Landing Safely after a Spiritual High

Delivered June 15, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

The text today is from Revelation, Chapter 2, verses 1-5. Revelation is a mysterious book you know, but it’s very figurative. One person said it is like the gospels in figurative language and so let’s listen just to the church, Jesus’ word to the church in Ephesus and God’s Word to us. Revelation, 2:1-5:

“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, 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. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Amen

Have you ever flown in a plane as the day was ending? If you have, you may recall seeing the gradual change of brightness. You can look back over your shoulder, if you are flying east, of course, and then you will see the glow of the sunset. It’s very bright. And then if you just turn and look right to the east, you will start to see a totally different shading, a grey, coming towards you and because you are going 500 or 600 miles and hour, it happens quite quickly, and much more quickly that we would normally sense it.

You know, we are three Sundays after 40 Days of Purpose and some of you may still be able to look back over your shoulder and see a glow. Others, may not. You know there are different groups here today. I can think of at least four different groups of people. One, 40 Days of Purpose may have been the starting place of your spiritual journey where you encountered Christ for the first time. And, I think I know this is true because I have spoken to those who have received the Lord since Easter Sunday and are here.

Secondly, 40 Days of Purpose may have been a middle point of your journey. Maybe it helped you to reconnect with God and with the church. I know that’s true because I have spoken to some of you in that category. And, then there is a third category that may not be in the first two, but for whom 40 Days of Purpose may have been a spiritual cloud nine. It just puts you right up there. And, then there is a fourth group that may be visiting Central Church in the last three weeks saying, “What’s 40 Days of Purpose?” Right, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about.”

Today I want to speak to you about those times in our experience when we have to negotiate a spiritual high no matter what the reason. And, I especially want to address those of you who may still feel like you are on cloud nine or feel like you have come down or even may have crashed. Okay? Or, even those of you who may just feel spiritually blah period. How do you start on your next leg of your spiritual journey no matter where you are? But, especially if you are on that spiritual high.

Let me ask you a question. What’s the highest point on earth that we know of? Mount Everest, right, 29,035 feet. Last year I went up Pike’s Peak, which is only 14,000. It was half the distance, and at 13,000 feet I was breathing heavy, I was getting dizzy. And you know, you can drive right up there. I was scared to death going up there. And I am thinking, twice as high as where I am right now is Mount Everest. That’s amazing! And, I would look down from the top and it was unbelievably breathtaking. How many people have scaled Mount Everest? Somewhere between 1,300 and 1,600 people have made it to the top. That’s more than I thought had done it. They have been doing it ever since 1921. Now, here is an interesting fact, a sad one, but interesting. Of those 1,300 to 1,600 people, about 160 people have died during that time. That means that one in eight or nine or so died. And for that privilege they pay $60,000 and give three months of their life and one in eight or nine don’t make it back. What do you think that’s about? I mean maybe it’s great to be able to say that I am in a small group of people that has done something really unique, and that would be something to say, and there is something compelling about ascending the highest place on earth. Just like, Sir Edmund Hillary was the first one, and you remember what he said when they asked him why he did It? “It’s because its there, right?”

Let me ask you a question. Is it more dangerous to climb Mount Everest or to descend down its slope? Just by the way I ask that question you may know the answer, right? More people have died coming down than going up. Now, I am sure there are many reasons for that, but it illustrates a very important lesson. That there are highs and lows to living and if we are not willing to accept that fact, then we are headed for some trouble. Life is a series of ups and downs, ebbs and flows, highs and lows, good and bad.

A guy said to his friend, “Did you hear that John fell out of an airplane?” His buddy said, “Boy that’s bad.” The first guy said, “No he had a parachute.” Second guy says, “Oh that’s good.” The first guy said, “The chute didn’t open.” The friend said, “Oh that’s bad.” But he said, “But it’s okay there was a haystack.” Second guy, “Oh that’s good.” First guy, “But there was a pitchfork in the haystack.” Second guy, “Oh man that’s bad.” First guy, “But he missed the pitchfork.” Second guy, “Oh that’s good.” First guy, “Yeah, but he missed the haystack too.” Second guy, “Oh that’s bad.” Do you get the point? Life ebbs and flows. The highs can be so good, and the low so painful that we just want to hang onto the highs and have nothing to do with the lows. Just like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw Jesus transformed. They got a peek of its heavenly glory and Jesus said, its time to go back down into the valley of human suffering and they said, Lord couldn’t we just stay here a little while longer? That is so human. That is so much the way we are. We want to do that. We want to stay on the mountaintop. But I ask you, is it possible to stay on a spiritual high? No, it’s not. God has to build spiritual circuit breakers into our lives.

