Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning How to Love

Let's begin with love, and understanding what it is, verses what it's not. More often than not, people have a tendency to think that loving someone or something is easy. That it's just a simple action a person can express and act out on from a combination of emotions and feelings that have amassed over time, or in many cases all at once. Let me make one thing clear: true love takes root in no single emotion. True love is not held together or defined by a powerful feeling that seems to resonate within a person. It does not always evoke feelings of "happily ever after" like many children story-book endings have promised in the past. No, true love is a state of will that we possess naturally; first about ourselves, and, as we grow and learn in our lives, a will that we must exercise and practice towards feeling for other people as well; even those we vow not to love, but yet love to hate. The goal we're striving for, and the model we look to, is God's perfected love given to us in Christ. It is in the very nature of God to love, to pour out blessings and delight in His creation. It is also in the very nature of God to deeply care for us and to constantly be involved in our daily lives. However, no where is it in God's nature to partake in and receive fellowship from sin. When we don't love in the way God has commanded us to, (revealed to us as both our neighbor, who we find easy to love, and our enemy, who we find it incredibly difficult to love), we're sinning against the greatest commandment He ever gave us to obey, and that is to first love Him with everything we are and with everything we have within us, but equally important to also "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22: 38-29).

I've come to understand something about mankind. I actually find this really interesting, yet not surprising when you reflect on our sinful nature. Naturally, we like to define things in terms of decency, yet we always seems to turn a blind eye to things that tarnish that decency. For example, we think it's absolutely horrible to hear of children in poverty and poor and homeless vagabonds that drift through life without food and without the truth of the Gospel in their hearts. However, when, as "faithful and God-honoring" American church-goers, we meet these kind of people in real life, we think they're disgusting. They are repulsive to us. We label them outcasts, losers, and not worthy of our time or money. After all, isn't the time-honored excuse "Oh, I already give to my church enough. That's all I really need to do with what I have". For those of you who actually think that way, let me remind you of something: God commanded us to take care of those people. People less fortunate than us, people who are homeless, hungry, without clothes, and without a Savior. Christ told us to love those people. And to serve them. And jam-packed in the middle of all these are the people me and you don't feel like loving. That aggravating boy in math class who talks too much. That sorority girl who you think is stuck up. The annoying neighbor who plays his music too loud. That ex-boyfriend/girlfriend who broke your heart and "ruined your life". Yeah, those people. Jesus told us to look at them with loving hearts the same way God gazes upon His creation: with love. powerful, true love. Like I discussed earlier though, it doesn't stop there. We need to do this to people we are scared of loving, those "un-religious people" out there that don't know Christ. The ones that aren't as "good as us" or as "rich as we are" as we like to describe. I want you to think about this: How can a person learn about true happiness and love if God, the only source of this, is unknown to them? Makes sense doesn't it? This is where we step in, where we make a stand and take this Gospel of love and salvation, and we share it with the unreached world; serving the poor, defending the helpless, and pouring out our heart to them the same way God poured out his heart for us on the Cross. I want there to be a social revolution. One that penetrates the hearts and minds of Christians world-wide. One that tells us that it's beautiful how Jesus loves and cares for the sinful. the rebellious ones. the nasty ones. the wicked ones. Wanna know why: Because he came to die for these. Not for those of us who act like Christians, and know a little bit of truth and are religiously religious. No. Christ came for one reason and one reason only: "...To seek and to save the lost", and redeem every one of those people back to His Father. (Luke 19:10) And He commands us to love those people in as equally a powerful way as He did in being murdered for them. In being murdered for you. In being murdered for me.

Think of the old analogy of playing your favorite sport. Ever since we were young, our parents, and those older and wiser figures instituted to take care of us, have told us that the more you practice something the better you become at it. So naturally, we see the best example of this with sports. The harder you work at wanting to become better at the sport you wish to be good at, inevitably the better you really will end up becoming at it. And you come to realize more and more that you have to try less and less because of the incredible amount of skill you acquire over time. This is the same with true love. The principle is the same for loving others we don't want to love. We can't just sit back and figure out how we're going to find it in our hearts to love. We need to dive into it readily; and give it an honest try. You will oftentimes discover that you actually grow to love people you used to dislike. This is because God is working in our hearts, breaking down our self-made walls and letting His love for us fill the void we've created. When this happens, we find that, over time, we really don't have to try as hard like I mentioned earlier. The reason is because it will naturally become an ingrained part of us to want to love people; both the easy to get along with ones and the aggravating to get along with ones; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly as it seems to us at times. We learn to make no distinction in terms of people. Why? Because whether you're a Christian saved by faith in Christ, an atheist wanting nothing to do with the faith, or a non-believer on the verge of a breakthrough with possibly desiring a Savior, the central theme will always be the same: not one of us has anything good within us to reason with. We're all sinners, both Christian and non-Christian alike. We're all in need of the grace of God. And it's as we come to know this that we also come to understand that we're called to love no matter what it costs us. Now, this doesn't mean that when sin becomes involved in the picture that we just dismiss and ignore it and keep on riding the love train through life. No, not at all. Sin should be dealt with, brought up when necessary, confronted, and repented of. And Christians have the responsibility of convicting each other when it happens. But sin should never change or distort our view of each other, in terms of how we treat and behave towards one another. We should, as the old addage goes, always hate the sin but always love the sinner too. Why? because that's what God did. That's what He does. He doesn't just turn the other cheek and decide since we've messed up once that He's done with us for good. He gives us chances, all the time. In fact, the biggest second chance any person in this world ever received to "do it right this time around" was Christ's death on the cross. Just saying...

