This will come as a big shock to most of you, but there was a time when I was a hopeless romantic. When Kerri and I first started dating, I did anything and everything I could to woo her. And I was pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. After all, this skinny, dorky guy who wore glasses and loved Star Trek got that beautiful woman to marry me!
I can remember the May I proposed to Kerri. She was leaving for the summer to work at a camp in Texas. I was returning home to work and save money….because we were getting married. But I would write her letters. That’s right. Letters, on paper, with pen in hand, addressing an envelope, licking a stamp, and dropping it in the mail. And I did that a couple of times every week during that summer. Don’t give me too much credit for this. Email wasn’t around then and long distance calling was crazy expensive!
That next spring, she was preparing to go on choir tour. I had quit the choir for better things, getting a job and earning money, but she was still in it. They were leaving for a week. So I prepared letters, one for every day she would be gone, for her to open while she was gone. Some days there was just a note to say, “I love you.” Some days had a little cash inside with a note that said something really sappy like, “Some money, so my sweet can buy something sweet.” I can here your groans from here!
But something happened on May 27, 1995. We got married and things began to change. But as the days, months and years went by, for both of us, something happened. We settled into married life. Life got busy and complicated. And slowly but surely, the fire we once had for each other, that passion that fueled the romance in the early days, began to diminish. And one day we woke up and thought, when did this happen!
You know what is so great. Kerri often says to me “Brent, I don’t want or need any of that romantic, passionate stuff. Thank you for not bothering me with it.” Don’t I wish. In fact, there are times where she is more than willing to remind me of the letters I used to send, the dates we went on, the attention and affection I used to show her. I believe she still has all those letters I wrote in a box in our basement to this day.
What changed. Well, it is true. We got married. and like most guys, the conquest was done. I won. I beat out all those other losers who were after Kerri. I had the prize in my hand. But it went even beyond that. Life happened. Life wasn’t always perfect. I said and did things at times. She said and did things at times. And the relationship changed.
Then we started having children and you know what…I’m tired! And you women all are the same. You tell us, “Why don’t you look at me like you used to? Why don’t you hold my hand like you used to? Why don’t you talk to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear like you used to?” You know why? We have 73 kids and those are the things that got us in trouble in the first place!
I wish I could look at Kerri and blame her. Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Lord, it is this woman you put here with me!” But I see this cooling off in other areas of my life as well. With my kids. When I first had kids I was going to be the best dad in the world. Now, I hope I get an E for effort!
And when I started my first church job, I was going to change the world. I had it all figured out. I knew how to do ministry. And I believed it. I was this doe-eyed guy so zealous about ministry.
But over the years, I worked for pastors who used me and threw me away when they were done, pastors who lied to me and about me. I led people to accept Christ only to see them walk away from faith completely months later. And my zeal and passion for ministry faded.
Maybe you too have felt that way. About your marriage, your parenting, your job. And like in any relationship or job, or really any new endeavor, if we aren’t careful, we find the fire slowly dies. Cynicism creeps in and begins to grow. What was once a raging fire is now nothing more than a tepid emotion. Passion is replaced with passivity.
And worst of all, we see this many times in our relationship with God. The desire and passion we once had for Jesus, the love we felt, we couldn’t contain it. We WANTED to tell others about our faith. We had to tell or we would explode!
But churches hurt us, pastors failed us, supposed friends betrayed us, or even just life happened. God let us down. And the fire has dimmed or possibly even died. I think even as I talk about it, we realize this is not how it should be. It concerns us, but we have to ask how do we fix it?
Last week, we began focusing on this idea of Renew. How do we find renewal in 2015? And many of you have stepped up to join us in the 21-day challenge to read the Bible. Today we take another step in the journey to renewal. And we look at renewing our passion. This problem of passion cooling is nothing new. In fact, this is even addressed in the Bible.
John, the disciple who had been with Jesus and was even in the inner circle of three that Jesus had, toward the end of his life had a very unique experience. He had been exiled to the isle of Patmos because of his preaching. And while there he has a vision. And he writes this vision down. And we know it as the book of Revelation in our Bibles. This book can be fun and challenging to study, especially as you get past chapter three.
But in the first three chapters of the book are seven letters written to seven churches. These letters would most like have been circulated during this first century to those churches and then shared with others. These letters are written as reminders, that what they do matters, that Jesus is aware of their activity. When necessary, these letters are encouragement, and also when needed, they are stinging reprimands for the churches to change.
