Category Archives: First Love

Victorious Living

It was an eventful August of 1980 when my family and I stepped into our small single-engine Piper Comanche airplane for an adventure into our destiny. As the pilot of the flying machine, I seated myself in the cockpit, followed by five reluctant passengers who uneasily seated themselves beside and behind me. The apprehensive passengers were Martha, my wife, and clinging to her were four faithful offspring (8 to 14 years of age). All were somewhat oblivious about following this adventurous father pilot into a Twilight Zone where none of them had before ventured.

We were all destined by faith out of Opa Locka Airport in Miami, Florida in order to make our way to our new home in Antigua, a place to which Martha had never before ventured, though she had previously tasted the West Indies in Barbados and Grenada on our return from Brazil in 1978. But once the landing gear was safely tucked under the wings, the compass headed us due southeast out over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We were on our way.

As I signed off with Opa Locka Air Traffic Control, and while crossing Miami Beach on a heading into the Bermuda Triangle, I remember that all we could see before us was water … water forever. We could see nothing but the glaring sheen of the early eastern sun off the water that morning as we stretched our faith to do God’s work in the West Indies. It was indeed a flight plan of faith, for all of us were doing what faith and mission would demand of us.

We eventually made our way across endless waters to a small speck of an island named Grand Cayman, where I refueled the airplane, as well as gave the now half-airsick passengers a taste of sweet mother earth. From there our registered flight plan and faith directed us on to our new home on the small island of Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies. At the time of our departure from Grand Cayman, Antigua was still only a small dot on my flight chart. It still is.

What drove us to this daring—some have used the word “delirious”—adventure was the fact that God had better things for us to do just over the horizon. Our incurable optimistic faith had brought us to a point of launching out over the deep while we hung tightly to the hand of Jesus. We had no other options. We could do nothing less.

Yes indeed, you must take a leap of faith in order to grow your faith. This is simply the way . . . [Continued in the complete bookito, VICTORIOUS FAITH. Message for the PDF copy.]

Search for Jesus

If one feels fulfilled in being the center of attention on his or her Facebook site, Youtube broadcast, or Podcast, then there is no longer any driving force to seek out a personal face-to-face relationship with someone at an assembly of peers.

If you doubt this, then the next time you encounter several young people together, notice how many of them are focusing on what is transpiring on their cellphones. Ask these slaves to their smartphones how often they check the number of “likes” or “views” of something that they have just posted. Even worse, if they come to an assembly, notice how many will not turn off their cellphones just in case some “important” message comes their way. We were even in a prayer group where one attendee refused to turn off his cellphone.

It is difficult to assemble narcissists together in an assembly that does not appeal to the narcissistic obsessions of each individual. It was in times of the past that the “pastor” wanted to be the center of attention when the saints came together. It is now, and will be in the future, that all the attendees, if they show up, will want to be the center of attention of the assembly.

At this time in history, the celebration assembly is often focused on those who have come “to get something out of the assembly.” And if the attendees do not get what they want out of the assembly, they are on their way to the next assembly. They will go from one assembly to another until they get what they want. But in all their search, they have forgotten that they, as a part of any gathering of the saints, must be as Jesus. And Jesus came to give, not to get. It is the nature of any assembly of gospel-obedient slaves of Jesus to give. They give their voices in singing. They give their gratitude in the Supper. They give their ears to the teaching of the word of God. They give their money as their time in thanksgiving for all that God has given to them. If all this is reversed to receiving, then a narcissistic religion has been born.

We continually need a reality check on these matters. If we wake up and find ourselves to have lost our first love, or smell the stench of dead in the air, then it is time to realize that we have lost our way and need to repent. Dead churches that present themselves to be alive send forth no campaigners to mission areas. Dead churches support no mission efforts. Dead churches produce no evangelists who will go forth with the gospel. Therefore, if we are neither sending nor being sent, then we have lost our first love. We are dead to the purpose for which the Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man for our salvation.

Dead churches usually have no idea that they are dead, simply because they present the ruse that they are alive. Death becomes so gradual in our excitement that it is not detected. The church in Sardis did not know that they were dead until Jesus showed up and wrote their name in the obituary of Revelation. The church in Ephesus did not know that they had lost their first love until the One who came to seek and save the lost pronounced that their first love was gone.

