The First Love Killer

The Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the triumphant and victorious resurrected Lord. It is also an urgent and pressing message to the Church that the return of Jesus is imminent, and that the Church is not ready for that return. Jesus’ message to the seven churches of Asia Minor reflect his appreciation, encouragement, correction, and promise to the loveless church (Ephesus), the persecuted church (Smyrna), the deceived church (Pergamum), the seduced church (Thyatira), the slumbering church (Sardis), the faithful church (Philadelphia), and the lukewarm church (Laodicea).

Dealing first with the Church at Ephesus, Jesus commended them for their works, their perseverance, and their commitment and zeal to preserve doctrinal and leadership purity. He then corrected them for forsaking or leaving their first love.  The phrase, “first love,” refers to their early love for the Lord or the love they had when they were first converted and passionate about the things of God.  The concept of leaving that first love means they gradually departed from that deep, intimate, early love over time.

He challenged them to repent and remember the height from which they had fallen, described in the Bible as a people who had enthusiasm, passion, devotion, faithfulness, and spiritual sensitivity.  The condition of the Ephesian believers is not that different from the church world today, and similar to the condition of Martha in Scripture when she sacrificed being with the Lord for doing for the Lord.  We are called to serve, but we are also called to sit.  Like Martha, we get distracted, angry, upset, worried, and belligerent when we begin to lose our first or early love for the Lord.

It’s easy, however, for any believer to watch that first love become dampened or even killed over time.  We begin to lose our first love when we get so busy like Martha focusing on all the things we need to do instead of being like Mary who chose that one thing that is better, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10).  We also lose our first love when we get out of God’s Word and presence.  The moment we sever ourselves from living contact we begin to lose that early love. We lose our first love as well by getting disconnected from the body of Christ through its expression in the local church.  The church is one of the few remaining sources of accountability, and without it we can find ourselves becoming hard of heart and indifferent to the priorities of the Lord. Finally, we lose our first love when we indulge sin, meaning that we yield willfully to its influence even when we know it is unscriptural. As Paul said, “They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to vice and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint” (Ephesians 4:19, GNT).  Simply put, sin kills our appetite for spiritual things.

The expectation of Jesus in addressing the church at Ephesus is that they would (a) remember what it was like when they first got saved and dig up that early love from the grave where they buried it, (b) repent or change their mind with a corresponding change of action and behavior, and (c) rededicate themselves to the one thing that is needed, getting back to their first love, their early love, their wonder, and their total infatuation with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He offers that hope to us as well if we are feeling like we have traded that early love for simple religious duty.  All we too need to do is remember, repent, and rededicate, but we need to do it quickly because his return is at hand.

Attitude Adjustment

The attitude on an aircraft is the orientation of the plane with respect to the earth’s horizon.  The plane can be banking left or right, and its nose up or down.  The attitude of the plane can be adjusted by the pilot regardless of the circumstances.  In other words, the attitude of the aircraft is dependent upon the action of the pilot rather than any storm or turbulence it may pass through.

Similarly, we control our attitude in life.  No matter what is happening or what we’re going through, we have the ability to choose our attitude.  Just like people have an IQ (their level of intelligence), an EQ (their dimension of emotional intelligence), an SQ (their level of revelation of spiritual things particularly the Word of God), they have an AQ, which is their ability to be aware of, take ownership of, and adjust their attitude.  We can be intelligent, be in touch with our emotions and the emotions of others, be growing spiritually, and yet be defeated because we refuse to tend to our negative attitude.

Paul told the Ephesians to “be made new in the attitude of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23, NIV), he challenged the Philippians to have the same selfless, humble, and obedient attitude of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5, NLT), and he questioned what happened to the positive attitude of the Galatians (Galatians 4:14, ISV). Paul understood that the attitude is a self-directed pattern or mental position that affects our expectation, energy, and outlook in life.   Attitude is not a reflection of what happens to us, but a reflection of what happens in us.  It is the greatest predictor of our success and failure in life.

The return of the twelve spies after being dispatched by Moses to scope out the promised land illustrates perfectly the impact of a negative attitude in life.  The spies, excluding Caleb and Joshua who had a right attitude, focused on the obstacles, talked the problem, spread negativity, and became self-fulfilling prophets of their own perspective.  The Bible says, “A man’s spirit (attitude) sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit (attitude) who can bear (Proverbs 18:14).  There’s nothing more powerful than a positive attitude, and nothing more devastating than a negative one. 

