Love changes everything.
Sixteen years ago, Cassie and I exchanged wedding vows and my life has never been the same. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I can say my life is so much better for having Cassie in it. Not only do we have an amazing daughter together, but she has challenged me to grow in my faith, my career, and my aspirations. I still remember the day we got engaged. I took her to this restaurant, the 1848 House, that was built inside this big, gorgeous Southern plantation home. Every room in the house was part of this historic home back in the 1800’s and the one we were seated in was the master bedroom with the table set before a roaring fireplace. Cassie was in this beautiful red dress and looked gorgeous. I had spent days planning out in advance how I anticipated the night would go. I ordered a dozen long-stem red roses delivered to the restaurant. I arranged everything with the staff days before we got there and asked if our server would wait to deliver it right before dinner, but somehow our wires got crossed and he brought it in early before the appetizer. It was a big gold foil box of roses and when the waiter walked in with them I was a little surprised but went with it anyway. I got down on one knee, and asked her if she would marry me. I still remember the smile on her face when she said “yes.” I was bursting with excitement! I wanted to tell everyone. Throughout the night some of the other servers would come by and stand in the doorway smiling and cheering us on quietly. As soon as we got home, we called our parents and told them the news and then called up our friends and anyone else we could think of. Because when a moment happens that is about to change your life, we want to share it.
You’ve probably had moments like this in your life.
Maybe it was the same – getting engaged. Maybe it was something else. Graduation. Buying your first car. Finding out you’re about to have a baby. In those moments it becomes more real and more important when we share it with those around us. And the same is true about God. When we finally realize how much God loves us, that God would send Christ to be with us and to show us his love, we need to share that love. We should feel as compelled to share the love of Christ as we would the news of our engagement, our graduation, our new job, our new family member. Which is what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples.
33″My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34″A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:33-35
This is the kind of love that can change the world.
Jesus tells the disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Sometimes we misinterpret Jesus’ statement as a command to love other Christians. And we like that; we’re good at that. It’s easy. But think about how Jesus phrased it – “As I have loved you” – unconditionally, unreservedly, without expectations. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Now that’s harder. We don’t like to put ourselves out there. And we certainly don’t like to put ourselves out there when there is a good chance we’ll be rejected. Have you ever told someone you loved them only to have the “let’s be friends” speech? Ouch. But Jesus challenges us to love everyone, whether they reject us or not. This is Jesus’ call to love even the unlovable. He didn’t say it was easy. But he did say that by loving one another people would know what we stand for and what we believe in. As Jesus said in another passage, it’s easy to love those who love you, but to love those who don’t? Now that’s a testimony to love.
However, love is NOT Christian.
Love is NOT Christian. By that, I mean love is not exclusive to Christianity. Each of us knows non-Christians who love their family, their friends, their neighbors, and their country. So love isn’t something exclusive to us. We aren’t the only ones capable of it. As it said in our reading from 1 John, “everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” That includes Buddihists, Hindus, Jewish people, Muslims…everyone. God is not limited to expressing love only through those who believe. Do you remember the story of Cyrus? He was the king of all Persia, but he didn’t believe in God. At least not in the way we believe in Him or the way the Israelites believed in Him. He just thought our God was “a god” – little “g.” But it says in Ezra 1:1 that “the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus…” and Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and build a temple in the name of God. “The Lord moved the heart of Cyrus.” So if God is love and God can work in Christians and non-Christians alike, what does it mean to be Christian?
It means that we recognize that love comes from God.
It means we recognize that love comes from God. It isn’t just a chemical reaction in our bodies. It isn’t simply a label we put to an amorphous feeling. We KNOW that God actually IS love and that His love for us is made perfect in Jesus Christ. Look again at 1 John 4:9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…” Not that WE loved GOD, but that he FIRST loved us! That’s what love is about. Love is about unconditionally being there for others as Christ was for us. To truly love someone is to love them regardless if they love you back, because loving others is OUR RESPONSE to the abundant love that God has for us. It’s the ability to pass God’s love FORWARD. To share the joy of God’s love with others so they can feel it for themselves.
One act of love can be so powerful.
When I was still new to my faith (and I was “new” for about 30 years), some friends of ours from church thought Cassie and I were ready to attend a “Walk to Emmaus” event. It was one of the most moving moments in my life. I experienced the love of God in a way I never had before. The people who gave of themselves to be there, the notes of encouragement I received, the words that were spoken to us were so meaningful, but this cross was perhaps the most meaningful of all. Not only does it remind me of the time I spent there, but it has a deeper meaning as well. At the end of the event, everyone on our walk was presented with a cross like this one. It’s not especially expensive and it came on a leather thong you could buy for about a dollar, but its value is worth so much more to me than what you might pay for it. When they presented it to us, they told us that all weekend people were praying for us by name over these crosses. Literally 24 hours a day. There was a room where they had the crosses set up and every hour someone or a group would come in and pray over them. This cross is more than just the pewter it’s made of. It’s a symbol of the love these people, most of whom didn’t even know us, had for a group of strangers they were hoping would connect to God in a meaningful way. It worked for me.
You never know how an act of love will change a person’s life.
It could literally mean the difference between life and death. I’ve heard so many stories of people who had given up hope only to have someone come into their life at just the right moment. Often times total strangers. They were people who happened to say the right thing, do something kind, offer to help when it was needed the most. You never know when you might be the right person in the right place at the right time. How will you know? You won’t. So BE that way. Be the kind of person who just acts our of love, not because they’ll get something back, but because they are passing it forward. I want to challenge you to reach out with the love of Christ in your heart to someone this week who needs it. Maybe you’ll pay for a stranger’s meal or maybe you’ll finally go and meet the neighbor you’ve been living next door to for the past five years and say “hi” or maybe you’ll do something nice for someone that you know has been having it rough lately. Buy someone flowers. Leave an extra large tip for the waiter or waitress. Send someone an anonymous gift card. Do SOMETHING for someone this week just because YOU have been blessed with the love of God in your heart. And see for yourself if you don’t feel more complete. And when you do that, when we ALL do that, when we each take that step toward changing the world to simply BE a place where everyone knows the love of Christ.