Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Love and His Evil Twin

I despise unmarked roads. This morning I drove to Woodburn in order to appear in traffic court for a speeding ticket. I had some directions, but then I came to an unmarked intersection. I had a feeling I was supposed to turn onto the unidentified street, so I did. But I wasn't sure I was going the right direction, until I was already miles down the road.
In this thing called life, there are many unmarked roads. Sometimes I don't know if I'm on Love Rd. or not. The Bible gives us some general directions, but I'm terrible with directions and get lost very easily. I need clearly marked signs. We seem to have an internal GPS system which helps, but sometimes I feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere.

I must admit, sometimes it seems cruel that God designed men with such a fast and furious sex drive and then told us to obey the rules of the road. For men, sex is like blood to a shark. Try convincing a shark to become a vegetarian for a season as bloody slabs of meat float by. I'm not making excuses, but it's not easy being a guy. Sometimes I hate being 'a guy.' And it would certainly help if society didn't flash us with sex symbols all day long. But the media gives people what they want and people want sex.
Speaking of sex, the phrase 'making love' doesn't even make sense. As if sex is going to make two people love each other more than they did before. If anything it should be called 'making up for love.' The phrase 'making love' reveals society's delusional version of love. Most romance films capitalize on this idea. On the silverscreen, if a delightful date doesn't end up in the bedroom, then we're surprised. Hollywood keeps putting out the same movie and it's called 'Love: Kinda, Sort Of, But Not Really.' Afterall, the best lies are the ones that are peppered with truth. But don't be fooled, it's love's evil twin-- lust. Lust cares nothing for the other person. It's only prerequisite is that the other person is slightly beautiful and breathing, and even the beautiful part is negotiable. For lust, romance is just a means to an end. Lust doesn't make love, it takes love. And it takes and it takes. But love gives. When love wants to take more than it wants to give, then it becomes lust. Lust is not always sexual. Sometimes we lust after people's time or attention or assistance, without any desire to give back.
With this in mind, it is important that we emphasize the generous nature of God. Sometimes, sermons concentrate too much on what God wants us to do for Him. We could easily begin to mistake His love for lust. But, the truth is, we can never outgive Him. He gives more than He takes. He is not a God of lust but a God of love.

What if we're here not to discover the meaning of life, but simply to identify what real love feels like? Different relationships and experiences seem to peel back the layers as time rolls on.
I realize that I will never fully understand God's love, but I am experiencing more of His love as I endeavor to understand it. For me, to love something is to continue to explore it. And as I explore it, I find new reasons to love it. Then, I want to explore it more and more, and on and on it goes. And so it is with God's love. I love His love, so my curiosity drives me onward. It's worth exploring. I may feel like it's taking me in a circle, but I think I am actually spiralling toward the heart of it. I appreciate people more as I get to know them. I've discovered that there is more to everyone than what's on the surface. People fascinate me. Everyone has wisdom to offer and I am learning to listen. Likewise, I appreciate God the more I know Him. He never ceases to surprise me. He invites us to taste of Him, knowing full well that we will bite off more than we can chew.
Most people don't like change. I do. Change inspires me. I know that God's love doesn't change, but my perception of His love is changing all the time. Growing and expanding. Growth is a sign of life. Some people fear that they've fallen out of love when the honeymoon feeling fades. But it's not fading as much as it's changing. Love that is alive undergoes metamorphosis. It adapts in order to go farther and higher and deeper. It's like happiness maturing into joy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Falling In Love At 10,000 ft.

Statistics show that dating couples are more likely to fall in love if they do something fun. I think it's because the thrilling experience releases happy brain chemicals and then we associate those chemicals with the person we had fun with and then we want to hang out with them more and then we get bored so we start kissing. But I think real love is more than a happy chemical.
Some people spend the rest of their life trying to rediscover a feeling that they mistook for love the first time. If I wanted to trick someone into falling in love with me, then I would take them skydiving. I've never been skydiving but I'm sure it would do more than put twitterpated butterflies in someone's stomach. I could even serenade them with a guitar on the way down. That would give new meaning to 'falling' in love.
But realistically, I want to find someone who I can do anything or nothing with and still be delighted, because I enjoy them. I don't want our relationship to be based on a past adrenalline rush, because once that experience is gone we will be left staring at each other and hoping that we have something more in common. And I don't want to someday find myself waking up next to a stranger.
Love is often portrayed as something that happens to us. Like Cupid. Sometimes that pudgy little angel shoots people in the butt with an arrow and they can't help but fall in love. They have no choice, it's Cupid's fault. Or so they say. The idea is that love finds us. But I don't like this idea because it means that we are simply victimized by love. Love comes and goes and we can't do anything about it. So, we are not held responsible. On the contrary, I do believe that we have a freewill and that we have a choice when it comes to falling in love. I don't believe that we can choose to fall in love with anybody. I've tried and it doesn't work. But I believe that when the opportunity to 'fall in love' presents itself, then we have a choice to step over the edge or back away. Once we step over the edge it becomes more difficult to slow the acceleration process. And if it doesn't work out, then hopefully we had thought about it and strapped on a parachute before we jumped.

