November 14, 2014

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November Priorities

Priority list of what's really importantDuring November, the weather turns from sweltering hot to bracing chill; the leaves, once ablaze with color in October, now fall en masse in the blustery winds. It’s the season of shorter days, for sweaters and scarves and fires in the hearth, hot soup, warm bread and baked pies. It’s a month for taking walks, for breathing clean, rain-washed air—a time to carry your binoculars into the parks and woodlands to observe the autumnal flora and fauna. And then, November kicks off the season of the four Fs—family, friends, food, and football.

Great month!

First Priority

But November also has some challenges. With the holidays fast approaching there may be heightened anxieties. Get-togethers need to be planned, meals prepared, gifts to buy, all of which contribute to higher stress levels. With priorities narrowed down to “just getting it done,” we often don’t take time for the number ONE priority. And what might that be? Serving God, of course, spending time with Him in prayer and the study of His Word. Abiding in Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to grow His fruit in us, should be what drives us each day.

Second Priority

Loving our spouses and spending quality time with them follows closely. How we relate to our spouses on a horizontal plane, is a good indicator of our relationship with God. One relationship flows from the other—as we love our spouse, so do we love God.

Wives, respect your husbands, as unto the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph 5:22, 25).
Third Priority

But there is a third priority, which flows from our love for God. It’s not our jobs, it’s not our churches, or ministries, or friends. It’s our children, of course. One of my favorite Bible passages, and one that I often refer to in my blogs, is found in Deuteronomy 6:6-7.

And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (NASB)
Hermeneutics for Parents

The Christ-following parent who truly wishes to please God, will take these words to heart and obey them diligently. Let’s stop for a moment for a brief Bible study. Reread the above verses and let’s look at its individual components.

Words God’s words, the Scriptures.  They are God-breathed (2 Tim 2:15).
Commanding We must obey God’s commands; these are not suggestions. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commands” (John 14:15).
On your hearts The heart means the whole man (mind, body, will).
Teach diligently Means to impress, or to engrave something. Teaching our children must be proactive, intentional. We must engrave His words on their hearts.
To your children Children are a gift, or inheritance, from the Lord (Ps 127:3). We must treat them as such—treasure them for the gifts that they are.
Talk of them when you sit Talk about God’s Word at the dinner table, or in your family room. Family life must be communal, interactive, promoting spiritual health.
When you walk by the way Speaks of daily activities, our way of life. We must reveal God’s goodness, His creative power, His love, truth and grace, to our children in every facet of life (school, play, church, home).
When you lie down Before bedtime. A family time of prayer and Bible reading are a great way to end the day.
When you rise up As we get started in the morning. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).

In other words, throughout our whole day, our children are to be our focus, our priority and responsibility. We should pray with our children as hard as we play with them, not just in November, but in every month of the year. This, too, flows from our relationship with God. Teaching children to walk in the light of God’s Word is to be our passion.

Yes, November is a great month for taking walks outside with our spouses and with our children and grandchildren. With the falling leaves the horizons open beautiful vistas to us, each one presenting teachable moments about God’s glory, His awesome creative power. Football games may be fun to watch, and eating pumpkin pie with a dollop or two of real whipped cream on top is hard to beat. But training up our children to walk well in the light of God’s Word outdoes these by far.

It’s a November priority that truly pleases God.

October 28, 2014

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Halloween, the Open Door Holiday

I believe that Halloween gives Christ followers an opportunity unlike any other celebration during the year.  Before you stop reading, let me explain.  Christmas and Easter, of course, celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and are my all-time favorite holidays (a conjunction of holy days).  Thanksgiving celebrates God as our Provider, as well as for all His many blessings upon our lives.  And though our culture has tried to remove the religious significance of each of these holidays by commercializing them, they still retain among the sparkly trappings the historical reality and significance of our faith.

Now how can I include Halloween in this hallowed camp?

Many Christians get the willies during Halloween (if you don’t know what the willies are, google “heebie jeebies”).  At the very least it creates tension among Christians.  Some find nothing wrong with it––”it’s harmless fun”––and go all out donning costumes of Spiderman, or Princess Elsa, or characters from the latest movie blockbuster.  Others see it as a celebration of the dead, or worse, of the devil himself, and shun or avoid it entirely.  After all, as Christians we celebrate LIFE, not death, right?

Most certainly.

