God loves us.
It’s the gospel in a sentence, the ultimate miracle, the anthem of worship. We tattoo it on our flesh. We doodle it on bathroom stalls. We spray paint it on train cars. We make Facebook memes to say it in script over photos of sunsets and stars. Preachers preach it. Teachers teach it. Mothers whisper it to the rhythm of a rocking chair in pre-dawn quiet.
It’s the pulse of the church, the constant, ever-true beat to which we march.
God loves us. God loves us. God loves us…
In fourth grade the boy who sat behind me brought a rose to school. For me. He cut it off his mother’s bush, wrapped it in a baby wipe and aluminum foil. He called my name and smiled as he held out the rose, proud. I nervously eyed it while my friends looked on and giggled. I tried to ignore the gift, embarrassed, but the boy insisted I take it, his brown eyes locked on his hands and the rose, his face falling but still sure. I quietly grabbed the pink petaled flower, poked myself on a thorn, and stashed it away in my backpack. I pulled out the rose, crushed, on the car ride home.
The next week he brought me another rose. The next week another. For two years, Sam brought me roses. On Valentine’s Day he presented me with a gigantic chocolate “I Love You.” When he won a certificate for a kid’s meal at Ponderossa upon achieving perfect attendance, he stood on his chair and invited me to dinner, the entire class watching.
One day he discovered another boy in class had a crush on me and so he challenged him to a fight at the park after school. Small, freckled, and adorably lanky, Sam strode to the park, a posse at his back, his brow lowered, his bottom lip out. My mom chased him down in her station wagon and convinced him to let her drive him home.
He loved me.
And I never, not once, returned his affections.
The second to last time I saw Sam we were driving home from the end of the year fifth grade rollerskating party. I held a rose in my lap, the last one he ever gave me. We sat with an empty seat between us, and he stared out the opposite window the whole ride, his cheeks wet. He’d asked me to couple skate that night, everyone watching. It seemed like a proposal, final and weighty. I’d said no, and he’d cried. Wept.
Looking back, I wish I’d said yes. I think about it a lot, wishing I could redo that night, wishing fifth grade Jennifer would have mustered the courage to love Sam back just once.
Charlie Brown said, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” I heartily agree.
Unrequited love makes for a very sad story.
The story we tell in church is God loves us. We tell it and tell it and tell it again. But that story’s unfinished. “God loves us” leaves God waiting at the mailbox, stranded at the altar.
God says, like a boy says to a girl, “I love you” and it’s an affirmation and a question both. He’s waiting—not just for acceptance—He’s waiting for an answer. And our answer, I’m convinced, makes all the difference.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength…
For two weeks I’ve been talking about “Living in Love with God.” I’ve said you’ll love God more if you talk to Him. I’ve said you’ll love God more if you don’t expect smooth sailing. You’ll love God more if you take Him for who He is instead of Who you want Him to be. You’ll love God more if you spend time together. I’ve said you’ll love God more if you look.
I’ve said all those things because I want to help you love God, and I want to help you love God because there’s nothing more important.
Loving God is like finding true North and raising the sails, the course of everything—who you are, what you do, who you love, where you go—depends on it.
Loving God will open doors and windows and knock down walls. It will change the way you speak and the way you spend and the way you see. Loving God makes life more beautiful and more complicated and harder and easier and altogether better, more abundant.
This week I’ve been reading post after post about millenials leaving the church. We say the problem is narcissism, the problem is a lack of authenticity, light shows in worship, etc, ad nauseam…. And I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t all take a big step back and reconsider the power of love as a deep and abiding solution. To everything.
What would it look like for the church, the people who proclaim allegiance to God, to really and truly love Him?
I read I Corinthians 13, as good a picture of love as any I’ve found, and I wonder…
- What if we were kind to God? What if we talked to Him gently and listened to Him with an open mind and acted out of generosity?
- What if we didn’t envy God’s power or authority? What if we stopped elbowing for position?
- What if we didn’t boast in our wisdom or understanding or experience?
- What if we finally and fully vanquished pride? What if we always came to God first on our knees?
- What if we refused to dishonor God with our behavior, our associations, or our speech?
- What if we sought God’s will? What if we stopped thinking about us and what we want and what choices we have the right to make?
- What if we decided not to get angry with God, to stop writing our complaints in cement, filing them, and holding them against Him?
- What if we celebrated every true thing said about God and every true thing done in His name?
- What if we always stood up for God when others tried to tear Him down?
- What if we always trusted Him and always hoped in Him and always persevered in our faithfulness to Him?
Can you imagine?
I’m an adult and adults have little patience when you start spouting Beatles lyrics in the face of towering problems and systematic dysfunction, but I can’t help but believe that “all you need is love,” that love is a magical seed that once planted grows into a deep-rooted tree, full of life-changing, healing, world-framing fruit. Fruit enough for everyone.
I can’t think of a better way to change the world than to help everybody love God.
That’s my mission, anyway—to be an arrow, pointing, yelling, “Look! It’s God and He’s beautiful.” I want to help people talk to God. And help people listen to God. And help people see God like maybe they’ve never seen Him before.
I want you to fall in love with God.
And I’m convinced that if you did, if everyone would, we’d solve all the problems. And the story would end just as it’s supposed to, like so many of the best stories do, with love answered and shared, with a wedding:
"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth"… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”