January 3, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Happy New Year! Laina and I started the New Year off by driving to Rainier, WA and picking up our new pup, Mazy. She’s a year old and we got her from a wonderful dog rescue. Like Lucy before her, she’s a border collie/lab mix, and is brilliant!
At our Christmas Eve services (thank everyone who served) I said that Jesus wants to fill you with the full measure of His joy. When you are filled with God, you are filled with love, joy and peace. And yet many of us seem to lack that love, joy and peace. We’re going through the motions, but there’s no fire, no enthusiasm, no joy. Our relationship with God is dry; it’s routine. Is there anything we can do to rekindle the spark, renew our love, revive our joy?
Today, we kick off a four-week series that I’m calling “Re—.” We’re going to look at four things that rob us of joy and vitality in our relationship with God, and what we can do about them.
- When our love grows cold, we need to renew
- When we wander from God, we need to return to Him.
- When we become spiritually dead and dry, we need to be revived.
- When we get too busy and hurried, we need to rest.
Renew, return, revive, and rest. This series is about rebooting your relationship with God, rekindling that fire and renewing your passion. Each week, I’m going to preach first, and then we’ll worship and take some time to respond to God. I hope you’ll come expecting God to touch you and revive you.
Here’s the question I want to address today: How can we keep our love for God hot? Jesus was asked which is the most important of all the commandments.
Mark 12:29-31 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
What is the most important commandment, the most important thing you can do? Love God with all you’ve got, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And what’s second? Love your neighbor as yourself.
What is love? Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. We tend to romanticize love; we reduce it to romantic feelings. We think love is something you fall into—it’s a feeling beyond your control. But love is far more than a feeling. Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. Love is doing; love is action, more than feelings. But that doesn’t mean there are no emotions involved; love includes feelings. When you love someone, you will feel something—you will care deeply. I don’t believe that you feel it all the time, but you will feel it sometimes.
For example, I love my wife. That doesn’t mean that I have strong romantic feelings all the time for my wife—I don’t walk around in a romantic daze. But I do have these feelings sometimes! This is the nature of emotions; they come and go. There is an emotional side of love. On the one hand, no one feels strong passion all the time. On the other, if there are no feelings at all, you’re in trouble.
This is true of our love for God. To love God with all your heart doesn’t mean that you feel it all the time, but it means that you feel it sometimes. It seems to me that the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we experience His love and His work in our lives, the more our love ought to grow. Our love for God should continue to grow hotter and brighter until the day we die when it ought to be the hottest and brightest ever. Ideally, if we could graph our love for God, it should grow in a steady line, up and to the right. But realistically, our graph will look more like this—a series of ups and downs, yet hopefully moving up and to the right over time. The real danger is this: flat-lining.
Love can grow cold. You can lose your devotion, and love can degenerate into duty without desire, motions without emotions. Jesus warned of this in
Matthew 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Love can grow cold. I don’t want to be part of that “most” group, do you? Flat-lined. I want my love for God to stay hot, fervent. Paul wrote in
Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
It’s possible to keep your spiritual fervor; that’s what I’m talking about today. It’s also possible to lose your spiritual fervor; it’s possible for your love to grow cold, for your heart to flat-line. That happened to one church in New Testament times.
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: 2 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. 3 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. 5 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 commends this church in Ephesus for their orthodoxy and hard work. But He had one thing against them: they had left their first love. Jesus doesn’t say whether it was their love for God or their love for people, and scholars have debated which it is. I think it’s fair to connect the two, since Jesus does; love for God and people go together.
However, I think Jesus is talking primarily about their love for God, the first love, the first and most important commandment, to love God with all they’ve got. Here is a church that believes the right things, and behaves in the right ways, but has lost its passion. They’re going through the motions without any emotion or devotion. We are to love God with all of our hearts, but their hearts weren’t in it like they were at first. Their love has grown cold; they’ve lost their spiritual fervor; they’re flat-lined. They’ve lost their first love.
I can’t read this passage without doing a personal inventory. Is my love for God burning hot and bright? Do I love God with passion, with first love, with some feeling and enthusiasm? Over the years, there have been peaks and valleys in my love for God. I have seasons where I feel it deeply, and others not so much—and those seasons concern me. I pay attention to my heart, and I think this passage is clear that I ought to. I don’t want to flat line!
And I can’t read this passage without thinking about our church. What would Jesus write to Life Center about our love for God? I want us to be a Great Commandment church, characterized by a passionate love for God. God forbid that we ever become a cold-hearted church, just going through the motions. Agreed!
The Big Idea: Jesus challenges us to renew our first love and tells us how to do it. Let’s stoke the fire!
So what do you do if you’ve left your first love? Look again at:
Revelation 2:5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Jesus gave three very clear directions: remember, repent, and repeat.
- Remember the height from which you have fallen.
Rekindling your love for God starts with remembering. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Here are two things to remember.
Remember God’s love for you.
First, remember God’s love for you. Why this first? Because your love for God is a response to His love for you.
1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.
When our hearts are gripped by God’s love for us, we love Him back deeply. So we start with remembering God’s love for us.