I've also heard it said that love is a commitment. That sounds noble upon first hearing until you actually think about it. Then you realize that the statement plants both feet in the same realm as heartless religion. Religion commits to following procedure, but cares nothing for God. 'Love is a commitment' might be true if it is mixed with some other things. And when all else fails then perhaps commitment will be the only thing holding a relationship together. But only by a thread. I think when a relationship reaches that point then it's not time to shrug and take a nap. It's time to fight for the pulse of love.
Some married people seem to value the commitment more than the person they are commited to. That saddens me. It saddens me that a sweetheart could be reduced to being a lifelong ball and chain. To be fair, this is all easy for me to say since I'm not married. But often it is easy to think more clearly when you are outside of a situation, rather than when you're in the eye of the storm. And perhaps someday, when I am married, I will come back and read this blog to remind myself that love is worth rescuing. Maybe, love is a commitment to fight for love. Getting warmer.
I saw a sign in front of a church that quoted Jesus as saying "If you love me then keep my commandments." That is a sobering thought. And yet someone could try to keep the commandments without loving Jesus. He didn't say that love IS keeping my commandments, but that IF we love Him, then we are to keep His commandments. That is very big difference and a very big IF. It begins with love. Love can be confirmed by compliance. Commitment is a sort of mutual compliance. But once again, compliance itself doesn't complete the picture of love. Afterall, God is love, He loves us and yet far be it from Him to obey our commands.
On a similar note, in the infamous John 3:16 passage, it says that "God so loved the world THAT He gave His one and only Son." Notice how it all started with love. The giving was both compelled and completed by a pre-existing love. Now, if God had not offered anything to redeem mankind, then it would be difficult to believe that He loved us. What good parent upon seeing their child drowning wouldn't jump in without a second thought? Even if it was the child's fault? Even if it was dangerous for the parent? Love that is not demonstrated is worthless to the one who is loved. And God's love is stronger that an earthly parent's love. To be quite clear, God didn't have to offer His Son, and He still would've been good and just. But He did so because He so loved. His love was not created but confirmed in the giving. He had a choice, but irrational love made up His mind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Math and Love and Stuff

I was blogging about love at Red Horse Coffee Shop. A man from church walked by the window, smiling and waving at me. He paused, retraced his footsteps, walked in and said "Can I ask you a question?" He began to choke up. "How do I know that God loves me specifically?"
It is a question that most of us find ourselves asking from time to time.
The Bible screams that God loves us all. We hear of his immense, vast love and yet there is a part of us that wonders if we haven't fallen through the cracks. We question 'Does He really love me?' What's more. . .'Does He like me?' We sing songs about it, if only to remind ourselves. But sometimes His love seems obligatory. As if He only loves me because He loves everyone and so it would be rude to leave me out.
There are many things about myself that my family and friends probably don't know. Not dark secrets, just little stuff. I fake lots of smiles and laughs, but most are genuine. I don't really like wearing clothes and wish Adam and Eve hadn't sinned for that reason alone. I occasionally talk to myself and cus at my computer. I always think my fly is down no matter how many times I check it. I look in the mirror everyday and still see a stranger and wonder if maybe I'm the one whose in the mirror, while the real person is on the other side. I feel like I might be insane, so I try to keep my myself on a short leash. Or I fear that I might be mentally retarded and that everyone knows it but me. Those are things that you don't want to say on a first date or at a job interview. Truth be told, there are many things about myself that I'm still discovering. My identity crisis is ongoing, it's been going on for awhile so it's not really a crisis anymore.
But God knows me completely already. The good, the bad, and the crazy. He even knows who I'll become. We sometimes slip into a vacant room and close the door to breathe a breath of privacy. But God is everywhere and sees everything. Nobody spends more time with us than God. So, His view of me matters more than any other. When I feel cheap and disposable, I wonder if God regrets making me and if there is something else He'd rather be doing than hanging out with me. Sometimes, I hang out with people who are better than me and I feel like an awkward nuisance. God is way better than me. And yet apparently He enjoys my company.

