“You have abandoned the love you had at first”

God is talking to John, passing out messages to give to key churches in the area (Revelation 2-3).

He tells John that the Ephesian Church is doing a bang-up job. They are keeping the faith, rising up to any challenge that presents itself.

He goes on to say, however, that they have lost their first love.

The longer you have been in ministry, the longer you have walked with Jesus, the easier it is the go through the motions. You’re living in a spiritual deficit, and if you’re like me and are paying off credit card debt, you can agree how easy to go through life looking just fine, but really digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole.

Now, you may not feel like you are. You know all the spiritual buttons to hit and when to hit them. You take on greater and greater responsibilities in the church. You may live and breathe Christianity, be a scholar or a worship leader, an event organizer, social warrior, pastor, or elder, and yet still miss out on Christ being your first love.

It’s about passion and priorities. You can pass on everything else, but God knows the difference there.

It’s all about “first.” Seek ye first the kingdom of God, Jesus says (Matthew 6:33). Give Him your firstfruits. Think of the tithe: ten percent, such a small amount, less than we are asked to tip our server. The server needs your money to live, God doesn’t need anything. He created the Universe. He has more riches than quantifiable data can even fairly summarize. For God, it’s all about the heart.

You see, all the other stuff, it can easily get ostentatious, a game show if you will. Jesus speaks of the widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44). Whereas many around her gave much, yet all for show, the widow gave little, but out a pure desire to worship the LORD.

Works build upon the foundation. Where the foundation is weak, the building crumbles. Where the foundation is strong, the building endures. Paul calls us God’s holy temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). A temple is a massive structure. A massive structure requires a massive foundation, or all of for not, lest the building fall (Matthew 7:24-27). I have seen spiritual buildings crumble too many times for me not to testify that this is true.

So the love the LORD your God with all your mind, all your heart, and all your strength (Leviticus 23:22). May your temple be high and wide, and your foundation deep. Seek Him first in all things.

“Children… Your Children… My Children”

There is a cool progression between 1, 2, and 3 John.

In 1 John, he addresses little children (as well as young men and fathers), encouraging them in the faith.

In 2 John, he is speaking to the “elect lady and her children” and rejoices in the fact that some of her children walk in the truth.

In 3 John, there is no “some.” He simply finds joy in the fact that “my children” walk in the truth.

There is a building sense of ownership here, not in terms of possession, but rather of responsibility.

In the beginning, John speaks of children in the vague and general sense, routing them on in a scholarly fashion. Then, we see him draw nearer to them. They are you children, still holding some sentimental value but ultimately someone else’s problem. Then, finally they are wholly and fully his. Their well-being is his “greatest joy.”

It reminds me of Jesus’ final intimate encounter with Peter (John 21:15-19). Three times Jesus asks if Peter loves Him as He asks him to lead His church. Twice, Jesus uses the word agápē, an all-encompassing love, God’s love. Twice, Peter uses the word phileō, a friend or brother kind of love. Jesus changes His word to phileō, meeting Peter where he is at, and Peter responds in kind. Then, Jesus lets Peter know he will one day die for His church, just as Christ died. And indeed, Peter did die that way.

Peter’s love for Jesus ascends through time. He begins with acquaintance, then familiarity, then friendship, then deep affection, and finally love to the point of death. And his love for Jesus reflects his love for the church. John 15:13 tells us that if we love Jesus, we will love one another. 1 John 4:20 goes on to say that if we say we love Jesus but hate one another, then we are liars. We are commanded by our ever-loving father to love our fellow human being with the same love He has for us. They are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. They are ours.

God once asked Esau, “where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:1-16) Esau answered, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is yes. Let us keep them well.

 

 

“Sin That Doesn’t Lead to Death”

1 John is another one of those little books with bits of wisdom to chew on.

One passage that intrigues me is when it calls for us to pray for sin that don’t lead to death (1 John 5:16-17). It has us leave sin that leads to death alone.

I think this is fascinating.

What exactly the difference John sees between the two remains unknown, but allow me this: I like the fact that John has us focus on these little sins.

We’re always aware of the big sins: adultery and murder and devil worship. But it’s the little sins that so often go unchecked. Things like sloth, wastefulness, irritability, and envy. These are the types of sins that we tend of disregard. We’re not going around kicking babies and clubbing seals, so we’re good. In fact, we would go so far as to say these features are just part of us.

