Revelation 2:4: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.”
Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
In the summer of 2000, I returned home from having spent two years in a predominantly Muslim context in Central Asia, where I found opportunities to share the gospel nearly every day. It was my experience in Central Asia, just as it had been during my college years, that contact with lost people was good for my soul. My love for God poured out naturally into a love for the lost around me. But the reverse was also true: my encounters and relationships with the lost spurred on my love for God. There is something beautiful and indeed powerful about seeing a lost man cry out to God, be saved by God’s grace, and walk in newness of life. Our love for God and his gospel results in a love for man (one does not commend that which he does not cherish), but also our love for God’s image-bearers results in a yet deeper love for God and his gospel (the more we proclaim and embody God’s love, the more we love Him and recognize his unsurpassed worth).
Upon returning home from Central Asia, I threw myself into Ph. D. studies. I preached the gospel, especially during the summer breaks, but for the most part I studied. As the months and years passed, I found that I rarely had conversations with unbelievers. I lived on campus, taught on campus, and worshiped with believers on Sundays. Rare was the day that I had a meaningful conversation with someone who was not a believer. Even worse, I felt like I was slowly losing the impulse to share the gospel. As a result, not only was I was withholding life from men and women who are dead in their trespasses, without hope and without God in this world, but also I was losing one of the very things that fired my passion for God.
Ironically, I was attending a seminary that confessed absolute confidence in God and his gospel and encouraged evangelistic zeal at every turn. For over a decade now, under two different presidents, this has remained the same. And yet retaining my affection for God and a love for the lost remains a struggle for me. I suspect that I am not alone, and I offer some advice for those those who may find themselves in this situation-seminary students and employees, pastors, employees of SBC entities, etc.: Do whatever it takes to break out of the Christian bubble within which you live, and take the gospel of life to those who are dead. In an attempt to do this myself, I have designated a few days each month during which I do my work (research, writing, email, whatever) at a coffee shop or student center at UNC, Duke, or one of the other college campuses in our area. Here is another idea: Try coming home from work or from the library before 10:00 p.m., and in so doing you might actually meet some of your neighbors who are lost. A final idea: Instead of listening to that next Tim Keller sermon, put down the iPod and actually do what it is that Keller is talking about-share the gospel.
In conclusion, don’t resent your time “in the bubble.” Don’t reject the great opportunity God has given you to lay the foundation for a lifetime of ministry. Don’t feel guilty that you are here. Seminary is your calling at this time in your life. Take advantage of your classes, your professors, your fellow students. Make the most of your studies in church history, theology, or missions. But while you are at it, don’t allow yourself to lose your first love for God and your love for the lost.