Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Love Life

In my favorite musical rendition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Albert Finney plays Ebenezer Scrooge. One of the best moments in the film comes when Scrooge drinks the milk of human kindness proffered by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge becomes drunk and giddily begins to sing, “I like life. Life likes me. I like feeling the way I’m feeling.” Before Scrooge’s “conversion,” his life is filled with selfishness, greed, and self-pity. Post-ghost encounters, his life is filled with a love for others and selfless acts of kindness.

The changes wrought in Dickens’ most well-known character reveal a great spiritual truth: in order to love life, you have to have a life of love. Jesus taught it’s not enough to love your friends and family. He insisted we love everyone, regardless of their social status, ability, influence, or even their enmity toward us. Speaking of love was not sufficient for Jesus; His actions demonstrated His love. He fed the hungry, He healed the sick, He comforted the broken-hearted, He encouraged the widow. Ultimately, He carried the cross to Calvary.

Unlike the cup from which Scrooge drank, Jesus drank from the bitter cup of persecution, torture and death. But even as the shadow of the cross loomed across His life, He still took time to celebrate the Passover and to care for His disciples. Jesus’ life of love testified to His love of life. During His earthly ministry, He attended weddings, played with children, and enjoyed feasts with His friends. After His resurrection, He even cooked breakfast on the beach for His disciples. Jesus taught through both His words and His deeds how to enjoy life and celebrate even ordinary moments. And He did all this so that we might enjoy your lives. L’chaim!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's Love Got to do with It?

I can almost hear Judas Iscariot ask that question when Jesus told His disciples: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Judas seems to be the least loving disciple not merely because he was the one who betrayed Jesus, but also because of his harsh responses to acts of grace. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with expensive spikenard, Judas rebuked her. His question exposes his heart condition: “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

It might seem Judas, who was in control of the group’s money pouch, had a tender heart toward those in need. But the next verses refute that idea by calling him a thief, painting him as a sort of embezzling biblical CFO. The incident also reveals Judas’ attitude toward his Master by implying Jesus was just another man, no one special. Why should He be the recipient of such extravagant love? It sounds like grumblesome, disgruntled Judas was filled with jealousy as well as greed.

For three years, Judas walked with Jesus. He saw the compassion in His eyes when He healed the sick and fed the multitudes. He witnessed the Son of God cry when His friend Lazarus died. And He saw Him weep over Jerusalem’s lack of repentance and absence of mercy. And Judas got angry. Many scholars believe Judas was one of the zealots, a sect of Jews who were trying to overthrow Roman rule. If so, his disillusionment with Jesus becomes clear. Judas was not looking for a kingdom filled with love where its Ruler taught forgiveness of cruel oppressors. He wanted the kingdom ushered in through violence. But violence never produces joy and hatred never brings about peace. Jesus said to love your enemies. He said that the greatest love is not destroying others for the sake of your country or your beliefs, but laying down your life in sacrifice for the sake of your friends.

Recently, my friend shared a story she heard on the radio; it was the testimony of a Muslim man who declared he had grown up in a culture of hate. When he left Islam, he became an atheist. Eventually, though, Christians won him over through their demonstrations of unconditional love. He said they did not try to badger him, debate him or condemn him. Instead they simply loved him. God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe and when we allow Him to fill us with His love, we can change the world.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

True Love

Today Mom and Dad would’ve celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary, one week before Valentine’s Day. Mom used to share with me the story of Dad’s proposal and how she wanted to marry on that quintessential “romantic” holiday. But Daddy insisted he wanted to be married six months to the day from the time he proposed. That meant the wedding date would be for one week earlier on Feb. 7. Thus began years of compromise, sacrifice and teamwork. Mom and Dad weren’t the perfect couple in the sense that they got mad and yelled at one another. Often. But at the end of the day, each one knew how much they were loved by the other.

Through the years I told my friends that Daddy lived to make Mom happy and he did. While he seldom brought her bouquets of flowers, he did give her cards with heartfelt messages and he brought her souvenirs from all of his travels. But far more than that, Daddy faithfully cared for Mom through fifteen years of serious illnesses and hospitalizations. Not only did he care for her physical needs, he showered her with affection and encouragement. Through both good times and bad, he never failed to pray for her. Mom cared for Daddy in all those same ways. And it was a running contest between them to see who could make the other one laugh the most and the loudest. Momma used to say Daddy’s voice was the first one she wanted to hear in the morning and the last one she heard at night. After Momma died, I said to Daddy that he always acted as if Momma hung the moon in the sky. His simple reply? “Well, didn’t she?” I am grateful to my parents for showing me love can last a lifetime. It can overcome any obstacle. And it can sustain you when everything else fails.

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Cor. 13:7-8