more fit in His service. God’s Word is true. Let us seek it, share it and trust it to speak to the human heart as we combat the false teaching of our day.

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both theological and practical components to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid in full at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace everything He has for your life. Know that He is more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there is no one who loves you like He loves you.

This One Might Sting A Little

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but fails to keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4)

The other day, a friend of mine shared an interesting quote with me. I’m not sure where it originated, but it read “Your life as a Christian should make non-believers question their disbelief in God.” I’ll admit, the quote was quite convicting as I know there have been many times in my life where my actions have failed to reflect my profession, times when instead of pushing people toward Christ, I perhaps turned them away from Him.

The Bible is quite clear about the appropriate response to God’s grace in salvation. The apostle Paul addressed it. Answering the question as to whether one should remain in sin so grace may abound, he said, “By no means. How can we who died to sin live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). The apostle Peter addressed it writing, “He [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). And the apostle John addressed it. In 1 John 2:3, he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him [Jesus], if we keep his commandments”. He followed that up in the next verse writing that whoever claims to know Christ but doesn’t keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in them (1 John 2:4). In 1 John 3:9, he writes “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God”. In his commentary on this text, John MacArthur says “the apostle John presents two external tests that demonstrate salvation: doctrinal and moral. The doctrinal test consists of professing a proper view of Christ and sin, while the moral test consists of obedience and love.” Those genuinely born again, MacArthur says, display the habit of obedience. The apostle John even quoted Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Bottom line: The proof that we know and love God is not in our profession, but in our obedience.

Unfortunately, the whole idea of submission and obedience to the will of God has gotten lost in our culture today. There seems to be this thought that because Christ died for sin, we can live any way we please. Nowhere does the Bible teach that. Nowhere does it teach that forgiveness removes the obligation to obey the commands of God. Obedience isn’t what makes us right with God, but a heart transformed by the gospel shows itself in a changed life. The truth is, those touched by God’s grace have as their highest goal to obey Him. Sure, we slip and slide in our Christian walk, and yes, God’s grace is greater than our sin, but the cross isn’t a “permission slip” to sin more. Rather, it’s an act of love that should motivate us to humbly submit to God’s will. This is the heart of the believer. A profession without a pattern of obedience is a hollow testimony of true conversion. Let us never take for granted what Christ did on the cross. Instead, let it motivate us to honor Him in everything we do. Remember, others are watching. What is your life saying to them?