I do question our understanding of God's unconditional love. It is usually portrayed as a love that is indifferent to who we are. But is that really love? If that is the case, then why should I feel valued? Love that cares nothing for individuality seems meaningless. C.S. Lewis pointed out that it would be silly for someone to say "I love you disinterestedly."
In one sense, a parent unconditionally loves their child. Meaning, if the child does something that is otherwise unloveable, then that parent with still love that child. Even if the parent has nothing to gain in the exchange. And yet, that parent wouldn't love someone else's child with that same kind of love. So, it is a love that is unique to their own child. In other words, it is conditioned on the parent's relationship to the child. Furthermore, most parents will say that they love each of their children equally and yet their love for each one is not exactly the same. Each child has different personalities and talents and experiences, which a good parent notices and prizes. In short, they have a different relationship with each child. And their love for each one is unique. Could this be true of the love of God the Father? I think so.
His love for each one of us is not indifferent to who we are. It is predicated on the fact that He is our God and we all bear His image. And yet it is unique to our individual relationships with Him. As Christians, we are all His children, but my relationship with God is different than yours. Noone else has the special bond that God and I have. There is no else like me and there is certainly no one like Him. We share a unique love. True, He loves everyone equally, and yet He loves me specially. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows how many hairs are on my head. I don't even know that, I don't even want to know that, but God knows that. To Him, I am not a faceless cliche, but a meaningful masterpiece full of treasured nuances.
In Luke 15, God is described as a shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. This tells of an individualized love. To God, each individual is as precious as the other 99. This doesn't work out mathematically. It is a supernatural love that defies the laws of this world. Jesus was someone who reached out to people on a one-on-one basis. Think about the man who was possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee just to help him alone. Just one face in a crowded world, and yet Jesus thought he was worth the trip. Jesus was constantly interupted by individuals, but He didn't see them as a waste of time whatsoever. Even when He felt exhausted, He still gave each individual His undivided attention. As Jesus suffocated on the cross, He singled out the thief nearby and saved him. To Jesus, every single soul was a soul worth saving. The Apostle John described himself as 'the one whom Jesus loved.' I like that. He understood that Jesus's love for him was distinct. And who am I? I am also ' the one' whom Jesus loves. And so are you. We are all His favorite. God's love would flunk a math test.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Meaning of Love

