of God. Rather, it means that this church will lose its ability to shed the light of truth. No matter how hardworking, persevering, and orthodox this church may be, if it loses its first love it will cease to have an illuminating impact on the world.

This first-century warning of our Lord has been fulfilled again and again in thousands of churches down to and including our own age of the 1990 s. All across the world, everywhere you turn, you find church after church where congregations continue to meet, sermons continue to be preached, hymns continue to be sung, good works continue to be done and yet there is no impact, no fire, no light. The lampstand has been removed. The community which surrounds such a church goes on about its business, blithely ignoring whatever is said and done within that quaint little building with the cross on the roof. That church has become irrelevant. So has its message. Its light has failed.

What does the Lord mean, "You have forsaken your first love"? What is our first love?

It is the love we felt for Jesus when we first came to know Him. It is that wonderful sense of discovery that He loves us, that He has delivered us, that He has freed us from our sins. Once our hearts went out to Him in gratitude. Once we had eyes for no one but the Lord Jesus.

Watch a young couple in love. See how they talk to each other, how they touch each other's hands, how their eyes meet! Talk to them and they probably won't even hear you. They are "spaced out." They are lost in each other. They are thinking only of the wonder of each other.
That is what it's like when a person first comes to Christ. His heart is filled with gratitude, with wonder, with amazement. "I have been forgiven!" he thinks. "Jesus died for me! God loves me! I can hardly believe it!"

Think of the times you've heard the testimony of a new Christian. Remember those tears of joy? Remember the trembling voice, the look of wonder on his or her face?

I have seen strong men athletes, successful businessmen, political leaders break down completely, unable to finish telling their own story, so overcome were they by the wonder of the fact that Jesus had come to live His life through them. Their lives had turned around 180 degrees. Their families had been rescued. Their sins had been forgiven. The love of Jesus is something new, fresh, heart-stopping, incredible. It is the feeling captured in the lines by Charles Wesley:

That is what "first love" is like.

How do we lose our first love? It happens very gradually, as our focus slowly, imperceptibly shifts from our love-relationship with Jesus to simply being busy for Him. Whereas we once delighted in serving others, singing God's praise, and studying His Word out of a wondering love for Him, we now begin to do these same things out of a subtly different motive. Now, instead of pleasing Jesus, we seek the approval of others. Our position, our status, our reputation in the church begins to matter more than our love-relationship with Jesus.

Without even noticing the change, we have lost something of our first love. The busyness, the religious activity, the pious jargon is all there but the wonder and the intense love are gone. The light has failed. When this occurs to an entire church, then that church's lampstand is removed.

The Ephesian church trembled at the brink of this very precipice. Its light flickered, yet still shone but for how much longer?
And could it be that you and I stand at this same brink, wavering alongside the Ephesian Christians, tottering, about to tumble off?
If so, how do we know? And how can we be rescued from such a fate?

The great English poet Alexander Pope lay on his deathbed with only a few days of life remaining. His doctor, meanwhile, was cheerily attempting to lift his spirits. "Why, Alexander," exclaimed the physician, "already your pulse is stronger, your breathing is easier, and the color is coming back into your cheeks. All the signs are completely encouraging. Soon you shall be out of that bed and back to work, as fit and robust as ever!"

So it often is with you and me. Just look at all the good symptoms in our lives our busy religious activity, our faithful church attendance, our charitable giving and volunteerism. But could it be that we, like Alexander Pope, are "dying of a hundred good symptoms"?

Whenever Christians lose their first love, there are always telltale symptoms to watch for. I will list for you just three.

The first symptom of a fading first love is when you lose that distinctive, glowing joy of the Christian life. This symptom rarely shows on the outside. It's just something you know deep within you. Life becomes humdrum and routine. You listen to the Word of God or to a powerful sermon or to the testimony of a fellow Christian, and you feel you've heard it all already. Worship begins to be mechanical, routine, dull. This is a danger sign; heed it! It means you are beginning to lose your first love.

Second symptom: you lose your ability to love others. One of the great revelations of Scripture is that the reason we love others is because we have first been loved ourselves. When we lose that awareness of the amazing wonder of Jesus' love, it is almost inevitable that our love for others begins to fade. We become critical of others. We become complainers. We become more selective in our friendships, singling out only those who match up to our beliefs, standards, professional level, economic status. We lose our Christlike, indiscriminate, unconditional love for others that kind of love we expressed in the days when our love affair with Jesus was warm and new and alive.

Third symptom: we lose a healthy perspective on ourselves. Our wants, our needs become more and more important in our thinking. Instead of concerning ourselves with what pleases God, we think only about pleasing ourselves.

When enough people in a church develop this symptom (and just a few is enough), the result is division and schism in the church. Instead of being focused on their love for Christ, and wanting to spread that love to others, they become focused on themselves, their own agendas, their own programs, their own interests. Self-centeredness sets in and the light of the church flickers, falters, and fails.

These are the marks of a church that is gradually losing its first love and this is what was happening to the church at Ephesus. The frightening thing is that there is nothing particularly unique about the Ephesian crisis. We have all been "Ephesian" in our faith at one time or another. I have. I'm sure you have, too.

We know these symptoms all too well.

If the symptoms are not recognized early enough, if the disease of losing our first love goes untreated, then our light goes out. Our lampstand is removed. We cease to be light-bearers in our darkening world.

In His letter to the Ephesian church, our Lord gives three specific, practical steps to recovery: Remember, repent, and return.

First, remember. "Remember the height from which you have fallen," He says. Look back. Recall how you felt and how you responded when you first came to Jesus. Re-experience in your mind that sense of joy and wonder and closeness you felt when you first gave yourself to the living Christ. Re-experience that sense of inner support and strength that came to you in times of pressure and trouble. Recall the eagerness with which you went to the Lord in prayer. Warm your soul with the fond memory of the delight you took in fellowship with other believers, in hungrily devouring God's Word, in soaking up the preaching and exposition of that Word in church. Recall how you could hardly bear to miss a service, because each Sunday morning was an adventure of discovery of God's transforming truth for your life. "Remember the height from which you have fallen." Only then can you see how to undertake the journey back to that height.

Second, repent. Change your mind and change your life. That is what repentance means. Change your mind about what has taken the place of Jesus in your life. Renounce that ambition, that pride of position and reputation, that longing for approval that has replaced your original wondering love for Jesus. Many of the things you now do your service in the church, your Sunday morning worship, your weekly Bible study, your outreach to others will take on new meaning and fresh power from God as you replace your old prideful, self-centered motivation with a new, joyful, Christ-centered motivation.

Give up that critical spirit, that complaining attitude, that reliance on knowledge. Put Jesus back into the center of all you are and do. Allow the joy of your salvation and your amazement over God's love to permeate every endeavor you undertake.

Third, return. "Do the things you did at first," says our Lord Jesus.

I will never forget an illustration which Dr. Robert Munger used during a pastors' conference at the Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center near Santa Cruz, California.