Love that Leads to Change

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

As I considered what to write this morning, the topic of love and how it can be “grown” in our lives came to mind.  The need for it was made even more evident by the tragic events at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by that evil act.  This world is full of hatred and in need of an infusion of love as much as any other time in history.  In light of that, today I am writing about a few things I have learned about building love into my life.

Love is one of those interesting topics that have morphed from being just a verb to now being the definition of a particular sector of our culture.  If we are talking about music, movies, restaurants, or greeting cards, love is a genre.  When searching for vacation spots, you can find resorts geared towards love and romance.  We have holidays and events created specifically to celebrate love.  In many ways, the topic of  love and the ability to share it has never been more prevalent.  If that is the case, why does it seem so lacking from our everyday lives and the world?  I would suggest that maybe we are missing something.

This thought is not a unique one by any means.  Any one of us could look around and realize we aren’t quite getting this love thing right.  Jesus saw this same problem in his day.  Matthew, one of the Bible writers, records these words of Jesus from one of his most famous speeches- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’.  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV 1984)  Also, John, another one of Jesus’ followers, wrote down these words Jesus gave his disciples shortly before dying on a cross- “A new command I give you.  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV 1984)  These are just two of the many times when Jesus told the people of his time, and now us through the Bible, to love the people around them.  I have a feeling Jesus wasn’t emphasizing this point to make everyone who was listening feel good about how great of a job they were doing.  My guess is he was seeing a lot more hatred in the world than love.  The irony today is many times we as Christ Followers do a pretty poor job of living out these words of the one we claim to follow.

As bleak as it may seem, I believe there is hope when it comes to this subject and I believe we can learn a lot from the words of Jesus above.  When thinking about how to sow or infuse love into our lives so that we can live it out in a real way in the future, I think a big part of the problem may be the place we start.  If you read the two passages above, and many of the other words of Jesus about love, you will see that love for others is not something that is conjured up on its own.  Rather, Jesus says the love for others should be an overflow of how much one is loved.  Specifically, Jesus says that our ability to truly love other people is an overflow of how much we are loved by our Creator.  Jesus would then demonstrate this by committing the greatest act of love a person can commit, dying on a cross to save those He loves.  I believe to love in a way that will truly make a difference in this world and in the lives of those around us we have to fully understand how much we are loved by God.  By starting at this point, we will be able to love people, even people we would prefer not to love, in a way that is beyond our comprehension.  God desires a relationship with us and, in the ultimate demonstration of love, sent Jesus to make it happen by dying on a cross.  It is not to say that it is impossible to love without understanding how loved we are as many people do this every day.  However, to have the capacity to love in a way that changes the world, I believe a clear picture of how much you are loved by God is quite possibly a must.

After obtaining a clear picture of how loved we are, I believe living this out each day in a tangible way makes love more a part of who we are than a box we know we should check.  From my experience, which is certainly still ongoing, this starts by loving the people closest to you, even when they don’t love you back.  I believe this is what Jesus was telling the disciples to do when he told them to love one another.  This is more than just telling someone you love them, much like love is more than a genre or a holiday.  Love is a verb and is best expressed through action.  Sometimes loving the people closest to us in this way is really hard, but I do believe it is the best place to start “planting” love in our lives.  As we begin to do this, I believe our capacity to love increases until one day we may actually be able to follow Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  I am not there yet, but I have hope that I will be one day and that the overflow of God’s love for me will get me there.

In reflecting on the topic of love, and why I believe it is a force that can change the world, a quote from Frederick Buechner that was included in a letter of encouragement some friends wrote to me in anticipation of my move to Nicaragua came to mind.  It comes from his book “The Magnificent Defeat” and says, “The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother.  It is to love what is loving and lovely.  The world smiles.  The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely.  This is compassion and it touches the heart of the world.  The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man.  The world is always bewildered by its saints.  And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain.  The tortured’s love for the torturer.  This is God’s love.  It conquers the world.”

This is the love we need today.  The choice is ours.

– James Belt

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