WHAT IS LOVE?

Apparently today is the yearly day of love, so I’m going to ask a simple question:

What is love?

Baby, don't hurt me

Night at the Roxbury, Saturday Night Live

(Get the Night at the Roxbury scene out of your head, and I’ll continue.)

This is a question I’m thinking about a lot, since properly loving people is supposed to be the goal of a Christian. Yet even though I’m called to live a life defined by love, I’m still terrible at actually doing it. Because love takes a lot of courage, and I’m a coward.

The other day I asked God to give me the courage to love, and I had no idea why. It just sort of came out of my mouth, or popped into my mind, most likely because God knows me and knows I’m terrible at loving like I’m capable of.

So for my sake, it’s a good thing our culture has redefined Love as something much easier, because it lets me off the hook.

We’ve transformed love into a feeling.

Into kissing and sex. Love in our culture has been largely redefined as sexual, and because  love isn’t something we think about as something which requires great courage, I’m allowed to be a coward while still being seen as a good person. Merriam-Webster defines this love as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” This is the love people make money off of. This is the love Nicholas Sparks has made millions of dollars on, and the love that has convinced us that flowers are romantic and began the holiday we are celebrating today. And this is also the love that has led to a 50% divorce rate, because it’s the love that we can fall out of because it’s the love based on feelings, and feelings change.

But the dictionary doesn’t stop here. Merriam and Webster continue on towards a better definition: “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” As a Christian, this definition is much more accurate. It is the center of the message we find our hope in. It’s the center of our religion. Without unselfish behavior and benevolent concern for others, we’d all still be sacrificing lambs and hoping God would have mercy on us.

Without unselfish behavior, there would be no Christianity,

because unselfish is a synonym of Jesus Christ, and an antonym of  natural humanity.

And with this definition of love – Christ’s definition of love defined as unselfishness – I’m back to being a man in need of courage. I’m back to being a man who is naturally selfish yet has recognized Christ’s unselfishness, as well as His desire to make me unselfish – His desire for me to “love as He loved.” And because of Him, I am slowly improving. Or rather He is slowly improving me, because I am naturally selfish, yet God is naturally the opposite. And He has promised to make us the opposite as well.

And because I’m a coward, I’ll keep on praying for the courage to love, and keep on trusting that He’ll help me and continue showing me what love truly is – continually changing it’s definition from a feeling to a sacrifice.

What if you rethought the phrase, “we give love to get love.” What if you shortened it to only giving? Would you be as eager to love if you knew there would be no reciprocation? I hope I would, because I know He would, and I know He did.

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WHAT DO YOU WANT [and does He want you] TO BE?

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’re all asked that question over and over again in life, and as we move through adolescence and into being a “young adult,” it seems the answer often becomes less clear. Closing in on 26 years of age, I’m still asked this question, although usually in adult-speak, with people asking me things like, “so what do you do with that degree,” or just, “so what do you want to do with that,” and I still don’t really know the full answer. I don’t know if I ever truly will.

When I was young, I always knew the answer. I never really wanted to be a professional athlete, or an astronaut, or a famous musician. I never wanted to do what other kids dreamed of doing. I always wanted to be an architect – so much so, that in my free time I’d draw blueprints, or build houses with wooden blocks or legos. That was what I thought of as “having fun.”

So I made sure I could make it happen. I always did well in school, and eventually was accepted into a highly competitive architecture program, where I was soon kicked out after the first year because of a GPA 0.2 points lower than it needed to be.

So began plan B – go to my in-state school, get an engineering degree, and then head off to grad school to finish it off with a Masters of Architecture degree. And then I got to know God.

I’ve always been a “Christian.” I grew up in church, never swearing or drinking, and never getting into trouble. I was nice to people, smiled a lot, and prayed every once in a while. But I didn’t really know God. I didn’t start to know Him until my sophomore year in college – and that’s when my ‘dream job’ went out the window, because it was just that – mine.

I started to realize that it was my dream job – not His dream job for me. I started to realize how much smarter God is than me and how much better He knows me and my potential than I know myself. And because of this, I started to get scared. If God was calling me away from architecture, then he’s calling me towards something I’m not so sure that I’m good at. I was all prepared to design some buildings, give my ten percent, maybe join a bible study or two, and live my life – but God doesn’t let us off easy. He doesn’t let us off at average. If you don’t believe me, read the Bible and His plans for the people in it. He always sent them to do something that scared them, and they usually hesitated to act for a while. But eventually, they did it, and realized God made us stronger than we thought.