Open Door Holiday

What other holiday in the year do we open our doors to our neighbors?  Of course we may do this during any one of the Christian holidays, but the very nature of Halloween involves opening our doors, doesn’t it?  Kids and parents don’t come up to our doors on Christmas and ask for gifts.  Nor do they do this on Thanksgiving or Easter.  But they do it on Halloween!  Halloween is the one day where people open their doors to complete strangers and give them stuff.

Over the past several decades we have become more and more isolated in our neighborhoods.  We have become a transient culture, always on the move, never rooting in communities.  Many people don’t know who lives just a few doors away.  Some never speak to their immediate neighbors.  It’s sad business.

Halloween is a wonderful time for us to get to know those in our neighborhood.  We invite neighbors into our homes, or we are invited into our neighbors’ homes.  They may be brief encounters, but, with such, longterm relationships can be developed.  “Hi, I’m so and so, I live just down the street.  I’ve seen you many times (mowing the lawn, collecting the mail, etc.  Truly, it is a time when bridges may be built.

A Tale of Two Houses

My wife and I once lived in a neighborhood where there was only one Trick or Treater.  Houses were far apart, and kids, being opportunistic entrepreneurs, did their candy grabbing in the big housing tracts.  There was one family, however, that lived down the street from us and they had a little one that they would bring by our house.  It served as an opportunity for us to get to know these people, and build a friendship with them.

And then there’s my wife’s sister and husband who live on a street that is closed down each Halloween.  The residents barricade the street at both ends and then hang out together, introducing themselves to each other and chatting, while their kids go from door to door along the street in safety.  How cool is that!?

A Light in the Dark

Of course there will be Christians who have other plans for that night––trunk or treating, harvest festivals, or something else.  However, I believe that if we choose to open our doors to the neighborhood that night we will have a great opportunity.  Yes, we will see weird costumes.  Some might be dark and even inappropriate.  But the Bible says that we are children of light.  What better time to shine our lights than on this night.

Remember the words of Isaiah 9:2 (NIV):

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

When Jesus entered the world it was a very dark world, but He is the Light of the world (John 8:12).  As His children we, too, are lights, reflecting His glory, regardless of the darkness around us.  The light of Christ shining on our smiling faces on Halloween night may be the only true light our neighbors will ever see.

October 13, 2014

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Biblical Illiteracy

What is it?

In this blog I would like to discuss illiteracy; in particular, biblical illiteracy.  To begin let me first define terms.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiteracy, is “the state of not having knowledge about a particular subject.”  

Biblical illiteracy is the state of not knowing what the Bible teaches.  When I came to know Christ I did not know what the Bible taught about justification by faith and not by works.  I didn’t know what it meant to be “born again,” or any of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.  I was biblically illiterate.

This condition––sad though it is––is understandable in countries where the Bible is not permitted, or in cultures where the gospel has not yet penetrated.  It is understandable if the Bible has not yet been translated into a particular language of a remote people group.  But what about a culture where there is an average of four Bibles per household?

Like America?

Stats & Figures

I’m not one who likes to quote statistics or polls, but I think that a few here will be helpful to grasp this crisis.  

According to the Barna Group (the go-to research pollsters on this kind of stuff), 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more.  That’s not quite four out of ten.  It includes Christians.  Of those four who do read, only 57% apply what they’ve read to their daily lives.  Do the math.  That’s just a little over two in ten people that make use of God’s Word in their lives.  

In America, God’s revelation of Himself is mostly ignored, and is all but irrelevant, practically speaking.  

Here are a couple of zingers.  Another poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.  A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.  A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

Heaven help us.  

And then, according to one more poll, “82% of Americans believe that the phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ is in the Bible.  Think that’s bad?  81% of those who consider themselves born-again Christians believe the same thing!  That’s eight in ten Christians who really don’t know their Bibles. 

Enough polls.

History Lesson

I think we can all agree that biblical illiteracy in America is at an all-time high.  That is to say, there are more people in America today who either do not read the Bible or consider what it teaches to be relevant to their daily lives.  Sadly this is also true of those calling themselves Christians.

This is nothing new for the people of God.

There was a time in Israel’s history when its knowledge of God was woefully barren.  It was a spiritually dark time during the divided kingdom of the kings.  Worship of Yahweh had nearly ceased to exist.  There was a spiritual vacuum in the land, one that was filled by idolatry, and by the worship of pagan deities.  Sexual immorality and violence were rampant.  Israel’s borders were opened to invasions by the Assyrians.  This is what happens when the people of God reject His Word, and thereby reject Him. 

How could it have happened?    

