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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Love

Themes of Advent: Love

Tomorrow starts the fourth weekend of Advent.For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the fourth one: Love.

I’ve written about love plenty of times. For a quick summary, I believe deeply in the power of love. However, I think our modern ideas about love are far too shallow. We use the same word to describe how I feel about my wife and how I feel about cheeseburgers. Our tendency to hyperbolize (I LOVE that sweater, that concert was EPIC!) has left us with little room in our vernacular to express truly awe-inspiring experiences.

In addition, when we do think about love as an interpersonal experience, we tend to narrow it down to the heady, effervescent feelings of early romance. We talk about the magic of being “in love,” and marriages tend to dissolve once one of both of the partners stop feeling this manic infatuation with their spouse.

Christmas-in-the-Lounge

This is not a fair idea of love. Advent calls us to a different concept of love.

Imagine, if you will, that your life is absolutely perfect in every way. You never suffer, you are in a wonderful relationship, and nothing goes against your will. The image you have in your mind is but a taste of the Trinity before creation. God existed in absolute perfection, and He decided to create humanity to share in this perfection with Him.

For the parents reading this, our love for our children is a faint echo of how deeply God loves us. He loves all of humanity with that love. Even when we turned our backs on Him, He continued to love us.

He loves us so much that He sent His Son into our world to die for us.

This is where we find the heart of love: sacrifice. 

Affection, care, concern, attraction, and intrigue can all be the start of relationships, but it is self-sacrifice that is at the core of love. A parent who gives us sleep to change and feed a baby shows love. A spouse who makes dinner even when he/she is exhausted shows love. A child who spends their allowance on their sibling’s Christmas present shows love.

And this week is all about love. With Christmas only a few days away, it could seem like this week is about presents and food and celebrations, but it’s really about love. It’s about giving up something that we want, whether sleep or time or objects, so that others can be better off. Our culture has given us a great opportunity to show those around us how much we love them. So, let’s do it!

This weekend, try to find new ways to show your love. Stretch yourself, go out of your comfort zone. If you are not one who verbalizes your feelings a lot, just telling someone that you love them can be incredibly powerful. If your spouse does most of the housework, pitch in and lend a hand, even at the end of a hard workday. If you haven’t seen much of your kids, get down on the ground to play with them.

Love is about showing someone that they are more important to you than you are. If we can spread this kind of love, then perhaps the world will start to change for the better. We are all loved by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Everyone is worthy of love. Let’s let the world know that.

Maybe, just maybe, love can win out over selfishness this year.

Maybe.

Blessings

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Why We Need to Stop Hating Trump

I never really thought it would happen. I don’t know if anyone really did. Yet, the most recent American elections played out like the script for some rags-to-riches underdog movie. Except the underdog had never really known rags and didn’t stand for the other underdogs.

Many people I know were shocked, confused, and scared following Trump’s election. He stood for things we thought that Western society had moved past. Minorities felt uncertain about their futures in America. Everyday Americans felt the right to abuse those who were different because they “had a new president now.” Was this the “great” America that Trump envisioned?

I don’t know. I hope not.

What I see now is a whole lot of hate. Hate towards Muslims. Hate towards the LGBTQ community. Hate for people who voted for Trump, or Hilary, or who didn’t vote at all. And while I may vehemently disagree with many of President Trump’s policies and personal actions, I find the reaction to be even worse. Especially from the Christian community.

I’m going to just come out and say it. For the Christian, and for peace-seekers everywhere, there is no room in our lives for hate toward anyone. Full stop.

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No matter how offended we are by someone, God is more offended. Not only by them, but by us. Each of us has fallen short of God’s eternal glory and our very lives are a result of His mercy and grace. We have turned away from a perfect God, and He allows us to continue living because He loves us.

And He loves the person who offended or hurt you, too.

 

When we truly come face to face with our own failings and shortcomings, we realize that we are just as needing of God’s grace as those who persecute us. I shudder to think what the world would be like if I had God’s ability to rain down wrath from the skies. I am not composed of love and holiness. The world would not be a good place if I was in charge. Different, but definitely not better.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, remember that Christ commanded His followers to love those who hate them and pray for those who persecuted them. He tells us to give to those who steal from us, to work harder from those who demand from us, and to allow others to abuse us without reciprocation. In other words, to act like Christ.

Now, we are allowed, and I would argue are expected, to hate injustice, oppression, and evil. Social structures that harm people should be fought, politicians should be held to a high standard of integrity, and crime should be brought to justice. But throughout all of this, we are not to hate those who do us harm.  There is no room for hate.

So please, create art that attacks social evils. Shine light into the dark areas of our world and expose those who oppress the helpless. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and hold back the darkness that threatens our world. But do it out of love for those who are hurt, and those who are doing the hurting. The victims are not the only people who need redemption.

Let’s fill the world with love, for no great good has ever come from hate.

Blessings

All You Need Is…

love.jpg

Valentine’s Day. That time of year when the PDA force comes out in full strength. When roses are suddenly cost a million dollars each and every restaurant is booked right up. Red and pink and white and sugar coat every surface in every retail location and my Facebook feed is full of people hating on the commercialism of it all.

Ah, love.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Valentine’s Day, and I always have. When I was in high school, I would buy flowers for some of my single female friends and hide them in their lockers. It was a small way to show them that they are appreciated. Nowadays, my wife and I still celebrate, we just do it on a different day that week (when reservations are easier to make and the specials are less expensive). I love love, and I hope that never changes.

What has changed for me over the years is my understanding of what love is.

I grew up, like most people my age, with a highly idealized and incredibly narrow view of love. Disney movies showcase that moment of initial attraction, the blossoming infatuation, and the euphoric moment of wedding bells and towering cakes. I feel like 90% of our stories deal with a boy (or sometimes a girl) putting their life and soul into winning the heart of his (or her) beloved.

