Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Restoring a Love for Jesus

Beyond prayer is another strategy crucial to a church's success in battling the enemy: love for Christ. "I have this against you," Jesus told the Ephesian church, "that you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4). Many believers wear their faith like a second layer of skin covering a rebellious or apathetic heart. They excuse their apathy in the name of the Spirit of God, saying, "Look what the Spirit's doing! How can we be anything but in the center of God's will?" Others excuse themselves by saying they present the Scriptures to others, so how can they be out of the will of God? Certainly committed believers who love the Lord Jesus reside in both groups. But we must examine our own hearts and make sure the Lord Jesus remains our first love. The church of Ephesus had forsaken her first love. God called her to "remember" and "repent" or the results could be fatal. Churches disband every week, many dying out because they left their first love; they forgot to love Jesus. When such a love is lacking, church leaders, especially pastors, can be used by God to restore this "first love." Reed Thompson (not his real name) was enthusiastic when a church that he was very fond of-one he had attended as a youth-issued him a call to come as senior pastor after he had completed seminary. Saved at a young age and having grown up in an evangelist's home, Reed had a zeal for preaching God's good news. He graduated from seminary and could not wait to get there. After the excitement of having a new pastor wore off he began to sense a severe coldness in that church. It was a deadness toward the Lord and spiritual things. The attendance had not shrunk notably, but the spiritual life of the church had declined sharply. It had been quite a few years since he had been there as a young man, and he was shocked by this change. He began reading up on what had taken place in the church since he had attended. He learned that the Church's two previous pastors had been dismissed by the congregation. As he looked at the allegations, he could not find any substance to the charges. Calling the two former pastors, Reed talked with them and found that they had been hurt severely by the church. Slowly and carefully he brought this to the attention of several elders, saying perhaps these men had been unjustly dismissed. The board decided to call a full meeting of the elders. Significantly, the church leaders agreed and admitted their error: They had dismissed these two men without cause. After a time of prayer, Pastor Thompson and the congregation asked each of the former pastor to come back for an important visit. The pastors were asked to preach in the Sunday service. After the service, before the whole church, the chairman of the elders asked both former pastor's forgiveness for the unjust dismissals and then they gave each one a year's salary. That act showed their love of Christ for the two Christian brothers, and it caused Christ's love to come afresh upon the church. Pastor Thompson told me, "Ken, you would not believe what has happened in our church. The blessing of God has come upon our people. The bitterness and the spiritual coldness that was once in their hearts is gone. We have a people who are in love with Jesus Christ. It's like the church at Ephesus in the book of Revelation that needed to repent of leaving its first love. We did that, and we as a people are different. It has only been by the grace of God. I am thrilled to be the shepherd of this, God's flock." There are many reasons one can fall out of love with their "first love." This is only one: failing to honor a church's leader or reacting unfairly, without love or mercy. But it's a serious one. Sometimes whole churches need to repent of past mistakes and make restitution in order to show their real love for Jesus. I remember Pastor Garth, who after reading several books and spending some time with me in my office, recognized that his own church and family were confronting spiritual warfare issues. He decided he would take a stand against the real enemy. He began taking warfare seriously and dealing with problems in his church from that perspective. Sometime later, he told me, "Since that time with you I have not had a week go by that someone has not come to freedom in Jesus Christ. The vast difference it has made is the quality of the love people have for Jesus Christ. Where there were resentments and grudges, there is now repentance and love. It is worth the price to stand with Jesus against the enemy in truth." To that I can only say a very hearty "Amen." Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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