And in Revelation 2, Jesus speaks to the church at Ephesus. Look at what Jesus says to this church:
““To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7 NIV)
What Jesus highlights as an issue for the church in Ephesus, highlights what I think we need to focus on this year. Passion. Do we have it? And where is it placed.
You see, when it comes to passion, we have a problem. Well, I think we have three problems actually. And the first is what I have already mentioned. It is human nature for our passions to naturally cool off. We don’t look at our spouses the way we used to. We don’t jump out of bed every morning excited to get to the office. And we don’t open our Bibles, or pray or come to church with an “I can’t wait to see what God is going to do” attitude. We seldom think to ourselves, “What will I miss today if I don’t go to church. Or don’t read the Bible. Or if I don’t pray.”
We justify this by saying “Well, I’m more mature now. Our love is more mature. I have a mature relationship with God.” And you know what, I hope that is true. But a more mature or even deeper relationship should NEVER lose the excitement and wonder of the early days!
We cool off. That’s one problem.
Another problem is we get bored. We have the “Been there, Done that, Bought the T-Shirt” mentality. And when we get here, we shift into autopilot. We still do some of the things we need to do, but there is no emotion behind it. We do it because we are supposed to. And guys, our wives know when we are on autopilot. They know when our heart isn’t in it. And so does God. We sign up for Serve Des Moines because we know if we don’t Amy will call. And she is so bubbly, it is just easier to sign up now than to have her come and ask me in person! We read the Bible because Brent and Ryan keep talking about it, and posting blogs about it, and updating the church Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Google+ pages about it. And we mindlessly go about whatever it is we think needs to get done. Thinking that autopilot is good enough.
But as Jesus looked at the church at Ephesus, they were doing good things. Jesus calls them hard working, perseverant, willing to endure hardship even. They were going to church. They were signing up to work with kids. They were doing Serve Des Moines. And when Jesus looked at this church and at these people, he still said I see the good things you are doing…BUT.
Fortunately for this church, they didn’t get to what I see as the third problem with our passion. And that is when our passion cools, and we get bored, eventually we move on. We quit that sport that we used to be all about. We assume that our job is the problem so we go find another one. We know the lost passion in our marriage is the other person’s fault, so we tell ourselves it will be better with someone else. And we move on. To a new job. A new spouse. To a new passion.
We find a replacement and we move where our passion should be to any number of things that the world says is more important than your passion for God. But none of these things addresses the real root of the problem. And John tells us what the root of the problem is.
The Root of Lost Passion
The real danger here is that when we lost our passion it reveals that what we’ve really lost is our love. In verse four, John hits it hard, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Forsaken is a strong term. They had completely abandoned their love. They had put their emphasis on something else.
Don’t get me wrong. These were good people. Doing good things. And yet going through the motions, they had forgotten they why behind it all. What we do is important. But equally or even more important is Why. Why is important! What is our motivation behind doing it in the first place. Unfortunately for these people, they were no longer motivated by there love for Christ.
And the why, the motivation is important enough for Jesus to speak to this church about. And it is important enough for us to pause and ask ourselves, “What do we do the things we do? What are we passionate about and what are we just doing by going through the motions?”
And one of the scariest things about this question is how it can happen without even realizing it.
We are living life. We are doing what we need to be doing. And before we know it, we forget why. We aren’t passionate about it any more. It becomes drudgery. An obligation. A duty.
No one looks at their spouse and says I think I am going to stop loving my spouse today. It just happens. Over time. Through highs and lows. And one day, you roll over and look at them and think to yourself, I don’t love you anymore. What a tragedy.
No one usually wakes up and says, you know, I don’t think I am going to love Jesus anymore. I will continue to go to church, read my Bible and pray. But I am not going to love Jesus.
But it happens. Life comes at 90 miles an hour. Things don’t turn out like we had hoped. Life gets harder than we want it to be. And the next thing we know the passion is POOF, gone. And when it comes to you and your life, what you love, what you are passionate about, Jesus says, I am concerned about that. Let’s make sure we have that in the right place.