And then, as soon as they do, the story ends.

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. Bri and I did not suddenly cease to be as soon as our plane took off for our honeymoon. We’ve had to live through the waxing and waning of romantic infatuation with each other. We’ve had to deal with heartache, victory,betrayal, celebrations, misunderstandings, pain, and joy. And in each of those moments, we’ve had to love each other.

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Most of what our culture calls love is really just the intense infatuation that comes at the onset of a new relationship. It’s the uncertain, flirty, intoxicating feeling of “being in love,” where that person overtakes the rest of your life. And this feeling is important! It draws us together and helps us to bond with each other. But is only one kind of love, and a rather shallow, transient one at that.

Real, lasting love is not pretty. It doesn’t always feel good. It is, in a word, sacrifice. It is about always putting someone else above yourself. It can be incredibly easy and romantic, and it can be the hardest, most unsatisfying thing you do.

Love, in the end, isn’t about feelings and emotions. It’s about action. We are called to love God and love each other. This would be impossible if God was asking us to feel something all the time. Instead, He is asking us to always put ourselves second to Him and to others.

This is where English lets us down horribly. We don’t have (or at least, don’t use) the plethora of words that we need to describe love properly. If I say I love pasta, how am I supposed to use that word for the deep bond, emotions, and sacrifice I make for my wife? They aren’t related at all.

My challenge for you this week is to think about love. What do you really mean when you say the word? Do you mean the self-annihilating sacrifice of true love? Or do you mean concern for, infatuation with, enjoyment of, deep attachment to, or preference for something or someone?

If we can start to make these distinctions, maybe we can start making a difference in this world. With the Christian divorce rate nearly the same as the secular, I think we need to better understand what God means when He tells us to love. You can detest someone and still choose to love them. Yet, if we do, perhaps our feelings will change as we treat that person with respect, honour, and real, true love.

Greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends.

That is the love that God loves us with.

How do you love your significant other? How do you love your friends? How do you love your God? Is it sacrificial? Or is it shallow?

Blessings,

Advent: All You Need Is Love

This final “week” of Advent, we look to the theme of love. I thought about writing something new, but after listening to the voiceover I wrote for our Advent bumper video at church this weekend, I decided it perfectly summed up what I wanted to say about Love this Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves you. Do you know that? I mean, beyond just saying so because you’re in church. Do you really know that the Good Lord, the one who created everything in the entire universe loves you so passionately that He would let His only Son die on a cross for you?

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Seems everyone these days is talking about love. But how many of them really know what the word means? If we really think about it, it’s far more than just nice feelings or affection, or being all giddy inside. It’s a deep, burning desire for someone else’s good. It’s so deep that it can cost you everything you’ve got, even your life.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

So, when I say that God loves you enough to send down the little baby Jesus, He knew what it was going to cost. When the High Prince of Heaven came down to earth, it was because He felt a love so deep for you that He couldn’t stay on His throne.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

We might see hate everywhere we look today, but as we light this candle, we remember that Jesus is the ultimate symbol of the Father’s love. This light shines in the darkness, holding back the one who would try to smother us in his hate. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we stand up against the enemy of our souls and take the side of Love.

Blessings

Why Christians Need to Stop Boycotting

And they’ll know we are Christians by our picket signs…

…said no one in the New Testament.No Fun

It’s a sad state of affairs these days. When Christians are portrayed on the news or in films, they are often standing outside some event with signs declaring hell fire and sulfur for any who seem to be having any sort of fun. While it is true that the Bible puts some guardrails around our lives, and even places big “DO NOT GO HERE” signs every so often, Christianity is, at its core, a belief IN something.

John 13:35 tells us that Jesus told his followers, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Yet, if you ask someone today what defines a Christian, it will often be answered with “Someone who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t dance, doesn’t have sex, doesn’t have any fun. Oh, and is a hypocrite.” Not exactly what Jesus had in mind.

I’m not here to tell you how to interpret the Bible. There are things I avoid that I know other Christians do not, and there are things I’m fine with in my life that others would stay clear from. So, if not smoking, drinking, or dancing are part of your spirituality, awesome. If you do smoke, drink, dance, and love Jesus, also awesome. But can we stop getting so loud about it?

When the Noah film came out, there were Christian groups lining up to not only NOT see the film, but to officially NOT see the film, and to tell everyone else to NOT see the film. Last time I read through my Bible, I did not see any prohibitions against seeing a film that disagrees with God. I would wager that most of the people who wanted to see the film probably went anyway, whether they were Christian or not. And those who were not part of the Christian conversation only saw that some Christians were opposed to the film (probably because it was fun, or something), and some were not. In this rapidly decaying world of hyper-individualism, we need more instances of unity, not discord.

Maybe we should spend more time actually being the church. We were once known for our hospitality and our willingness to serve others, even at the cost of our own lives. The Roman empire was converted on the strength of those selfless souls who gave simple medical care to people with the plague, whether the afflicted were Christian or not. We were known as followers of The Way. Now, we’re the followers of the No Way.

This is especially important when dealing with art. Artists push boundaries. We explore the aspects of our lives that others would rather keep hidden. We start conversations that are uncomfortable. If our brothers and sisters start boycotting because they don’t like our questions, then we can’t live out our God-given calling. Sometimes we WILL ask the wrong questions, or push things too far. But we need love then, too.

The arts and Christianity split because of this issue. Christians are still wary of artists, and artists still feel confined by Christians. Let’s work to have conversations, not protests.

As a final note, I’m aware of the irony of this message: writing to tell people not to tell people what not to do. But, there you have it. Just my thoughts.

Blessings

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