The Israelites had had it all!  They were God’s chosen people, a people whom Yahweh had brought into a special covenant relationship with Himself––a people to whom He gave the promises, and to whom He revealed His Word through the prophets.  They were a people through whom, and to whom, Messiah would come. God had blessed them immeasurably.  

And yet, because of their neglect of and disdain for this great privilege of knowing God through His revealed Word, the people of God created a self-imposed famine of knowledge.  A drought of spiritual health.

And then came Josiah, an eight year old boy who became king of Judah, following the death of the wicked King Amon.  The Bible says that Josiah

“did right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Chron 34:2).

When Josiah was twenty-six years old Hilkiah the high priest discovered the Book of the Law, hidden in some dark recess of the neglected temple.

Imagine that, prior to that discovery, neither the high priest nor any in the priesthood––Israel’s spiritual leaders––had a clue as to what God’s Word had to say.  They didn’t have four Bibles per home, they had none!  Talk about your biblical illiteracy. It was like an earlier time when

“every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).   

When the Book of the Law was read to King Josiah (a young man no older than one of our “millennial” generation), he tore his robes and repented before God.  Then he commanded that the Book of the Law be read to the entire nation.  Following that, he tossed out the mediums, tore down the pagan altars, and reestablished proper temple worship (you can read about his reforms in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35).

What then should we do?

Brothers and sisters, if you look around at our own culture and wonder why there is so much darkness in the land, why there is such violence in our schools and in our towns, why sexual promiscuity has increased to disgusting proportions, why the foundations of our Christian heritage are being challenged and removed from every area in the public arena, then learn the lesson from Israel’s history.

Let us not forsake His Word.  

Our God is an awesome God.  He is compassionate, He is slow to anger, He is full of grace and truth.  With outstretched arms He beckons us to come and fellowship with Him.  The thought of such a thing to me is mind-blowing.  Imagine, God who is infinite, holy, righteous; God who is all powerful, who is all knowing, all wise; God who is without beginning or end, who is everywhere Present; God who is Sovereign over the universe, who is transcendent over His creation, and yet condescends to fellowship on an intimate level with His children, how can we neglect to read His Word that might know Him better?

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  I wrote about this in my last blog (3 Ways to Teach Your Child the Bible), but I must speak to it again.

4  Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  5 You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. 6 These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, 7 and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road,  as you lie down, and as you get up.    

You and I have the power to reverse the downward spiral of biblical illiteracy and its consequences in our country by simply obeying God’s Word.

“If My people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My Face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14).

Dear ones, there is hope for us, and for our children.  There is hope for this generation of millennials, if we will but guide them into the refreshing truth of God’s Word, backed by the authenticity of our lives.

Let us dust off our Bibles and commit to reading a chapter, or paragraph, or even a verse of Scripture every day.  Not just read the Bible ourselves, but read it to our children––when we sit in our homes, when we walk along the road outside, when we rise in the morning and in the evening at bedtime.

And let us commit to memorizing verses, meditating upon them.  For when we do we will agree with the psalmist who wrote,

“Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11).

And we will have the light of truth to guide us through the obstacles in our paths.

For “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

October 09, 2014

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God's Classroom

Autumn MountainsThe holy Scriptures tell us time and again that God’s glory and power are revealed in His creation. Most of us have ventured out into the world and have been in awe at the sheer grandeur of the heavens and the earth, the incalculable power and beauty of everything God has made. His fingerprints are everywhere evident—the petals of a bird of paradise, the flight of a bird, the stars in their courses. Whether we are walking along a beach and reveling in the sheer magnitude of the roar of ocean waves, or cresting a mountain top to view the incredible panorama of mountains against sky, God’s majesty is all around us, drawing us to worship Him.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote that all of creation is held together by the powerful word of our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Heb 1:3). Isn’t that amazing? The very word of God the Son sustains the entire universe. What awesome power!

The world of nature is God’s “classroom.” We may learn so much about our God, as well as the lives of faith He desires us to live, by “considering the lilies of the field,” or “observing the birds of the sky” as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:26-29). And so the question becomes why don’t we spend more time in the classroom? Demands of work and home, of course, compete for the precious hours of our days. The culture in which we live creates many distractions. Even so, we must find time to pause, to rest, to wonder at the beauty of the world about us, and marvel at the Author of it—the God who spoke it into existence.

Each day brings with it a sunrise and a sunset, events which are nothing short of opportunities for worship and thankfulness. It’s almost as if the sky itself is caught up in a devoted routine of worship, where it begins and ends each day with ascribing the proper glory to God, for as the Psalmists continues,

“day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Ps 19:2)

—speech and knowledge of our Creator.