I remember in 1972, I was on a spiritual high in my life that lasted about a week. I honestly felt like I was walking a foot off the ground during a conference and some days after a conference. God had truly touched me in a deep way. And, it was almost like the end of that time the Lord was saying to me, “You know George you can’t stay here. You are either going to flame out or burn out or something, but you can’t stay here. You know why? Because I don’t want you to trust in these feelings. I want you to trust in me. I want you trust in me. Not when you are feeling a certain way”. You know the Bible contains stories that are just a parade of highs and lows. One right after another. Take Daniel for instance. Daniel was very faithful to God in a strange land and that was a high. He was elevated to a point of authority. But, because of his faithfulness to God, he was thrown into a den of hungry lions. That was a definite low, right? But the lions didn’t eat him, that was a high. You see, there is a pattern here. Take Jonah for another instance as an example. He runs away from God, a low. He is swallowed by a great fish, definite low. Right? But the fish vomits him up on dry ground, is that a high or low? I am not sure what that is. Actually it is probably a high. There is only two ways out of a fish, you know that right? Okay. Sorry, about that.

If you go to the New Testament, you have Jesus, and he is at his baptism and he hears his Father’s voice from heaven and He says, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” Can you imagine what a spiritual high that must have been? What happened after that? He is led 40 days into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. What happened after that? He came back and he started preaching and teaching and reaching to people who were lost and needed to hear, and came to God and had his touch upon them. And, that was a high. And then what happened? He was nailed to a cross. The lowest low of human history. But then what happened after that? He rose from the dead. That’s the greatest high of human history. And, then He ascended into heaven and one day He will come back. And in between those times until He comes back, we are going to experience those highs and lows just like He did and here is what I know, because Jesus stayed faithful to God in the highs and lows, we will grow in our faith when we do the same and we stay faithful to Him.

You say, okay Pastor George how do I stay balanced if life’s journey is like this? Here’s a passage of scripture that we just read that we can spend a few minutes on and look at to understand how to negotiate the highs and lows. And, it is obvious that the people in this text were people who had spiritual highs for sure. In fact, if you noticed the description of these followers of Jesus they have grown in their faith. It is obvious that they had clear sense of purpose. They had a mission. They had served the Lord with gratitude and emotion and joy and diligence, but something had happened according to the words that we read here today. Somewhere along the way, something had changed. Now, it wasn’t a work problem. They were working just fine. In fact, Jesus says, “I know your deeds and your hard work.” You are doing great in that area. And they were doing the right thing. It wasn’t a work problem. And I don’t think it was what they were thinking that was wrong. It wasn’t an information problem. They had the right information. Their problem was a love problem. They were suffering what can be adequately be called heart drift.

Now, let me ask you a question. Have you ever experienced heart drift? We all have. Where your heart used to be inflamed with passion and now it’s cold. This happens in male and female relationships all the time. How many of you remember that sick at your stomach, giddy, jumpy, wide-eyed, enthusiastic, passionate, can’t stop touching each other time in your life? Some of you don’t remember do you? Some of you do remember. Like to older couple getting ready to turn it. The wife says, you don’t love me anymore. You use to love me all the time, what happened, don’t you remember romance? The old guy ponders for a minute and he gets up and she says, see you don’t listen. Where are you going now? You don’t even care about me. Where are you going? He says, I am going to get my teeth. You didn’t like that one, all right. He was trying to listen, how can you – no teeth. What happens to love? Make a note; do not use that at 10:00 a.m. What happened to love?

Revelation 2:4 said something very insightful about love. Look at it. It does not say that you have lost your first love. It says, you have forsaken, that you have left your first love. Actually, it’s a choice. It’s a small series of choices. Now, some of you have just come through this incredible 40 days and right now you are on a high in your relationship with God. You can’t spend enough time with Him. You can’t be here enough. Love has captured you. If there is a small group, you are there. Worship service going on, you are there. Scripture memory, you are doing it. There is no place you would rather be. He has the full focus of your heart and your devotion. That’s a spiritual high weather system. You know like the weather people, and there comes the lows and we have been seeing a lot of that in the mid Atlantic, another low coming in on the spiritual weather map of your soul. It is not going to stay that way, okay? Rain and coldness blow across your heart over a small series of choices, and before long you find that you have forsaken your first love. What are you going to do when that happens? What do you do if it has already happened? How do you get started in a new place on the spiritual journey? How do you manage a low place as well as a high?