God sees potential, and strives to make sure we reach it. We, as humans, see pleasure, or money, or fame, or convenience, and think it’s potential. We see what we’re good at, and try to use it to cash in, or maybe we even try to use it to “serve Him.” And sometimes, using the talents we know about is exactly where He wants us. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes he’ll ask us to do things we know we’ll have to work our butts off for – things seemingly unachievable – but we ultimately know that it’s where our purpose lies, so our cowardice to move from vision to action can’t last too long, because eventually, as we get to know Him, our dreams and His align and we realize it’s a better dream after all.

Are your dreams aligned with His? Are you still pretending you didn’t hear His voice, continuing to move forward on your own path? Acknowledge the voice. Focus on it. Quiet your own fear if you have to. Is He asking you to keep walking, or to switch paths?

ROOTS.

 

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive though hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than Christ.”    – Colossians 2:6-8

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Can a tree live without roots? Can it continually grow stronger, prevailing against the winds, if the roots aren’t there?

Of course not!

No plant can go strong without it’s roots finding water, and in the same way, no Christian can grow strong without their roots being in Christ! Without Him, you can grow tall, but it is all based on pride and selfishness, and you will soon fall at the first true storm. But only when you realize continued growth and provision is found deep below, and you seek out to find it as a root does water, can you grow through a humble spirit and in the knowledge that it is only through Christ’s provision which you have been made strong. And then, when all roots are firmly gripped and entangled in Christ’s deep love and wisdom, can you withstand any storm the world may produce.

Are your roots shallow, while you take pride in your knowledge of Christ, or are they deep seated in the wisdom that only through Christ can such knowledge – and ability to love – truly exist?

SNAKES, CLIFFS, AND BEARS: THE UNCERTAIN TERROR OF FOLLOWING CHRIST

The fear of Christianity is a peculiar thing.

Lately I’ve been in an incredible state of recognition – recognizing the odd nature of God’s requests in my life. I’ve recognized that, quite obviously, He has continuously, without fail, called me to do the things that have always terrified me. My original goal was to tithe regularly. Now I’m asking people to support me so I can help college students realize the potential in Christ which I took so long to realize myself.

If you haven’t experienced it, asking people for financial support is a terrifying endeavor.

Yet God has changed me through the years.

The things I once feared are now the things I couldn’t imagine being torn away from. The things I once vowed never to do in my life (i.e. preach) are now the things I see in my future. The things I always wanted to do, and had planned as my stability in life (i.e. architecture) has become an afterthought, and frightening in its own right.

So maybe God will call me to do that eventually. Once it becomes a more terrifying thought.

I guess the point is, God has completely changed my motivations. Architecture, in my life, represents the path on the safe side of the river – the path towards self-glory. It represents the path towards worldly success and recognition. It represents the path I chose for myself when I was seven years old.

Yet God has brought me to the other side of the river. And it is terrifyingly wonderful.

Ministry, and serving the world for the sake of the Gospel and Christ’s love which must be felt by everyone on this rotating sphere we inhabit, is the path of complete self-denial – the path full of snakes, and 100 foot drops, limited visibility, and bears. What’s more terrifying than bears, right? Yet it is the path towards the greater reward. It is the path of unexpectedness. It is the path that keeps me wondering what will come next. It is the path with an always moving and adapting storyline. It isn’t the path of least resistance, but it is the path of most interest.

It is the path that seeks to expose my potential. And that can only be found by fighting off a bear in the fog every once in a while.

Looking back, it’s kind of funny that I just used a bear analogy. In high school, whenever me and my friends would go camping, I was known as a sort of bear whisperer. I’d make up stories of times where a bear would come up to me, and instead of attacking me, I’d just talk to it like it was a human. I’d just talk to it as if we’d been friends for years, asking him about how his family was and that sort of thing.manbear1

Of course this was just for laughs. I’ve never come across an actual bear, despite living in Wyoming, and I’ve certainly never had a friendly chat with one. Yet in my current stage of life, and the stages yet to come, I must respond to the bears along the path in the same manner as I joked in high school. I must treat them as old friends, pushing me to embrace that which terrifies me. Because if there’s one thing God has taught me other than that He is full of grace and love, it is that the sooner we embrace the terrifying task He has put before us, the sooner we will see the good that comes from it. The sooner we talk to the bear as an old friend, the sooner we won’t be able to imagine our lives without that bear.

What is the bear standing in your path that you must face? Have you embraced the fear and confronted it as an old friend? Or have you decided to avoid it and cut back across to your old path from before Christ changed your course?

