Dear Friends,

February seems to be designated as the month of love by our popular culture. Valentine’s Day has become big business, and what used to be about candy, flowers and cards has now become about far more expensive gifts to show the depth of our love. What is love really all about? The world seems to define it by the visible actions that demonstrate that love. Ironically, so did Jesus! In fact, in John 13 Jesus said, “By this will all men know you are my disciples if you love one another.” In other words, it was to be a visible testimony of the truth of our faith.

Last month I was driving back to Orlando from Atlanta listening to satellite radio. I had listened on my drive up to a station that was playing holiday favorites from Bing Crosby to Paul McCartney singing about Christmas joy. Now that the holidays have passed the station has returned to playing only love songs. It was interesting listening to favorites from the 1970’s through the current fare, many of the songs I knew, and there were some I had never heard before. What captured my attention was the many ways we try to express this thing called love.

We live in a world that is desperate for love, even if they don’t truly understand what it is. Many seek love in all the wrong places, just trying to fill the hole they feel inside. One of the songs that I heard played by a band called Heart, entitled, “What About Love,” seems to express that well. This is what the chorus of the song says: “What about love? Don’t you want someone to care about you? And what about love? Don’t let it slip away; What about love? I only want to share it with you; You might need it someday.” There are literally thousands of songs expressing similar sentiments. People all around us are looking for real love, unconditional love. In December I became a grandpa for the first time and learned again the true joy and beauty of unconditional love. My little granddaughter doesn’t have to do anything for me to love her and every time I see her I can’t help but smile and rejoice. This is truly a gift from God, and it motivates my love for her. John would later write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:10–11). This is not only our privilege, but also our responsibility!

Sometimes the Church fails to capitalize on things that God places right in front of our faith. The world celebrates a distorted picture of love, but we, as believers in Jesus, have the real thing in Him that we get to share with a hurting world in such great need of His love. You are probably aware that the Christmas we celebrate really started as a pagan holiday to worship the sun god, and the Christians sanctified it and turned it into a celebration of the Son of God. How might the Church today redeem the popular misconception of love to show the world what real love is?

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35. I believe one place the church can begin is by genuinely expressing that love with each other. We often take such great pride in our denominational distinctives, and truly there are things that we just can’t and won’t compromise on, especially as we follow God’s Word. However, collectively, we as the Church on earth seem to give our faith in Jesus quite a black eye as we constantly bicker and battle each other over issues and ideas that don’t really matter to the unbelieving world and often simply confirm what they already believe about the church.

What might happen in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, in our marketplace, even in our congregations if the guiding principle was love? In John 21 as Jesus is feeding the disciples breakfast on the shore of Galilee, Jesus confronts Peter, but notice that He does it in a loving and positive way. Truly Jesus could have belittled Peter, chastised him, ostracized him and talked behind his back, or simply refused to have anything to do with him. Often isn’t that what we have a tendency to do?

I was watching the popular TV show “Shark Tank” and Kevin O’Leary offered a deal that was ultimately refused by the person pitching their product, and as they walked out O’Leary jokingly (I think) said, “You’re already dead to me…” I laughed when he said it, but then it occurred to me, often this is the way we treat brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t even have to spend a lot of time working on how we relate to other Christians outside the church. Often we have plenty of opportunities to show forgiveness and operate in the love of Jesus within our own congregation or circuit or district or synod.

Coincidentally, Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday in 2015, but more importantly it comes only days before we turn our attention once again to the Cross of Jesus beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015. It was at the Cross that we saw true love come to life, as Jesus took our sins upon Himself, and then died and rose again. Over the centuries the church has encouraged believers to sacrificially “give something up” for Lent. It’s a great practice when we take it seriously and don’t use it as a simple excuse to serve our own purposes. The goal is always about getting more focused on Jesus. If giving something up assists you in doing that, by all means, this is a wonderful spiritual discipline. Let me suggest, at the same time, that you “take something up.” In fact, let me suggest that you take up the practice of not only living in Christ’s forgiveness, but actively seeking to share that forgiveness in the relationships in your own life. Let me suggest that you take up practicing living in the love of Jesus, and reaching out to others to share that love. Maybe it will be an encouraging word or a smile. Maybe it will be an opportunity to share the deep truths of our faith with someone whose life will be transformed through the power of the gospel. How might God use you as a conduit of His love?

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for a pre-Lenten celebration of God’s great love. Redeem the day, and let the love of Jesus flow through you to the people all around you. What about love? It’s one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given by Jesus, but it increases as we give it away. You won’t have to look far for opportunities to share His love, and it won’t require candy or a card. But it does take an investment of your time and energy. May the love of Jesus fill your heart to overflowing, not only for Valentine’s Day, but for this season of Lent.  Let the world see that you are a disciple of Jesus because of His love shining through you. Then the world will know we are Christians by our love, flowing from His love for you!

Living in that love,