Christ calls us to be more like Him (Ephesians 5:1). Sometimes it’s perceived that means is that God wants to Etch A Sketch everything about us and superimpose His face onto our own, as if we’re this grand error waiting to be corrected. Rather, we’re a beautiful thing, waiting to be perfected.

Rest assured. Christ loves You. He designed You, brought You into this Earth, and died and rose again so YOU could be with HIM forever in heaven.

But God wants us to be best version of ourselves that we can be.

He doesn’t want you to waste your life saying, “I wish I were more….” or “if only I…” with a sigh of resignation or resentment.

Again, He busted down the doors of heaven and hell so we wouldn’t be stuck in that hell, or any hell for that matter.

I love the show Queer Eye. In it, loved ones of person nominate him or her for a full makeover. Then, a team of experts zooms in their GMC Sierra Denali and begins to go through all the aspects of that person’s life- clothing, hair, social life, eating practices, etc. They look at that person as they are and begin to make changes based on that person’s fundamental identity. Part of that process involves throwing out a lot of junk, part of it involves busting through comfort zones, part of it involves probing questions and lots of encouragement along the way. We call this process tough love.

When you do this process wrong, when we conform to a lofty ideal without grounding it our own personal best, it makes us feel empty and exhausted, violated and defeated even. But when it is is done right, everyone is happy. The makeover teams cries. The client cries. The family members cry. It’s a beautiful thing.

Christ wants this for you to fulfill our specially designed purpose, to become the best of us and the most of Him.

1 John says the first step in this process is to pray. Pray for God to reveal those little sins, the things that go unnoticed yet inevitably hold us back. Pray that God will give you the wisdom on what to do with that knowledge. Then take action, bring people in. Help each other achieve this greater goal.

Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:7), and in all things bless Christ, who designed us from the very beginning to do great things (Ephesians 2:10).

 

Deuteronomy: Israel’s First Day at School

Israel stands just outside the border of Canaan, the land they are promised to inherit. Moses is there with them, but he will not follow them in. God has told him it’s the end of the line. So, the man who has lead Israel for 40 years now, delivers unto them a final address.

To be honest, it really does read like a parent giving last minute instructions to their child before he or she boards the bus for school. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Do this. Don’t do that. These are the “nice people.” These are the “mean people.” This is God. This is not.

Of course, in true children’s lit narrative fashion, there is a short list of good things that will happen if you obey the instructions and a very, very long list of bad things that will happen if you disobey them.

But the narrative does not end there. Because Moses is channeling the voice of God, we gain insight into later events that this fledgling nation won’t deal with for a while.

God tells them how a king should act. David wouldn’t become king for 400 years. God tells them that they will eventually turn away from His instructions, be taken over, and redeemed. That happened 800 years later at the hands of the Babylonians and Assyrians. He tells them that a prophet in the same vein as Moses would come. At the recording of the final chapter of Deuteronomy, no such prophet had appeared, yet we know that prophet, king, and priest to be our Savior, Jesus Christ, and He didn’t come onto the scene for 1400 years.

Thus, these simple instructions lasted young Israel not just into elementary, not just into middle or high school, but up into its college years, where Israel now stands poised to spread to the whole world (via the diaspora).

It’s into this transitional stage that Jesus enters, and He shakes up everything that Israel has learned. He hangs out with the “mean people.” He challenges the “good.” He grants mercy where before there was punishment. He works on the holy days. His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is full of statements like “you have heard it said, but I say…” In doing so, He does seek to negate the Law (Deuteronomy means “second law), but rather to deepen Israel’s understanding of it. Everything they have known about holy living and their relationship with God, He calls into question, not to invoke doubt, but to force Israel to delve deeper into the instructions they already know.

Why does He do this? Because 40 years after His physical departure from Earth, the temple of God would be ransacked and Israel would have to go out into the world to create a new national identity.

But Jesus did not send them out alone. He sends His Holy Spirit on our journeys, to continue our education through a deepening relationship with Him and an emphasis on critical thinking, which drives us to discern what God has to say to us in the very nuanced and particular situations we face in our lives.