Fall is the ideal season for us to spend time in the classroom of God’s great outdoors. The heat has finally dissipated, the leaves are turning with a spectrum of colors from God’s limitless palette. So let’s go. Let’s take hikes together with family and friends, or drives into the country to witness God’s canvas of Autumn, His masterpiece! The Bible says,

“Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth” (1 Chron 16:33).

Let’s get outside and listen to their praise of the Creator. Let us join them in holy anthem!

September 30, 2014

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Belfry's Christmas Gift Out Today!

Belfry's Christmas Gift Book Product Image

We are excited to announce that our new book is out today!

In this heartwarming Christmas story from Theo's Tales of Little Overhill, Belfry must think of something to give Theo at the Christmas party. He soon discovers that the best gifts are not those wrapped in ribbons and bows. Belfry's gift is one that changes the life of a gruff and lonely clockmaker, someone shunned by all of the village animals. It is the gift of love!

Belfry’s Christmas Gift is a beautiful hardcover board book. The story is written by Theo creator Mike Joens and beautifully illustrated by Len Simon.

You can find out more about the book on our website.

Belfry’s Christmas Gift is available today at your local Christian Bookstore and online.

Merry (early) Christmas!

September 22, 2014

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First Day of Fall: Visiting the Pumpkin Patch

The first day of fall is September 23rd. The first day of fall is an exciting point in the calendar, particularly for families with children. The shift from the freedom of summer to the rigid schedule of the school year, somehow crammed packed with activities and responsibilities, can be a tough transition. The first day of fall, though, seems to mark a breath of fresh air. The kids are finally adjusted to their new bedtimes, the nightly routine has taken a definitive shape, and the heat of summer is finally starting to slip away into the distance. This is why we consider the first day of fall to be such a refreshing time of the year; it’s almost like a new year in and of itself.

Don’t miss out on the incredibly opportunity that the first day of fall offers to you and your family. This is a chance to celebrate your children and their hard work in school. Fall is a new season, and it brings new opportunities with it, so be sure to seize the day with your family.

Whether you want to celebrate your family’s accomplishments or simply let your kids know that you love and cherish them, creating a special surprise celebration is a terrific way to usher in fall. We tend to think that a family trip to the pumpkin patch is the ideal way to welcome in this chilly season. Bundle up, pack yourselves in the car, and head to the most exciting pumpkin patch you can find. Take a hay ride, pick a few pumpkins to carve together, and play whatever games the pumpkin patch features. You could even consider stopping for hot chocolate on the way home!

These small outings are vitally important for a family. It’s nice to celebrate change and accomplishment together, as a family unit. And its important for your kids to see you treating them to good things, simply because you love and care for them. So don’t miss out on the opportunity that the first day of fall is providing.

So get out there, and get chilly!

April 24, 2014

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3 ways to teach your child the Bible

Boy Reading the Bible

Teaching our children the Bible can be challenging in today’s busy world. Work schedules, long commutes, television, Internet, video games, iPhones, all compete for our time. But teach them we must. Children a

re a gift from the Lord, and if we wish to love our children as God would have us love them, then we must do it. Let me share three ways that we can teach our children about God.

Natural Revelation

Natural Revelation describes how God has revealed Himself through creation. Did you know that whenever we step outside, night or day, we are entering God’s classroom? Backyard, city park, or in a nearby forest or beach, it doesn’t matter; God’s fingerprints are visible everywhere.

In the opening verses of Psalm 19 we see that God has revealed quite a bit about Himself through His creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.

In Romans 1:20, the Apostle Paul agrees:

For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.

God’s awesome power is revealed in the size of the universe, the myriad stars, the waves of the sea, the crash of thunder and lightning. God’s kindness is manifested in giving us rain and fields to grow food. Who can look at a puppy and not see the great and tender heart of our Creator? Who hasn’t been in awe at the spectrum of colors in a sunset, or marveled at a rainbow arcing over a rain-soaked sky? Yes, indeed, the heavens declare the glory of God’s glory!

I love the outdoors. I love walking through the woods with my binoculars, spotting a western tanager or lazuli bunting. Or pausing beside a stream to hear to the gurgling rush of water.

God made these for our pleasure. They teach us about Himself, if we will look, and listen.

A great way to teach young ones about God is to get them out of the house, away from video games and television, and take them outdoors into His classroom. When you come upon a beautiful flower, or mountain vista, say, “God made this. Isn’t He a big and powerful God?” When you see a colorful bird or butterfly, ask them, “Why do you think God made such beautiful creatures?”

