“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”
We have so many things right. We’re focused on trying to come to a sound theology, we’re now trying not to just stay within the four walls of our churches, and we probably work harder at ministry than other culture before us. But our problem remains, as it has for countless other cultures before us, idolatry.
I think the root of our constant struggles with idolatry can be summed up in these words from T.S. Eliot: “Life is very long.” It is very difficult for us humans to remain truly passionate about anything for an extended period of time. Our marriages, our hobbies, our families, our jobs, even our simple likes and dislikes. Much less an invisible God. So we turn to what is visible…lights, stages, churches, worship bands, pastors, flow charts, jump-cut-edited-videos with delayed piano notes over a washy guitar and floating lyrics from podcasts, and call them God.
When was the last time we were truly excited about God? Just God. Apart from worship bands, apart from the podcasts of pastors we always refer to as just their last name as if they’re a quarterback, apart from the warm feelings of togetherness at church, and apart from guitar tone. ( ) I’m truly asking you to ask yourself this. Because when I did a couple years ago, I knew I was still excited about God. And when I asked again. And again. It took me a few times to truly bare my soul and realize that I thought I was excited about God because I had started calling all the elements of which we serve Him, by His own name. And that is idolatry.
What I had to finally ask myself was to remember a time when I was passionate about Jesus when it wasn’t connected to something in our culture. When was the last time I came home from church and talked about God? I would say, “God really moved through the worship music”, or “You’d never believe what my pastor said!” or “It was so good to see that person!” Is that bad? Yes, if I never seem to have an experience about just God. We have a culture of worship leaders who only worship when they’re in front of people. Worship leaders…when was the last time you worshiped God when not on stage? When not in front of people? Without a guitar? Pastors…when was the last time you studied the Bible without thinking of it in terms of a sermon or church authority? When was the last time we listened to a podcast without thinking how exciting “Chandler” is, but how amazing God is?
In our culture, God almost doesn’t exist apart from worship bands, church corporations, podcasts, and the occasional political rhetoric. When we think of God, it is almost always in those contexts. And we use the excuse, “Well it’s not perfect, but at least people are coming to God.” I’m just not satisfied with that anymore. Can people come to God and at the same time we have a proper view and passion about Him? No more excuses…I think we can, and I think it’s high time we started trying to do that, instead of hiding behind ministry as an excuse for our lackluster and rockstar-driven approach to all things God.
Our entire church culture is saturated with distractions. Distractions that were originally intended for good…and then the props became the thing itself. And then we actually pray from the stage that God would “allow us to look past all this, and just see Him.” I’m not buying that anymore. If I am having trouble in my marriage because I can’t seem to focus on my wife’s needs due to work, even though I am working for her and out of love for her to support her, it would be pretty horrifying if I were counseled to just look past it all and work harder for her needs. No, the logical and Biblical thing to do would be to go to the root of the problem and start cleaning house so that I could be passionate about her again.
It’s time to clean house. Turning over tables and smashing everything our Christian culture sells? If it’s keeping us from being passionate about just God, our first love, then yes. That may seem drastic, but so does plucking out your eye…and Jesus espouses both of those, as uncomfortable as we may be with those sentiments. We must find a way to be passionate about Jesus. My regular friends have a far different, and more often than not, better idea of what Christianity should be. They assume we recklessly follow the teachings of Jesus and are in love with Him. Because that’s what we say. It would be nice if it were true.
Just God. Not just God, and here are the super cool things we call God. The Creator died for us, and if we believe that, it should make us passionate enough to live it even when not on stage. If I haven’t worshiped Him, just me and Him, apart from music, church, podcasts, and an inviting culture, than I have left my first love.