That Amazing First Love

Sometimes, it seems like the simplest things in the Bible are the ones I miss.  Is it because of its very simplicity that I think there must be more to it?  The specific “it” to which I refer in this post is what believers in Christ refer to as first love.

For much of my Christian life, when people spoke of their first love experience with Jesus, it was with the understanding that they wanted to return to those feelings of love, and the actions they produced for the Lord.  I felt almost sub-Christian in these conversations.  You see, my salvation experience was so different from what is considered normal, that I didn’t even know I was saved until years after the fact.  During a particularly moving pre-Easter service, more than a decade later, I actually said to the Lord, “I know I am saved, but when did it happen?”  (See my testimony for the rest of that story.)

Revelation 2:4 . . . You have forsaken your first love.

When I received Jesus, I didn’t feel that overwhelming love.  Through the years, as I fellowshipped with believers who referred to that honeymoon period of their first love with the Lord, I felt I had missed out on something.  Did God withhold from me for some reason?  Of course He didn’t, but it took a while for me to know that.  Instead of that initial overpowering experience with His love, I came to know and grow, little-by-little, in the depth and length and height and breadth of it.

All this time, it’s not been about my love for Him, but His love for me.  The more I know the love of God in Christ for me, the more I want to know of His love.  And, the more I know of His love for me, the more I love Him and everyone else.  His love – alone – is the first love.  Isn’t this so wonderfully and amazingly simple?!

1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.

Free!

Galatians 5:1 NIV  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Romans 8:21 NIV  . . . that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

What do we give to the people around us?  Only what we have received.  Have we received the freedom – the glorious freedom – described in these verses?  As believers in Christ, you might be quick to reply, “Of course!”  My observation and my own experience give a very different answer.  It has nothing to do with whether Jesus Christ has given us this glorious freedom, for He has, but whether we have received it in its entirety.

Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV  8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Oh, yes, we received the gift of eternal life, with the assurance of going to heaven.  This was by God’s grace in our hearts and faith to believe we couldn’t earn it no matter how much we tried.  Somewhere along the way, however, we missed the fullness of this Truth: this is also the only way we are to live our lives in Christ – by grace, through faith.  After salvation, we have worked very hard attempting to do enough or be good enough to deserve what He has already given us freely for this life.  In reality, we have allowed ourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery to the law – we must work to be worthy.  This, my brothers and sisters, is not freedom, and definitely not glorious freedom!

When we live in Christ this way, it is also the way we live toward others, seeking to train them in our ways of the Lord.  But this isn’t what Jesus came to give.  He came to give absolute freedom in Him and in His finished work on the cross, including abundance of the grace of God for every need.  In turn, this freedom and grace is to be given to others who have not yet heard the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news – but so much better than what our lives have shown it to be to this point!  He came and gave His life, doing all the works and fulfilling all the requirements of the law, by the grace of God in Him, so that we could live in freedom from those requirements.  When we have a life-changing revelation of this Truth, the works we do in this complete and glorious freedom are done in response to His wonderful love and provision of grace – and with a desire to glorify Him and lead others to know Him this way, too.

Matthew 10:8 AMP  . . . Freely (without pay) you have received, freely (without charge) give.

May you be stirred to seek after His freedom beyond what you have known, so that this will be what you give to others – no strings attached!

It’s the Little Things

The Lord has put it on my heart to do a series called The Quest, where we dig in to discover the depths of His love for us, but I haven’t quite gotten the revelation of how to do it.  It seems like He just keeps leading me to share more revelations of His love with you as I walk it out in my personal life.  Maybe that’s what He had in mind in the first place.  For today’s installment . . .

I’ve done something to my back, probably while decorating the house for Christmas.  It has made it pretty uncomfortable from time to time, though I’ve managed to continue doing most of my normal activities, with a few adjustments to keep from aggravating it.  This is actually the background for my latest encounter with my Daddy’s love for me.

As I was still some distance away from Walmart to do my big first-of-the-month shopping, I remembered those shopping carts – you know, the ones that seem to have square places on at least one wheel, making it hard to maneuver and causing such a racket that everyone knows where you are in the store.  Then there’s the one that requires a fight to make it go straight, and the more weight in it, the harder it is to control.  Yes, I thought of those carts and the potential added strain on my back, and quickly prayed that the Lord would help me have a good cart.  End of prayer.

It didn’t even cross my mind to pray about a parking space, though that’s something I do frequently.  Since walking isn’t a problem for my back, I was merely looking for a place near a cart return.  My Daddy took it upon Himself, however, to have someone drive away from the second space on the row where I was driving!  Knowing it was His working on my behalf because He loves me, I said so with a smile and thanksgiving.

On my way into the store, I joined with the beautiful-voiced man ringing the bell for the Salvation Army as he sang “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”  It was a moment shared in the joy of Christ as we pointed heavenward and smiled – another one of those almost tangible-love-of-God times.  Proceeding inside, I kind of held my breath where the carts were concerned (I know – not a lot of faith there).  The first cart I pulled away from the others was probably the only good one in the store.  I smiled and declared again, “My Daddy loves me!” and went shopping.

Since standing was a pretty uncomfortable position at this point, I became a bit uncomfortable as I approached the checkout activity.  Typically, there is quite a wait in line for checking out at Walmart, and I was trying to figure out how many different upright positions I could get into to alleviate the waiting pain.  Imagine my “shock and awe” as I walked up and began unloading my cart immediately as the person ahead of me finished their transaction.  No waiting at all!

