Remember the Thrill of Your First Love? Maybe you Should

In John’s Book of Revelation he describes one of the greatest dangers to today’s church: losing your first love… “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” (Revelation 2:1; 3-4, NKJV)

When John wrote to the seven Churches in Asia Minor, he wrote to literal church locations. His book about the Apocalypse was carried by messenger and read aloud to each congregation, and his message was cosmic and stunning to say the least. I’m sure that the reading of John’s letters in the late first century drew crowds and created quite a buzz in the local churches!

He Quit Preaching and Went to Meddling

To each congregation he gave a compliment, a criticism, and a command that probably addressed actual contemporary events or persons in that particular church, so I’m sure that listeners had many questions about who was to blame, how things got to be that way, and what to do about it. So in some respects, it was just a normal letter, written to contemporary churches John knew about.

But many theologians also believe that the letters to the seven churches also have a historical application and that each church can be compared to an era in history that corresponds with John’s message. (For instance, the church at Ephesus symbolizes the cooling off of the Church’s first love, and the end of the Apostolic age; Smyrna represents the era of church oppression and martyrdom, Pergamos the church becoming connected to the world, and so on. It’s a stimulating study if you are interested.)

But the application that intrigues me most is the PERSONAL ONE. When you read the messages to the seven churches, what jumps out at YOU? Are there compliments you identify with? Are there criticisms that make you uncomfortable?

Remember that First Love?

As you read John’s words to Ephesus, for instance, does anything resonate in your heart of hearts? “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” Our Sunday school class once described the characteristics of new or first love from a romantic point of view, and here is a partial list: “You want to spend time together.” “You think about each other all the time.” “You love talking together. You love being together.”

Ever feel that way? Have you ever been caught up in the new stages of a romance that are so powerful that it commands your thoughts, your time, and your desires? Romance writers talk about it, and surely you can remember it from that time you first “fell in love”!

first love

Now think about the things you felt when you first encountered God’s love, when you learned about Grace it became real to you… what happened on the day you realized that God loved you, that Christ died for you, and you decided to grab ahold of it and love Him back? Do you remember the joy? Do you recall the comfort, relief, happiness and gratitude you felt? For me, it was like seeing the world through new eyes, and about finding a confidence that wasn’t held down by my own inadequacy or insecurity.

If you ever appropriated God’s love by faith, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling of life-changing love and assurance so complete that it is both infinite and intimate. It’s a doorway to new possibilities that include spiritual awakening and eternal life! As I recall, it came with a bunch of new discoveries about life and the way the world works.

Bringing it Home

So here’s the question: do you still feel that way today? Are you walking around feeling loved, touched by grace, grateful that you can spend time with the Father? Have you left your first love? If you have, remember. Remember the early feelings you experienced when you stepped away from the deadly selfishness of the world to the selfless love of Jesus.

If you have wandered away from those emotions, reclaim them. Allow yourself to be courted by the Creator. Read some Psalms or the book of John. Go on a honeymoon with God. Serve someone else in His name, and see how you feel. It’s ok to feel romantic or smitten with God. He feels that way about you, and His first love is also His eternal one.

A Love Sonnet

Oh Lord, when there are times I, failing, doubt,
And do not seek to know Thy love and grace;
When I, in haste and worry, rush about,
And turn all inward seeking from Thy face;
When I forget that you were my first love,
And take for granted how I have been blessed;
When I, with thoughts below and not above
Am tempted, and I fail to pass the test –

When I am sore beset by worldly grief,
For having failed to put my trust in Thee,
While knowing that this trust would bring relief,
And that Thy face would never turn from me;
When our First Love’s romance, Oh Lord, I spurn,
Please call me back, and help me to return.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Love the Father, Not the World. Exactly What Does That Mean?

In his first letter, John talks about where we live, and where God lives. In it, he offers us a juxtaposition of the Father versus the world, and describes two kingdoms with radically different agendas. Have you ever stopped to think about what John really means? If there is a heavenly father, how is he different from the world? Are His values different from the world’s values? And what exactly does “the world” refer to?

