Sunday, May 06, 2012

Love: the other four-letter word

1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

Though there will likely not be any Academy Award nominations forthcoming, the movie "Fireproof" is about as powerful and as inspirational as they come. 

The movie focuses on a young couple having marital problems, problems so profound and so long ignored that at the beginning of the movie there is virtually no "marriage" at all - and divorce is imminent.  The husband has real anger issues, inappropriate addictions, and misplaced priorities all of which cause him to focus inwardly.  The ironic thing is that the husband is a firefighter who gives selflessly, heroically on the job.  What he gives at home is an entirely different matter.  At home he "takes" and he "expects".  He enters his home with a sense of entitlement, and in this mindset his wife has been relegated to second-class status as only incidental to the husband’s expectations and personal desires.  For the paycheck, he "gives" fully of himself even at great risk to his personal safety.  For the home and for the sake of his marriage, he "gives" nothing and he "gets" nothing except a lot of heartache and frustration.

His father is aware of the marital problems, so he offers to pass on to his son the very thing that saved - and continues to preserve - his own marriage called the Love Dare©.  It is a Christ-centered, Bible-based study that helps participants to define AND appropriate "love" in their lives.  The book itself is only a tool that complements the Bible, but if done properly it will become the heaviest and perhaps most dangerous tool in the box because it demands the reader's full attention, respect, and commitment; and as the father pointed out to his son, it guarantees absolutely nothing - from the "other" person since its focus is not on one’s expectation of "others".  In fact, the "other" person is incidental to the Love Dare© itself, regardless of who that “other” person may be.  Reconciliation with the "other" person is the ultimate goal - in this case, one's spouse - but the Love Dare© does not consider how or even whether the "other" person will respond.  It is primarily about "fixing" oneself and learning to “love” unconditionally so one may learn to appreciate "love" for its own sake. 

That very idea is such a foreign concept to our culture that even as so many have watched the movie and exalted its virtuous message, it is clearly evident that in the end "it was only a movie", not applicable or practical to “my” situation.  This is because our culture has so perverted the essence of the word “love” itself that it has no meaning and only conditional value. 

Through the Church’s carelessness, "love" has been robbed of its legitimate power – because we fail to understand and respect that power and the context in which we use the word.  In the end we toss the word about so casually that we become so used to the word it no longer has any impact – a lot like what we have done with the Holy Name itself!  And because we are so casual with the word, it has no meaning except toward how we happen to feel at a particular time toward a particular thing or a particular person – conditionally, of course, on whether that thing or person is useful to us.

The Greek offers to us four different kinds of what we have generalized as "love" in the New Testament, but each time the Greek words are expressed - regardless of the context - they are translated in English to simply "love".  The English translations themselves have in many cases virtually robbed the word of its genuine and transformative power!  The King James Version makes some references to "charity" in place of "love" such as in 1 Corinthians 13, but even “charity” has lost its truest meaning because we do not understand the biblical context in what it means in flowing FROM the Lord as “agape”, or “sacrificial, unconditional love”.

This is not, however, about learning to speak or read Greek.  This is about understanding and embracing the fullest and richest context of the biblical use of the word "love" and how it translates in our lives and in the witness of the Church.  This is so that when 1 John makes a general statement that "God is love", we can more fully understand what the writer means when he broadens the context: "as [the Lord] is [love], so are we [to love] in this world"; that is, those who are truly transformed.  But before we can “be” the kind of love the Lord is, we have to actually know what “love” really means – in AND outside the marital covenant.  The Love Dare© attempts to illustrate not only how to understand the word but how to biblically appropriate and express "love" in our lives.  It may even challenge us to choose our use of the word more carefully. 

It is unfortunate that "love" is no longer 'church language' as is 'sanctify' or 'justify' or 'salvation' or 'grace', but the only reason this is true is because the Church has allowed its language to be misappropriated by its own carelessness by using "love" as an "excuse", like "grace".  In other words, we cannot live "love" because we do not understand "love".  And even as we might be able to truthfully state that “God loves me”, we fail to understand that this kind of abiding love must necessarily be outwardly expressed not by what we say but by what we do – even for those who have hurt us – just as Jesus teaches!

