Dear Friends,

Traveling through a local store the week after Christmas I was amazed to see that almost all of the Christmas merchandise was gone, only to be replaced by a plethora of pink and red hearts, and all things Valentine’s Day. What is amazing to me is the Valentine items in almost every department of the store, from clothing to kitchen gadgets to all kinds of food items. Recently I even saw an advertisement for personalized Valentine’s golf balls! How far we’ve come in trying to prove our love.

In March 1964 The Beatles released a single, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” written by Paul McCartney. He was later quoted as saying about the song, “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well, but they won’t buy me what I really want.” Interestingly, many of the early Beatles catalogue of songs talked about love. While I can’t interpret what they intended, this much I can tell you: despite the way love is often misused today, love is not just an emotion, but instead is a value.

When we truly love someone, be it our spouse, parents, children, grandchildren or friends, it’s deeper than a simple emotional attachment. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In just a few days, in fact, on Valentine’s Day, the season of Lent begins. What an awesome day to kick off this season because we celebrate in Lent how God made His love so visible in Jesus. It is because Jesus values each of us in His love, He willingly laid down His life by dying on the Cross. Jesus defines for us what great love actually is. Certainly Jesus knew the emotion of love, but it was the value that He placed on our eternity that enabled Him to sacrificially take our place and pay for our sins. This is the love He has for the whole world, for all people, every tribe and nation, even for those who refuse to recognize Him. While they may not receive the fullness of the benefits of His love, nevertheless, His promise is to love the whole world!

Seventy years ago, as 48 men met together at Trinity Lutheran Church in Orlando to form the Florida-Georgia District, foremost in their minds was to share the love and salvation of Jesus Christ! At the District Convention this summer, 70 years later, it is still about sharing and abiding in Jesus. Recently I was preparing for a devotion on our convention theme verse, John 15:12-17, about abiding in Jesus. What I discovered is that the only time Jesus ever gave a commandment (as in I command you) was in regard to love. He said, no less than three times, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (see John13:34; John15:12,17). Jesus never commands us not to sin, although I feel safe in suggesting that He would want us to avoid it. He never commands us to pray or worship to sing or read His Word. He never commands us to give, or even to evangelize, even though there are plenty of other Scripture passages that direct us to do so.

The truth is, love is a value, and if we value our relationship with Jesus, and love Him, we will naturally do the things He asks us to do! When we love Jesus we will want to not sin, we will want to pray and worship, sing His praises and read His Word. When we love Jesus we are enabled to give freely, recognizing that we received freely. Only in our love for Jesus can we truly express love to others simply by telling them about all the wonderful things that Jesus has done in our lives. In fact, this is the desire Jesus has for all of us. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We show our love for Him by showing our love to each other.

This isn’t something that we are to reserve for only certain ones. Jesus calls us to love all people with His love. Someone once told me that you may not like everyone, and that’s a choice, but love is a command. So how can we love even the most unlovable? We value them as someone for whom our Lord Jesus was willing to lay down His life. We don’t love in our own strength, but we love others in His!

I am challenging our congregations to consider starting two new ministry starts per region per year over the next five years. That would result in 50 new starts and countless opportunities for us to share the love of Jesus with our neighbors. Faith and hope are great, but Paul reminds us that the greatest of these is love. That’s where it begins—right where Jesus gave His only commandment. May we live in that love and give it away, so that others may see the love of Jesus in us, and experience the true love and value that Jesus has for them! He’s counting on you!

In His love,