re-turning to your first love

Phil48…You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. –Revelation 2:4-5

We have been gleaning insights from Christ’s admonition to the Ephesian church from these brief verse in Revelation 2. Of the three “action items” Christ outlined for the church in verse 4–remember, repent and “do the things you did at first”–we’ve looked at how important remembering is, and how it needs to be focused on what we have been saved to rather than what we have been saved from.  Today we will look at the rather unpopular word “repent.”

Get your negativity out now: what do you think of when you think of the word “repent?” Sorrow, angst, altar calls, self-flagellation? Where sin is concerned, these are appropriate–confession, contrition and asking for forgiveness are all appropriate responses to sin. But do you think it’s appropriate when your sin is neglect of joy, good works, the fruit of the Spirit?

Do you find it easier to wallow in self-imposed guilt rather than to the “good things you did at first?”

We modern fundamentalist-raised Christians can have some knee-jerk reactions to the word “repent,” and some of that baggage isn’t helpful. “Repent” in the new testament can often be translated  “to change one’s mind and purposes,” or even “to change one’s conduct or demeanor.”* Repentance isn’t about beating ourselves up. It’s about re-turning to whatever is good, lovely, right and true. It’s about re-turning to our first love, and allowing that love to reset what has become jaded or neglectful within us.

Paul illustrates this turning in his letter to the Ephesians:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. –Ephesians 4:31-32

This is an either/or situation. Turn from bitterness, wrath, slander, malice…turn to kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness. Stronger language, same concept.

This admonition comes after a chapter full of contrasts between what we have been called to remember what we have been called away from. Paul reminds us that when we cannot forgive, cannot repent, getting back in touch with the greatness of who God is enables us to let go of our anger, clamor, slander. The glory of God enables us to repent.

This is why remembering comes first. Remembering the good and joyful life with Christ practically accomplishes the purposes of repentance in and of itself. Remember the abundant life of Christ and turn towards it.

 

Other blogposts in this series:
regaining your first love
remembering your first love

* Click here to read commentary on Revelation 2:5 and scroll down to Clarke’s Commentary

this won’t hurt a bit

29764552_sI returned a couple of hours ago from a 3 hour dentist appointment. You can imagine why it took that long. It’s been over 2 years since my last appointment and since I was told then I had a couple of teeth on cavity watch, it’s hardly surprising that between the xrays, gum check, oral cancer exam, cleaning and polishing, that there were some cavities. 3 of them, to be exact. (On the bright side, my gums and teeth are in good condition.)

Given the particularly nasty cavity that had formed in a crack in my tooth (did you you know your teeth can crack?) I opted to stick around until the dentist could fill it on the spot. As I was waiting, I took mental stock of how I as doing and discovered the answer was “not bad,” which surprised me. My last visit to the dentist was really stressful. I was berated for not flossing–repeatedly–the dentist kept ordering exams I wasn’t expecting, driving up the cost, shunting me between different rooms, different hygienists, and wearing me down to the point of getting a tooth repair I didn’t really want.

This time, it is true that I knew better what to expect–my pre-move old-fashioned dentist had not done particular things that these young dentists do as a matter of course. And it is true I was harassed a lot less about flossing. And since I had 2 teeth on cavity watch going in, yes, I expected to find that I did now have cavities. Knowing what to expect always helps diminish fear.

Given all that, as I sat today with my mouth getting number and number, I remembered having to listen to music at my old beloved dentist’s office when getting a filling, in order to distract myself from what was coming. At my last dentist’s, I practically cried myself home I was so stressed out when I left. Today I was resigned, but relaxed. The dental hygienist offered to turn the TV on for me while I waited, but that didn’t appeal.

What changed? “You have,” surfaced inside me as I sat. It’s true, I realized. Having a tooth filled is not going to ruin my day, and having to pay for it is not going to ruin my month. The anticipation of pain wasn’t making me anxious. In fact, I wasn’t even anticipating pain! I was not enjoying my numb face, but it was a thorough indicator that this filling was not going to hurt at all. My new dentist was taking care of me and I could trust in that, even rest in it, because he is clearly competent and has no wish to cause pain. I thanked God for this as I sat there and did my best to remain in that place of rest.

For a 3 hour dental visit, I think things went well. And now that I have the headache that usually comes after having my jaw propped open, and can now feel my ear and upper lip (the bottom one is still out of commission) my assessment is that the visit was unpleasant and tiring, but otherwise fine. I could go back again, and in fact I will, in December. I have 2 more teeth to get filled.

When was the last time you were able relax in a doctor’s office, not simply because you believed in the competence of the doctor, but also in Christ’s competent presence? What was it that made that possible?


You may be asking “To what does Lisa attribute this internal change?” Let me direct you to Immanuel Prayer (external link) and the practice of Gratitude.

smile

Roxie Pockets on her best behavior, smiling for the cameraLast week I was buzzing through my local Piggly Wiggly; it’s one of those stores that’s kind of old and worn out, but small enough that everything is easy to find and fast to check out of. I was chugging through the aisles, my head full of ideas for my new business, grabbing my groceries, moving quickly but feeling mellow.

As I checked out, I made some small talk with the cashier, saying I don’t remember what. As I picked up my shopping bag and headed for the exit, I heard a voice say “Ma’am?” from the customer service desk. Not sure I was being addressed, I looked up and saw a PW worker looking at me. I smiled at her, to indicate I was ready to listen, and she said, “Thanks for smiling.” I was surprised, laughed a little, stammered ‘thank you.’ She continued, “Not a lot of people smile anymore. It’s really good to see someone smile.” I thanked her again, a bit more graciously and continued walking to the parking lot.