Friday, I sang at a funeral. Saturday, I sang at a wedding. The shift was enough to give me whiplash. At the funeral, I saw a beautiful elderly woman weep for her departed husband of 50 years. Long ago, they had vowed "till death do us part" and they meant it. Their deeply-rooted love had stood the test of time and survived the storms of life. For now, their hearts are separated by death, but that kind of love will live on into eternity.
At the wedding, I saw two young, intrepid hearts being fused together. This was a love that was risking everything and venturing into the unknown. A love that seemed fresh and giddy. I witnessed love in two distinct forms, at the funeral and the wedding. I am realizing that love is hard to nail down and it takes on many forms.
I started this blog to explore the dimensions of love in order to understand the love of God. And if our highest calling as Jesus-people is to love as He loves, then it would be good to know the very meaning of love. Or else we could easily miss the point and waste our lives.
1 John says "God is love." But it would be backwards to say that love is God. The question remains: What is love?
The problem is that our culture is constantly inducing us with a candy-coated, commercialized version of love that involves everything from Valentine's Day to Paris. This idea of love is often smothered in fanciful poetry. Mark Twain said "Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." That sounds nice, but is it reality?
Without a doubt, it is impossible for one word to encapsulate all that love entails. We use the word "love" like a Swiss Army Knife, depending on the context. The Greek language has four different words for love. Love is divided into these categories: fondness, friendship, passion and charity. Apparently, love is each of these and yet it is also altogether all of these. Love is irreducibly complex. It takes on different roles, but each role shares a symbiotic relationship with the others.
Many Christians cite 1 Corrinthians 13:4 ("Love is patient, love is kind...") as being a definition for love. However, I see it more as a description of the effects or fruit of love. It's a litmus test. It describes love in action without defining the essence of love itself. Love is patient, but patience is not the end-all definition of love. Love is unselfish, but unselfishness is not entirely love either. In that same chapter, Paul says that you can give away everything you have and even sacrifice your life, and yet still not have love. Interesting. So, love is not sacrifice, but it does sacrifice. Some people think that love is merely a duty that is indifferent. I disagree, and so does Paul. Love cares, it doesn't just go through the motions.
It's scary that it is possible to do what love does, and yet not have love. For instance, we can kiss someone to express our love, but we can also kiss someone without loving them. Just like actors. With this in mind, I ask myself "Do I honestly love God or am I just following a script?" I don't want to settle for the idea of loving God, but I truly want to love God. I think it starts there. God can work with that fledgling desire.
If this sounds confusing, welcome to love. Love is confusing. Our hearts often stump our heads. But, the Bible tells me to love with my heart and my mind. So apparently, love is both passionate and intellectual. We are also told to love with our soul and our strength. So, love is both inward and outward.
If nothing else, I know that love is more than words, more than saying "I love you." The love of others is tested when we are most unlovable and most unlovely. In the dance of dating, we try to show our best side. But, in the end, we find out who truly loves us when we hit rock bottom and have nothing to offer. Real love sees us at our worst and doesn't walk away. True friends and companions will stand by us through our hell, even if they get burned.
This mirrors the love of God.
We often emphasize the physical pain in the crucifixion of Jesus, which is bad enough, but Jesus suffered something far worse. He endured temporary separation from God the Father and beheld His wrath for the first time ever. We cannot even fathom this unprecidented travesty. Separating joined human hearts, whether by death or divorce, is a terrible thing and was never meant to be. But, separating all-loving God the Father from all-loving God the Son was like splitting an atom, it was heartbreak and devastation at its worst. They had experienced a special bond from eternity past, and it was severed at the Cross. But as much as the Father and Son loved each other profusely, they also loved us irresistably. Even when we were at rock bottom. To them, we were a treasure that was worth the painful journey. God is love and there is no greater love than His. And that great love exposed itself to great heartache and humiliation. That's what love does, and it does it gladly.
Here's what I've learned so far: Love is complete when there is gladness in the giving, and it finds happiness in the happiness of another. For the Christian, it is enough to know that it makes God happy when we show love. Someone will probably say that we should give even if we are not glad to do it. That is true sacrifice heeding the call of duty, and it is certainly admirable. But when it comes to a relationship, there is nothing so dead and cold as a kiss without love.
Whenever I go to a wedding, I inevitably think about getting married. The question always arises "How will I know when I'm in love?" Answer: I'll know I'm in love when I'm glad to give up my life for that person and when their smile makes me smile, as God is smiling over the both of us.

This is not a treatise on love, but an incomplete thought. I am exploring out loud. Thank you for reading.
To be continued...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Infectious Love

Love. Love is sometimes elusive. Love is sometimes messy. Love is always craved. Love is real.
I hope to explore the mountaintops and valleys of this curious thing called love. Not the commercialized version, but the real thing. More importantly, I want to realize the irrational love of God. A reckless love that knows no shore. A love that is both high and low, big and small.
I used to wonder: How does one nurture a passion for God? Afterall, you can learn principles but you can't learn passion. It's the same with music. I can teach someone how to play guitar, but I can't impart a deep love for music. However, I've found that passion is very contagious. Passionate music makes we want to sing. Likewise, I believe that the key to loving God is first realizing His love for us. As I drink deeply of God's love, I find myself wanting Him more. Consequently, His love awakens mine. I love Him because He first loved me. And His compassion is disarming. It is His kindness that leads me to repentance. His wrath may cause me obey out of fear, but it doesn't stir up affection. However, when my sin distances me from Him, I need only to look into His kind eyes and I begin to miss Him. I can't look away, I can't walk away. I want to tell Him 'I'm sorry' and feel His warm embrace again.
Why is it so hard to realize the great love of God? Is it because it seems too good to be true? Is it because there is nothing else like it in our world? Maybe, we're secretly afraid of the consequences. Such uninhibited love demands an all-or-nothing response. If someone tells you "I love you," then they deperately hope that you'll say the same. And if someone loved you enough to die for you, then it would be cruel to withhold the same intensity of love. Jesus gave His life for me and now it is my turn. I will pour out my life loving Him. I have one heart to give and it belongs to Him. His love is infectious. . .