In the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah, the people of Israel had become "deaf and blind", (Chapter 6:10), to God, and so He called the prophet Isaiah to warn His chosen people of impending disaster and devastation that would ultimately come if they did not turn from their rebellion and keep His commandments handed down to them at Mount Sinai by Moses years and years ago. Isaiah was repeatedly met with hostility and the refusal by the Israelites to listen and take heed to God's warnings of the consequences that would ensue should they continue in their sin. He never batted an eye. He kept declaring that God would bring His judgement upon all of them. He also kept promoting and glorifying the sovereignty of God; loving the stubborn nation of Israel even when they wanted nothing to do with what they felt were his "stupid prophecies".

In the book of Jeremiah, we also see the outpouring of love on a group of people that are becoming ever-increasingly harder to want to love. Yet again the Israelites have fallen back into sin, and God has called the prophet Jeremiah to warn them of His judgement that is to come upon them if they don't come back to Him and stop their sinful ways. Jeremiah looks out over sinful Israel and pours out wave after wave of love; with his desperate cries for them to repent and seek after the righteousness of God. (Chapter 15:19) Not once did Jeremiah sway from what God had commissioned Him to do. Jeremiah loved God's purpose for Him, and he loved the nation of Israel more than he did the fierce opposition he was faced with.

True love is depicted in the New Testament as well. In the Gospels we see Jesus Christ, the son of man, being sent by God not just as the atonement for our sins, but as a powerful offering to demonstrate His mighty love for us. In this way, God sends Christ to be born into the world as a human in a dirty stable in Bethlehem, living a hard life as a modern-day carpenter for thirty years, and then finally embarking upon a three year ministry in which he was scorned, frowned down upon, driven from cities, kicked out of towns, spit upon, mocked for going against the social norms and the established status quo, hated for discussing kingdoms of "another world", laughed at for claiming to be God incarnate, brutally tortured and murdered on an old weather-beaten cross, magnificently glorified after the tearing of the veil, and shockingly victorious over the grave in His resurrection. "Okay, that sounds about right. But why did all of that even need to happen?", you might ask me. Because God loved us that much. We couldn't find a way out of the sin we kept falling into, so God sent His only begotten son to die for us. Why? Because it was the only way. In doing so, God made Himself personal with us. He became the very sin He abhorred because sin itself is contrary to the perfect sinlessness of His character and existence. He became the way of redemption; soaked in the blood of the most perfect lamb that could've ever been placed before His altar. God gave Himself to us in Jesus, giving us something that, should we choose to accept and live for, we would never be able to lose.

So, besides the obvious problem we all struggle through with our sins, what usually gets in the way of understanding the beauty of this love God has for us? The answer is actually really simple: Our pride. Once pride is manifest within us, we wish to compete to be better than one another. What this does is it removes our focus off of how insignificant we really are in comparison to the glory and power of God; which in all honesty is our real condition anyway. Encouraging this power we wish to exert over one another, in the form of prideful gains, is an avenue of what I like to call "playing God"; of trying to think that we possess the upper hand in life in something. Frankly, and you can call me crazy but I will make no apologies in stating my belief on this, but the mere presence of God should silence us and bring us to our knees; not provide us with an opportunity to even think for one second that we can compare anything we are to Him. After all, if the only thing I'm ever looking for is more opportunities to build myself up and to ascend the latter towards more self-success and self-recognition, then the only thing I'm really seeking after is more self-love. I'm wanting to indulge in how much I value who I am, and in what I believe myself capable of doing; apart from God. I should be wanting more opportunities to show God how much I love Him. I should be desiring more of God's blessings and more of God's presence in my life so as to demonstrate to Him that everything I am and everything I do is because He loves me and because from Him comes all the power and all the ability.

And so, as always, I'll leave you with my answer to your age-old question after reading all of this: "So what are you getting at Kris? What's the big idea?" The "big idea" is this: we must understand that true love is a solid and firm commitment of our will, not necessarily always a "heart-felt" emotion. Now, before I leave I don't want to discourage or take away from love in relation to things like marriage, or friendships, and so on and so forth. I, just as much as the next guy, believe love does indeed exist on this earth. I love people. I love my family. I love my friends. And to an extent there really are "feelings" I have in my heart for those people. But what drives all of that is the sincere commitment I've promised to follow through with: to love when the going gets tough, to love when something has happened to make me not like those people, and to love when I just don't feel like it. That state of will within me that tells me that this isn't all about me, and that this Christian faith has a bigger picture in mind in which I play a seemingly small, yet profoundly big part in, keeps ushering me on to see that I can't embark upon the promise of true love if in my heart I don't truly desire to want what love entails, and that's: love when it's hard to do so and a dedication to trust in God to keep producing within me the desire to love when I don't have the strength or willingness to. When it comes to true love, these are challenges that I, as well as all of you, should want. And embrace. Not because it can provide us with a sense of self-fulfillment. But because it will allow us to deny ourselves yet again, to admit that we really have no idea how to do it at all, and to receive more of Him.

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