As a spiritual leader I’ve found that people, including Christians typically function in one of four attitude types.  First, some believers walk in a sweet spirit or an attitude that is tender peaceable, agreeable, pleasant, and edifying to be around.  Others are empowered and encouraged when they get around a sweet spirit.  Second, some believers have a salty spirit or an attitude that is opinionated, passive-aggressive, sarcastic, and critical.  Third, other believers have a spicy spirit or an attitude that is easily hot and bothered, reactionary, and frequently angered and offended.  Finally, some believers have a sour spirit or attitude that is prickly, bitter, downcast, and discouraged.

The good thing about attitude is we can, just like the pilot, adjust our attitude.  This requires first that we are aware of our attitude (sweet, salty, spicy, or sour), and that we monitor our attitude day-to-day because the attitude is not fixed or static.  Second, we need to analyze and honestly evaluate our attitude in light of the Word of God through self-accountability.  If you are having trouble with this, simply ask your spouse or good friend.  They can probably fill you in.  Third, we need to expose ourselves to spiritual disciplines and activities that foster an ongoing sweet attitude like time in God’s presence, His Word, public and private worship.  The Holy Spirit has a way of jerking us out of a lousy attitude when we spend time in the things of God.  Fourth, we need to give our attention daily to making a quality decision (one from which there is no retreat) that we are going to be positive and sweet and not salty, spicy or sour no matter what happens in life.

The Polaroid

PolaroidI remember when everyone seemed to own the old Polaroid instant cameras that allowed you to take a picture, extract the film, and then watch as the picture gradually developed in front of your eyes.  Over the years my family collected hundreds of these instant photos of holiday celebrations and family milestone events (you know those embarrassing pictures where your mom dressed you in onesies).  Eventually, despite the convenience and real-time photography, the photos would fade, losing both their sharpness and color.  All the pictures looked naturally worn and dated over time, no longer representing accurately the people or subjects photographed.

The human heart was designed by God to serve as the canvas for an image or picture on the inside of us that would ultimately guide and direct our lives.  Our lives head in the direction of the most dominant image in our hearts.  Our consistent and dominant inputs in life determine what develops on the inside of us, good or bad, positive or negative. The Holy Spirit, using the paint of the Word of God, fashions an image in our hearts of what we can be in God, what we can have, and what we can do.  The key to the full development of that inner image is to stay consistent in inputting the Word of God.  Like the Polaroid picture, the image will fade over time, no matter how vivid it was originally, if we stop putting the Word of God in our hearts.

Another word for the dominant image in the heart of a human being is a thing called hope.  Hope is actually an inner image of an eager expectation.  The concept is simple. When the inner image is so well-developed that we become eager with faith and anticipation for the thing we see to come to pass, the expectation begins to produce and manifest that very image in our lives.  The problem is many people, due to life’s challenges and hardships, have had the Bible image of a great future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11) literally squashed in their hearts.  Too many believers are walking around with an inner image fading like the old Polaroid photos.  

The key to turning the fading image around is to once again begin to apply the Word to your heart daily so that your inner image is restored to its former vibrant and crisp condition.  The clearer the image the more likely the manifestation of what is seen. Begin again putting the Word of God into your heart in abundance by spending quality time every day reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing the Scriptures.  Before long, the old image of defeat and discouragement will be replaced by an image of victory and success.

Heavenly Tweets

Mark RandallAs most of you know, my mentor and close personal friend Mark Randall went home to be with the Lord after a long battle with congestive heart failure (CHF).  While preparing for his memorial service, I began to write some tweets complete with hash-tags I imagined and know he we would say based on our 31 year friendship.  I sat in my office with tears in my eyes laughing as I wrote.  “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV).  I thought if the tweets made me smile and laugh, they might be a blessing to others.  I decided to include them in the memorial service as well as share them with you today.  May we all be as present, focused, and dedicated as Mark in his relationship with Jesus and his ministry…

To close today, I wanted to share a series of heavenly tweets I have received from mark since he went home to be with Jesus. Apparently, his tech savvy has grown and I want to share the tele-tweets with you today…

  • By now you know I’m gone – #I made it   #pain-free   #halleLUjah
  • Perfect sight – #no more lost reading glasses
  • Guess what – no need for money in heaven – #no more lost checkbook
  • Jesus is more amazing than I could ever imagine – #my king    #speechless
  • Heaven is so beautiful – #Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground
  • Just saw Mom Dad and Jay – #family reunion    #so happy
  • Worshipped the Lord with Jerry and Tim – #my voice is aMAZing
  • Just corrected Apostle Stephen on some theology – #I’m always right
  • Just saw my reflection in the golden streets – #can you say “hot”
  • Ran into the thief on the cross – tried to get him saved again – #old habits die hard
  • Going to a banquet – #cheese    #mountains and mountains of cheese   #I feel like I’m in heaven    #cheese sandwiches
  • Tell my kids I love them – #the greatest group in the world    #world changers    #the purpose of my life
  • Tracy is the best sister ever – #amazing    #gone through so much    #strong and godly
  • Listen to Pastor Art – #greatest pastor in the world    #don’t make me come down there
  • Students don’t forget morning prayer – #7:14   #I will come find you
  • This service had better not last more than an hour – #didn’t you learn anything?
  • Heaven is real – it’s all real – #don’t miss it    #don’t miss it for anything    #help get everybody you can here.