(As you answer these questions, take a moment to congratulate yourself for reaching Day 70 of Reading through the Bible; just a few books to go and you will have read passages from Genesis to Revelation!)

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16, NIV) The conflict between what the world has to offer against God’s promises has been going on since Esau traded his birthright for a pot of stew. (Well, actually you could go back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve traded being God’s subject for independence. She wanted to experience the world in the worst way, and she succeeded!)

John sees a dramatic contrast between the Father and the world: they have different values, priorities, and characteristics. Perhaps we should take a closer look.

father love

The world, in John’s eyes, was made up of carnal appetites, earthly ambitions, and temporal values. It is a place where human nature pursues its lusts, and where men vie for wealth and power. The world is, candidly, a place where humans are concerned primarily with self-fulfillment. It’s what we see around us every day.

Contrasting Domains

On the other hand , John contrasts the world and its agenda with the Father. What are the Father’s characteristics? In his Gospel and in his letters, John spells them out. God is love. He is truth. The Father is goodness. He is life. The Father’s domain includes faith and redemption, hope and transformation…It is about servant leadership and new birth.

The world, on the other hand, is characterized by self: it includes all greedy desires, lust, appetite, pride, and self-sufficiency. The world caters to the flesh and the temporary. It is about building yourself up, and salving your insecurities with temporary fixes; the world is about grasping, power-hungry leaders; it is about death.

John warns us not to love the world, but we do anyway: we abandon grace for gratification and accept lust in place of love. Have you ever stopped to realize that the world mimics the Father? For every good thing the Father offers, the world offers a counterfeit replacement that is either a watered-down version of the real thing or the opposite of it.

Conflicting Agendas

The Father offers humility; the world offers pride. The Father offers peace; the world offers thrills; the Father offers Truth. The world gives us relativism with its spin, half-truths, and outright lies…with the Father, it’s all about HIM; in the world, it’s all about ME. God’s kingdom is based on unusual logic, where you have to accept another’s will to be free, give to gain, die to live, and serve to lead.

The world is based on selfish logic, where freedom means doing whatever you want, people worship shallow possessions or money (it’s all about the Benjamins in the Lifestyles of the rich and famous), they look out for number One (“nice guys finish last”), and leaders covet and capture power using sophisticated deceit. It was John who informed us that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now he’s telling us there is a simple choice to make: love the Word, or love the World. John says you can’t love both.

Tell me, what choice have you made? Look at your priorities, your time, your inner thoughts, your desires… what do you love? John says, “the world passes away, and the lust of it: but he that does the will of God abides forever.”

Love, Instead

The world is full of fun and flesh, and thrills that are forever fresh:
The biggest house, the latest styles, the nicest car, the biggest smiles…
The orbit of the world, you see, revolves around the planet “Me”–
Where consequence brings no regret, and I should take what I can get!
Eat and drink today! Get High! Because tomorrow we may die!
The Father says, “Love me instead.” Don’t give the world your heart or head;
Love me, my child; remember this: the world is never all there is.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Prayed For in the Garden: Who Did Jesus Pray For, and Why?

The Prayer That Sent a Message

Just before he was betrayed and arrested, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Since he knew what was coming, I would imagine that he prayed for what was absolutely most important to him, wouldn’t you? So here’s what he said:

“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:13-17, NIV)

I think it’s significant that Jesus prayed for those who would follow him; and when Jesus prayed for his followers, what he said is revealing. In verse 20 he made it clear that he prayed not only for the disciples who were with him in the garden, but for you as well. He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”

Remember the Alliteration

These few verses of Jesus’ prayer echo down the corridors of history to reveal His position, His purpose, His prediction of persecution, His protection, and His process. “I come to you”: Jesus is petitioning the Father, and places himself under the Father’s authority. Jesus prayed often (Mark and Luke both remark upon this habit), and he prayed for all of us who would someday believe in Him.

