Friday, September 23, 2011

Lost Love

When I was in college, I picked up a part-time job at United Parcel Service to help pay my expenses. There was one period of time during my tenure at UPS where I found myself on the “sort aisle”—the place where packages are unloaded from semi-trucks and sent down a conveyor belt to be sorted to their next destination. Brett was a guy on the sort aisle that I remember very well. He and I spent a lot of time talking about God, religion, and life while we moved packages. Jesus, the Bible and church were fairly new concepts to him but he knew how to ask really good questions. We would talk about God as often as he wanted and as often as the sort aisle would allow. There were a couple other Christian guys on the sort aisle, so Brett would go back and forth and pick our brains about what we knew and believed. As time went by, his questions got more and more specific about Jesus, his sin, grace, forgiveness, and being right with God.

I’ll never forget the night when Brett came up to me on the aisle and said, “I gave my life to Jesus last night. I believe! It’s pretty cool to know that Jesus died for my sins and I’m forgiven. Phil, what’s next?” Brett’s new found faith became his greatest passion in life. He began to read his Bible, he found a church and he told anyone who would listen about his new relationship with Jesus. He was a passionate man with a passionate faith! Over time, our work at UPS caused us to part ways. I took a driving job and, though we tried to stay in contact, our drastically different schedules wouldn’t allow it.

A few years later, I found myself in a conversation with one of the Christian guys from the days on the sort aisle. I asked if he had stayed in contact with Brett and he said that ironically, they had just reconnected. But his face dropped as he said, “I’m not sure that Brett’s doing very well.” I wondered if Brett had stumbled into some bad habits or had walked away from his faith. But Joe assured me that Brett’s lifestyle was clean and his faith in Jesus was still intact. “It seems that Brett has become rigid with his beliefs and he sounds harsh and almost angry when he talks about people and the church. I think he’s isolating himself with other very rigid people. He still reads his Bible a lot, but it seems he’s lost his passion for Jesus and for sharing his relationship with others. His joy in serving God and people is gone.” A feeling of deep sadness came over me as I tried to imagine Brett’s faith lacking joy and passion.

Brett’s story is not uncommon to believers. Many start their walk with God excited and passionate about serving and reaching out to others. But, over time, their bright light grows dim. A quest for knowledge replaces love, and following rules replaces relationships. This not only happens to individuals, it happens to churches. Jesus saw this trend in a church that had an incredible reputation and track record for impacting their region for Christ. It was the church of Ephesus who had worked hard and had persevered through difficult times. They were diligent in identifying and stamping out false teaching that would corrupt the message of Jesus. Once a hub for the expansion of the Good News of Jesus, the church of Ephesus was on the edge of having their light snuffed out. What was the reason for their shift? It was love, or the lack of it. They had lost their ability to love God and to love people the way they did when they were young, fresh, and new.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2.4-5

Spiritual drift can occur when the things of this world pull us from what is good and right. But spiritual drift can also happen when good things replace the best thing. We become more focused on our family, our work, and our fun rather than on our relationship with God. We serve our church without a heart of service toward God. We do good things out of obligation or routine, but without love and passion for the people involved. We read books to know about God, but never truly fall in love with God.

Jesus’ call is for us to repent. To go back where we started as passion-filled followers of Jesus whose every thought and action stems from a love for God and people. In a selfish world this is a hard road to walk, but Jesus promises that this is where we’ll find the greatest impact as a church and as followers of Jesus.

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