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An Open Letter from a Pastor to His Sons

Christian Living

by Bruce Zachary

An Open Letter from a Pastor to His Sons

To my sons whom I love more than words can say:

"If there was only one principle that I could impart to you, what would be the most impactful for this life and the life to come? By the grace of God, the priority of this value is so clearly evident in the Scriptures that I feel confident in discussing this principle first: Love God more than anyone or anything. Nevertheless, despite it being obvious, we can be easily distracted and thus neglect this vital truth. Let's consider the value, then I can confess where I have struggled to live it and share my journey of rediscovery. 

Jesus revealed that the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37-39; Deuteronomy 6:4-5). We are to love God with our thoughts, emotions, body and soul. In essence, God is to be the supreme love of our lives. Similarly, when God made a covenant with the Jews, He set apart the Ten Commandments uniquely when he wrote them on tablets in His own hand. The first four of the ten all relate to the value of loving supremely: You shall have no other God, you must not make any idol since it will diminish the glory of God, you shall revere His name, and honor the Sabbath to contemplate and worship Him (Exodus 20:1-8). So, we discover that the value of loving God more than anyone or anything else is crystal clear, but the application to our lives can be clouded and elusive. So, here's my confession…

I was contemplating Jesus' letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). He commends them for their sacrificial service, perseverance and endurance with difficult people and circumstances. He also affirms their sound doctrine, and that the leaders served the people rather than seeking to be served. But Jesus also gave a word of correction, "Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4). 

I began to wonder: How did that church receive Jesus' correction? He truly knows the condition of our lives, and His assessment is always perfect. However, we may be unwilling to receive His correction. Did they seek to justify, defend, deflect or deny? As a quick aside, whenever there is repeated justification, defense, deflection or denial, there is likely to be spiritual and emotional unhealthiness. On the other hand, humility, receptivity and openness to correction often reflect spiritual and emotional health. As I was contemplating Jesus' correction of the church at Ephesus, that is when the conviction came. 

Several years ago, our neighbor Phyllis made the comment, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were having an affair." She had been observing me leave early in the morning, and frequently go out at night. And although she knew that I was going to the church, she made the tongue-in-cheek comment. What she didn't realize was that she was right…

No I wasn't having an affair with another woman (I'm madly in love with your mom), but in a sense, the church had become a mistress. I have to confess, there were times in the last 25+ years that I've allowed the ministry to become the master passion of my affections. I was seemingly more in love with the ministry than the One I was doing ministry for. It was subtle, because I love the Lord and was truly seeking to do good works for Christ and His kingdom. But there was no denying that something had taken his rightful place. 

As long as I'm confessing, I should ask for forgiveness from you (I've already asked for forgiveness from God (1 John 1:9). To the extent that I neglected you or your mom in any way, I'm so very sorry. What I've come to realize is that when Christ is the master passion of my life, then I'm a better husband, father, friend/neighbor and servant. The only way that I can do those relationships well is doing my relationship with Jesus right. 

For you, it may not be ministry, but there are countless other ways that someone or something can become a master passion. It could be your spouse, your kids, your friends, your career, your recreation, possessions or position. And as long as you're not in full-blown-backslide-rebellion mode, you may not even notice that you've left Jesus as your first love. But you'll suffer, and others that you love and care for will suffer; and the sooner you realize the unhealthy pitfall that you're in the better. 

You know that He deserves to be the One you love more than anything or anyone else.Jesus gave His life to give you eternal life and an abundant life in Him. You will be separated from everything and everyone else that you treasure on this earth, except for Jesus. And I'm confident that you know this and will remember this. And if sometime you discover that someone or something has become the primary focus of your affections, Jesus provides the answer. Jesus encouraged the church at Ephesus, and you and me, when He declared, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works …" (Revelation 2:5). First, remember a time when Jesus was your first love. Second, repent or change your thinking about Jesus and return to Him. Third, do or redo the first works. What were you doing when Jesus was your first love? Return to those disciplines such as, but not limited to, Bible learning, prayer, contemplation, serving God by serving others, worship, charitable giving and sharing your faith. 

I have many values that I want to share with you, but this is the first principle to live by.

Love always,
Dad"