May 10, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Part 5—Renewing Lost Love
Ah, sad love songs. “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh-oh!” The Righteous Brother! Have you ever lost that loving feeling? I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me, “I just don’t love him or her anymore. The feelings are gone.” I could buy a new Harley! Usually we associate this malady with marriage, when the romance fades. But this problem strikes other relationships too.
- I’ve talked with parents who were afraid they didn’t love their children. They didn’t feel the same way about them that they did when the kids were little. They were so cute when they were little, and now they’re like regular annoying people!
- And there are children who don’t love their parents the way they used to. For years they depended on mom and dad, and now they want their independence and chafe at their parent’s involvement.
- Or take the case of two friends who have always enjoyed being together, until now. One has grown tired of the other and has withdrawn.
- And I see people who once loved God with a passion, but their love for Him has grown lukewarm or even cold.
Can you renew a lost love? Yes.
The Big Idea: Lost love can be rekindled and renewed, whether it’s love for a spouse, a friend, a family member or God. Jesus tells us how.
Here’s the passage.
Revelation 2:1-5 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Jesus praises these Christians in Ephesus for several things: their hard work, their perseverance in the face of hardships, and their orthodoxy in the face of falsehood. They knew the truth and stuck to it—they got it right. But you know that you can be “dead right”—right, but dead inside. And evidently that is what had happened to this group of people. They believed all the right things, but they had forsaken their first love. They had lost their love. I learned something this week: the word translated “forsaken” is the Greek word aphiemi, which means “to let go, send away, forgive.” Remember, we talked about this last week: to forgive is to “let it go.” It also means “to leave, or depart.” It was also used of divorce—to let someone go, or to leave them. So this is a very strong word—leaving their first love was like letting go of the relationship and sending the person away…divorcing. They had lost their first love.
What love is Jesus referring to? Many Bible scholars think it was their love for one another. In the process of testing people and defending the truth, they had lost their love for each other. Can you see how that might happen? We become more concerned with being right than loving each other. In our zeal to be right, we become harsh, critical, judgmental. Sound familiar? The apostle Paul once wrote to this same church that he had:
Ephesians 1:15 “…heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,”
This was a church that was famous for loving each other, but somehow they had lost that love.
Other Bible scholars think that Jesus is referring to their love for Him. They had once loved Him with passion, but their passion had cooled. God once spoke to Israel about this through the prophet Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 2:2 “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.”
God remembered the devotion of their youth—their first love—the love of a new bride for her groom. But over time, Israel’s love cooled and they strayed from God. Perhaps that is what Jesus means here: “you have forsaken your first love” means that our passion for God has cooled, and we don’t love Him like we used to.
In our Bible reading this week, we read these words of Jesus as He warned His disciples about the pressures of the last days.
Matthew 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.
Jesus warns us that our love can grow cold.
So, which is it: our love for God or our love for people? It could be either or both. The New Living Translation handles it this way:
Revelation 2:4–5 (NLT) “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!
The Bible is clear that the two are connected. You can’t love God without loving people.
1 John 4:20-21 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
If you love God, you also love people; if you don’t love people then you really don’t love God yet. If your love for God cools, so will your love for people; and if your love for people cools, so will your love for God. The two are connected, so I think it’s both. They had lost their first love for God, and their first love for each other. So Jesus told them what to do to renew their lost love: remember, repent, and redo.
Offering for Nepal here.
- Remember the height from which you have fallen.
Jesus’ first word of advice to the Christians who had lost their first love was to remember the height from which they had fallen. Remember what it used to be like. Use your imagination to picture it, to feel it again. Remember.
The word “remember” is used 236 times in the NIV Bible. Many of those are God commanding us to remember.
- He told the Israelites to remember that they had been slaves in Egypt and to remember how He had delivered them. In fact, that was the purpose of the annual Passover celebration: to remember what God had done for them.
- God told them to remember the Law, the things He commanded them to do. That is why God told them to “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9) Remember!
- Repeatedly in the Old Testament God told Israel, “Remember the Lord your God. Remember Me!”
- And Jesus said the same thing to His followers. During the Last Supper, Jesus gave His followers the bread and wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” That’s the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, or Communion: to remember Jesus and what He has done for us. Remember Me.
Why is it so important to remember? Because our hearts wander. All of us. Our hearts wander and one of the things that brings us back is remembering. God uses our memories to bring us back when we wander away.
One illustration of that in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. A young man decides that he wants to strike out on his own and be free from his father. So he asks his father for his share of his father’s estate while his dad is still alive! He’s basically saying, “I wish you were dead; all I want is your money.” Then to add insult to injury, the young man moves far away and squanders his entire inheritance on wild living. After he had spent everything, a famine hit the land, and he was forced to take a minimum wage job slopping hogs. He was so poor and so hungry that the pig slop started to look good! Then it says in
Luke 15:17 When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”
This was the turning point in his life, and what was it? He remembered. He remembered what life was like back home, and the memory made him want to go back.