Fig Leaf Theology

Fig LeafIf you think about it for long you will realize how much Adam and Eve had it made in the garden of Eden.  God made two perfect people and placed them in a perfect environment where the climate was controlled, where every need and delight was readily available, and where no war, famine, sickness, or tragedy ever manifested.  In addition to God’s provision, He clothed Adam and Eve with the very cloak of heaven – the glory of God.  To see Adam and Eve in the garden was to behold two blazing balls of light and glory obscuring their human form to the eye until…until Eve was deceived and Adam disobeyed and the glory departed, their eyes were opened, they saw they were naked, and they fashioned fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  Remarkably, Adam and Eve traded the glory of God for a couple of fig leaves.

In sin, fear, and shame they hid their nakedness from God behind the bushes.  But thanks to God’s revealed plan to have Jesus die for the sins of the whole world (Genesis 3:15) the animal skins temporarily replacing the fig leaves would one day be permanently retired for the atoning power of the blood of Jesus that would obliterate their sin (and ours) and not just cover it.  What was lost in the garden through sin was to be recovered and made available to anyone that would accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Unfortunately, many believers today, though technically saved through the blood of Jesus, continue to think and act as if they were still wearing fig leaves and hiding in the bushes from God and all He offers to His people.  The Lord wants us to trade those fig leaves back in for the glory of God and do what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:18 – “with unveiled faces…reflect the Lord’s glory…being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  To walk in the glory of God going from degree of glory to degree of glory, we have to trade that tired old fig leaf thinking and theology for glory of God thinking.

The devil’s goal is to deceive us into thinking that we have to live with a mentality of hiding and shame, mediocrity, low expectations, guilt, failure, sin consciousness, curse, bondage, sickness, lack, and fear.  The Spirit of God would have us embrace God’s thoughts of transparency and openness, excellence, high expectations, transformation, peace, success, righteousness, blessing, freedom, healing, victory, and confidence.  Too many believers see themselves today like the spies did when spying out the land of Canaan – they saw themselves as grasshoppers.  You might say that the spies saw themselves as fig leaf wearers.  Many believers see themselves the same way.  We know from Scripture, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).  If we can’t change our thinking, no matter what Jesus has done, we cannot enjoy God’s best.

The Lord invites us all to trade that old fig leaf back in and walk in the glory of God that is restored in Jesus Christ.  How? First, we must end our attempts to cover up or hide and get real with God about our lives knowing that, “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but he who renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Second, we must renew our minds to the realities of God’s glory and grace available to us now as believers.  We will never think kingdom of God thoughts until we get consistently and habitually into His Word. Third, we must walk in God’s presence.  God’s presence is the key to expanding the glory of God and all that glory offers.  As the glory of God was reflected in Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence, so we can experience a greater measure of God’s glory in our own lives but without the fading of that glory Moses experienced as a man living without the amazing benefits of the new birth in Christ.  Don’t wait another day. Come out of the bushes, get into the Word, and get into God’s presence and when you do you will find that the fig leaf is truly gone forever.

Pond Scum

Say the words, “pond scum,” and most people can immediately conjure up an image of a country pond somewhere in rural America overtaken with a greenish layer of free-floating algae. The algae forms and dominates the pond because the pond is stagnate, void of any movement or flow of water. Consequently it becomes stale and even foul in odor.

Not unlike the country pond, believers, too can become stagnant if they stop growing and developing personally and spiritually. Their stagnation is marked by sluggishness, apathy, lethargy, lack of motivation, and subtle attitude changes. Where in the past obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments would prompt greater motivation and determination, they now only drive the temptation to give up and quit.

In contrast to the picture of the stagnant pond, we are called to be moving, fluid, flowing in our service and assignment for the Lord. In fact, Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to strip off the sins, weights, encumbrances, and hindrances that stop our forward progress. Notice that we are not just slowed down or made stagnant by sins, but by many legitimate but nonetheless limiting influences, pressures, and responsibilities.

