Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Love

Oftentimes I feel that we in the Church fall short in this great essential truth that the Word of God sets before us: loving God and loving one another. You might think, “Well, what could make you say that?” I would answer, "By the things that we say, the things that we do, and by our attitudes towards one another." We are not called to function as the world functions. We are not recreated in Christ Jesus to think as the world thinks, to behave as the world behaves, or to treat one another as though we live in a corporate world. If you live and work in the corporate world, you’re still called, commanded, ordained, and anointed to live and act differently. You can’t separate secular from spiritual. Your work is spiritual.

Jesus says, “Love Me like you did when you were first saved. You were full of passion and excitement! You desired to spend time with Me, and you loved me with all of your heart, and it showed!" So He says, “Have a change of heart: repent. Change the direction of your life; do the first works  . . . or else (uh oh, that sounds threatening) . . . I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place." In other words, I’ll remove the light from your midst; I’ll remove the anointing from your life.

How can a man or woman in ministry who has walked in such a great anointing for a lengthy time stumble and fall into sin? It is the result, I’m convinced, of leaving their first love. How is it that those in the Body can be so competitive? I’m telling you that sometimes I get around Christians in ministry, and I might as well be around a bunch of lawyers, bankers, etc. They are competitive and territorial, and this is mine and those are mine, etc. I am so glad that I’m just an undershepherd. Ain’t none of you “mine.” You don’t belong to me. You’re not, “my sheep.” It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, but it does mean that I don’t own you.

Christians become control freaks! What is that the result of? Leaving their first love. Having commended and acknowledged so many good things about the believers in the Ephesian church, Jesus said, “I have this one thing against you.”

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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.”

“Unless you repent,” means, “have a change of heart, mind, and attitude.” What He’s really saying is, “Come back to Me. Love Me like you did in the very beginning.” It’s much like a marriage relationship. As the years go by, a couple either falls more in love or less in love. It rarely remains neutral.

Even as Christians, we can have the appearance that we’re doing something great, but things can be vastly different than how it looks. Sometimes we’re more concerned about how things appear to be than how they actually are. That’s why it’s possible to get up and preach or minister in any capacity and have all kinds of mess in one’s heart or life, and people for the most part wouldn’t even know! There are some in public places that would say, “What business is it for anyone to know? What difference does it make?”

Many times we’re more concerned how we appear to other people than how things really are in the eyes of God (who can look upon our hearts and read our thoughts). Then the Scripture says, “How is it that you can say you love God but hate your brother?” Okay, let’s change the word, “hate.” It may not necessarily mean, “hate and want to kill,” but it can also mean, “despise, have contempt for, be jealous of, or be envious of.” How can you say you love God and be in that state? Yet, we could ask any Christian, “Do you love God?” and we’d hear, “Oh yes, hallelujah, brother, I love God,” and  still be the biggest gossiper in the church or the community.

I like one of the things that I read recently: “If people are going to gossip to you, then they’re gonna gossip about you to somebody else.” When people come and start dumping on you, just look at them, point to your ear, and say, “What is this? This is an ear, not a garbage can, so take your trash somewhere else.”

We deceive ourselves oftentimes! How do you show your love for God? I believe first and foremost it’s by showing love towards other people, because if I’m not showing love towards other people, then I deceive myself by thinking that I love God. That also means that I have probably fallen from my first love. Scripture doesn’t say, “Love people first,” it says to, “Love God first.” Why is that important? Because we are called to love one another with the love of God. We’re told to love each other even as God loves us! How can we love other people as God loves us if we don’t truly love God?

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Old Dog Learns Lessons

Many of you are aware that I recently “ran” my first official 10K race. First of all, I want to report that there is good and bad news. The good news: I ran the race, I finished the course that was before me, and I even received a medal at the end.

The bad news: I did not finish nearly as well as intended. In fact, I was third to last.

What I want to share is that there were a few lessons learned by this old dog! One of those is that young Dominicans run fast! In fact, many of them ran the entire course in half the time it took me, and that’s because they can run twice as fast!

I was also able to discern a few parallels between running a 10K race and our spiritual journey.

#1 Preparation Is Everything!
I came to realize that I was not nearly as prepared for this event as I should have been and could have been. Diet, Rest, and Exercise are of utmost importance (especially the older and more mature we become). It is easy to think, “I’ve got this,” when we have not prepared and planned properly.