It’s surprising to me that this was noticed and commented on, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. I live in a former manufacturing town. The car companies went bankrupt or moved their plants elsewhere and the jobs went with them. This city has never recovered. Life is hard for many people here. Many are in survival mode. Many have never recovered–and I can relate.

Why was I smiling? Partly because I was excited because of my new business, but that was because I had hope. I feel more hopeful about my life than I have in a long time. That might not sound very spiritual, but was this woman simply responding to my smile? I think she spoke up because she saw beyond the smile to the hope that the smile sprang from. And that means she was responding to Christ in me, the hope of glory.

You never know when you are being a minister of the Gospel. But you minister more and more the more you can carry Christ’s presence with you into the world.

Phil48

To help you remember the glorious presence of the Lord, meditate on this verse.

Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable….think about these things.

Do you have a favorite translation of Philippians 4:8?

 

 

remembering your first love

“Remember then from that you have fallen…” Rev. 2:4

candlessqAs I touched on yesterday, Jesus is referring to the love the Ephesians had “at first” in this statement. Jesus isn’t telling the Ephesians to remember the wretched things he saved them from—he’s asking them to remember the amazing love they were gifted with when they first became believers!

The radical thing about this statement for us modern folks is that this isn’t about revisiting the sins of the past, or how wretched we were before we were saved, but rather to dwell on how Christ broke into our lives, how his glorious love caused us to return to him in love, and how God’s glory became manifest in the reordering of our lives. In other words, the negative things are only helpful and important as contrasts to the positive things. This is the reason why the gratitude movement has such resonance in Christian circles—we have forgotten that love calls out what is good, lovely and right in the beloved. Remember Philippians 4:8?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Meditation on the lovable, the beautiful, the truth-filled builds up those same attributes in us. This is even more the case when we are in love. When we know ourselves to be loved, love builds into the beloved more lovable attributes. We become what the lover sees in us.

The book of Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the Bible partly because of its encouraging language, so for me it’s particularly apt that Christ was addressing his comments in Revelation to the church in Ephesus. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul outlines more benefits to remembering our first love:

16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might20 which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; 22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:16-23

What is the point of remembering? In this passage, there’s an emphasis on hope and what is to be ours in heaven—“the riches of our glorious inheritance.” Once again, this is an overwhelmingly positive message. There is an inspirational quality to the way this message is given. It is meant to lift us out of places in our lives that feel stuck, or downtrodden, or without justice. It is meant to convey what is true: that God overcomes all.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. –Ephesians 3:14-19

What is Paul’s earnest prayer would happen to us as believers? “To know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge.” Isn’t this pretty backwards to the way we often think about our faith? We approach our Bibles as a quest for knowledge, rather than as a love letter from the beloved. Paul even indicates that he is most concerned with the hearts of the Ephesian believers—not their minds, their theology, their order of service. Many of us think that knowledge will set us free. It’s not, truth sets us free, and that’s a person, Jesus – which means we have a relationship with truth, which means it’s a heart thing. Love sets us free.

Remembering our first love—in beauty, truth, hope and returned love—is what keeps us close to Jesus and prevents us from becoming lukewarm Christians.

When was the last time you spent time remembering the love you had at first for Christ?

On practicing gratitude

regaining your first love

This fall, I’ve been tag-team-teaching an adult Sunday School class titled “Reclaiming Your First Love.” The title comes from Revelation 2:1-6 where Jesus is speaking to the church at Ephesus, which is largely positive, until he comes to the meat of the matter “But I have this against you: that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

Jesus then outlines three things the church should do in order to return to love:
Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.”

  • “Remember from what you have fallen”
  • “Repent”
  • Act – “do the works you did at first”

“Remember then from what you have fallen…”

What does this statement refer to? “The love you had at first” is the object of this statement. Jesus isn’t telling the Ephesians to remember the wretched things he saved them from—he’s asking them to remember the amazing love they were gifted with when they first became believers!

Let’s take a minute & recalibrate here. When you read the statement “remember from what you have fallen,” what pops immediately into your mind? I bet it’s a bunch of negative stuff, right? Unfortunately for us, just talking about falling from something immediately brings to mind what we’ve fallen into—sin, suffering, death. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s referring to what the way they responded, who they became when they first heard the Gospel. Fortunately for us, we have an account of this:

While Apol′los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.There were about twelve of them in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran′nus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.—Acts 19:1-10

From this passage we find a few characteristics of the love in which the Ephesians responded to the Gospel. First, there was an immediate recognition of the truth of the Gospel, this recognition was followed by an immediate action on their part—being baptized. This, in turn, was followed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit—in this case, speaking in tongues. Finally, we see that they continued to preach the Gospel, even after being thrown out of the synagogue, to the degree that “all the residents of Asia heard the word.” It’s amazing that in this account, we have each of the three instructions Christ gives them—remember these events, repent just as they had to initially, and to act, to do the works they did in the beginning, namely, proclaim the Gospel.

So what they needed to do in order to return to their first love was to simply do again what they had done in the beginning. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In my next few blogposts, I’m going to look at each of these three instructions individually, in greater depth. Up first: “remember.”