“We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:19 (NIV)
As I strolled through the entrance of Walmart this afternoon, I was greeted by aisle after aisle of assorted chocolates, stuffed animals, and balloons which reminded me Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Even as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, most days I am supplied with colorful advertisements suggesting bouquets of flowers, chocolate-covered strawberries, and a host of other gifts to make Valentine’s Day extra special. One of my favorite Valentine’s confections as a child was the boxes of “Conversation Hearts” also known to some as “Sweethearts.” At this point, you may be wondering why or how I could have acquired a taste for pastel-colored pieces of heart-shaped “chalk.” Consider me unusual in that regard, but, more than the flavor, I liked the short, simple messages printed in red upon each one: “Be Mine,” “XOXO,” “I’m Yours,” “You Rock,” etc. Over time, there have been variations of the candies, different manufacturers, and even changes to the messages. While still communicating love and affection, today’s “Conversation Hearts” are different from those of my childhood. As someone has said, “The only thing constant in life is change,” but sometimes I just wish they would leave certain things alone.
In this world of change, there is one constant which we can lean upon without fail or fear of inconsistency and that is the love of God for humanity. We have just recently celebrated the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and are currently moving through Epiphany. In just a few weeks (on February 22), we will begin the season of Lent in order to prepare us for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Together, these seasons remind us of the depth of God’s love and the length to which God was and is willing to go in order to redeem our sinful condition. It is this expression of divine favor toward humanity which John celebrates within the first of his three Epistles (a portion of Scripture known as the “General Epistles”). Here, John acknowledges not only the reality of God’s love for us, but also emphasizes it is only as a result of this love that we are capable of loving one another. God, who in God’s very nature is love, is the architect and prototype for what it means to love. In doing so, God is gracious, sacrificial, and impartial in offering love to a people who do not always do the most loving of things. Yes, God made the first move in order that we might learn from the best how we are to relate not only to God, but also to friends, strangers, and enemies alike. That may be a difficult “pill to swallow,” but, as John states elsewhere in I John 4, “If we fail to love, then we truly do not have fellowship with God for God is love” (my paraphrase).
Hearing those words puts things into a different perspective. In many situations, we find ourselves like the lawyer who inquired of Jesus what it means to be neighborly: “Just who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). It is easy to read between the lines and discover the lawyer was wanting clarification, but for the wrong reasons. His question may just as well be read, “Jesus, do I have to treat everyone the way I wish to be treated? Can I place some limitations on that?” There are those whom we really like and with whom we treasure close fellowship. At the same time, there are those who rub us the wrong way and create feelings of tension anytime they are around. For us, it is somewhat understandable that the God of the universe should love us in spite of our imperfections, but we hesitate when it comes to others who have been created in the same God-given image as we have. Thank God for a love which loves different and better than we try to love. It is a love without reservation and one which is not forced into being. When we consider the matter of love, may we look toward the One who is love. God is not a professor or doctor of love who communicates to us theories of love or the latest research to improve our love. God is the originator and any love which we communicate is only possible by being in the presence of the One “who loved us and gave himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Thanks be unto God for this immeasurable gift!
Last week, I spent some time with my brothers at Lucama Global Methodist Church and Lamm’s Grove Pentecostal Holiness Church as we set the schedule for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services. I know it is hard to believe these joint worship opportunities are just ahead, but time stands still for no one. I always enjoy our time together in which we share our diverse music and preaching styles, and enjoy fellowship with sisters and brothers through Christ.
This year’s schedule looks as follows:
February 22: Ash Wednesday Service 7:00 at Little Rock (Preacher: Dr. Eakes Music: Lamm’s Grove)
April 6: Maundy Thursday Service 7:00 at Lamm’s Grove (Preacher: Rev. Smart Music: Lucama)
April 7: Good Friday Service 7:00 at Lucama Methodist (Preacher: Rev. Hawley Music: Little Rock)
April 9: Easter Sonrise Service 6:30 at Little Rock (Preacher: Rev. Stallings Music: Lamm’s Grove)
Together in Christian Love,
The Reverend Kelley Smart