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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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).  

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.

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.

That Song Will Preach

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

One of the things I’ve always loved about Dan, our music minister at Hunter Street Baptist Church, is that as he prepares us to lead worship on Sunday mornings, I sense he’s more interested in our internalizing the truth of a song we’re singing than he is about how well we sing it. That’s not to say he’s not interested in us leading well and sounding good because he is. In fact, he’s taught us that how we prepare and lead brings glory to God. Sometimes at choir practice, Dan will take the lyrics of a song we’re working on and exposit its meaning and application for our lives. I love when he does that. At other times, perhaps pondering the lyrics of a song himself, you might hear him say, “Now that song will preach”. On this particular night he did the latter. Not that every song doesn’t or shouldn’t “preach”, but on this night and with this song it was especially so.

We had begun working on a song called And Can It Be. Though the song’s lyrics touch on many doctrines found in Scripture, more broadly, it’s about Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin that guarantees the eternal security of the believer. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the atonement as the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation. Scripture points to two causes for the atonement: God’s love (John 3:16) and God’s justice (Romans 3:25). That God would sacrifice His Son for our sin, and that Christ would willingly be that sacrifice is an amazing truth. Grudem expresses well its application for believers, writing, “The New Testament emphasis on the completion and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us assures us that there is no penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment”.

I’m thankful for the emphasis Hunter Street puts on having a correct theology and for the many opportunities we as members have to grow in our knowledge of God and the doctrines found in Scripture. One of those ways has been to study through books such as Systematic Theology. Granted this book is deep and covers a lot of topics that’ll make your head spin, but God uses studies like these to help us grow in our faith. He used it to help me grow in mine. I still remember studying through this book with a group of men. I especially remember the night we studied through the chapter on the atonement and the impact it had on me. I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot in my past, and my present as well that makes me cringe. It’s easy to get trapped by our sin, believing that God can’t or won’t forgive us. Understanding the implications of the atonement helped to free me from that trap. God’s grace truly is greater than our sin. Knowing that Jesus hung on the cross as my substitute, that He willingly paid the penalty for my sin, that He bore the wrath of the Father, that His blood purchased my freedom, and that I will spend eternity with Him, blows my mind. If you’ve trusted in Christ, He’s done that for you as well. Praise God!

Correct theology helps us to live a life that brings glory to God, glory that He alone deserves. Let me encourage you to find a church that is committed to the truth of Scripture. I’m sure thankful for my church’s unwavering commitment to biblical truth. And I’m thankful for a music minister who also teaches and helps reinforce that truth in songs such as And Can It Be. What a great song. You should listen to it sometime, because let me just tell you, “That song will preach”.

Resolved

“Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank…” (Daniel 1:8)

The word “resolve” is a strong word. It means to be firmly determined to do or not to do something. It’s a word that suggests an attitude that says, “This is where I stand” or “I have decided”. More than any other verse, Daniel 1:8 symbolizes Daniel’s attitude and actions throughout his life.

            Daniel prophesied to the people of Israel who were exiled in Babylon. The book spans the entire seventy-year period of the Babylonian captivity (605-535 B.C.). Taken into captivity when he was fifteen, Daniel remained in Babylon for the rest of his life. The book of Daniel has several themes. The primary theme is God’s sovereignty, not only over the present circumstances for Israel in that day, but also for future events in history, some of which have come to pass, others which are still yet to come.

            Daniel was a model of character and faithfulness. God honored his faithfulness, giving him wisdom and insight which enabled him to become a trusted advisor to both the Babylonian and Persian Empires. So, what made Daniel different? What helped him to not only avoid the influence of a godless culture around him, but even thrive in it? And how can we thrive in a world progressively influenced by a culture opposed to the things of God?  

            Daniel proved to be a powerful influence in his day, but he knew the source of all power was God. Daniel had been transformed, both in his heart and in his mind. In everything, he sought to be obedient to God’s will. We would do well to follow his lead. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Daniel was practicing the principles of this verse even before the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write it.

            If we are going to live lives that are pleasing to God, we must cultivate our relationship with Him. We must seek Him in His Word and through prayer. If we want to make a difference, we must be different. We must think differently and we must live differently. Daniel was prepared to be used by God. His faithfulness in the midst of great challenge was a result of God’s work in Him. Daniel knew God. Do you know Him? Has He transformed your heart and mind? Are you seeking Him each day? Are you “resolved” to do His will?