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.

Whose Gain?

Kay’s glimpse into the obvious: Jesus’ motives were never mixed.  He never did anything for personal gain, only serving others for their gain.

Mark 10:45 NIV  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

As obvious as this seems, a recent application brought into focus how minimal my understanding really was, giving you another opportunity to learn from my mistakes, rather than your own.

As I tried to apply a marketing suggestion made at the recent writers’ conference, something inside was unsettled.  I would be doing something different from the norm for me, but I knew that wasn’t the issue.  Something about it just wasn’t right, or was something about me wrong?

The recommendation was to get involved with organizations that are pertinent to the subject of your book, these being places that would help its sales.  (Potential publishers really like the idea of books selling, for some reason. 🙂 )  During class, I began to think of places that fit this need for me, and included them on one of the many lists I made while there.

Only as I sat still with the Lord, praying about how to get involved with a particular group, did I see the problem.  It was I.  This wasn’t about getting involved because the Lord directed me to, or even because I had a burning desire to help.  I was considering this time-consuming activity only as a means to an end – to make contacts for publishing my as-yet unwritten book.  Yuk!  Yuk!  And, yuk again!  My motive was wrong, no matter how many would have been served.

When the Lord revealed to me the simple and obvious statements shared at the beginning of this post, the discomfort left and the pressure was eliminated – immediately.  Daddy didn’t tell me to do this now.  If He does later, my focus will be to serve for others’ gain – just like Jesus – trusting Him to take care of all my needs.

I think I need to apply this to everything else I do, as well.  Will you join me?

The Brain is Full

I’m not out of pocket this week – just out of brain.  I’m attending my first-ever writer’s conference, and am drinking in all the information I can.  By the end of the day’s multiple classes and keynote sessions, my brain has so much floating around in it there’s not much sense to come from it.

For right now, let me just say God continues to amaze me with how He keeps leading me into greater freedom from things that have hounded, hindered, and harassed me for many years.  For instance, when I read the Bible or hear a message in which the Lord gives me a specific revelation, I immediately begin to write about it in my mind.  I have apologized to God about this repeatedly, for it seemed like I was only looking for material to write, though I truly did receive for myself.

But God!  Here I am, at a writer’s conference with more than 350 other writers, and one of our own gives many humorous examples of how we are a “weird” group because of this very thing.  It’s part of the writer’s God-given DNA.  We’re all like this.  It turns out I’m not alone in this at all!  Now I can go forward in greater freedom in His chosen path for me.  Thank You, Jesus!

Trained or Transformed?

The whole idea for this post is not Kay’s original insight, but came from a message I heard on TV by Creflo Dollar.  I hope the simplicity of the word picture is as powerful for you as it was for me.

Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t to be a behavior modification program – another set of rules and rituals to follow – though a great majority of the church operates in that mode.  We might work really hard to change a behavior or an attitude that we see is wrong in God’s Word.  Without a heart change to go with it, a situation will occur some day that causes us to fall back to our old ways.  After all, it’s what has been put inside, by others and by our own doing, so it is just a natural thing for us to do.  Let’s call it instinct.

Our well-behaved dog still has instincts that can take us by surprise.  He is trained to sit, heel, fetch, stay, etc.  He follows our commands (rules, laws) every time we utter them.  He may even be so well-trained that he doesn’t require constant reminders to behave appropriately – so it appears the old instincts are gone.  But let a squirrel run past when we haven’t seen it in advance, and his hidden instincts take over.  It’s natural, for he hasn’t been transformed by the words we’ve spoken to him, merely trained to respond a certain way.

(I know it's a tiger, not a lion. Same effect!)

Another illustration would be a circus lion.  He may have been “tamed,” conditioned to respond in certain ways to the actions and commands of the lion “tamer,” but he is still a wild animal.  For this reason, we wouldn’t own one as a pet.  There could come that time when his instincts could kick in, and we would end up being his dinner!  He wasn’t transformed – merely trained.

Romans 12:2 NIV  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.

The pattern of this world is rules and laws to follow.  When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He doesn’t want us to be trained in following a new set of rules, but be transformed by growing in relationship with Him.  He is the Word of God made flesh. (John 1:1, 14)  When we spend time with Him, in His Word, the Word (by His Spirit) transforms our minds, which is reflected in our actions and attitudes. This is done by His grace, not by our efforts to be transformed.  We are simply asked to be in ever-growing relationship with Him, getting to know Him through His Word and by His Spirit.  It’s only in this that we can be transformed, not merely trained.  It’s only in being transformed that we can truly know Christ and make Him known.

Follow Me As I Follow Christ

1 Corinthians 11:1 AMP  Pattern yourselves after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah).

Paul spoke this sentence to the believers in Corinth.  Paul – the one who has been portrayed by many teachers and preachers through the years as proud and arrogant.  Paul – the one who has been made out to be a chauvinist.  Paul – who went after Christians in every way he could, even going so far as having them killed, attempting to stop the spread of the gospel prior to his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  This same Paul has the audacity to say to believers to pattern themselves after him as he imitates and follows Christ.  How dare he say that?!  Would a humble Christian say that?!

Paul’s confidence appears to many to be self-confidence.  His boldness to declare in Acts 20:26, “I am innocent of the blood of all men,” looks like an outright lie to those who know his past.  That’s what stops most of us from telling others that we are innocent, or to follow us and imitate our example as we follow Christ.  We know the wrongs of our past, and we know others know them, too.  We would never consider ourselves good enough, pure enough, or righteous enough, so the last thing we’d want is for others to imitate us.  But is that what we are to consider?

Paul was not deceived, in denial, or suffering amnesia.  He practiced what he taught, and he taught what the Lord taught him – that we are to leave the past behind (even the positive) and press on toward the mark (Phil. 3:13-14).  He understood that when Jesus forgave His sins, they were no longer to be his focus, as they were truly washed away by His blood.  He needed but to go forward in the Lord, seeking to know Him more and to make Him known (Phil. 3:10) – not continually re-examining past sins, or receiving the judgments of others who wanted to do so.

When Paul called others to imitate him, there was no pride or self-confidence at all.  There was complete confidence in Who Jesus Christ is, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit alive in him, enabling him to follow Christ and lead others in the same way.  He knew the authority and the righteousness of Christ in him, and that God called him righteous because of Christ.  His focus was not on his sin, but on the completeness of Christ in him, Who is so much greater than all sin.  Jesus called Paul to follow Him and become His disciple, so he chose to do likewise.

As believers, we can have this same confidence in Christ – this same boldness to call others to follow our example.  It comes from focusing on our risen Savior, not on our old, fallen nature.  It also comes from believing the Word.  We have a new nature.  We are God’s righteousness, risen with Christ, seated with Him in heavenly realms.  It is not based on our feelings, but on His Word and what He has done.  He did it for Paul.  He’s done it for us.  Making disciples means giving them an example to follow.  So, like Paul, we can choose to say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”