It’s a love story

I have a confession to make. Okay, here it goes: When I’m listening to the radio and a Taylor Swift song comes on, I don’t change the station. Sometimes I even turn the volume up…but just a little. She has a song called “Today was a fairytale.” And if I can be vulnerable and honest, I like it. I think it is full of the kind of youthful idealism we need more of: fairytales, true love, and romance in high school. It’s great.

I mention all of this because it is spring and love is in the air. There is a breeze blowing through, dropping particles of romance and candy-coated butterflies that will later end up in our stomachs. It is the season for proms, weddings, and the Marriage Ref, all here to show us this wonderful thing called love. We talked last week at church about love and sex, and a lot of good conversations developed from it. It really made me think about how love applies to our youth group.

When my wife was in first grade she wrote a poem about love. The reason I know this is because her best friend found a box of her old poems and read one of them at our wedding. Truth be told, she had a lot of great poems that she wrote in first grade. She had a poem about inviting dogs and hamsters to her birthday party, and another one about her disdain for cats. Her best poem though, was the one she wrote about love. In one of the lines from her poem she wrote: “I love LOVE. When I fall in love, it will be forever.” Now, between you and me, I think she might have plagiarized that last line, but still, there is a blatant truth sticking out—she loves love! When I heard that poem, I thought, “Well, who doesn’t love or at least really like love!? Love is great!”

Love is something we’re all pursuing either intentionally or inadvertently. Ingrained in all of us is a desire to obtain love or at least what we think “love” is. It is difficult to articulate or define love. At best, we just summarize it with vague, poetic descriptions or describe feelings like warmth, tingling sensations, upset stomachs, and so on. But love is more than all of that, isn’t it?

I love that Scripture begins with God sharing a vision for love with his people. In Genesis 2, we see that God has created the universe, all the animals, the flora and fauna, and he has created Adam. God gives him a task; a little job to keep him busy. God tells Adam to name the animals. Adam is like the first zoologist. He is Jeff Corwin on steroids. I wonder how long it took Adam to name the animals. Perhaps it took him a few years or a few decades. Eventually though, He begins to feel lonely. He feels tension. He has a desire to find beauty and to celebrate in it. He longs for love. While naming the animals he is beginning to realize that there are no other creations like him. He is probably a little anxious, but he has no need to worry… God has a plan. (And maybe God has been planning this all along and was just letting Adam sweat it out a bit and live with the tension.) God decides to create Eve. When Adam sees Eve he says: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” I envision Adam is sort of like a Looney Tunes character at this point. His eyes are popping out of his head, his heart pounding, his jaw dropping as he says “Hubba hubba, bow chica bow wow.” His longings for a mate are now fulfilled. His love is now able to be experienced. After years of waiting his desire is now met.

The Genesis account is a beautiful glimpse at why God created love. He created it to be shared in joyful and jubilant commitment with one another. It is something to be held near and dear, and also something to wait for. Many of us though, have rushed into love too quickly or perhaps we’ve yearned so very much for love that we’ve given ourselves away, only to feel lost again, realizing we didn’t find what we were searching for. Instead of attaining God’s best, we’ve settled for a replica of God’s true picture of love, only furthering our own pain and isolation. We’ve lived with the tension and felt the loneliness. Ironically, the very things our world has said will bring us love, have only led us further away. Whether it is sex, numerous relationships, or a combination of the two, we haven’t given our hearts what they’ve truly desired. God has given us love as a gift; and it is a gift worth protecting and fighting for.

If love is a great thing, it definitely is worth protecting. People who study animals say that if a tiger and a lion were to get in a fight, the win would be automatic for the tiger. Lions are fierce and agile fighters, but tigers are, well tigers. It would be like a lightweight boxer stepping into the ring with a heavyweight—really no contest. The tiger is a stronger opponent. He is bigger, faster, and more aggressive. One on one the lion wouldn’t stand a chance. The funny thing, though, is that lions do not typically hunt alone. They hunt and fight in packs; tigers on the other hand are lone rangers. If this made up jungle fight scenario was changed a bit, and it was a pack of lions versus a pack of tigers, the lions would win. The lions know how to fight together; they have strength in numbers. A pack of lions would defeat the tigers no question.

I think we can live our lives one of two ways: as a lion or a tiger. We can live as a lone ranger and do okay for sometime, or we can be a lion and live in community, knowing that we need each other. God’s ideal for love is an amazing but difficult thing to attain. Let’s face it—we need help from one another. We need to help each other in this fight. We can stand firm, united as one, pursuing God’s best. Or, we can live our lives in the shadows, avoiding the help we so desperately need, and letting the world continue to dictate our thoughts and feelings towards love.

We all love love…because we were created for it. God’s gift to us is the gift of love for Him and for one another. It is quite beautiful and it is worth pursuing and finding in Him alone. God created love for us to experience in the same Adam experienced when he met Eve. It is up to us, however, to fight for it. To find God’s ideal, we need to give ourselves for it. Like Adam, we need to fight through the tension and wait for what God has in store. We have to realize that our love story is worth it.

Time to get our fast on

People in the Bible loved to get their fast on. Perhaps they didn’t love it, but they fasted regularly. God called his people to fast for a myriad of reasons. Fasts were personal, communal, and national. People fasted for the salvation of others, as an act of worship, and when times were bad. Fasting was a big deal in both the Old and New Testament.

If you’ve ever participated in a fast, then you know the experience is rich and rewarding, and somehow, brings you closer to God. As we deny ourselves the satisfaction of a full belly, we are more prone to listen to God. There is a deep hunger stirring within us, but this hunger can be directed towards a more meaningful fulfillment. Laruen Winner said “When you are fasting and you feel hungry, you are to remember that you are really hungry for God.” That is part of the experience—realizing that God is enough to satisfy us. Kind of like what Jesus reminded Satan when said, “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Food alone is not enough to satisfy us.