Once we realize that our love for the lost is lost, we lose our drive to go into all the world and preach the gospel to those who are lost. If we surround ourselves with those who have likewise lost their purpose, then King Jesus offers only one recourse: REPENT! Resurrection is the only answer for death!

My friend, I stand in the judgment now,
And feel that you’re to blame somehow.
On earth, I walked with you day by day,
And never did you point the way.

You knew the Lord in truth and glory,
But never did you tell me the story.
My knowledge then was very dim,
You could have led the way to Him.

Though we lived together on the earth,
You never told me of the second birth,
And now I stand here, condemned,
Because you failed to mention Him.

You taught me many things, that’s true;
I called you “friend” and trusted you,
But now I learn, when it’s too late —
You could have saved me from this fate.

We walked and talked by dawn and night,
And yet, you showed me not His light.
You let me live and love and die,
You knew I’d never live on high.

Yes, I called you “friend” in life,
And trusted you through joy and strife,
And yet on coming to this end —
I cannot now call you “my friend.”

[End of series]

Connective Disconnection

If we learn anything from the disciples in Ephesus and Sardis, it is the fact that dead churches—those who have lost their first love—organize to find purpose through their local programs of involvement that are focused on themselves. Or, as we have witnessed in these modern times, the production of Sunday morning experiences appeal to narcissistic attendees who are made to think that they are alive.

Christianity is not defined by assemblies, but by the gospel working in the hearts of those who seek to preach the grace of God to a lost world. It is not the purpose of the gospel to produce an exciting assembly, but to celebrate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan would have us become concerned about theatrical performances on Sunday morning that appeal to ourselves, and thus distract us from the lost souls of men who are destined to hell. Instead of opportunities to come together for reproving, rebuking and exhortation “with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tm 4:2), we come together to ignore our loss of love for the lost by celebrating ourselves. When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell?

We see a worldwide rise of connective disconnection among those of this generation of the world. The rise of the celebration assembly that focuses exclusively on the narcissistic individual is evidence of this disconnectivity. In fact, the self-centered celebration of the Sunday assembly among churches may be the last effort of many churches to call their members together in assembly. Bringing this generation and the next generations together in assembly is a problem that will face the church of the future.

We live in an Internet world of “connective disconnectivity.” Social online networks as Facebook, Whatsapp and whatever connect people with one another outside any personal encounter in a face-to-face relationship. There is thus little need for a personal face-to-face relationship when our smartphones will satisfy our desire to have “electronic friends.” In these days electronic connections have replaced personal connections. If we discover that one of our “electronic friends” disagrees with us on a particular point, we can simply “unfriend” the friend.

In the area of “Christianity,” add to this the opportunity of individuals online to access video preachers from around the world who preach every sort of feel-good doctrine that is sterile of the gospel. Sermons that make us psychologically feel good in a harsh world have replaced expository lessons of the word of God in an assembly. The most downloaded sermons from the Internet are those that are presented by dynamic speakers who know little or nothing about “preaching the word,” but a great deal in how to tickle ears in order to encourage the listener to download the next message (See 2 Tm 4:1,2).

The ease by which a preached lesson can be accessed through the Internet is quite phenomenal. Therefore, if someone concludes in their personal disconnectivity with others that they can access all the “spiritual” information that they need by streaming some “psychology preacher” on the other side of the world, then why would one take the initiative or trouble themselves with going to some “church assembly”? Why would one take the risk of showing up at an assembly where he or she might hear something that is negative from a preacher of the word of God? Why would an “Internet attendee” listen to a speaker with whom he or she may disagree on a particular point, but is not able to immediately post a negative “comment” on the speaker’s timeline?

Our disconnection with one another has often evolved to the point that if an assembly does not incorporate the participation of as many as possible of those who attend, or offer the most exciting and dynamic speaker that is surrounded by a “worshipful experience,” then it is not worth attending. If the “smartphone generation” would attend, they will simply gravitate to an assembly that offers the most fulfilling experience that they desire from an assembly event. If no such assembly can be found, then the Facebook generation would just as well stay at home and download a positive speech that is sterile of the word of God.

[Next in series: June 9]

Identity Of The Lost Love

The following are very important realities of a dead church that has lost its first love: When a group of disciples no longer generates a mission environment that naturally produces evangelists who go out with the message of the gospel, then the group has lost its first love.

