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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OUR PRIDE IN BURDEN (and giving them both up)

Please take all my burden, please take all my shame.

This is the last line of a song I wrote (which you can listen to here). Sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? Have you ever looked at scripture and the things we ask of God and said to yourself, “I’m not going to get involved in that, because those people are just people that can’t deal with their problems, so they resort to putting them on their ‘god.’?” It all seems incredibly selfish. I know that if five people told me to deal with all of their issues for them, and to free them from those things they struggle with, I’d feel completely overwhelmed, and would probably yell at the people, telling them to take responsibility for themselves rather than making me solve their problems.

I’d blow a fuse given five people’s problems. God has nearly 7 billion people to worry about. It doesn’t seem morally right to me to give Him that kind of stress. It all seems slightly irresponsible.

And then I remember who God is, and that is a God who cannot be put into a box. That is a God who died for the evil in us. It’s the God who created the world, and the stars, and the universe! He created animals, and plants, and US! He parted seas, stood up rivers, brought to life a man who had been dead for four days, and conquered death himself in three. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The reason we are able to ask God to take all of our burdens and shame is because HE IS WHO HE IS! He is GOD, and he is plenty capable.

The real reason it may seem selfish to ask God to take these things from us originates entirely from our pride. We are often too proud to acknowledge how much power our God has over us. We are often too proud to let our God take over the things we first believed we could handle ourselves. We are often too proud to recognize the incredible gifts God has given us – one of which being freedom from our burdens!

Until we begin to see ourselves as we truly are – weak, broken, and prideful – we won’t be able to recognize our need for Christ. Until we being to see God as He really is – almighty, all powerful, just, forgiving and merciful –will we be able to recognize the importance of letting God handle our burdens. He is usually the only One who can handle them – so let Him handle, and praise Him that He is able to free you from having to handle those things on your own.

To any non-Christians reading this, you’re probably scoffing. You’re probably thinking I’m incredibly irresponsible, and that I never answered the question of why we are able to put our struggles and burdens on God. And to be honest, it’s not something I can explain, or we can understand until we grasp what it means that this God we serve died for scum, and then conquered death. He died for the worst of us so He could see the best in us. Of every religion on earth, the God of Christianity is the only god who made it His own responsibility to save His people. We don’t have to meditate, or keep good karma, or do good deeds to reach salvation – we simply have to believe that He did it for us, and once we truly grasp the reality of that one act, it is impossible not to fall in love with Him, and live our lives for Him. Honestly, it seems quite foolish not to trust someone who decides it’s worth it to die for you.

CLINGING TO LIFE (Pull the plug)

“I have been crucified with Christ.” – Galatians 2:20

“Since we have been united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was.” – Romans 6:5

Possibly the largest lesson of the New Testament is the need we all have to die to ourselves. Have you reached that point? I haven’t. I know that my own selfishness has yet to be completely killed. I know I still find myself ignoring God at times in order to indulge in my own desires, and those desires definitely aren’t glorifying to God.

I know also that I’m on life support. I know I’m close. I’m in a coma to this life, largely unaware of myself and focused on God, but my nature makes it extremely hard to just pull the plug. I know that once that plug is pulled, I no longer have control, and the only life I’ve ever really known is gone. Once that plug is pulled, I have no say over myself or my life, and am an eternal servant of God’s . I know that God is good, and His way is better than my own, but I also know that I have control when it’s my life, and His life for me is completely unknown.

We, as a broken humanity, thirst for control, which is why the Gospel is so hard for us to fully accept. The Gospel requires us to forfeit all of our control. “If we lose our lives, we will save them.” The Gospel requires us to be totally dependent on Him, and that is counter to our nature.

Some people will tell me they have completely given up control, and 90% of those people are liars. They are liars with good intentions, but liars just the same. Killing 100% of ourselves is the hardest thing for us to do, because there is always something to grasp at on the way to the grave, even when the grave is really just the place new life begins.

Do you see your death as your birth? Are you ready to die to your own will? I don’t know if any of us can be until we realize  where we are now is not life, and we realize how cheated we have been while living under our own power. I am ready to quit cheating myself – are you? Pull the plug and let’s start life.

-A man on life support.

A FALSE FREEDOM

“Being free means nothing other than being in love. And being in love means nothing other than being in God’s truth. People who love because they are made free by God’s truth are the most revolutionary people on earth. . .