He is on God’s mission, and he makes it clear that God is in control, acknowledging the Father’s ability to take his disciples out of the world or to protect them in it. “I speak these things in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Wow! Jesus came to provide JOY!? How many joyful people do you know? His stated purpose was to share his own joy and have it fulfilled in his followers.

What Did Jesus Want For Us?

In John 15:11 he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” If you are one of his followers, that applies to you. Are you joyful? Is joy being fulfilled in you and because of you? Isn’t it cool that He prays for our joy? Of all of the characteristics of eternal life, this is my favorite. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit; it is a characteristic of the Kingdom of Heaven; it’s the natural result of the resurrection! It’s essentially why Jesus came, and it is essentially why we are here on earth.

Stop for a moment and just choose to feel joyful no matter what your circumstances. It may seem almost impossible, but it is a choice available to us regardless of what is going on around us. The joy Jesus refers to is not dependent upon comfort or affluence, or having perfect circumstances. Perhaps that is why He also prayed over believers who will experience persecution both from the world and from the evil one. “The world has hated them because they are not of the world” is both an acknowledgement of what his disciples experienced and a prophecy about what is happening today.

Set Apart in Prayer

If you experience opposition as a Christian, take heart! It means you are not of the world, and that Jesus held you in his heart that stressful night in Gethsemane. Jesus prayed protection over you, and asked his Father to protect all of His children from the evil one. No matter how dark our circumstances, Jesus’ prayer seems to indicate that there is hope beyond the difficulty. Has life got you down? Ever feel discouraged or alone? Jesus has been there, and he knows not only how you feel, but what you need.

prayed for

Jesus asked the Father to reserve us to himself, and told us how that happens. “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.” Sanctified means “set apart”. Are you? Is your life entwined with things of the Spirit or things of the world? Do you read social media or watch TV more than you read God’s word?

Connect the dots here. Jesus says he spoke these things “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. But I have given them Your word…” The process for sanctification comes from the Word of God, and so does Joy! Has life got you down? The more time you spend with God’s Word, the greater both your sanctification and your joy will be. Dive into the deep waters of Jesus’ prayer for you and you will find them both.

He Prayed for US

Agonizing in the Garden, facing his greatest trial,
Jesus knelt there in the night and prayed hard for awhile...
Knowing what he had to face and what he had to do,
Jesus took some time to intercede for me and YOU.
He prayed for our protection from what Satan might employ;
Then asked the Lord to sanctify us, and to give us joy.
He prayed for us as he prepared for Calvary's rugged slope,
Knowing that his work would bring us joy and give us hope!
If life has brought you trials, and your heart has been dismayed,
Embrace the joy that Jesus promised to us when he prayed.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Speaking Out: As for Us, We Cannot Help Speaking about What we have Seen and Heard

After Jesus was crucified, Peter and John were out speaking in public about recent events. Not everybody wanted to hear what they had to say, and in fact their religious and cultural leaders told them they had to stop speaking. “Cancel culture” is not new in the twenty-first century. It alive and well in First Century Judea. Here’s how it went down:

“Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)

speaking

Undeniable Evidence

Peter and John, whom Luke described as “ignorant and unlearned men”, were called before the Sanhedrin and told they needed to stop telling people about Jesus. If they didn’t stop, the Sanhedrin would take action: they could be arrested, imprisoned, perhaps even stoned. But for some reason they were not intimidated, and proclaimed boldly that they could not help but speak out about what they had seen and heard. I have often thought that the main reason Christianity is around today is because the followers of Jesus were so overwhelmed with the magnitude of what happened that they could not keep from telling people about it.

Tell me, what have YOU seen and heard? Has the good news about Jesus been validated in your life? Are you different because of it? We also find ourselves in many places and social contexts that make it feel uncomfortable or prohibitive to discuss our faith candidly and without reservation. Our political system requires separation of church and state. We are told that God has no place in our schools. More and more, God is being taken out of our public lives…

So, Then…

Should we pray at a restaurant? Is it ok to mention our faith at work? Should we obey the current culture of tolerance, which suggests that we not offend anyone with our beliefs? Or should we speak boldly about what we have seen and heard? Every day, in so many little ways, we are faced with a choice– to be cultural or to be godly. As Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”! And as he wrote to the Thessalonians, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV) If you’ve seen it, you believe it. If you believe it, speak it.