I think of my own parents. When I was a child, they gave me simple and good instruction, the black-and-white “thou shalt”s that kept me happy, healthy, and safe. Now that I am older, they trust me to make good decisions and offer advice where they see ahead into places I have not been. My relationship with them is deeper than it was as a child. I recognize and appreciate the ways their mannerisms, behavior, and values have copied themselves into my daily life. I am as much their child as I am a adult, both fully theirs and fully myself. And the more I step into my own, the more I find my place in the Ybarra family.

Likewise, God is our Good Father. He raises us up to be more and more like Him and more and more into the person He created us to be. He continues to teach us through His Holy Spirit, offering us advice and instruction as we grow and mature. We are forever His children, yet we also disciple others, teaching them to be more like Christ and also themselves (Matthew 28:18). That way, we continue the legacy of the family of God.

Paul, Apollos, and Peter: A Note about Favoritism

So Paul runs into an interesting problem in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3). We are a tribal people and the church there has started forming tribes around their favorite speaker. Some prefer Apollos, some prefer Peter, some prefer Paul. It gets so bad that the church starts to splinter.

Sometimes a speaker will fuel the fire of division, insisting that is or her approach is the best approach, the real way to get into Christ. Other times, the division will appear on its own and nobody stops it, so it only gets worse.

Paul does not let this division occur. He commends his fellow speakers. He reminds the church that they are all after the same thing: the edification of the church and the worship of Jesus Christ.

Granted, it is only natural to have people you connect with more than others. God chose Israel as the nation He would show His power through. Jesus chose three disciples to do ministry with, and of those twelve He chose three (Peter, James, and John) to deliver special revelation to. I’m sure you have your core group of friends as well.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having people you are specially close with, either in a occupational or personal setting. However, the breakdown occurs when that bond closes doors to others.

Jesus was quick to welcome in followers the disciples pushed away. Paul was intentional about turning all glory away from himself and back to God.

In the end, we are all family.

Cheesy as it is, the song is right, “make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.”

Cain and Esau: a Lesson in Rebellion, Protection, and Provision

Cain and Esau are the quintessential bad brothers of the Bible.

Cain sets the ill standard right of brotherly love right from the get-go (Genesis 4). In fact, he’s the first brother on Earth. Abel comes along and God shows favoritism towards him, and Cain is pissed. But it’s important to note that Cain is still the firstborn. He’s entitled to all the cool stuff his parents have to offer. But that’s not good enough. So, he kills his brother. God calls him out on it. There’s nowhere for Cain to hide. The LORD of the Universe has caught him red-handed. He sends Cain into exile and Cain now is afraid. But God does not lead him hanging. He slaps the “mark of Cain” on him, not a sign of condemnation, but of protection. No harm is to come of Cain outside the punishment God had prescribed for him. So, Cain loses his birthright, but he goes on to have a big family of very successful offspring. The condemnation of Cain is counterbalanced by the mark.

Esau, who comes generations later, is also a big brother with an attitude problem (Genesis 25:19-34, 27). He sells his birthright to his little brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup. Once Esau calms down and realizes what he’s done, he threatens to kill Jacob. Jacob flees. Years go by. Esau never gets his birthright back. But he manages to build up a sizable family for himself. When Jacob meets Esau again, Esau is in fact much stronger in numbers than his little brother (Genesis 33). Upon Jacob’s shoulders, the nation of Israel is built. Still, God keeps a place for Esau in His heart. When the Israelites are coming back from Egypt towards Canaan, intent on clearing land for their new home, God tells them to leave the nation of Edom (Cain’s people) alone, for Jacob and Esau were brothers.

I love that God does not just let things slide. He holds us culpable for our actions. But even in our sin, He watches over us, not because we deserve it, but because He is God. He does not forget our past, but neither does He hold it against us. And He calls us to do the same. So, where you have erred, know that it is not forever. Where you have been wronged, know that God sees. Nothing escapes His sight. We are all His children, born into the family of God through Christ, who makes us all one.

 

Seeking the Face of Christ

David is called “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).

It’s a wonderful title. What earned him it in the first place?

I love David’s sentiment in Psalm 27. More than anything else in all creation, he would love to see the face of the LORD.

We talked yesterday about looking the temple. Again and again, David kept his desire on the court of God.

When his eyes wavered, that’s when he got in trouble.

God, keep our eyes fixed on you. May we see You always as we go about our day.