Degrees of Love

“Cheese warmed up on bread, please!” That is Joseph’s favorite food right now. So at dinner tonight, we bargained with him. Eat your steak and potatoes and broccoli and if you are still hungry after that you can have cheese on bread. He made short order of the dinner and I was up from the table making the bread delicacy. Matt commented, “You love your cheese on bread don’t you!” Joseph got a very serious look on his face and said, “I love Mama first. Then Dada second. Then I love Clara.” Well, but what about the cheese on bread? “I like to eat it,” he replied with a smirk.

At four, Joseph has distinguished between kinds of love! Love is how you feel about a person, not how you feel about a food. Profound! And sweet.

Have you seen the email going around? The one about True Love? It looks like this:

For God so loVed the world
That He gAve
His onLy
BegottEn
SoN
That whosoever
Believeth In Him
Should Not perish
But have Everlasting life.
John 3:16

The creator of the email is hoping that the message will make it around the world by Valentine’s Day. I guess I better forward that email. Oops.
Ok, so when I first read this email, I thought, “Yep. That’s pretty cool.” I showed it to Clara who has the verse memorized and she began singing the little song that goes with it. Catchy tune and a great memory tool. We know it. But do we KNOW it?

In the study I’m doing at church right now, we’re talking about integration vs. knowledge. What do you know and what have you absorbed or immersed yourself in or integrated into your emotional belief systems. There’s a difference between the scientific knowing of something and the emotional, gut-level embracing of that knowledge. It’s the difference between a cold acknowledgement and a life-altering realization. It’s knowing and acting accordingly versus living in a manner consistent with and flowing out of an emotive response to knowledge. It’s following a to-do list versus living out love, trying to earn God’s love versus expressing God’s love.

My initial response to the email was a scientific knowing. Hey, I recognize that! I believe that is true for me. Do you feel the coldness of that? No, the email is making a profound comment here about the trueness and vastness and completely overcoming enormity of God’s love for you, and you, and you. (Yes, you!) He, God, is the Father who lost His sheep, His coin, His beloved prodigal child (Luke 15). He is the God, Father, who goes in search of the least of these, the insignificant, the shamed, the unworthy. He doesn’t just wait for them to return; He is actively seeking. And He is the God, Father, running out to greet, throwing the impromptu party, celebrating with joy. He is the God of emotion and knowing that He is running after me when I turn my back (just ask me about the dryness of inspiration this week as I’ve fought against writing this!)… I’m speechless. You may have heard before that God would have sent Jesus to die for your sins even if you were the only person here. You may have heard it. But have you really HEARD it?

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about love between now and then… picking out cards that adequately spell out our varying degrees of love for those around us. It may be a cheeky conversation heart exchange between school kids or a paper superhero comic card between best friends. It may be a handmade creation perfect for a parent, grandparent, or special teacher. It may be a card or a bouquet of flowers or even a canister of tea (www.compassiontea.com has the best one!) given to your sweetheart of 2 or 25 years. But, none of these Valentine’s matches the one the Father gave when He gave us His Son.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4: 9