This is one of the purposes of communion: we remember. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I remember that Jesus gave His life for me, that He took my place on the cross and paid my moral debt, that He forgave all my sins and brought me to God and gave me a new life. When I remember all He’s done for me, I love Him deeply.
ILL: One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Mark 14. It’s the last week of Jesus’ life and He is the guest of honor at a party. There, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, does a very unusual thing. She pours a whole bottle of perfume on Jesus—the whole bottle! And this was very expensive perfume, worth more than a year’s wages for the average person. What do you make in a year? Think of spending it all on one bottle of perfume! This was not Canal #5! Then imagine using it all at once on someone else! That’s wildly extravagant! What moved Mary to make such an extravagant expression of love?
Only a few weeks before, her brother Lazarus had died and been buried. And then Jesus showed up, and raised him from the dead. And on this night, as she watched her once-dead-now-alive brother talk and laugh with Jesus, I think she was overwhelmed with love and gratitude. “What can I do for Jesus for all He’s done for me?” And she thought of her bottle of perfume, probably her life savings, and thought, “I’m going to perfume Him! I’m going to pour out the whole bottle on Jesus as an extravagant gift of love!” What made her do it? Love…love that was a response to the love God had shown her. She remembered what Jesus had done, and she loved.
By the way, when the disciples criticized this woman and called her gift a waste, Jesus said that she had done a beautiful thing, and that wherever the gospel is preached, what she had done would be told, in memory of her. Jesus memorialized her—the only person He memorialized. He wanted everyone to remember her and what she had done. What did Jesus want us to remember? Extravagant love. Whole-hearted love. Love that gives everything.
And where does that love come from? Remembering God’s love for you. This is where we start. We love because He first loved us.
Remember your love for God.
We start by remembering God’s love for us. Then we need to remember our love for God. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Remember what it was like when you first met Jesus, when your love burned hot.
Jeremiah 2:2 Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “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 is telling the Israelites that He remembers their first love, when they first followed Him, and He calls them to remember it too. He compared their love to the love of a new bride. Do you remember when you first fell in love? I wanted to be with Laina all the time; when I wasn’t with her, I was thinking about being with her. I was crazy about her—and still am. In this passage, God compares our love for him with the love of a young bride. He remembers “the devotion of our youth.”
I have talked with many couples who have lost their first love for each other. They need to remember the devotion of their youth. Sadly, many of them rewrite history. They say, “We never loved each other.” Not true. They’ve just forgotten that first love and need to remember it. Remembering is the first step to rekindling that love.
This is true in our relationship with God too. Do you remember “the devotion of your youth?” I do.
ILL: As a brand new Christian, I was filled with passion and zeal.
I remember strategizing with a couple of my buddies about how we were going to win our high school to Jesus. One day we went to the Bible Club. There were 1000 students in my high school; 12 of them went to the Bible Club; and they were all girls. When my buddy and I walked in, their eyes lit up! Date bait! They immediately elected us president and vice president of the Bible Club. We changed the format of the meetings, and started bringing in good speakers, and by the end of my sophomore year, we had as many as 200 students at some of our meetings. I wanted everyone in my school to hear the gospel.
The next year, our Bible Club sponsored an all-school assembly (a con). We had a Christian band provide the music, and Sam Owen, the speaker that had led me to Jesus 3 years before, spoke and gave a straight up message about Jesus. I still don’t know how we pulled that off in a public school! I wanted everyone in my school to hear the gospel.
At the end of that year, I ran for student body president. My campaign speech in front of all 1000 students was simple. “You can’t lead others unless you know where you’re going, and I know where I’m going. I’m following Jesus.” And then I shared my 3 minute story. At the three-minute mark, they unplugged the mike, and I stepped out from behind the podium and shouted the end of my speech like Billy Graham at a crusade! I was on fire, and I had to share this good news. (The students gave me a standing ovation and voted me in as president.)
That fire continued to burn in college. Sometimes my zeal outpaced my common sense! One day, a large group of us were out on the streets and in the malls and parks of Eugene inviting people to a remarkable outreach we were doing. We had a national caliber speaker and band in town and were doing evening meetings at a local high school. So we’re out making invites, and at one point, there was no one walking along my sidewalk to invite, so I started flagging cars down. One elderly couple pulled over and rolled down the window. “Are you ok?” they asked with concern. “Do you know Jesus?” I asked them, handing them a flyer. They looked at each other, rolled up the window and drove off—no doubt thinking I was nuts—and it was kind of a crazy thing to do. As I said, my zeal outpaced my common sense.
Driving all this was this simple passion: I was gripped by grace, by God’s love for me. I was on fire.
I could go on…but you get the picture. Do you remember the devotion of your youth? Maybe you’re thinking, “I wasn’t a Christian when I was young; I came to faith later.” Well, remember your devotion, the love you felt as a freshly redeemed, newly found believer.
Hebrews 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light—your first days as a Christian, with your first love. Everything was new.
- You couldn’t wait to get to church. You were there every time the doors were open. You loved to worship and you wanted to learn the Word.
- You were reading your Bible eagerly, sometimes chapters at a time.
- You were praying with childlike faith that God could do anything…after all, He had just saved you—what couldn’t He do?