I know it was Holy Spirit Who reminded me to pray about the carts in the first place, only to take that little prayer and go way over and above what I had even thought about – just to show me how great is the love of Christ for me.  I see it in the big things of life, for sure, but as He takes care of little details like parking spaces, shopping carts, and checkout lines, I am made ever more aware of the depth of His amazing love for me, and give Him glory, honor, and praise!

Ephesians 3:19-21 19 [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!  20 Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams] — 21 To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever.  Amen (so be it).

In Jesus’ Own Words

“If I am not doing the works [performing the deeds] of My Father, then do not believe Me [do not adhere to Me and trust Me and rely on Me].  But if I do them, even though you do not believe Me or have faith in Me, [at least] believe the works and have faith in what I do, in order that you may know and understand [clearly] that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father [One with Him].”  John 10:37-38

Jesus spoke these words with the confidence of a man totally yielded to the Holy Spirit of God in and through His life, not with arrogance or self-assurance because He was God.  He did the Father’s works and reflected His nature so others could know the Father and He are One.

At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Jesus spoke in a way designed to cause His accusers to consider not only His motives, but theirs.  Anything He did was to show the Father in Him and through Him.  It was more than just the miracles that upset them.  Was it also His observance of the Sabbaths?  His following of the Law of Moses and the law of the land?  Maybe they were upset by the extended times of prayer He observed – out of their view.  The problem with Jesus doing all these things was not that He was following religion’s requirements, but that change was happening in people with whom He came in contact.  Unfortunately, the religious leaders weren’t interested in being changed themselves, or helping others change for the better, so they failed to examine their hearts to discover what was lacking.

The contents of Jesus’ heart reflected the Father through the works of every area of life.  It was a life of God’s love – inside – that made the difference outside; improving hearts and lives in those who would receive, and increasing rejection and persecution by those who would not.  He truly loved His neighbor, wherever He was and whoever it might be.  He truly loved even his detractors, with the desire to shine forth God’s love for them even when He confronted in boldness and authority.  He required love to govern even His thoughts toward all people – the good and not-so-good – which overflowed in His words and actions.  (Matt. 12:34)

Jesus is my example – not of how God lived on this earth, but how a completely humble Man could live on this earth in total reliance on His heavenly Father’s Spirit to walk in love.  Since that is the case, my aim is to be able to say, with the same humility and boldness, that you can believe the works and have faith in what I do, for I am revealing in all actions and words that I and the Father are One, through Christ.  I want to be there – so dead to myself and so yielded to Holy Spirit that I know, without doubt, I’m doing exactly what He wants in His way and timing and with His amazing heart of love.  Since Jesus prayed that very thing for me, you, and all who will believe and follow Him, I know His Word is at work in me right now to bring this to pass.  His Word never fails!

John 17:21 “That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me.”

 

Of Caterpillars, Moths, and Butterflies

As I listened to the sermon during a Sunday service, Holy Spirit did what He does with me from time to time.  He took me down a slightly different path than the one the preacher was traveling, though it still concerned the same subject.  He was talking about metamorphosis, the root word for transformed, and likened it to a caterpillar caterpillarbeing transformed into a butterfly.  That’s all it took for my mind to “flit” away for a few minutes!

Romans 12:2, the main verse in his message, refers to being conformed to the world and its ways, or being transformed to reflect Christ to the world by showing a completely different way of living.  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I started thinking about caterpillars and how they become either moths or butterflies through metamorphosis.  One comes through the process so pretty that people enjoy watching it both in flight and resting, while the other is not so pleasing to look at and is considered a pest no matter what it does.  For those of you who are science enthusiasts, or at least have more than a passing interest in butterflies, moths, and the whole cocoon / chrysalis thing, I did research before writing this.  I understand moths and butterflies don’t go through exactly the same process in their transformation, and that some moths are not pests.  For the sake of this post, however, I will lump all moths into the dull-looking pest category, while lumping all butterflies into the pretty and harmless group.  One difference between the two I found particularly interesting is that moths are basically night creatures – creatures of the dark – while butterflies are awake and active in the light of day.moth

Neither moths nor butterflies are born to remain caterpillars.  Their destiny is discovered through the process of metamorphosis, in the hidden place, after which their true nature is revealed to the world.  Likewise, we are not born to remain the same.  From the verse in Romans, we see that our mind is the hidden place where our metamorphosis occurs.  What we become is a direct result of what we put in our minds.  If we pour the world’s thoughts, attitudes, and images into our minds, we’ll keep fluttering around in the darkness.  We’ll be just like the world, blending right in.  If, instead, we pour the Word of God into our minds, complete with its attitudes and images, we are actually transformed.  We won’t look, act, or sound like the world, but there will be those in the world who will be drawn to the Light of Christ now visible in us, the transformed ones.  We can remain in His Light, even in the midst of the darkness of the world, when we continue to renew our minds in Christ.

Caterpillars don’t have a choice about whether they will become moths or butterflies.  Therein lies the key difference between human and caterpillar metamorphosis.  We butterflycan choose whether we will be conformed or transformed, and it is done simply by what we put into our minds.  One thing is certain, however.  We will not remain as we were.  So, do we choose the world or the Word?  Do we become a moth or a butterfly?

James 4:4 “. . . Do you not know that being the world’s friend is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world takes his stand as an enemy of God.”  (AMP)