Fortunately for us, John gives us guidance on how to get back the passion we’ve lost. He tells us we have forsaken the love we had at first. He doesn’t define that love, but I believe it is the love we have for those around us Those in the world that are poor and have needs. Those without Christ. I think it is also those around you here this morning. The love we have for one another. To care for each other. To carry one another’s burdens.
But at the source of both of these and most importantly not to be missed, is our love for Jesus. Everything else hinges on our love for Christ. Your love for those around you will be greater if you have passion for Jesus. Your love for those that don’t know Jesus will be greater if you are passionate about Jesus. Because when we are crazy about Jesus, we become crazy about the things he is crazy about. And that is God, each other, and the world.
So what do we do when we want to renew our passion? John makes it easy. Three R words. And the first is Remember. Think back to when you first came to faith in Christ. Think back to the excitement, the emotion that surrounded that moment when you said “You know what. I am amazed at what Jesus did for me. I can’t imagine someone actually dying for me. And if he is willing to do that for me, then I am willing to give my life for him.”
I remember that moment in my life. I was 16. I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus and I told him that. And I had such joy, I immediately had to tell someone. To rekindle the passion in any relationship, it begins with remembering. Why did you fall in love with that person to begin with?
And the way John uses the word here is it isn’t just remember today so you can forget tomorrow. He uses the present tense, remember and keep on remembering. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. We are forgetful people. Remember and keep on remembering. As one commentary put it, “Memory can be a powerful force in effecting a return to a more satisfying relationship.” (Mounce 70)
The next R word is Repent. We don’t like that word. It means change and we only want change if someone else needs to do it. But we need to repent. To turn around. An abrupt change or a sharp break. We can’t do what we need to do or develop what we need to develop if we continue to do the same old things, over and over. And with repentance we need a little confession. Be willing to own it. To God. To someone else. Allow someone else in to the struggle so that you can have someone there to encourage you and also hold you accountable when needed.
The third R word John gives us to help is Return. Go back. Do what you used to do. If I want more passion in my marriage, what do I need to do? Write some letters, Hold here hand. Take her on dates. If I want more passion in my relationship with God, what do I do? What you did at first. Pray. Share. Serve. Or for some even stop. John lays it our for us on how we can renew our passion and return to our first love.
The way the letter ends highlights for me something I don’t want us to miss. Jesus talks about removing a lampstand. The imagery there is that if we continue to neglect our passion and don’t return to our first love, we will cease to be a church. Granted, we can continue to meet. We can sing songs. Someone can stand up and speak. But our effectiveness as a church depends on our passion. Without a passion and love for Jesus, we are nothing more than a social club.
Truthfully, as long as we have this building, some money in the bank and some people showing up, we could always be “church” but it doesn’t mean that we are doing anything significant.
We can do good things, but without passion, it is pointless. We can remodel this building, but without passion, what good is it. And let me tell you, I am glad we are getting new carpet and windows, some new paint and sprucing things up a bit. But that’s not what fuels me.
Jesus Christ and the opportunity to reveal him to the world…that is what motivates me. That is where my true passion lies.
What Are You Passionate About?
The truth of this message is that we are all passionate about something. Work. Spouse. Kids. Vacations. Christ. Something. We are passionate about something. The question in what. And if we find our passion placed wrongly, are we will to remember, repent, and return to set it right?
So as we continue in this new year, I would ask you to stop and take a passion inventory this week. Even today, ask yourself, “What is my passion?” It is easy to give lip service and respond with the Jesus answer, but are we really passionate about him. A sure fire way to tell it to see where you spend your time and where you spend your money.
For some of you, you are tired, you’ve been doing this a while, and you are worn out. That’s ok. I’m not saying that you need to fake it. What I am asking is that you begin even today remembering what brought you to Jesus in the first place. Talk to God and ask him to return the passion, give you back that first love.
And we have to decide if we are going to be passionate about things, that, honestly, just don’t matter a whole lot. But there is something we can get really passionate about that has implications that exist long beyond my lifetime in your lifetime and even beyond time itself. And that is to be passionate about Jesus Christ.
For some here, you may not have ever felt that passion for Jesus, but you know, right now, he is doing something. It is the entire reason you are reading this. You may not understand it completely but you know God is trying to get your attention. If that describes you, contact me at the link about so we can talk about how you can fall in love with Jesus for the very first time.
For the everyone else, let’s commit to renew our passion for Christ this year. And then we will watch what God can do through people that are crazy about him.