Each pause to observe God’s handiwork can be a teaching moment; each teaching moment can awaken a sense of wonder in a child’s heart. Too often we don’t take time to stop and smell the roses. We should, and we should take our children with us.

Special Revelation

Special Revelation describes God’s written word of Himself to us, His plan of salvation, His Son Jesus. It describes what pleases God, His will for our lives, how we ought to train up our children. We must daily teach our children what the Bible says about God.

These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road,  as you lie down, and as you get up (Deut 6:6-7).

God tells Moses that parents should be proactive in teaching their children about Himself. When? When we are in our homes, as we walk along the path, as we go to bed, as we wake in the morning. We are to teach them throughout the day.

If we leave the teaching of our children to others then it will be others who will mold their lives, for good or for ill. Some parents may say, but I take my child to Sunday School each week. That’s commendable, but your Sunday School teacher has your child for one hour. There are 167 more hours in the week. Who will teach them if their parents don’t?

Living Epistles

Finally, our lives and lifestyles speak volumes to our children. Regardless of what we say or teach, our daily lives are powerful testimonies of who we are and what we believe. If we tell our children that it is wrong to lie, then we must not lie. If we tell them to love God with all of their hearts, mind and strength, then our lives should reflect such teaching. Our children won’t believe us otherwise. 

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God. (Corinthians 3:2-3).

We are living epistles to our children. If our lives are consistent with what we teach they will believe us. If we model Christ’s character they will see Jesus in our lives. This is not to suggest we live sinless lives, but lives that are filled with humility and grace. Our children will see your light and be drawn to Christ because of it. As they mature into adulthood our words will remain a treasure in their hearts that will bless them throughout their lives. So then let us teach our children through the world that God has made, through His special word to us, and through the godly example of our lives.

March 04, 2014

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February 21, 2014

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Fishers of Men

One of Theo’s favorite pastimes is fly-fishing.  The River Coln flows gently past his cottage on its way through the Cotswold Hills of southern England, and is filled with lovely brown trout.  Such a pastime allows one to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and spend time in a quiet stream or lake, relaxing in the beauty of God’s creation.  Great for us humans, not so great if you’re a fish.

Fishers of Men

Fly-fishing is the art of catching fish with artificial lures that resemble real bugs, or “flies” as in mayflies or stoneflies.  Like most sports or activities there’s an art to fly-fishing, a skill which is learned.  Some people are better at it than others, of course; some are naturals, some never develop a love for it and prefer other types of fishing.  People like me have to work very, very hard at it, and only catch fish with dogged determination and much prayer.  Not a joke.  

Also, the fly-fisherman must think like a fish.  If you were a fish where would you hang out?  Rivers have personalities; some are easy-going and gentle, some are treacherous, some meander with endless loops of cut banks and eddies.  The fly-fisherman must learn to read the river. A fly-fisherman must have a fair knowledge of the stream he or she wishes to fish, as well as a fair knowledge of the fish itself.  Not all rivers are alike, and neither are fish.  For example, barracudas don’t have the same diet as rainbow trout.  You won’t find a marlin in a trout stream.    

Finally, there are different seasons, as well.  Trout are bug eaters, but like all creatures great and small, bugs have life-cycles (egg, nymph, emerging adult, dun, spinner, etc.), so it’s best to know what’s hatching bug-wise.  The knowledgable fly-fisherman will “match the hatch,” by selecting an artificial fly from his fly box that best resembles the bug of choice.

What’s my point to all of this?  Temptation, of course.  Did you know that the devil is a professional with centuries of experience when it comes to fly-fishing?  He’s been around a long time, and knows what artificial flies will tempt us.  He’s basically got three types: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life.  He bagged our great ancestors Adam and Eve with these three, and hasn’t added any new flies to his flybox.

He knows what artificial lure to use to entice the believer into sin.  James 1:14 reads, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away and enticed by their own evil desire” (NIV).  The word for “enticed” is deleazo in the original language.  It’s a fishing term that means to lure.  

A wary trout may “sniff” at a lure, but then pass on it.  He knows it’s a fake.  I’ve had this happen many times in my own experience.  What do I do?  I’ll try a different fly.  Maybe he’ll go for this one.  If he does, I’ve caught him.  I’m a catch-and-release guy; that is, after I catch a fish I let him go.  The devil releases no one.  There are no “limits” he must abide by.  The devil knows his fish.  he knows what lure to use for every kind of human fish, for every kind of water condition––stream, lake, ocean––and in every season of the year.

