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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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.

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE (WELL, YOU MIGHT BE) – CHRISTIAN COP-OUTS AND DRIVING AHEAD TOWARDS GOD’S CALL

God has it under control. Don’t worry, because His will is unstoppable.

How many times have you heard this? I know, as a Christian afraid of a lot of things that largely have to do with what God is calling me towards, I have said this a lot – and with the best of intentions, but the worst of reasons.

The Christian subculture is a funny thing to me. We talk about how much we trust God all the time, and when He tells us to actually trust Him with something big, we find ourselves saying, “I’m good” and acting content. We’re a culture who really loves saying certain Put-Off-Something-ExtraordinaryFINALthings – certain “Christian-isms,”without having the slightest idea what any of them mean., and most of these are said as excuses with good intentions,as if we believe if we say something that sounds Christian enough, God will overlook our failure to do what He has called us to. We’ve never even taken the time to notice God above us shaking His head, wondering when we’re going to finally get it – when we’re going to realize we’re just tricking ourselves.

My favorite Christian cop-out, and most used in my own life, is the Christian saying that goes something like, “Either way, God is in control.” Our intentions, through saying this, is to tell our Christian friends all about God’s power and uncontrollable plans for our world, while our reasons for saying it  are often completely different.

Our reasons are saying something like, “Boy I’m glad God’s will is done regardless, because I’m way too (insert cowardly adjective here) to try and do that, and I’m not sure God is big enough to come through on that!”

And by living out of our cowardice and faithlessness rather than our intentions, our lives are stalling at far less than the potential God sees in us. We’re ending our road trip to the Rocky Mountains by cornfield camping in Kansas, deciding the field next to us is good enough because we’re too afraid we’re not in good enough shape to walk up hills – let alone mountains that start a mile above sea level.

So why are we so seemingly content with our inaction and worldly potential when God has given us a preview of what we’re capable of with Him? The truth is, we’re not. We’re just tricking ourselves because our main motivator is fear. We’ve tricked ourselves into believing we aren’t necessary or capable of doing what we’ve felt called to do because we’re too afraid we don’t have the right hiking shoes, and surely God would only ask someone with sufficient hiking shoes. We’re too afraid because we can see how long we’ll be hiking uphill as soon as we begin the climb, so we decide we’d rather just keep hiking along in Kansas. But the problem with Kansas is there’s never a view from the top. Sure, you’re living safely and without sore legs (or pride) or empty lungs (or fallbacks), but you’re also living life without ever knowing what it feels like to reach the top and look out over hundreds of miles of Kansas, taking a million pictures of where God has taken you (If you’re from Kansas, by the way, I’m not mocking your state. I’m just recognizing the comfortable walking conditions which exist there).

You’re probably saying about now, “Oh chase your dreams. Never heard that before. The only problem is, they never tell me how.” Well, no need to worry. Because I’m going to tell you.

Step 1: Recognize something you feel called to do, and pray about it. A lot. But don’t use prayer as an excuse for inaction. If God’s asked you to do it, you don’t need to pray for Him to nag you about it for the next two months.

Step 2: Read the background of Amos, and then read the book of Amos itself. If God can use Him, He can use you. Realize you’re completely qualified, and start confidently. (You can really read the story of almost anyone who was known to do great things in the bible. I just like Amos because it’s one we don’t often think of.)

Step 3: Tell people about it, ask people to pray about it, and see if anyone wants to join you (assuming it’s something big and seemingly insurmountable without God’s help. If it’s something small, just do it. You’re probably only reading this to keep putting it off).

Step 4: Tell more people about it. (Basically never stop telling people about it.) Figure out a game-plan. It might start with “tell people about it,” but it should move along to something like, “write a  mission statement,” or, “apply for a non-profit ID number” or “buy plane tickets,” or “write a support letter.” Just make some basic steps like that. After you have a blueprint, tell more people about it with your new clarity and vision for God’s plan.

Step 5: Do the first thing on your blueprint. And after you do that, do the second thing. And then keep doing. Eventually, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re moving uphill.

Step 6: If you put your all into it, and it doesn’t work, don’t get mad at God. Instead, thank Him. Pray about it. Write down things you may have learned along the way, realize it wasn’t that scary, and get ready for whatever’s next. God will probably use something you learned in the future.

The truth is, we’re all afraid of the majority of things God will tell us to do, but it’s usually easier than you’d think to start doing them (which is something I’ve realized in my head, but still struggle to apply). I was talking with my bible study the other day, and mentioned how my life is completely different than I expected. They asked me how, and my response was, “Well, I’m basically doing all of things I was afraid of trying four years ago. And now I never want to do the things I thought I’d be doing, because this plan is so much better than the one I had for myself.” God is continually challenging me, and I’m continually hesitating, making excuses, and making slow progress towards where He’s leading me. But I am making progress, and the quicker I can build up steam, the quicker things will move forward.

Remember that if you are moving forward, God is patient. He won’t abandon you just because of your pace. Just don’t stop in Kansas – be sure to drive straight through with the vision of the view ahead.

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.

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.