It’s important to understand though, that biblical fasting is more than just the absence of food. It’s not so much what you give up when you fast, but what you decide to replace it with. Fasting is a discipline where we invite God to be at the center of our lives—spiritually, physically, and even emotionally. During a fast, we take away something we desire and use the time for spiritual purposes. When you don’t have to prepare food, or watch TV, or log onto Facebook ten times a day (a personal addiction), you have a lot of free time on your hands; free time that can be spent hanging out with the Father.

Fasting also provides an opportunity to grow in love with one another. Some of the more poignant examples of fasting in Scripture happen when the nation of Israel fasts as one, or when the early church spent their time praying and fasting as a community. Our youth group is preparing for a national event called 30 Hour Famine. We’ll be abstaining from food for thirty hours in an effort to raise money for hungry people all over the world, and also to experience what it’s like to go without. The experience will be eye opening for all who participate. John Piper said “Fasting is meant to awaken us to the hunger of the world, not just our own hunger.” That is our prayer for this event—that our group will be awakened to the powerful workings of God in our lives and community. We’re praying for a night of encounters with Jesus, and conversations with one another that will help us love and care for each other in the name of Christ.

Fasting, like other spiritual disciplines, reminds us that God can be found in our every day happenings. I love the emotion the psalmist employs when he says “where can I go from your presence!?” How can I escape you!? God is like a clingy girlfriend (or boyfriend) with no concept of personal space. God is very near. Fasting can help us open our hearts to this truth and allow his goodness to change us.

The Story So Far

I’ve read a number of books about management and leadership. Typically, these books espouse market trends, personal development plans, and how to be a successful person. I was really into that sort of thing for a while. And, while I learned a lot about business and leadership theory, I felt I was missing something. It’s not that much of this literature was lacking practicality; rather, it was lacking something deeper. It didn’t feed my soul. After reading these books, I noticed I cared a lot about numbers, and spent a lot of time writing goals. I had an umpteen amount of goals—goals for practically everything. This goal obsession made me laugh when I thought about my New Year resolutions.

My past experience with New Year resolutions, or goals, was that they go in one year and out the next. They never stick. Maybe the reason is becasue goals, as Donald Miller says, need to be apart of a narrative, because then they make sense. Someone can say I want to lose 20 pounds on Jenny Craig and not be that motivated. However, if someone says they want to run a marathon or climb a mountain, they will certainly be motivated to lose the excess pounds.

One of my stories that I want to develop for 2010 is more spontaneity in my daily living. I call this “Spirit-led living.” I didn’t come up with this out of thin air; Scripture talks about this quite often. Throughout the Bible, we learn that God created us to walk with Him, never leaving his presence. So far, I’ve seen the fruit of my new sense of awareness. Conversations have gone forth, and I’ve met new people I normally wouldn’t have spoken to. In the past, I’d dread waiting in lines or eating lunch by myself. Now, it is an opportunity to obey God and share His goodness with strangers. Soon these strangers become familiar faces.

Frank Labauch said “The first business of every day is to look into the face of God and ache with bliss.” I’ve started to notice that the face of God shows up in others more often than I thought. And that is where I’ve started looking for Him.

The Gas Station

I usually go to the gast station to get gas. Sometimes if I’m feeling dangerous, I also get a bag of Fritos. For whatever reason, I tend to frequent the same gas station more than others. During my trips, I started to notice the awkward atmoshphere of a gas station. I don’t know why, but most people seem more annoyed at gas stations than say at the grocery store, or in line at a fast-food restaurant. I met a man there a few weeks ago who was running from car to car, asking if he could pump people’s gas or wash their windows for a few bucks. Sadly, most of the people just shoed him away, like he was a fly and he was bothering them.

As I watched this, I was reminded of a story in the gospel of Mark where Jesus unleashes compassion. In Mark 5, a demon possessed man walks over to Jesus as he is stepping out of his speed boat. The man is described as being strong, probably naked, and I’m guessing a bit frightening to the kiddies in the neighborhood. The man is full of demons and when Jesus asks him what his name is, he replies “Legion, for we are many.” This doesn’t even phase Jesus. He decides to send these demons into the non-kosher animals herding nearby. Suddenly, this legion of demons is thrust out of this man into a herd of two thousand pigs, who fall into the nearby lake and drown. Jesus then looks at the pigs and smiles and says “That’ ll do pig.” Okay, he doesn’t really say that.

The owners of the pigs get a little miffed at Jesus, I mean, how inconsiderate to kill all those pigs at the expense of this crazed, demon possessed man. The text then says they were afraid and pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.I guess Jesus listens becasue he gets into his boat and tells this newly healed man to go and share how the Lord has shown him mercy. The man’s testimony grew and people were amazed (Mark 5:20). This story causes me to pause.I wonder what people were thinking when Jesus stopped his boat and got out. There was a crazed, demon possesed man, probably naked, I imagine yelling expletives, and throwing rocks.He could have easily just stayed in the boat and kept going downstream. But he doesn’t. He stops and gets out of the boat. Jesus practices reckless compassion. His compassion isn’t cointingent on time or circumstance; where Jesus is, compassion exists.

I wonder how often we neglect to share the love and compassion of Christ because it is easier to just ignore people. As Robert, the man at the gas station, approached me I didn’t do anything heroic. I didn’t write him a check for a hundred dollars. I didn’t tell him he could stay in my guest bedroom. But I didn’t ignore him. The small amount of money I gave him, didn’t amount to the expereince we shared talking for a few minutes in a place where no one wants to be bothered. If we are called to be like Chirst, we are called to reckless compassion.