Well, look at Revelation 2. Three answers I think and they are all in verse 5 basically. He says first, “Remember the height from which you have fallen.” That’s the first step in the journey. Jesus said, remember. Remember back to what it was like when you were walking with me. How did it feel? What did you experience? Remember when the Bible was like a personal love letter to you, and when you opened it up, no thought about how long you were in church, you know you just wanted to be with me. Do you remember? You know what, God remembers. God remembers those times. God longs for those times again. God remembers when you were honest to God, in joy and in sorrow. God remembers when those times in your heart when tears would come very easily over your relationship with God and was blessed and pleased by that. God remembers times when you just maybe silently prayed in worship service, Lord please just fill me up once again. I just am hungry and thirsting for righteousness and you did it and you prayed that and God touched you. God remembers that.

Some years ago a singer, Lionel Harrison wrote a song, he said it’s a song where God is the singer and what God says to the listener is this. Here’s the lyric: “I miss my time with you, those moments together. I need to be with you each day and it hurts me when you say you are too busy, busy trying to serve me. But how can you serve me when your spirit is empty?” What is that saying? It’s saying, don’t let your work for God destroy the work of God within you. That is what Revelation 2 is saying. You guys are doing great work, but don’t let it destroy the work of God within you. This is supposed to be about a love relationship with the very one who made you. If you haven’t started doing a life journal, would you begin? That’s one tool to help you stay close to God. Or, maybe you have written something in your journal or maybe you have written something in the margins of your Bible. Why don’t you go back and read that in those times when things were connecting for you.

Look at verse 5 again. Notice the next step you take. First, it’s remember. Then if things have slipped it says repent. Repent. First you remember, then you repent. Now, that’s a heavy word. It simply means this. I recognized that where I am is not where I am supposed to be. I just recognize it and I admit it. Now, more than that, I now turn and I move back toward God and to where I am supposed to be. That’s all that it means. That’s what it is. First you remember, then you repent, you turn.

And number three, verse 5, you do what you used to do. If you remember, repent and do the things you did at first. Okay? What do you do? You take one more step. You take one more step obedient to Christ. You do the next right thing. You don’t get to the top of Mount Everest quickly. You take it one step at a time. And you don’t get down from there quickly. You take it one, unless you make a mistake, you take one step at a time. You will not get through the valley. So what do you do? You put one foot in front of the other; you take one right step, and successfully make your way through the low places. You know yesterday 30 some new folks attended a new member’s class right beneath where we are sitting in Fellowship Hall. We spent all day together just about. 8:30 to 3:30 almost. We spent it together. 30 some people. An illustration of folks taking the next step in their friendship with God and in their fellowship with the church. I was so proud of all those folks who were there that made that commitment. They are great examples. They are applying the purpose of fellowship in their lives. At the beginning of the 40 Days of Purpose when we talked about reading a book, you said what, read a book? You mean a whole book!? Right? And, you remember the brother that shared a couple of weeks ago on Sunday night that he had never read a book in his whole life. How did he do it? One chapter at a time. Right? One step at a time. And, before long he said, “I read a book.” That is all it took. One day at a time. One step. One day. One prayer at a time. And, when you boil it right down, the low times are when the greatest character development of God takes place in our lives. To our obedience and our trust. We trust Him when we are up and we obey Him. We trust Him when we are down and we obey Him. It’s a matter of choosing to do that by His grace.

You know Sally Russell called me yesterday afternoon, and you all know from if you were around last week or two that Curt severed two of his fingers in an accident with a radial saw,. and they were reattached. They have been through such a roller coaster of ups and downs over the past 10 or 11 days that it is unbelievable. I mean, there is a whole book to be written about those 10 or 11 days, about how high they were, and then how low they were and up and down, and believe it or not they had leeches put on his fingers you know to help draw the blood so that the chance of reattachment was going to be successful. And, last night she called me and she said, oh my word, what a prayer. What power of prayer. The doctor came in yesterday and said the index finger is not going to be able to be saved or one of them, and she said, “I just got down on my knees and I said, Lord I just surrender to you. Whatever you want, just help us to figure it out and do what you will so that you will be glorified.” The next day the doctor comes back in and he does a 180-degree turn. He says, “man look at this finger. The blood is flowing again.” I just came in this morning, and I got a call on my voice mail. Denise Simms called me because Sally asked her to. Again, maybe it is going to be lost. You know, this is life. We go up and down. What are we going to do when this happens? We are going to keep trusting Him and take one step at a time. And, just like Sally said, “Lord, high or low, I surrender to you. I obey you.” You say, okay I am willing with God’s help to try the next step. The next step of obedience. But I have one question, what if I trip? You just said coming back down from Mount Everest is really dangerous and that maybe you could trip and could fall, so what do I do? Well, that’s a great question. And here’s the answer. Even when you fail, just like I was sharing with the kids, even when you fail, God never does. When I fail, God never does. Can we say it together? When I fail, God never does. God’s love will never fail, even when life gets messy, even when we have been part of making life get messy, his love for you is never in question.

