The movie The Notebook is a beautiful story of love and faithfulness centering on the long life of an older couple. The woman has Alzheimer’s and the movie unfolds as her husband reads her a story. It’s the story of their life together, but she doesn’t recognize it. She doesn’t remember; and his whole goal is to help her to remember her first love. At the risk of spoiling the ending, she finally does remember that love.
It’s amazing how transformative it is to get in touch with your first love. When the woman remembers, it’s as though for a brief time she suddenly becomes more fully herself and her husband recognizes it and suddenly he becomes more himself as well.
First love is a powerful thing. It’s powerful in human relationships, powerful in spiritual relationships. Have you ever been around a person who has just encountered Jesus? A person who has just discovered the life-transforming aspect of a relationship with Christ? They’re on fire! There’s real joy there and they want to talk about it! Sometimes you have to kind of say whoa! Settle down just a bit! It’s a relationship for a lifetime so you don’t have to get excited all at once!
That’s a very United Methodist thing to do – whoa! Don’t get too excited; remember things like decorum and sophistication. We’re United Methodists after all – not Pentecostals – so don’t go getting too excited on us!
In Revelation Jesus sends an angel to John with instructions to write a letter to seven churches. The second one is to Ephesus but it could be written to the United Methodist Church today:
I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. Rev 2:4-5
I believe that the thing that is most needed for church renewal is the ability for people of faith to be able to share their faith with grace and integrity – graceful articulation. The problem is that we seem to have forgotten what that’s all about.
Reclaiming an understanding of faith sharing isn’t about some new fangled strategy or skill; it’s about getting back in touch with your first love. It’s doing just what the angel said to John: turning back to God. The interesting thing about faith sharing is how easy it becomes when you’re in touch with your first love. How many people enjoy talking about their kids? Or grandkids? It comes easy doesn’t it? Don’t ask me about my kids unless you’ve got some time on your hands because I love to talk about them – the way they’re growing into really interesting young adults; their talents and strengths, quirks and idiosyncrasies. I love talking about them because I love them and my life completely changed the minute they entered picture.
Do you love Jesus? Is your life different because of that love?
If you answered yes to those questions, then what is it about Jesus that drew you to him? What is it about your relationship with Christ that brings meaning to your life?
Do you remember when you encountered Jesus for the first time? Do you remember what that encounter meant for you then? What does it mean for you now?
When we get in touch with those first love details, then sharing faith becomes natural because it’s not about theology or doctrine (even though there’s an important place for those things). It’s just about sharing what it is about Jesus that makes a difference in your life.
In our culture things can get intimidating when it comes to sharing faith. We think we have to have all the answers. We think it’s about arguing a particular point or asserting a particular doctrine – or worse we think it’s about being responsible for converting everybody else. But really it’s all about getting in touch with our first love.
I like Ephesians 3:18-19, because of what Paul wants for the people there, He writes:
May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Sharing faith with grace and integrity is about getting in touch with how wide, how long, how high and how deep God’s love for each of us really is. Are you in touch with that? Or have you fallen from your first love? Do you need to turn around and rediscover it? Do you need to experience or re-experience the love of Christ, though it’s so great you’ll never fully understand it? Do you need to experience it again so that you can better share it with others?
This site is a resource for church renewal offered by United Theological Seminary.