If you’ve cut back across, there’s good news: His path is always just across the river. All you need is a bridge – and God has provided us with a carpenter.

LOVE: A REBRANDING

Love. It is the one common thing every person on earth searches for during their lives. Everyone wants to be loved, to feel love, and to make love. Yet not many in our society really wanted to go through the effort to give love, or to show love, so we have slowly decided to redefine love.

We redefined “love” as not only a temporary feeling of butterflies in stomachs and giggles, but as tolerance. And then we redefined tolerance as accepting everyone’s views as equally right, rather than its old definition of respecting people’s differences. If you love someone these days, you won’t tell them when they’re wrong. Because correction might hurt feelings, and hurting someone’s feelings isn’t love, it’s narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Through our redefining of love, we’ve come to the conclusion we all should get participation trophies, because it’s easier to buy a trophy than it is to say no.

Before I started writing this, I was listening to Bob Marley to get into the mood. I figured if I’m going to write about love, I should listen to the guy who helped define it. And that’s when I started to realize that Bob Marley had no idea what he was talking about. Or at least we have no idea what Bob Marley was talking about (it turns out he was a lot more militaristic than modern society makes him out to be). Take “One Love,” for example:

“Let’s get together and feel alright.”

Bob Marley - a man who tried to redefine love

Bob Marley – a man who tried to redefine love

We’ve redefined this love as “getting together,” and as a state of “feeling alright.” We’ve redefined love as irresponsibility. This is not love. This is the result of a society which can’t be told they’re wrong. This is the result of passivity, because our society today is too afraid of what comes along with real, truthful love. The truth is, only one man has ever lived a life of complete love, and his life was synonymous with discontent and discomfort. He said many wise things about love, and he called a lot of people out on the wrongs they were doing. And he said love is the most important thing we can do. He also said,

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” –John 15:13

Many people read this verse and see it as a challenge – as a question asking, “Would you die for your friends?” They think it over and say, “Yeah, I think I would,” and walk off proud because they’ve stepped up to the task. But this is only one small piece of what Jesus is talking about. Jesus isn’t talking about finite death; he is talking about daily, hourly death. He is giving love it’s true definition: sacrifice. This is why Christianity preaches abstinence, and living only out of need, and giving to those without. It is even why Christianity preaches against abortion – because we believe a living fetus is to be loved as equally as the woman who created it, even though we know believing this means the woman will have to make huge sacrifices.

Are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness for your friends?

If not, I can’t say you love them. Jesus was the one who defined love because He is the only one who truly lived it out through sacrifice. He came to this earth with the power to defeat any wrong done against him – with the power to do it the easy way by conquering the unjust and becoming the ruler of the nations – the way most Jews expected – yet He didn’t do that. He didn’t destroy the wicked, He paid their way. He disciplined himself to perfection, and because that is something we can’t accomplish, He sacrificed himself in order to see us as perfect. He took the hard way out, because it was the only way to create a way out for us. He sacrificed because He knew it was the only way to love. It was the only way to rescue everyone – the good and bad alike. He sacrificed himself because He loved all.

Our society can’t seem to grasp this. Our society is too busy hiding behind the lie that sex is love, or acceptance is love. Our society is too busy letting people define love as something that feels good, while watching our marriages crumble and our lives turn meaningless because we’re too afraid to do things that are hard. We’re too selfish to do things we don’t want to do. We’re too proud to think someone else is more important than ourselves. And until we begin to see ourselves as the “least of these,” as Jesus taught and lived, we will never sacrifice our own momentary happiness for the happiness of the people we love.

The truth is, I as a Christian, and us, as Christians, have a long way to go. We have become so focused on relevance in our culture that we have neglected relevance to God. We have become so focused on living comfortably and selfishly that we have forgotten how to live any other way. We have preached so much grace and forgiveness for the world that we have started to believe we are of the world, and forgotten that as soon as we accept God’s grace we are called to allow the Holy Spirit to restore us to righteousness through complete surrender.

Yet despite our failings, I am encouraged. I am encouraged by our generation’s attitude of all in or not in at all. I am encouraged by our generation’s hatred of lukewarm. I am encouraged by our generation’s desire to serve the world and sacrifice for the sake of the world, and our progress towards redefinition. The world may be getting sicker, but the church is slowly getting healthier. The church is realizing following Jesus and His teachings are more important than following what people say about Him. The church is realizing living a life of love – of complete sacrifice and surrender – is the only way to healing. It’s time we share our realizations. It’s time we show the world our new (old) definition of love.

LOVE = SACRIFICE.

1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.”

We sacrifice because He first sacrificed for us.