My wife and I have been married for over ten years now, but I remember what it was like to be newly in love. I can remember staying up until all hours of the night just talking on the phone. I can remember hurrying across campus to meet her after class. I remember dates where we couldn't really afford to go out so we would but a tub of ice cream and sit out by the fountain and talk or sit on the hood of my 1979 Ford LTD and stare at the stars. I remember daydreaming about her during classes, thinking about her while at work, writing sappy love songs and poetry for her, looking for a little something to do or say or buy that would express just a little how much I loved her and wanted to be with her. One summer, while I was in summer school in Mississippi and she was a lifeguard at the Texas Lions Camp west of San Antonio, I got a crazy idea. After class got out on Friday, I got into that '79 Ford LTD and drove across Mississippi, Louisiana, and half of Texas (13 hours all the way through the night) just so that I could surprise her on Saturday (her day off) and spend the day with her. Love will make you do some crazy things.
Twelve years later, I have to be very careful not to take this wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, talented, gifted woman for granted. She's there every day when I wakeup and there every day when I go to bed. While we share household responsibilities, she admittedly carries the brunt of the work. We stopped being on our best behavior with one another a long time ago. We've seen each others warts and wrinkles. We've kissed each other when our breath was less than minty fresh. We've cleaned up after one another when the stomach bug runs rampant through the family. It's easy to forget just how amazing this woman is. It's easy to get in the rut of being married so long that you forget what it's like to date one another. You forget what's it like to pine for each other throughout the day. You forget that there are still so many things that you don't know about each other and that you have to continually delve deeper into their heart and life. You forget that we are not static creatures, but dynamic - always changing and growing. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the day-to-day routine - picking up the house, making lunches for the kids, taking out the trash, loading/unloading the dish washer, cooking dinner, getting the kids showered, and on and on and on - that we forget about that first love that drew us together.
The same thing can happen in our spiritual life as well. I remember being on a summer mission trip one year in college. I remember a guy who came to faith during that year because of our ministry. He was in college as well and had a truly life-changing encounter with Jesus that shook him to his core. He was so excited about this new relationship with Jesus that he wanted to tell all his friends about it. Now, while his heart had truly changed, some of the rest of him hadn't caught up just yet. Her would go around telling people, "You won't f***ing believe what happen to me! I've got to tell you about this f***ing Jesus! He is f***ing amazing!" Now, he may have been sending a few mixed signals, but you could not deny this guy's passion. He was in love . . . and he wanted everyone in all the world to know about it.
While in college, I had a roommate for a semester that shared my duplex apartment. He had just graduated and was working for Campus Crusade on our college campus. I had met him at my church where he attended from time to time. He played violin and would often play in the orchestra (I think he confided in me that one of the reasons was that he could get a free meal on Wednesdays for coming to rehearsal, but that didn't matter, he loved playing). At one particular Sunday night service, I remember the worship leader bringing us to quiet, reflective place in our music. I believe that he invited the congregation to be seated and to really focus in on God. He began to lead us in this love song for God. I remember this guy (who would later become my roommate) standing up and singing with all his might. He was crying out to Lord a song of praise. His hands were outstretched, as though he expected God to scoop him up in an embrace any minute. He was singing from such a deep, physical place inside of him that the veins in his neck and head were popping and tears were streaming down his face. So what did I do? I wish I could say that I joined him in his passionate praise. Instead, I sat there and thought in my heart, "Would you please just sit down and shut up? Would you stop trying to make yourself the center of attention?"
A few years later, I was serving at one of my first church staff positions. There was a guy in the band who was about as ADD as they come. He was the stereotypical musician, too. He was excited and passionate about his new relationship with Jesus and was not ashamed to tell anyone and everyone about it. God had led him out of a life of playing music in bars and clubs and now he wanted to use his talents to play for the Lord in our church. While some people loved it, there were others that complained that some his music was inappropriate. Some his music was too loud. Some of that excitement was distracting. He just didn't fit in to the way church was supposed to be.
I think this is what John is saying to the church at Ephesus. "Remember your first love," he is saying. Remember when you first encountered Jesus. Remember how excited you were. Remember how you wanted to tell everyone you knew about what God had done in your life. Remember how you didn't care what other people thought because you were basking in the love and forgiveness of the One who stretched his arms on Calvary for you.
During Lent, we have the tendency to focus on the many sins that we have committed. Rarely do you we take the time to really look at the way(s) we've forsaken that first love for God. Rarely do we honestly acknowledge that we have become more in love with church than with Jesus. Rarely will we say that we are more connected to the institution and the religion than we are truly in a relationship with Jesus. For this, we must repent. We must stop taking God for granted. We must stop focusing on the day-to-day routine of services to be planned, nursery schedules to be made, Sunday School Lessons to prepare, and chairs to be set up so that we can focus on this beautiful, amazing, glorious Christ who calls us into relationship with himself. So let us repent . . . and let us fall in love all over again.
Prayer: God, I confess that I have taken you for granted. I confess that I've fallen more in love with your church than I have with you. Restore me to the joy of my first love and help me to fall head-over-heals for you all over again. Amen.