#2 No Excuses!
The truth is that I had slept only about two hours the night before the run. In addition, I could not even find a cup of coffee the morning of the event! I wanted to say, “Forget this, let’s go to the beach instead!”

#3 Passion Is Essential!
My inner man kept saying, “We will run this race and finish the course.” There was an excitement on the inside that caused me to move forward. I could see myself finishing the race before it even started.

This is perhaps the most important lesson. We are not competing against other runners. We have a challenge set before us, and it is more about accomplishing something that honors God and brings personal reward as well.

Those are just a few of the highlights of my experience; there are more. I believe they relate to our spiritual journey as well.

We must take time to properly prepare and become “skilled in the Word of righteousness.” Scripture says that God prepares our hands for war, but we must be willing to give Him our hands. In addition, when we stand before Christ, we will be without excuse. Our works will be judged, and we will receive His just reward or suffer loss. It is essential to keep the fire burning, stir up the gifts that are in us, and remain passionate for the King and His Kingdom. This may seem more difficult as we age. Finally, keep in mind, this is our own personal walk; we are not competing against other believers, churches, ministries, etc.

Christ has set a path before us; may we run the entire length! I pray each of us fights the fight, runs the race, finishes the course, and obtains a crown!

I'd like to personally thank all who gave generous donations for this fundraiser! Over $500 was raised which will go towards an upcoming, strategic endeavor. May God bless you mightily!

Grace and Peace,

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Our First Love

Let’s turn to the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In the first couple of chapters, the Lord is speaking specifically to the seven churches. This is not a message regarding End Times, this is a present-day message for the Church. Jesus spoke to the seven churches and had a strong word of correction for at least six of them. Therefore, this is also perhaps a word of caution, and I trust that it will be received in the same spirit in which it is delivered.
“To the angel of the church of 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: “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” (Revelation 2:1-3).
The Lord has such a way with words, doesn’t He? Can you imagine a preacher saying something like that today? I could almost guarantee that people would take offense and many would not want to return to hear what else he had to say. One thing about Jesus, He was not mealy-mouthed! He said what He meant, and He meant what He said. Yet, Jesus always spoke in love just as we are encouraged to speak the truth in love.
I used to be one who made a big point of speaking the truth, but I had to learn that speaking the truth in and of itself was not sufficient . . . as noble as it sounds. Love is to be the motivation as it certainly was in all that Jesus said and did. Let’s revisit that last verse.
3 "And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ address, He gave them kudos and great commendation. Then we pick up in verse 4 . . .
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
I want to pray for just a moment. Father, I pray that this word will sink deep into our hearts, take root, and produce fruit. We pray that You might be glorified through Your Word being demonstrated in our lives, in Jesus’ name, amen.
The message above is really about leaving our first love. I believe that it is relevant for the Church and for individuals in the Body today. Have we left our first love? Jesus makes it very, very clear that we can be involved with a lot of good works. We can persevere. We can demonstrate great patience. We can test and try spirits. We can even become intolerant of falsehood. Yet, even with all of those things taking place in our lives, we can be guilty of leaving our first love.
Many times the questions are asked, “How can someone fall away after having known such great grace? How is it that Christians can so routinely, seemingly, fall woefully short of the will of God?” I believe that it comes down to this primary issue, folks, and I’m going to express it very simply and as it is in my heart. The answer is that we fall away from our first love.
Who or what is our first love? Now, most people will give the pat answer of, “Jesus.” I really want us to examine our hearts and ponder that question. Is Jesus really my first love? We know that in at least three of the four Gospel accounts that the Scripture says, “So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). That Scripture—the great command to Israel—is quoted by at least three of the four Gospel writers. Love God with all of your heart and with all of your mind. In other words, your mind should be stayed upon the Lord. Isaiah said, “Happy (prosperous and to be envied) is the man whose mind is stayed upon the Lord” (paraphrased).
Jesus was very clear regarding the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then He gave a second equally important commandment in which He said, “And you shall love your neighbor even as you love yourself.” This brings us to two more questions: Is it possible to love others if we don’t truly love God, and is it possible to truly love God if we’re not demonstrating love towards one another?
Oftentimes I feel that we in the Church fall short in this great essential truth that the Word of God sets before us: loving God and loving one another. Let’s determine to examine our hearts today and see who or what we are giving the honor of being in the seat of “our first love.”
Grace and peace,