. . .  God preserve us in love, so that we will not dream up a false idea of freedom.”

                                                                                                                                                -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

America and the world have become obsessed with the idea of freedom, yet have it falsely defined. The world views freedom as a person’s right to do as they please – as the freedom of choice – yet this is the reason freedom cannot be found, because it overlooks the central problem with humanity, which is our nature. We are beings which revolve around sin, and are deceived to believe it’s good. In our ‘freedom,’ we are slaves to ourselves and our sinful desires. Our ‘freedom’ really only allows us to live in our own selfishness and sinfulness rather than somebody else’s.

But what happens when we recognize something free of this sin nature, as well as someone able to show us how to free ourselves from it? This is exactly what Christ has come to do. Christ has lived the life that we have lived, yet was able to withstand sin. He was tempted for nearly 1000 hours straight, yet did not fall. Only He can show us how we can redefine our freedom.

The key to living in freedom is not to live for ourselves, because then we are only slaves to our own selfishness and wickedness, blindly seeing ourselves as wise or good. The key to freedom is to look completely away from ourselves and towards the One free of a sinful nature. Only if we look towards Him are we able to free ourselves of our human desires, and are we able to pursue a life of selfless devotion to the One who has conquered sin, and also knows us better than we know ourselves. As we focus on the One who remained free of a sinful nature can we see unrestricted freedom, as well as His potential for us, which is a potential we never thought possible before.

In changing our definition of freedom, we are able to see that our God is the god of infinite possibilities. All we have to do to see them is open our eyes to Him and close our eyes to the world. Our true potential rests in the vision of an eternal perspective, and the recognition of the one source that can truly free us – even from ourselves.

KEEP YOUR HEAD UP

We are a humanity defined by our brokenness.

In my mind, realizing our brokenness is the biggest step in living a Christian life. Without recognizing our brokenness, we never will come to view Jesus as anyone other than a Hebrew teacher who was killed by the Romans. We will always hold the view of Jesus as ‘a good guy’ or ‘someone to look up to,’ but we will never acknowledge that He was also a savior, because we’ll never truly believe we are people in need of saving.

Without seeing ourselves as broken, we can never see Him as the only one able to repair us.

I have a few over-simplified views of what a Christian is compared to a non-Christian. My biggest idea is that a Christian is simply a person who has looked at themselves and noticed their brokenness, while a non-Christian is someone who has looked at themselves and looked past their cracks. A Christian has simply recognized a crack for what it is – no matter how small and insignificant it may seem – and found that Christ is the only one with the ability to repair those cracks. A non-Christian may have noticed their cracks, but go about repairing them only with temporary fixes. Not until a person recognizes their brokenness as well as the only way to repair it can they truly understand what Christianity is, which is repair through relationship.

Repair through relationship. This is the entire basis of Christianity, and one of the giant aspects of Christianity that people misunderstand. Christianity is so often viewed as legalism, or as ‘follow the ten commandments or off to hell you go,’ when in reality it’s less about obeying commands and more – in fact, entirely – about God’s grace for the times we disobey. The key is in seeing how God can use His grace to show us Himself, and as we discover more about Him, the more traits we pick up from Him, which can slowly repair our brokenness.

Remember back to your childhood. There was always that one person growing up that you wanted to imitate – whether it was a grandparent, parent, brother, uncle, or friend. You always saw this one person as the person who knew how to navigate life, and believed that if you wanted to navigate it well, you’d just do what they were doing. This is our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the one we long to imitate – the one who lived life the right way. He is the one we want to model ourselves after – and we must be so focused on Him that we completely lose sight of ourselves, going about doing as He has instructed and taught us to do no matter how well or ill-suited we feel we are in His area of calling.

The key to living a Christ-centered life is simple – keep your head up. With your head up, you lose sight of yourself, and only see that which is in front of you, which is Christ. Although this is simple, it is not easy. You will get tired and weary, and wonder what your body looks like. But the moment your head begins to drop down is the moment you begin to see more of yourself and less of Christ, and the moment your focus begins to shift from Him to you. The more that focus shifts, the easier it is to completely overlook the power He has given you and see yourself again as broken, even though He now sees you as repaired. As you look towards Him, let Him tell you how He sees you, rather than feeling the need to look yourself. To Him you look new, and your brokenness is replaced – but if you look for yourself, you will always see the brokenness that once was.