If the local church is no longer supporting missions, then the members have become introverted. In such situations, their local budget is usually reserved for the support of works that are only within driving distance. They focus on programs and buildings for themselves. They have lost the flavor of the gospel, and thus they no longer have a gospel environment among the members that naturally produces those who will go forth with the gospel. When we cease living in gratitude of the gospel, we cease sending the gospel to all the world.

We have found that introverted churches become quite narcissistic, that is, they focus on themselves in order to survive the spirit-stifling effects of their own death. Exciting assemblies of dead churches are like flowers at a funeral. Death is all around, but the beauty of the assembly and the smell of the music drowns out the reality of having died to our first love.

When a church starts focusing on making their assemblies a Hollywood production in order to keep the attendees coming back, then the reality of death has already set in. Death has set in because the attendees are focusing on what they can get out of the assembly, that is, what they can get out of one another. On the other hand, those who attend gospel assemblies cannot wait to get out and go into all the world.

When those of the religious world lose sight of the power of the gospel, they usually turn up the volume on the amplifiers. The attendees at the concert show up for themselves. They confuse mesmerized experientialism with gospel evangelism. The mission of the church, therefore, becomes a series of Sunday performances that are inward focused and experiential. Hollywood assemblies are often the result of a church that has lost its mission. The mission of the Sunday performers is often to inspire the attendees to return next Sunday.

Dead disciples become religious, and thus are not drawn together in assembly because of their gratitude for the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. They are drawn together primarily to get something for themselves or a leading spot in the Sunday morning performance. In the assembly, some churches seek to fill a vacuum in the inner soul of the attendees who have lost their aroma for Christ.

This is particularly revealed in those religious assemblies on Sunday where the attendees feel no need to celebrate the gospel through the Lord’s Supper. There are those churches that have digressed to a legal celebration of the Supper. However, we are certain that the Lord respects even a legal communion with Him on a simple legal basis, rather than ignore the gospel of Jesus until “Easter Sunday.” Those religious groups who have only “Easter Sundays” wherein the Supper is observed have forgotten the purpose for the assembly of the blood-bought saints. Satan has changed their focus for assembly from Jesus to themselves. They calibrate themselves, but have forgotten to celebrate through the Supper the reason why we come together. When Jesus said of the Supper, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19), they have changed the “Me” (Jesus) to “me” (myself and I).

The reader might think that we are somewhat obsessed with the digression of the dead church into an assembly-oriented religion. But consider something that we recently read in reference to church growth studies in America. A survey was completed that focused on the decline of the “conservative” churches in America. The figures that were given were quite startling. Several church-growth studies have been conducted over the last three decades in America. But recent studies were quite revealing.

The particular writer who introduced us to the most current church-growth statistics informed us that the decline of the conservative church of America was the result of two problems. After calculating the diminishing numbers of both attendance and the number of church assemblies, the problem for the decline was focused on the following: (1) Declining churches that traditionally use no instruments in their assemblies are falling in numbers of both attendees and the number of local assemblies. (2) Declining churches are those who do not incorporate women into their Sunday assemblies.

What is surprising about the two reasons for the decline was that nothing was mentioned about the decline in the evangelistic outreach of churches. The decline was focused on assembly performances and participation, not on missions. This is the conclusion of church growth religionists who judge the body of Christ by the rules of what happens in the assembly. But is the church about what happens between an opening and closing prayer on Sunday morning?

[Next in series: June 5]

Walking Dead

The danger that always faces activity-oriented churches is what Jesus said of the church in Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you live, but you are dead” (Rv 3:1). The disciples in Sardis took pride in their notoriety. They certainly had a good reputation in the community of Sardis. But they were dead to the reason for which the church is to function in a lost world. They too, as the Ephesian Christians, had forgotten the purpose of the body of Christ.

Because the Ephesians had lost their purpose, they were called on to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent” (Ep 2:5). Though others spoke well of the disciples in Sardis, in reference to what they were to be as the church of Christ, they were dead. Churches that have lost their purpose to save the lost have simply forgotten the reason for their existence as the church of God in a world of lost sinners. If we lose our love for lost souls, and thus our purpose as the church, then we are dead!

We have found that when there is a group of disciples who have lost their purpose for being evangelistic disciples for Jesus, they will continue to assemble with one another. In fact, they will often obsess with one another in relational activities to the point that they forsake to establish relationships with the lost, or even consider everyone who believes in Jesus to be saved regardless of their obedience to the gospel. In their absentminded evangelistic outreach, the entire group carries on in a survival mode with exciting assemblies in order to convince themselves that they are still disciples of the One who came to seek and to save those who are lost. A few members may smell the stench of death, but they are so outnumber that their voices are no longer heard.