- You were eager to tell anyone who would listen what happened to you.
Remember those earlier days? Remember the devotion of your youth? Or just remember when your devotion for God was at its best and brightest. Hopefully your love for God is burning at its brightest now. If not, this is where we start: remember. Remember God’s love for you, and remember your first love for God.
- Repent: turn away from your sin and to God.
First you remember, then you repent.
In Luke 15, Jesus told a story about a boy who cashed in his share of his father’s estate, moved far away from home and father, and squandered his inheritance in loose living. Soon he was reduced to poverty, forced to slop pigs for a living, and was so hungry the pig slop was looking good. Then it says:
Luke 15:17-18 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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
What happened first in verse 17? He remembered. He remembered what life was like back home, on his father’s farm. Then what did he do? He repented. He turned away from the pigpen, from his own rebellion and sin, and he turned toward home and father, and he acknowledged his sin.
This is repentance. When you remember, and you realize, “I’m far from home. I’ve left my first love. My love has grown cold,” then you repent. You turn toward God.
It may be that there are specific sins that have made your love grow cold. Here are a few examples:
Moral compromise will make your love grow cold. If you’re doing something you know is wrong, you’ll lose your first love.
ILL: I remember the first time I realized this. A dear friend of mine became a Christian and her love for Jesus was hot for quite awhile. Then she got a boyfriend, and her passion for God cooled. I chalked it up to a temporary distraction. But then her love suddenly grew cold—she disappeared from church, and avoided me—she wouldn’t talk to me. I could tell you almost to the day when she started having sex with her boyfriend. She knew it was wrong, and the moral compromise killed her passion for God. I’m happy to tell you that she, like the son in Jesus’ story, came to her senses, remembered, repented and returned home to Heavenly Father, and today she loves God with passion.
Moral compromise will make your love grow cold. If you don’t feel the fire for God, are you doing something you know is wrong? Repent: leave that and turn toward God.
Busyness can make your love grow cold. It’s not wrong to be busy, but if you get so busy that God gets pushed to the margins of your life, busyness becomes a sin. If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to pray, time to read your Bible, time to rest and let your soul catch up to your body, time to think and reflect, time to worship, time for God…then you’re too busy. For many busy people, God becomes an insurance policy; they check in when they can to keep the policy up to date. But they have as much love, as much passion for God as they would an insurance policy. If you don’t feel the fire for God, are you just too busy? Repent! Turn from your busyness toward God.
Pride can make your love grow cold. Pride is the notion that I don’t really need God, that I can do this on my own. In Revelation 3, Jesus sent a letter to the Laodicean church.
Revelation 3:15-16 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
This church had grown lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—just lukewarm. The word “spit” is literally “vomit”. I’m about to vomit you out. I call them “pukey lukies”. Their half-hearted, ride-the-fence, lukewarmness made Jesus sick. How did this church, which was probably once hot for God, become lukewarm?
Revelation 3:17-18 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
How did this church become lukewarm? Pride. “I don’t need a thing.” But they needed what Jesus offered, and were just too proud to see it. Pride can make your love grow cold. If you don’t feel the fire for God, are you proud? Repent! Leave your pride and self-sufficiency and turn to God.
If you know that there is something making your love grow cold, do what the lost son did: turn away from your sin and turn to God. Repent. In just a moment, when we begin to worship, I’m going to give you a very practical way to repent, to turn to God and do some business.
Remember, repent, repeat.
- Repeat: do the things you did at first.
Sometimes the best way to make the first feelings come back is to do the first deeds. Do first, feelings follow.
ILL: If I want to recapture my first love for my wife, I date her again; we go park the car on Cliff Drive and make out! We go for a walk and hold hands. We go stand in line for an hour for “Star Wars”—it was one of the first movies we went to together!
The same thing is true in my relationship with God. When I go back and do the first things, my first love returns. This is why the remembering is so important. Remember what you used to do when you first loved God. Go do that again. I mentioned some things earlier.
- You couldn’t wait to get to church. You were there every time the doors were open. You loved to worship and you wanted to learn the Word. Now, some of you have made church optional; you come when it’s convenient rather than coming eagerly and often. And you slog through worship rather than entering in with all your heart. It’s time to repeat what you did at first.
- You were reading your Bible eagerly and often. Now you read it occasionally, or not at all. It’s God’s love letter to you! It’s time to repeat what you did at first—dive into God’s word every day and let Him speak to you.
- You were praying with childlike faith that God could do anything. Now, you only pray when you’re in trouble, or not at all. It’s time to repeat what you did at first—make time to talk with God and listen to Him!
- You were eager to tell anyone who would listen what happened to you. Now you’re not sharing your story much or at all. Your zeal has cooled. You’ve lost your first love. It’s time to repeat what you did at first.
You may think that when the feelings return, you’ll do the things you did at first. That’s backwards. Do the first things and your first love will return.
Our worship team is going to come back. We’re going to worship God, and I want you to remember what He’s done for you. Start there. Then after we’ve remembered, I’ll invite you to repent. And after we’re done with that, I’ll send you out to repeat—go do what you did at first and renew your love for God!