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Epic Theology

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Sacrifice

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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All You Need Is…

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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,

Living in a Greedy World

My church has just started a sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins, addressing what they look like in our lives and, more importantly, how we can live lives free from their power. Two Sundays ago, one of our pastors spoke on the sin of Greed and I want to take some time today to talk about something that has been weighing on my heart for a long time.

We live in a greedy, greedy world. And I think, for the most part, we’ve stopped caring about that fact.Ebenezer

The rise of consumerism, coupled with an extra helping of radical individualism has transformed us as a culture. The American dream has been changed from “a better life [than the oppressive one we left behind] for our children” to “the best I can get.” We are no longer content with anything. We can have food on our plate, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads, and we are often FAR from content.

We want more.

And I’m not immune.

My family’s budget is tight. Not ‘cutting milk with water to make it go further’ tight, but we have to keep a very close reign on what we spend. We pay our bills, have enough to eat, put a little money aside for our kids’ education, and have a little extra to squirrel away for harder months.

Generally, it’s pretty awesome.

Except when it’s not.

I like going for coffee. Which is weird, because I prefer tea. I also have more hobbies than most households combined. Usually, if I have extra money at the end of the month that is ‘mine,’ I will drop it on one of these pastimes. I don’t stop to think about those less fortunate than myself, I just spend my money on me.

Is that what we’re called to?

I look at the Bible and I see a call to RADICAL sacrifice. Following Jesus can cost us EVERYTHING. This flies in the face of greed. We have to be willing to give up our right to coffee, to hobbies, to new cars and new clothes and new toys. We have to be willing to wrestle with the size of our house and our monthly budgets. Especially here in the West, where many of the things we buy come at the cost of someone’s well being in the developing world.

Yet, by the grace of God, change is occurring. God’s Spirit moves, and in my life I feel a stronger pull to living an ethical life than to buying more things. Since starting tithing over five years ago, money has become less and less of a stumbling block in my journey. If this is true of me, I have to believe it is true of Christians around the world.

If we stop to listen, maybe God will change our hearts. If we ask Him to change us, maybe He will.

Maybe Greed can be replaced with compassion.

God willing.

Blessings

Faith and Film: Frozen

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterThis post probably should have been written forever ago. As big Disney people, my wife and I were excited for the newest fairy tale movie from one of the greatest animation studios of all time. We weren’t able to see it in theatres right away because our son was born around the time it came out, but it was the first movie we went to as soon as our boy was old enough to stay a couple hours with Grandma and Grandpa.

Were we disappointed? No. Did we jump on the Frozen bandwagon, proclaiming its virtues for all to hear? Nope. While I enjoyed much about the movie, there are some issues that we had with it. Today, I want to discuss some of the themes we found in Frozen and start a discussion around their significance for those of faith.

First, I would like to say that I’m not really sure who the protagonist of this film is. The story generally follows Anna, but Elsa has the more complete character arc. Let’s take a look at both of these ladies and see what connections we can make from them to the eternal story.

Anna is a very relatable princess. She is likeable, dorky, and completely devoted to her sister. She has to deal with the hurt of her sister’s rejection, the loneliness after her parents’ death, and her bumpy search for romance. Anna sounds like many young women I know. And throughout, she maintains an optimism that we can learn from in an age of apathetic pessimism. As far as young heroines go, Anna is one of my favourites.

Elsa, on the other hand, has a very different set of problems to deal with. Her near-fatal encounter with her sister as a child created a deep-seated fear of herself that her parents were never able to help her with. She grows up fearing emotion and connection, much like other people I’ve known.

Elsa_(Frozen_2013)However, once Elsa’s powers are made known to the public and the people, just as expected, reject her as a monster, she flees to the mountains where she sings “Let It Go,” which currently has over 200 million views on YouTube (just the one video of it. There are several with views in the tens of millions). This is where we find my main issue with the movie. Elsa is different from others. Her difference alienates her from everyone she knows and loves. Her answer is to let go of everything holding her back, including her family, her people, and her responsibilities. She plans to cut everyone out and live by her own rules: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” I’ve spoken before about my distaste for such relativistic individualism, and this song epitomizes what I think is wrong with society right now.

To be fair, I don’t think the movie agrees with the message of the song. Elsa is shown that she can’t run from her fears, she can’t create her own little world safe from everyone else. She must learn that love is the way to conquer all her fears. However, since “Let it Go,” is such a beautiful, catchy, and self-affirming song, it has been adopted by the general public completely unattached to its context in-story.

On the other side, Frozen has one of my favourite definitions of love that I’ve found in any movie. Olaf, the magical snowman, tells Anna that love is about putting someone else’s needs before your own wants and needs. It is, by its very nature, sacrificial. While this may be hinted at in other fairy-tale movies, this is the first time (at least, that I remember) of love being given such an excellent treatment. Our culture currently tells us that love is an emotion, the bubbly, heady feeling you get when you are around “the one.” But the Bible tells us that love is action, not emotion. It is the choice to put others before yourself. Jesus, in John 15:13, tells us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is the choice to sacrifice for others.

I believe that this is the major theme of the entire film: love as sacrifice. The shallow, instant “love” that Anna feels for Hans at the beginning is shown to be false, and it cost neither of them anything, (however, “Love is an Open Door,” is an amazing song…). The true love that breaks the curse is a sister choosing to die for her beloved sibling: Anna lays down her life in order to save Elsa’s. Even the comedic relief, Olaf, is willing to melt for those he loves.

Frozen promotes many things I can get behind. Courage to fight for those we care for. Love as a far more powerful force than fear. The importance of family and friends. Despite some of the storytelling flaws that I think it could have ironed out, the overall thrust of the story is one that I would love my children to adopt. However, despite the popularity of ‘Let it Go” and Queen Elsa in general, I think it is the Princess Anna who really shines as the heroine worth emulating in this story.

We could all do with a little more courage, love, and optimism, I think.

Blessings

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