Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Love" ... What does it really mean?

Two weeks in West Africa. Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Matthew 25:31-46. "How He Loves" by David Crowder.

To say the items listed above have changed my life this year would be a huge understatement. Recently, I've tried to make sense of the word "love." I tried to explain this to my sister last night, but words failed me - as they typically do - and I was unable to express the millions of thoughts racing through my mind. So, I'm going to attempt this through writing and pray that the words do not fail me in this format.

How did two weeks in West Africa help me understand love? In January of this year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Niger, West Africa. I had no idea what to expect as I was packing my clothes and the food I would eat while I was there. I also had no idea how that trip would forever change my life. God knew. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I entered into a world I always knew existed but the smells, the noise, the disease, and the smiles on the kids' faces made it real for the first time. What does love look like in West Africa? The Womble family. Brad, Sally and their kids giving up their comfortable lives in America to travel to this place that lacked comfort, convenience, and all of the luxuries we take for granted. Why? Love.

Changing gears...

How did reading, and rereading, the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan help me understand love? This book helped me realize that I don't get the love about which he speaks because my view of love is so skewed by the world's definition. Our definition does not even come close to the "God is love" meaning written in 1 John 4:8. Francis Chan writes, "He [God] cannot be contained in this world, explained by our vocabulary, or grasped by our understanding." About love he writes, "This is the God we serve, the God who knew us before He made us. The God who promises to remain with us and rescue us. The God who LOVES us and longs for us to LOVE Him back." What? The God who created the universe longs for us to love Him? Why? Chan says, "Jesus doesn't have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn't need me or you. Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance. (Ephesians 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can even have is knowing God treasures us." This next part made me stop reading and really think about my relationship with this God that I follow: "The irony is that while God doesn't need us but still wants us, we desperately need God, but don't really want Him most of the time." Yikes, right?! Keep reading. "He treasures (there's that word again that I just can't seem to wrap my mind around) us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him - and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by." Ouch! "Are we in love with God or just his stuff?" How would you answer that question?

I'll get back to that...

How does Matthew 25:31-46 help me understand love?

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because - I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?' He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward.

This passage takes me to 1 John 4:7, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."

The homeless man on the corner holding a cardboard sign. The woman selling her body on the streets and in the alleyways for food and clothing. The children entering a homeless shelter in need of a piece of bread and warm blanket. Sheep or goat? You decide. We show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and the desperate as if they were Christ Himself.

I'll admit, this one is the hardest for me because in most cases it's me risking my comfort, my money, but ultimately my own life in order to help someone else. Is my life more important or more valuable than theirs? The Lord is really working on me in this area... Wherever He leads I'll go, right? I want so badly to be able to say "yes" in every instance I'm prompted to move, to go, to stand in the gap, to love.

How does "How He Loves" by David Crowder help me understand love? "He is jealous for me,..." Stop. It took me a while to get past the first phrase in this song. He, God, is jealous for me? ME? Doesn't He know me? Doesn't He know how selfish and undeserving I am? Yet, He is jealous for me. Blows my mind! Let's keep going...

Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh! how He loves.

While the version most of us know is DCB's, the song was originally written by John Mark McMillan. I just recently discovered the story behind the song and feel it is fitting with my message here...

He [John Mark] had a youth minister he was close to and he’d been praying and praying for there to be a movement among the youth that he was leading. One morning, when they were meeting to pray he said, “I’d give my life for this if that’s what it takes to see a movement among these youth. Do whatever you need to do God.” That evening John Mark’s friend, Steven the youth pastor, died in a car wreck, and John Mark wrote the song in memory of his friend.

How does one look at such tragedy, where most people would claim that God must not love, and create a powerful song such as this? Our sole purpose on this earth is to bring glory to Him. The very breath we breathe is for Him. Again from Francis Chan, "But He [God] has overcome the world. So take heart, keep on, fight the good fight, pray continuously, and do not grow weary. There is NOTHING better than giving up EVERYTHING (even our very lives) and stepping into a passionate love relationship with God, the God of the universe, who made galaxies, leaves, laughter, and me and you." He is jealous for me...and true loves requires sacrifice.

Two weeks in West Africa. Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Matthew 25:31-46. "How He Loves" by David Crowder.

I can still see the faces of the kids I met along the Mehanna Road in West Africa. My heart hurts for them. In a very real way, I love them. Crazy Love has rocked my world in more ways than I can count simply because I do not love the way Christ has called me to love. Matthew 25:31-46 painfully reminds me that I very badly want to be a sheep but far too often, I am nothing but a goat. "How He Loves" tells me that there is a God, He is jealous for me, and His love is so big and powerful that it resembles a hurricane. Our goal as people who follow Christ should be no less than becoming people who are madly in love with God. That is my goal. I've also learned that I need God to help me love God...and love others.

"Jesus, I need to give myself up. I am not strong enough to love You and walk with You on my own. I can't do it and I need You. I need You deeply and desperately. I believe You are worth it, that You are better than anything else I could have in this life or the next. I want You. And when I don't, I want to want You. Be all in me. Take all of me. Have Your way with me. Amen."
-Francis Chan, Crazy Love