In my blog today, I want to give you some principles for moving out of the pond scum and stagnation and back into the flow of life and ministry:

1.  Crank up your devotional life like never before. Nothing will bring perspective back to your life faster than time in the Word and prayer. The devotional life is the fuel that keeps our spiritual engines running. Without a consistent quiet time we will eventually come to a dead stop.

2.  Focus on a few big goals for the year. Don’t try to accomplish too much or you will entrench the sense of immobility. Bear down on a few items and direct your focus and energy on accomplishing them with excellence.

3. Forgive and release everyone who has ever hurt or offended you. Nothing slows us down like bitterness, unforgiveness, and recrimination. Frankly, nothing “they” said or did to you is worth losing your peace, joy, and spiritual vitality. 

4. Do not permit yourself to think negative thoughts or speak negative words. As believers, we have to learn to police our own thought lives and our words and be quick to judge thoughts and words that are inappropriate or inconsistent with the Word of God.

5. Tell someone you are struggling and feeling stagnant and ask for their support. Often, simply taking the lid off these feelings and exposing them to someone who cares for us can make all the difference in the world.

6. Dig your heals in realizing that stagnation is not the time to make major life-changing decisions. Few believers have learned the value of mountain top decisions, but it is far better to make decisions from a position of spiritual strength rather than weakness. Most decisions made in a time of stagnation end up being bad decisions.

7. Bring balance  back into your life between life, ministry, and recreation. Many believers have a superb work ethic and tend to drive and push themselves to the limit. We have to be wise and understand that there will always be something else to do. If we want to have longevity, we must learn the value of rest, relaxation, having fun, and just plain doing nothing.

8. Cut off busy-ness, unfruitful distractions, and time stealers. We all need to learn how to say “no” at times (and without guilt or condemnation). We can’t do everything and we should not do things that just waste our time, energy, or talents.

9. Develop a growth plan for personal and spiritual development. Growth comes when we plan to grow.  Hang out with people who have the skills, experience, and success you would like to have. Read books in those growth areas and listen to teaching materials or attend live seminars and presentations. If we are not planning to grow then we are actually planning to stagnate.

It’s time to come out of the pond scum and into the portion of the race God has ordained for you. As you apply these principles, you will begin to sense a stirring and churning inside and movement will begin to take place. All you have to do to prevent stagnation in the future is to keep flowing, growing, and going. Believers on the move seldom succumb to the pond scum.

Study Center

The Scriptures admonish us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Rightly dividing the Word of God and wisely applying God’s timeless and powerful truths to our lives requires more than a few minutes in church on a Sunday morning. Becoming skilled with the sword of the Word of God requires daily, diligent study.

The study center page on my blog is dedicated to providing you with resources from messages recently shared at all Hope Harbor Church sites throughout the area. The actual outlines with Biblical references are posted for your download free of charge. I encourage you to download the files and make the outlines a resource for your personal devotions and study time. You can also go to the media tab at to listen to messages as you follow along with the outlines. Add your own notes and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He directs, corrects, guides, or encourages you in specific areas of your life.

Be looking for the outlines from the entire Dirty Dozen series to be posted this week on the study center page. Blessings to you as you study to show yourself approved.

Plugged In

My spiritual antenna is always way up because I am always looking to learn, to grow, and to seize upon an illustration from everyday life that will inspire and challenge us as believers. Often, these concepts just explode in my spirit unbeknownst to the individuals that often times casually share their experiences or insight. I am a life-long learner, and I just love it when I can learn something valuable and apply it in my life and also share it with others (end up in a sermon series, lol).

This morning in our staff prayer meeting one our team members shared that her washer just stopped working. The machine would not fill with water and she mused what the issue might be. Going to the Lord about the problem, she asked for wisdom about what to do to fix and resolve the situation rather than just writing the machine off. She felt in her heart that she needed to check the plug on the washer and when she did she found that the plug was partially unplugged.

Now think about that for a moment. The plug was most of the way in the socket, but because it was not fully plugged in, the power needed to run the washer was not able to get to the appliance. It’s pretty easy to assume that the constant vibrations from the machine (not unlike the spiritual turbulence we face daily) began to dislodge the plug from the wall socket. What a clear and powerful picture of our lives too often as Christians. If we are not fully plugged into the things of God it can have the same consequence as being completely unplugged. If we want His power, energy, inspiration, and wisdom flowing into our lives and giving us the enablement to get the job done, we simply must press all the way in and stay plugged in every single day of our lives.

As you celebrate the end of a calendar year and anticipate the hope of a fresh start in 2011, make sure you inspect your spiritual plug to see that it is fully engaged. Perhaps you were a little short on spiritual force and power this past year and you have some scars and disappointments to prove it. This next year does not have to be a repeat of last year. Make the adjustments and once plugged in properly through prayer, Bible study, worship, witnessing, service, don’t let anything sidetrack, distract, or seduce you away from the source of true power.