Nowhere is this truer than in the cases of some churches and pastors using "physical intimacy" - within the context of marriage, of course - as a "tool" to help solidify and strengthen marriages.  And they're making a big splash - and big headlines! - about it and publicizing it and publishing books about it.  All the while, they continue to buy into and perpetuate the world's biggest lie about what "love" is truly all about – and its origin!  Now I am not naive nor am I a "babe in the woods", and I will not try to tell you this is not a big issue in the marital relationship because it is!  But if this one thing is THE thing holding the marriage together, that marriage - I dare say - is doomed.  DOOMED.  It is not a matter of “if” that marriage will fail … but “when”. 

That "behind closed doors" challenge (where, incidentally, it should stay!) is strictly defined according to one's physical capacity and it comes dangerously close to suggesting that if "this" does not sustain or strengthen your marriage, nothing will.  My dear friends, "this" has nothing to do with "love".  Nothing.  Except, of course, in the "eros" context - that "erotic love" which will "give" only as much as it expects to "gain".  This, of course, is not "love"; it is "lust".  At the very least, it is "infatuation" which will inevitably fade with time.  It will not last beyond the "newness" or the "novelty" unless or until "true love" is embraced - "love" for its own sake; not for what we might expect. 

The Love Dare© is focused primarily on the marital relationship, but it is useful outside that context because of its entire focus on “selflessness” and reconciling oneself to the Lord first; learning to live for the Lord FIRST, learning to love the Lord FIRST – just as it is written.  It is designed not only for marriages in distress but also for those couples who will dare to DEFY the world's generalizations and expectations - and choose to glorify our Lord in their relationship to one another; because it is the marriage covenant and relationship that best exemplifies that relationship between the Bridegroom who is Christ, and the Bride who is the Holy Church.  It would also be very useful for engaged couples to explore before they enter into the marital covenant so that they can know what really matters.  In fact, I may make it required reading before I will agree to marry another couple!

We must not worry about trying to go back and "unring" any bells, to vainly try to undo mistakes we’ve made in the past.  The past is passed; there is nothing useful about going backward where the anger and the hurt feelings are still fresh.  The Journey begins today.  Today is literally the first day of the rest of this church's life, and we must resolve to celebrate Renewed Life – or prepare for the wake! 

The Love Dare© is a 40-day challenge - not unlike the 40 days Jesus endured in the wilderness to prepare Himself for His ministry.  However, I submit to you that because of the importance of this challenge and all it entails, we will address each principle for the next 40 weeks as we will all be challenged to live that principle for an entire week - in AND outside the home.  For the sake of the Lord and His Holy Church, we must work diligently as a church to restore broken relationships, work tirelessly to mend relationships that stand on the edge of disaster, and work faithfully to strengthen existing relationships that will - and must - serve the Lord and His Church well and faithfully. 

It is time to RECLAIM and RECALIBRATE and RESTORE Godly love in our lives because our Lord who "is Love" has declared to us, "apart from Me you can do nothing".  And this is true because as the Lord says "apart from Me you can do nothing”, He also says, “[apart from Me] you are [only] the dust to which you will return."  We are ALIVE in the Spirit – OR – we are already DEAD in the flesh - so I propose this church “choose Life, that [we] (and this church!) may live” beyond our own time … eternally from this moment. 

Let today be the Day of Departure from excuses for failure or selfishness.  Let today be the beginning of renewed commitments to sanctification, that state of spiritual perfection IN THE LORD.  Let today be the first day of the renewed strength of Christ’s Holy Church … at Asbury, in our homes, and in our lives.  We will rise up together – OR – be destroyed individually.  It is time for genuine Transformation.  It is time for Revival that will only come if we resolve to learn to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

It begins – or ends - today.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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