ILL: O. Henry has a short story about a boy who had been brought up in a village, and in the village school he had sat beside a very sweet and innocent girl. The boy found his way to the city, fell into bad company, and became an expert pickpocket. He was on the street one day; he had just picked a pocket—a slick job and he was pleased with himself. Suddenly he saw the girl he used to sit beside at school. She was still the same—sweet and innocent. She did not see him; he made sure of that. But in that moment he remembered what he had been, and realized what he was, and for the first time in a long time, he prayed. Memory was offering him the way back.
Remember the height from which you have fallen. Remember how it used to be when love was strong.
Maybe your love for God has cooled—you’ve lost your first love. The first step back is to remember.
- Remember what He’s done for you.
- Remember what it was like when He first found you.
- Remember what it was like to discover that God loved you and forgave you.
- Remember the gratitude you felt—the feeling a drowning man has when someone jumps in and saves him—that feeling.
The same principle will also work in your other relationships. Use your imagination to remember, to picture what it used to be like, and let the memory pull you back to your first love. Have you ever been with family or friends and began reminiscing? What does it do to you?
ILL: Several years ago Laina and I were at a pastors’ conference. The evening meeting had been over for almost an hour, and there were still 25 or 30 of us in the back of the room talking, laughing, renewing old friendships, and sharing stories of our early days together. All of us had been students or workers in the youth ministry that I led in the early 70’s in Eugene. Now all of us were pastors or missionaries scattered across the country and around the world.
Then Sue Pepper turned to me and with tears in her eyes said, “Look at us. What a heritage we have—all of us from the Tuesday night Bible study—all of us from your ministry. It must be something for you to see all of us serving God.” It got real quiet, and there were several of us with tears in our eyes—tears of gratitude as we remembered our shared heritage and relationships.
Many of us hadn’t seen each other in months or years, yet as we remembered, it was like we had never been apart. We still felt that bond, that first love.
Remember. Your feelings are the result of what you think and do. You can’t choose your feelings, but you can choose what you think and do. So choose to remember. Remember the heights—the good things that helped you love at first. Remember what made you fall in love. Remember how you used to feel and what made you feel that way. Remember what you used to do together. Remember the good times you shared. Remember your first love.
- Repent: turn back toward the person.
Jesus’ second word of advice to Christians who had lost their love was to repent. The word “repent” translates the Greek word metanoeo, which literally meant, “to change one’s mind,” and then to change your behavior to match. It then meant to turn back, to repent. Repentance starts in the mind: we realize that we’ve been wrong, and then we do something about it. We change. We turn. We turn away from our sin and we turn toward God. Or in this case, where we’ve left our first love, we turn back to God.
Revelation 2:5 (NLT) Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.
“Turn back to me.” We’ve lost our first love because we’ve wandered away. And we have to turn back to renew our love.
To repent is to turn back. You do a 180. You were going this way—away from God. You do a 180—an about-face—and you start going towards God.
ILL: Wabush is a town in a remote part of Labrador, Canada. For years there were no roads in or out, but then a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. For a number of years, Wabush had one road leading into it, and thus, only one road leading out. If someone would travel that gravel road for 6-8 hours to get to Wabush, there was only one way he or she could leave: by turning around.
We all manage to get ourselves in Wabush, and there is only one way out: you have to turn around. That about-face is repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.
To repent is to turn back. If you have drifted from God, if your love for God is not what it once was, you need to repent. You need to turn back to Him.
ILL: I love the bumper sticker that says, “If you feel far from God, guess who moved?”
It’s not God. He’s right there, waiting. We’re the ones who wander.
Back to the Prodigal Son: he remembered what life was like back home. But he knew that the next step was to repent: to turn back to his father and apologize.
Luke 15:18-20 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
Are you far from God? Have you lost your first love? Remember…and then repent. Turn back to God.
I think that repentance is a way of life for Christians. Here’s what I mean. We wander from God and we’re constantly turning back. We’re constantly adjusting back to God, reorienting to God.
ILL: Have you ever been led astray by a GPS? Last year, before my motorcycle ride around the country, I bought a GPS for my bike and decided to try it out one night. I picked up my friend, Jerry Sittser, in my car, on my way to my mentoring meeting. We make a big deal about being on time for these meetings, and I’d made a really big deal about it at for this meeting—BE ON TIME—because Jerry was going to be our guest. So I picked Jerry up in plenty of time—an hour before the meeting and we were only about 20 minutes away. All we had to do was the follow the GPS. But it kept giving me bad directions, so I ignored it. We got to the last turn; the GPS was ignoring the turn so I pulled over and checked the GPS. I could see we were close; I decided to trust the GPS. We started back up and it took us on a wild goose chase. We ended up miles away in the opposite direction! I finally turned it off, called and got directions, and I arrived almost an hour late—with the guest of honor in tow. Jerry told them that they should get a new mentor!