February 14, 2014

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First Love

Mike and Cathy Joens Wedding Day Picture

February is a very special month for me, for in February I met the first love of my life and the second love. On February 11, 1972, I was introduced to Jesus at the Marine Barracks in Naples, Italy. That day, almost forty-two years ago to the day of this blog post, I became a Christian. It was the most joyous relationship I have ever entered into.

From the moment I surrendered my life to Christ I couldn’t get enough of Him. I devoured the four Gospels, drank in the epistles, walked 

joyfully through the Book of Acts, sang through the Psalms, stood in wonder at the Book of Revelation. Jesus was my first and only love. Whenever the church doors were open for services I was there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I shared Christ with fellow Marines, many of whom became believers. Jesus consumed my every waking thought!

And then I met my second love.

In February, 1974, Cathy Correll was an incoming freshman at Bethany Bible College in the Santa Cruz mountains, arriving midyear for the Spring semester. When she introduced herself to me in the foyer of the women’s dorm (one of my favorite hangouts) I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. A willowy brunette with hair cascading down her back and big hazel brown eyes, she was beautiful! She still is, forty years later.

From that moment on we were inseparable. We ate meals together, we went on walks through the redwoods, went down to the beach in Carmel, we strolled along the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I couldn’t get enough of her. When we were apart at nights my heart ached for her. I’d stare at her photo every night before turning in. I’d wing off a few prayers, thanking God for His gift, then awaken in the morning anxious to see her again.

I was in love! 

What was interesting, sadly so, is that each day I was with Cathy the ardor that I’d once had for Jesus imperceptibly cooled. I was the old frog-in-the-kettle, but in reverse, going from hot to cold. I still did my morning devotions, I still prayed, I still went to church, but there had been a shift in my devotion. I was no longer single-minded. My affection was divided. Though I had once been like Mary, sitting at 

the feet of Jesus and hanging on His every word, I had gradually morphed into her sister Martha, who was distracted by many things (Luke 10:38-42). In my case, Cathy.

Cathy had become my first love.

Something strange happened then. The more I pursued Cathy the less she seemed to care. She seemed aloof, distant. I asked her to marry me but she wouldn’t commit. I was bummed! And confused. “What gives, Lord, isn’t this the right girl?”

In Jesus’ address to the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7), He commended the church for many things; most notably their hard work for the sake of Jesus’ name. They were a church that didn’t tolerate evil, and rooted out the false teachers in their midst. Pretty good appraisal, wouldn’t you say? But then He says this:

But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent.

Whoa! What’s this? Weren’t they working hard for Jesus? Weren’t they studying their Bibles? Weren’t they contending for the Faith? Surely this proved their first love, didn’t it?

Apparently not!

The Ephesian church had loved Jesus fervently in the early days. They gathered at the lecture hall of Tyrannus daily to hear the Apostle Paul teach about Jesus (Acts 19:9-10), so that in a short two year period all of the province of Asia had heard about Jesus!

Paul commended them for their faith, and for their love for the brothers (Eph 1:15). But in the decades following, something happened. Where there had once been a fervent love, a gap had widened between Jesus and them. Jesus hadn’t moved, they had! The ardor of their first love had cooled.

It’s easy to fall into the trap. If I just do more things for God––read the Bible more, do more activities in the church, witness to others––it will show that I love Him. Although these services are good and approved by the Lord, they must not substitute for our devotion to Him. Martha, busy with meal preparations, fell into the trap; Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet had chosen the good part.

How can we regain our first love?

Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “Repent, and do the works you did at the beginning.” In essence, go back, renew your vows, rekindle your love. Put Him first in everything you think, speak or do. If you love Him, pursue Him with your heart, mind and strength! Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

As much as I love Cathy, Jesus must be my first love. What is interesting is that the more I love Jesus, the more my love for Cathy grows. When the Holy Spirit revealed this to me forty years ago, I repented. That very day Cathy accepted my proposal for marriage!

Have you left your first love? If so, Jesus is calling you to repent, to put Him first in your life!

O God, help us to redo the deeds of faith and love that so characterized our early walk with you. Fill us anew with the Spirit of life and joy and zeal for Jesus and His kingdom. Help us to rekindle the love for Jesus that was preeminent in our souls, first in our thoughts, first in our words, first in our deeds!

So this Valentine’s Day, let’s all renew our vows to Jesus first, and then take our honeys out to dinner!

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