When we lose our love for lost souls, and still seek to be religious, we will fall in love with ourselves. We will focus on ourselves in order to convince ourselves that we are all OK. Our Sunday assemblies will thus become experiential events wherein we seek to remind ourselves that we are still the right church. We will refer to our heritage as the authority for our continuation. We will convince ourselves that if we progress through a legal system of ceremonies every Sunday that are opened and closed with a prayer, then we have assured ourselves that we right. As long as we maintain the heritage of our fathers, then certainly, we assume, we cannot be wrong.

A local church that has been in existence for decades is composed of members who have a strong relationship with one another. The members often become protective of these relationships. They assume that the majority of their group of gray-headed members is not dead because they still show up on Sunday.

The church is indeed about relationships with one another. It is about taking care of one another until each one of us step into a grave. However, our obsession with our relationships sometimes turns the church into a clique that inherently is exclusive. In our exclusiveness we feel uncomfortable about sitting down with a lost soul. We even feel uncomfortable about sharing the gospel with our lost neighbors. And when we do, our mission is to convert the lost to our social religious club of relationships is gone.

We must never forget that obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins has priority over all relationships between ourselves. Top priority is that the sinner must establish a covenant relationship with God. Our relationships with one another are only the serendipity of our common obedience to the gospel. The disciples of Christ are to be known for their love of one another (Jn 13:34,35). But our love for one another is validated as true love when we reach out with love to bring the lost into the sheep fold of God.

[Next in series: June 3]

Lost Love

When we have no mission outreach to the lost, we have lost our purpose as a church of Christ. We are thus dead to the purpose for which the church exists in a world of sin.

The Ephesian and Sardis churches are the New Testament examples of this fact. The Ephesian disciples started off with a blast in Acts 19. But a little over thirty years later the members had lost their first love. The members of the Sardis church had a great reputation in their city for their good works. But they were dead. Because of where both churches were at the time the message of Revelation was written, they had incurred the negative judgment of Jesus in reference to their function as the universal body of Christ.

We have found that dead churches often do not realize that they are dead. The reason for this is that Satan generates too much religious behavior in the lives of those whom he wants to feel good while in a state of death. When the church goes down, he makes the members think that all is well in a sinking ship. Keep in mind that until Jesus showed up, the Ephesian disciples probably did not realize that they had lost their first love. Churches that have no mission outreach, but are involved in a great number of good works, usually do not realize that Satan has sent them off course. This seems to have been the situation with the Sardis Christians who felt good about themselves, but they were dead to the function for which Christ died.

Love lost:

Notice the truth of this point in reference to what Jesus said to the Ephesian disciples over three decades after their beginning in Acts 19: “I know your works and your labor and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil” (Rv 2:2). The complements continued in order to notify them that their “church” activity and involvement was by the time Revelation was written, was only self-deception. They had digressed into systematic religion from which they needed to repent: “You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rv 2:3). That was their past. Their present was not so.

If we stopped here we might conclude that these disciples throughout the city of Ephesus were doing quite well. They felt secure in the deception of their church involvement. The members were an active group who were busy as bees doing this or that program in order to present a front that they were a church that was on fire for the Lord. But there was something tragically wrong. Something was so wrong that Jesus called on them to repent.

We might assume that the Ephesian disciples had involvement programs that focused on their own needs. There was probably even a committee that sat as judges who “tested those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars” (Rv 2:2). They surely had a benevolent program, a Bible school department, a roster of those who were to be the participants in the Sunday morning performance. They possibly had a disaster relief program where members involved themselves in helping those who suffered from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. But something was tragically wrong. Their first love was gone.

In their euphoria of activity, Jesus dropped in with a pronouncement that shock them to their inner soul. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rv 2:4). They had left their purpose for being disciples of the One who came into this world to seek and to save those who are lost (Lk 19:10). They turned into a religious social club who catered to those needs that were not focused on eternal consequences.

The first love that originally led to their birth as a church and initial rapid growth in their beginning. But now it was gone. Their activity of how they loved one another was going great. But their loving function with one another to the exclusion of loving the lost, led to their need to repent.

[Next in series: June 1]