Feast for the Spirit

Tim, Dad, and the Turkey

Thanksgiving time is a great time for reflection in general. One can’t help but notice all the time, effort, and money that goes into preparing and presenting the annual Thanksgiving Day feast. It’s also amazing the sheer joy people seem to get anticipating the joining of friends and family to spend time together and enjoy an awesome meal. Not even the masses of people or long check-out lines at the discount shopping center can dampen the enthusiasm because…we will soon chow down.

I wonder what would happen in all of our lives if we gave the same time and attention to a daily feast for our spirits. 1 Peter 2:2-3 declares, “You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment as a baby cries for milk, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (NLT). What if we prepared a feast for the spirit man daily like we do for Thanksgiving? What if we spread out the Bibles, the notebook, the devotional, the teaching CDs or DVDs and ate until our spirits were filled to overflowing…everyday?

As physical strength comes from the digestion of food in the body, so spiritual strength comes from the breaking down of the Word by the Holy Spirit in our spirits. This is how true life comes – the God kind of life mentioned in John 10:10, AMP – “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).” We can tell we are feasting well spiritually when we are experiencing the overflowing life of God. If not…we just need to eat some more.

God, Was That You?

iStock_000007531280SmallPeople often ask me how they can know for sure that they have heard from God. It is really an important question because the Lord has established a path for his people and on that path they will discover their destiny and tap into every blessing he has ordained for them. I remember hearing Lester Sumrall say once that if a believer gets off the path of God it is very difficult to get back on course. The best course of action, obviously, is to not allow the “hiss of the serpent” (as Thomas a Kempis described it) to pull us away from God’s best in this life – and make no mistake about it – God’s best is his path for your life.

The following questions will help you determine if you have really heard from God or whether it was just the pizza or Mexican food you had the night before. We can’t afford to spend any time in the back forty because we missed God. Jesus is coming back soon and we need to redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity – and we can’t do that if we are walking down the wrong path.


1.  Have you thoroughly renewed your mind through the Word of God? You are not in any position to make big, life-changing decisions from a position of spiritual weakness. Before you try to declare, “thus sayeth the Lord,” make sure you have spent the time in the Word so that you are able to adequately discern the voice of the Lord from the voice or the enemy or the voice of your flesh.

2.  Does this line up with the Word of God? We are living in a day when “Christians” are bailing on the express teachings of the Word of God at an alarming rate, giving to carnal thinking and the pressures of a post-Christian culture. If what we think God said to us contradicts the teachings of Scripture we did not hear from God because God and his Word are one.

3.  Will this require faith? We know from Hebrews 11:6 that is impossible to please God without faith. The guidance and direction of the Lord is always going to require the exercise and the releasing of our faith because what He directs is always beyond our ability in the natural realm. Faith looses the believer from the constraints of the natural realm and enables him or her to tap into the supernatural.

4.  Will this take courage to accomplish? Moses was dead and the task of leading the people of God fell to Joshua. With his mentor now gone, the Lord personally reached out to Joshua to challenge him to be courageous (Joshua 1). Courage enables us to press on to victory despite the temptation to yield to fear instead.

5.  Do you sense God’s peace in this situation? Colossians 3:15 exhorts the believer to permit or allow the peace of God to rule in his or her heart. That word “rule” is literally like a modern umpire calling balls, strikes, hits, and outs. When we sense that uneasiness in our spirits we need to pause until the check in our hearts lifts or until that unmistakable confidence from God’s peace manifests.

6.  Is obedience required? When the Lord is speaking there is always a directive. Like Abraham we might be called upon to make a major life transition. Like Isaac, he may tell us just the opposite – to remain in the land, plant in the middle of a famine and reap a hundredfold in the same year. The key is to discern that thing we are to do (or not do) and then be faithful in it.

7.  Does it square with wise counsel? Whenever a believer makes a major life-changing decision without the input from trusted spiritual counsel, more often than not a mistake – a serious mistake is being made. In the modern Charismatic age it is common to hear people say that they only listen to God – no man can speak into their lives. But Scripture tells us to submit to one another and especially listen to the spiritual leaders in our lives.

8.  Will this direction bring spiritual profit? In many ways, the Christian in the United States makes major decisions in life the same way the world does – entirely based on natural, carnal, and financial concerns. Where can I make the most money? What amenities does the community offer? How close is the location to my family? Often, the believer does not consider the impact spiritually until after the move because spiritual matters are low on the priority list. In fact, the impact of the decision spiritually should be the first consideration when making life changes.