What happened? When I left my house, a message had popped up asking if I wanted to navigate back to the starting point. I thought, “Well of course I want to start at the beginning.” So, the GPS was trying to send me home the whole time. That’s why we got within a mile of our destination and it sent me in the opposite direction! It was constantly reorienting back to home.
We wander from God, just like the prodigal son, and so we’re constantly reorienting back to God, reorienting back to home. That’s repentance, and it’s a lifestyle for us.
Repentance is important not only to renew our love for God, but in other relationships as well. If your love for another person has died, remember and repent. Do a 180! Turn back to that person. Reorient to that person. Make some changes in the way you think that result in a change in the way you behave.
ILL: Imagine a couple coming to you for advice. “We have lost our love for each other, but we want it back. What can we do?” You might ask them, “How did you lose it? What changed?” What do you think they might say?
- We took each other for granted.
- We stopped talking.
- We watch too much TV.
- We stopped praying together. (By the way, someone told me this week that couples who regularly pray together have a divorce rate of .000033. That’s one couple in 30,000. Want to protect your marriage? Pray together! Make it a habit!)
- We stopped being romantic.
- We each got busy with other things.
- We don’t spend much time together.
- We stopped having fun together.
So what would you say to this couple? Change these things! If you want to change your relationship, if you want to regain your love, make some changes! Turn back toward each other and make some changes. That’s repentance.
Take a look at this: Rob and Ginger Video.
That’s a wonderful story of love renewed. What I hope you’ll remember is that the tide turned when Rob repented—and Ginger said he really repented. He turned back to God, back to his wife and made changes.
- Redo the things you did at first.
Jesus’ third word of advice to those who have lost their love is to do the things you did at first. This is connected to repentance—there is no comma. Repent and do the things you did at first. Turn around, go back, and redo the things you did at first. Do again the things that made love grow in the first place.
When I think of renewing my love for God, I need to remember what I did at first. What did I do when I first loved Him, or when my passion burned hot and bright? Here are some of the things I did:
- I went to church every time the doors were open. I went Sunday morning to our high school class and then afterwards to church. I went Sunday night to youth group, then evening service, and then afterglow at someone’s home. I went to five things most Sundays! I went on Wednesday nights to youth group and evening service. Why did I go so much? Because I loved Jesus and I couldn’t get enough of Him. I was soaking Him up like a sponge!
- I read my Bible every night. I tried to read one chapter a night, but it usually stretched into 2 or 3 or 4 or more. I was so hungry; I wanted to learn more about Him.
- I prayed. I wanted to talk with Jesus. And I wanted Him to be leading and helping me.
- I told my friends what had happened to me. It wasn’t hard to talk about the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. I wanted to share what I had found.
When I feel my spiritual temperature has dropped, when I think my love has cooled, the first things I check are some of these simple things.
- Am I spending time hanging out with others who are hot enough for God to warm me back up? Hopefully, that is what happens when you come here—we warm you up. We want to keep the fires burning hot around here so you get warmed up every time you come. That’s what should happen in your Life Group, too—you should be warming each other up.
- Am I spending time with Jesus, reading and praying and listening? I am committed to helping you keep your love for Jesus hot, but it’s not all up to me! Every now and then someone will tell me that they’ve lost their first love and blame it on the church. I ask them, “Tell me what you read in the Bible today. Tell me what you and the Lord talked about this morning. Tell me the latest thing He’s been saying to you.” If they don’t have anything to say, I tell them, “You want me to be more responsible for your spiritual life than you are willing to be. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?” You can be as close to God as you want to be.
- Am I telling others about Him? There are very few things that light my fire—or relight my fire—like the chance to share Jesus with someone and see the light go on for them.
Those are the things on my list. Maybe you have different things on yours. What did you do when your love burned hot and bright? Do it again!
And the same thing is true in our relationships with people. When we begin to do the right things, we feel differently. If you want to change your feelings, change your actions. So if you have a marriage or friendship or family relationship where love has cooled, ask yourself, “What was I doing when our relationship was strong?” And do those things again. What would those things be?
- Spending time together.
- Dating—this is why Laina and I have never stopped dating!
- Talking about everything.
- Playing together: have fun together.
- Praying together: a very bonding thing.
- Dreaming together: shared goals and challenges—a hill to take together.
- Facing obstacles together.
- Thinking of each other fondly.
- Saying kind, respectful and affectionate things.
- Doing little things to show that you care.
- Going the extra mile to be together.
- Surprising each other.
- Remembering special days.
- Spontaneous get-togethers.
Remember. Repent. Redo.
Have you lost your first love? Is your love for God burning hot and bright, or have you cooled off? Is the love in your marriage burning hot and bright, or have you settled into a rut? Is there someone that you used to love, but the friendship has cooled? Love can be rekindled. Love can be renewed if you remember, repent and redo.
So what is your next step? For most of us, it starts with remembering. But maybe for you it’s repenting or redoing. Would you listen to this song with me and think about your next step. And I’d like to you think specifically about your love for God. Remember. And then I’ll close with prayer.