Several years ago Phyllis George, former Ms. America, was writing in a book and she wrote about an account that she had when she was on a plane trip from Tucson to Phoenix. It wasn’t a long flight at all, and seated next to her was a beautiful little baby girl on the lap of a young woman. Jeanette describes the little baby, beautiful white dress, little pink bow in her hair. This baby was smiling and kept saying, “Dada, Dada,” and everybody was just enraptured by her during the first part of the trip. And, the woman explained that we are going home to see her daddy. We have been away for 24 hours and we are going back. Just like one little guy said today, my dad is away. He is coming home. Everybody was just enjoying this little girl, and they were flying along and mom’s got a thermos bottle and she was giving her fruit juice and a little fruit, and all of the sudden they get up a little bit and probably her ears got plugged and she started crying. And the more she cries the more juice and more fruit and before long the flight gets turbulent and she is bouncing around. Now, she is really crying and wouldn’t you know it, out it all comes, all over her dress, all over mom, all over everybody trying to get away from her, but they were handing her paper towels and saying here you go as they keep their distance. Right? And, when the plane landed the little girl was fine. Nobody else was fine, but when the plane landed she was fine again and she was starting to say Dada again, and she was just covered with her own spit up right? And, Phyllis George said that when she got off the plane, she spotted her dad and he had white pants on and a white shirt and he was holding a bouquet of white carnations, I think it was, and as he walked to embrace his wife, she just went like this (arms outstretched in front). She just handed him her little girl, right? And, she went to the bathroom to clean up. And, Phyllis George said, I thought when he looked at how nasty that little girl had gotten, he would say, “that’s not my baby. I don’t know whose baby this is, but it’s not mine.” That’s not what happened, as you can imagine. The dad just took her in his arms and hugged her to his clean white shirt, right and starting kissing her and stroking her hair over and over again saying “Daddy’s baby came home. Daddy’s baby came home.” And Phyllis George in her book, she writes this. “He never stopped kissing that baby. I watched him all the way to the baggage area.” I thought, where did I ever get the idea that our Heavenly Father is less loving than a young daddy in a white shirt and white pants with white flowers who doesn’t care what his little girl looks like or what she smells like. He is just glad that she is home.

Maybe you have blown it. It may be really messy. Maybe even since the end of 40 Days. Maybe, it’s not unusual. You know when you have been on a spiritual high, it is not long before some fall might be right around the corner if you are not careful. And, you thought to yourself, or you are thinking God would never want me looking like this, you couldn’t be more wrong. You could not be more wrong. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, you know maybe you are a visitor in the last three weeks and you are in that fourth category that I talked about, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, if you are ready to turn and repent and come to Christ and do his will, he will receive you. He is a loving, heavenly Father. Remember his love. Take the next right step. Keep moving in his direction and just keep making your way home to Him. He will take you in his arms no matter what. Why? Because His love never fails.

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for helping us whether life is a high or a low. Thank you for keeping us steady. Thank you for being the one who puts the guardrails on the road. Thank you for loving us even more than we understand, and for loving us even when we could never think you would. Lord, I thank you that the most deepest and most important way that you have proved your love to us, was by sending your Son to die on the cross. Thank you that He was raised from the dead so that you might continue to love the whole family of faith throughout eternity. Lord, for those who need to start a love relationship with you, I pray that you would open their hearts and help them to receive you. And, those who seek to stay in a love relationship with you Lord, help them whether it’s through rising or failing, to commit to you again today and in simple trust make their journey home, even as we continue in this worship service. And, thank you Lord for letting us know that when we arrive you will always be there to enfold us in your arms and to welcome us into your presence in Jesus’ name. Amen.