Little Choices

John and Peter were rebuked for telling what they knew;
The Pharisees commanded them to stop their preaching, too!
But they replied, “We’ve said it once, we’ll say it now again,
Should we obey the Lord our God, or listen to you men?”
The Council was surprised by John and Peter’s forceful word;
They said they had to testify to what they’d seen and heard.
This story is still relevant, although it’s very old:
John and Peter’s actions should inspire us to be bold–
To speak the truth, to testify about what God has done–
Not bowing to the many, but obedient to the One.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Remain in Me: What if the Christian Life was as Easy as Just Staying in One Place?

A lot of people work hard at being religious. But what if you only have ONE Job…to REMAIN? Consider this unusual challenge from Jesus: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4 NIV).

In the last of the seven great “I am” statements that John recorded for posterity, Jesus claims to be the true vine. In an agricultural society, this may have resonated more deeply than it does today, but it DOES sound more personal than “I am the Wi-Fi, and you are the device.” So step back into a somewhat simpler analogy and consider for a moment that you are a branch on the vine. Perhaps you can picture a vineyard (like Jesus’ listeners would have), with orderly rows of plants that have been cultivated and cared for.

remain

Left to themselves, the vines would be wild and unkempt, but the perfect symmetry of the vineyard suggests planning and hours of work. Focus in on one plant. The vine is about as thick as a man’s arm, and grows to a height of about 4 feet, with the branches going up another two to three feet from there. From the ground up, your vine has clean lines that are unmarred by unruly shoots or stragglers until it spreads out in glorious abundance at the top.

The branches extend in an orderly fashion, and every one of them is laden with rich, colorful fruit. Just picture the clusters of deep Concord blue grapes that hang seductively from the branches, bursting with flavor and promise. This is what everyone in the audience would have been thinking, and they would be hanging on Jesus’ words almost like the grapes they were picturing in their minds…

Jesus tells them that he is the root and trunk, and is therefore the true source of all life, nourishment, and growth. Without being connected to him you cannot grow, and you cannot bear fruit. The Vine and the branches have a natural, harmonious relationship.

Our status: connection
Our purpose: bear fruit
Our job: remain

Seems almost too easy that our only job is to “remain” in him… We are connected, we have access to intimacy with one who loves us, and we are just supposed to stay that way, right? But stop and think: Before you say “that’s not too hard”, think of the difficulty we humans have with loving relationships—high divorce rates, estranged family members, fractured friendships…we have a hard enough time staying connected with those we are closest to, without even counting politics or all of the people we don’t even know…

So perhaps it’s not really all that easy to do what Jesus commanded us to do: “Remain in me”. Because there are distractions, aren’t there? The world calls us away from his abiding presence, and we stay too busy to remain in contact with him. And as if those distractions weren’t enough, we have our OWN interests and passions to lead us away from him. We get impatient with his slow and subtle guidance, we get a little selfish, and we… Separate.

Find a few minutes to connect today. Think about your vine, and picture it bursting with succulent grapes! What fruit do you want your life to bear? Reflect on the fact that Jesus said (John 15:5), “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Graft your dry, impatient, selfish branches back into the vine. Feel his strengthening words flow into you, endure the pain of productive pruning, and bear fruit. It’s what you were created to do.

The One Job the Branches Have to Do

You are the branches; I am the Vine.
Your fruit will result in the finest of wine,
As your grapes find expression in succulent growth:
Rich flavor or color? I offer them both!
Seductive, however, the world can distract;
You must stay productive, and keep fruit intact,
For the world would destroy it or steal it from you,
To hinder what you were created to do!
There’s also some pruning that you must endure
For that maximum growth that is fully mature.
For you to survive both temptation and pain
This reminder will serve as a simple refrain:
I am the Vine. Stay connected. Remain.

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread