The best I can tell, it started about six years ago Jan. 4th. This is when I began to leave my first love. You know the reference.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4)
Chilling. Even more chilling when you come to the realization that Christ is talking to you.
I used to have more of an innocence to my faith. Belief was easy and simple. The Lord said it, I believe it, that settles it. Well, that is not the best way to put it since that has come to be known as an expression of dogmatic faith more than simple faith. However, the best way I can put it is that there were certain things that I did for the Lord with more willingness and more purity than I do now. I feel as if I have replaced one aspect of my spirituality for another. I keep the gas in the car, but am less concerned about the oil.
I got a phone call from someone the other day. I knew who it was. Keeping things confidential, let’s just say that he was someone who is in great emotional need. He calls all the time. The world would call him a “basketcase.” His condition, as many would see it, is perpetual and it probably will not change. He is worried, riddled with anxiety, most of the time without hope, and always on the pseudo-verge of suicide. When the phone rang, I paused for a moment, thought about answering, and then pushed “reject.” I was too busy with nothing at all. What would have been an exciting God appointed phone call for me many years ago is now a guilt producing annoyance.
See ya Jesus. I’m out of here.
That is just one illustration. But there are a lot more. How do you leave your first love? What is the process? Where was the fork in the road? When did I let the phone call from Christ ring to long?
Bitterness? Maybe. When Angie, my sister, died on Jan. 4th six years ago, I had a bastion of faith. Unshaken and, between you and me, proud of it. Oh, maybe not proud of it in a sinful way, but proud that my faith was still as strong as ever. I did not question God. Even considering the terrible events that led to her suicide and my involvement in them, I said to myself, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” And I really did mean it. However, at the time, I did not realize the very small oil leak that it produced. Maybe it was the yeast of bitterness that was born. Either way, what I should have said was this: “Though he slay me, yet will I follow him.” Trust was replaced by a bitter follow. Yes, I was looking for his footprints, but my steps of joy were being replaced with steps of bitterness.
Goodbye Jesus. I believe but not like I used to.
Fear? Maybe. After my mother’s aneurysm and stroke in 2006, I began to realize I was not a rock. I began to realize I was a was a little off course. I was trepid in my steps. I first recognized my Parkinson’s of the soul a few months later. I was in a grocery store alone when I got a phone call from some number I did not know. I answered it: “Hello.” “Is this Katelynn’s dad?,” came the voice of a young girl on the other end. That is all it took. Some young voice calling me asking me if I was the father of my daughter. I broke. My legs fell out from under me and I literally could not stand. I knew something bad had happened to Katelynn. After all, why else would someone call my phone and ask if I was her dad? Can you connect the dots? Probably not. For you are only being reasonable. A phone call like this is meaningless. Who cares? It’s a friend of Katelynn asking to talk to her. That is what anyone else would think. And, indeed, that is what it was. But for me, it was a revelation of the adjustment in flight that I did not notice so long ago, but now has put me hundreds of miles off course. I am now just waiting in fear for the next bad thing.
Leave the lights on Jesus. I am going out.
Since then, my belief has become less innocent. I have begun to question things that I would never question. I manipulate the words of the Lord and filter them through my bitterness and fear. I don’t answer the phone of people in need because I don’t believe that God is going to do anything. I walk with shaky hands because I don’t know what is around the corner and I don’t really trust him. Most of all, I justify all these things, thinking somewhere in the back of my mind, “It’s okay. I deserve this.”
Not the “big things.” No, never. I believe more than ever in truth, doctrine, and fighting for people’s minds. We must. I still hate the “practice the Nicolaitans” just like Jesus. But I tremble nonetheless. Revelation 2:1-4 scares me. Look at those guys: “I know your deeds,” Jesus says. “I know 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.” Me, me, me. But why the next verse? “You have left your first love.” Isn’t persevering and enduring hardships in Christ’s name without growing weary the very definition of being by Christ’s side? I guess not.
Be back later Jesus.
I argue with the Lord and excuse myself all the time. I did not used to. I guess I am just smarter than he is now. Don’t get me wrong: I still believe in him a great deal, but I just don’t trust him like I used to.
“Prayer changes things.” Well, not really. You are going to do what you want in the end.
“I will take care of you.” Yeah, but I don’t really like your definition of “take care.”
“Have this attitude and it will be better.” Well, no one really does, so I am not going to either. I’ll be alright.
“Satan wants to shift you like wheat.” I have enough problems without concerning myself with Satan.
“Read your Bible.” I already have so many times.
“Take care of the temple of your body.” Yeah…but… aren’t you being a bit legalistic there?
“Answer the phone call of my child who is in need.” He is always in need and my words don’t do anything.
“Trust me with your kids.” Like I did with my mom and sister?
It is not outright denials of God’s word. I can still preach on these things with great conviction. I still believe in these things, I just don’t trust them like I used to. I got off course. I left my first love. Faith is so simple, but I have made it complex due to bitterness. Revival only lasts for a moment when it comes. For the last few years, I have moved out of Jesus’ house, but I check in from time to time. It is time for me to move back in.
Lord, return me to that simple faith. I am sorry for believing in you for the big things, but manipulating in the “small” things. You are worthy of my trust. So here is my hope for this next year Lord. I will begin to see all things as a divine appointment. I will again begin to live a fully converted life. I find no joy in leaving you.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]