An Incomplete Thesis on Love, Its Impact, & Identity

The most impact-full relationship in your life is the one in which you have received the most love, and is likely the one in which you have given the most love. Likewise, the most damaging relationship in your life is the one in which love should have been given and either wasn’t or you were given some damaging counterfeit. I’ll venture a guess that you’re carrying scars from that even today.

Since the beginning of history; the creation of time and space–we can look back and see that love is the one thing we crave, the thing we are fascinated by, the thing we are shaped by, the thing that motivates us, its what directs our decisions, the thing we can’t seem to get enough of, and the thing science alone can’t explain. When its absent, it doesn’t matter what else we have and when its present, it doesn’t matter what else we don’t have. We write poetry seeking to convey its ferocity, we pen music seeking to herald its message. Name 5 songs right now that have to do with love. I bet its easy to do. The Beatles told us its all we need. Lenny Kravitz exhorted us to let it rule. And the Captain and Tennille claim its what will keep us together.

Imagine a world where every single person were motivated first by love for those around them. Can you even fathom what grocery stores would look like, what traffic would look like, or what Black Friday would look like? You’d never see another homeless person. Just imagine your life motivated by a love for humans. All humans. (If you claim to follow Jesus, you’d better view that as your marching orders. Because it is.)

I was recently reminded that there is nothing–absolutely nothing–stronger than love. I’m not being romantic here. I’m being logical and factual. You simply cannot come up with any scenario in which love does not have the ability to win the day. No matter what evil may befall or what struggles come against us, any move love makes equates to automatic victory. And while many people have a personal definition of love that by default has a slanted personal agenda, let me remind us of what love actually is:

“Love is patient. Love is kind. Its does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

While many humans choose to create their own definition of love, there is an actual definition of love that we would all do well to see, receive, and embrace. Otherwise, we are like actors in the same play reading from a different script or players on a field using a variety of playbooks. We as humans can’t hope to move forward until we embrace what love actually is.

12547692_VAI’ve spent the past week in Clendenin, WV seeking to help and bless a community ravaged (and I do mean ravaged) by the flood of 2016. It was called the “Thousand Year Flood”.  All the media trucks and news reporters have long gone home, but this town remains decimated by what these flood waters did. I marveled as I listened to story after story of the townspeople explaining to me the devastation of the flood waters. I saw firsthand the absolute obliteration of a once thriving neighborhood. I saw a completely empty lot as the words “A church once stood there.” fell on my ears. I sat on a bench listening to a man named Stanley retell the story of the flood, pointing to a 12 foot tall lamppost on the corner down the road with a clock on top of it, telling me the water was just up to the clock. I stood in a church sanctuary while a member of the church pointed up to the balcony 15 over our heads and said people were trapped in that balcony for days because the water was that high.

And it was during this week that I was reminded that love is the strongest and will always win the day. We can’t make the jump to say that love makes problems disappear, but we can say with all confidence that love helps us put problems in a proper perspective. Knowing I’m loved by my kids is jet fuel to my passion for living. Knowing I’m loved by my wife is like the oxygen my blood needs to flow. And knowing I’m loved by God is the very reason I exist.

As powerful and transformational as love is in our lives, love was not and cannot be created. We know this because 1 John 4:7-8 tells us what (who really) love is:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE.” 

I’d encourage you to read that entire chapter, but those two verses right there speak to us about the identity of love and thus the origin of the love we experience. Any act of love is a reflection of God who IS love. And no matter what I may face in my life; even to the point of facing martyrdom for Christ, I can die victoriously in love knowing that no amount of evil or darkness can overcome love. Not because of what it can do, but because of Who it is.

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“If only…”

If OnlyWe’re a backwards facing people. The average person lives their life walking backwards. We pay far more attention to the past than we do to the present or the future. Let’s just admit it. We’re backwards.

At this point in my life, I’m keenly aware that I am prone to be fixated with the rear view mirror. I very often catch myself thinking about what happened a half hour ago, a day ago, a week ago, several years ago. And I admit that when I do, I think “If only…” thoughts. “If I had only said that.” “If I had only done that.” “If I had only planned better.” “If I had only kept my mouth shut.”  Can you relate?

There’s a well known story in the bible of a man named Lazarus who was sick. His sisters Mary and Martha were there with him, but Jesus wasn’t. We know however that Jesus “loved Lazarus” so they sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick (and presumably near death) and eventually Jesus made his way to Bethany where Lazarus and his sisters lived. (You can read the whole story in John 11.)

But Jesus was too late. In fact, when he got word that Lazarus was sick, He even said, “This sickness will not end in death.”  And Jesus was wrong.  Lazarus died soon after.

Jesus stayed where he was for a couple more days before heading to Bethany where Lazarus had lived. On his way, He told His disciples that Lazarus had in fact died.

So many things in this story are baffling to me, but something was said in the context of this story that I think epitomizes how I live and maybe…just maybe…how you live too.

Okay, so let’s picture Jesus and His entourage entering the town of Bethany. Lazarus had died and mourners had gathered. We soon find out that Lazarus had died 4 days prior to Jesus’ arrival. And as he arrives, Martha goes out to meet him and says the words I want to focus on:

“Lord, if only you had been here my brother would not have died.”

That statement speaks so loudly of two of Martha’s convictions: 1) that Jesus had the power to heal her brother, and 2) that Jesus let her down by not being there.

“If only” is how a lot of us live our lives. We continually evaluate what was and all too often allow it to tell us what will be. “If only” keeps us imprisoned in past events, past mistakes, past missed opportunities.

I look back a lot and wonder about when I took that right instead of that left. When I had that chance and I didn’t take it. When it seemed like a door stood in front of me and I just stared at it.

Satan will use “If only…” if you let him. Given his way, he’d prefer that you aren’t ever a forward-facing person again. As long as you’re facing backwards and making “If only” statements, you’re not facing forward and being led by God in what IS and into what will be.

So, how do we turn around? How do we live a life that gives the past its due, but not more than it deserves? A few things come to mind…

  1. Recognize that you’re powerless to change what was. And I know that stinks.
  2. Make any and all amends and reconciliations that you can with whoever lives in those “If only” thoughts with you. If you wronged someone, speak to them. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or polished, but it does have to happen.
  3. Stand on the power of Jesus’ forgiveness; it wipes away the “If onlys” of our past. Nothing else can, so until you know you’re forgiven, you won’t be able to face forward.

I know there’s a lot more to this story (Martha’s next words are so powerful), so read it sometime. And as you do, recognize that the same Jesus who’s with you in this moment sees your past and yet desires most to lead you forward.