It’s cold outside! I am sure that is not news to anyone. We have all struggled to stay warm and safe throughout this arctic tundra of a winter (ok not quite like the arctic tundra I am sure, but it sure feels really cold and snowy). As spring hopefully draws near, thoughts of all the winter celebrations are floating through my mind. During each winter we celebrate people (president’s day and MLK day), events (New Years, Christmas, Hanukkah, Purim). sports (Superbowl, Daytona 500, Winter Olympics) and of course love (Valentine’s day). All these celebrations revolve around love of some sort – love for service, self-sacrifice, for sport, for giving gifts, etc. But it is Valentine’s day that we (as a culture) probably most associate with love (even more so than Christmas). We give gifts, and short little valentine’s cards. We buy flowers and boxes of chocolates. We go out on dates (or sit home wishing we were on dates) and even our children mark this holiday in their school celebrations.
It is amazing to think about – especially when we consider how distorted our view of love really is. For many, love can be broken down into experiencing an emotion and receiving affirmation. We want that powerful experience of feeling connected to someone while at the same time feeling appreciated, affirmed, and cared for in return. But because we live in a broken, messy world we often fail to be able to adequately give and receive love. Instead we digress into various forms of pleasure seeking, infatuation, and unhealthy addictions to get some sense of intimacy and affirmation. This happens especially when we feel so intensely how the world and the people around us fail to fill the deep holes inside of us with their limited or horded forms of love.
In stark contrast is the love that God freely offers us. A love so deep that it enters this world in a dirty unglamorous manger. Love that lives. A love that enters this world in the middle of all its ugliness and messiness with a desire to heal and make whole. A love that sacrifices itself. A love that doesn’t judge and require anything in return. A love that, once it enters into our lives, imbues it with passion, care, humility, and grace. A love that changes and transforms. A love that spreads from person to person. A love that can at times be scary. A love that burns away the bitterness and rips the caustic elements away from our hearts. A love that shines in every nook and dark corner exposing the unhealthiness that we cling to. A love that Christians all too often run and hide from.
When I describe this kind of love, people will often ask, “Where can I find that kind of love?” I answer “in a relationship with God and with God’s church.” Often this leads to sort of a dejected look where people respond with an “OK” and quickly move the conversation in another direction. Sadly, their experiences of “Church” have not lead to an experience of this kind of love. Two big reasons why this happens. 1) Christians are a work in progress and often fail at loving others as God loves them. 2) To experience this kind of love we must surrender. Surrender ourselves, our agenda, and control of our lives. We need to enter in to a relationship not on our own terms but allow God’s terms to define who we are and what kind of relationships we have. Only as we do this will we truly experience that kind of powerful love that God wants us to have. Admittedly, this is not easy. Surrendering can also be a bit of a vague word. There are no precise steps that we can all follow as this experience is slightly different for everyone. This is yet another reason why we need God’s community. We need those who have gone before us, who can help, guide, and demonstrate for us how to surrender to God’s love. Being in community with other Christians does not guarantee that they will love us in this remarkable way. But it is the one true place that will bring us step by step closer to seeing and experiencing the power of God’s love. By being in community with other people of faith we both see glimpse of God’s love in our lives, but are also connected to God as God uses the templates of our lives to bring this unfathomable love deeper and deeper into our world – bringing with it salvation, hope, and healing.
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