I wish that I could so poignantly wrap the thoughts and ideas that have been travelling through my brain and put them perfectly down on this digital piece of parchment. Alas, these are the ramblings of a ragamuffin.
Last month I celebrated my 30th birthday. Like most people, it brought with it reminiscing the past, reevaluating the present and embracing the future. It’s one of those ages that brings questions like, “What have I accomplished?” and “Where do I go from here?” This particular birthday could have been treated with flamboyance, complete with a themed event similar to a “This is your life” talk show, a re-creation of my favorite television series, or even a documentary film crossed between The Crocodile Hunter and The Blair Witch Project, all of which I so gratefully participated in to celebrate other friends’ chronological milestones. My wife asked what I wanted for this special occasion, and the more I thought, I realized that what I wanted was this: simplicity. So on January 23rd, I sat at the head of a long set of tables in a local restaurant, surrounded by people in my life with whom the word “significance” was attached, some whose friendships entered my world as recently as a few months, others who I have known for as long as five or six years. And as I looked over that long stretch of faces, some strangers to one another, I was completely overwhelmed with one truth: this is what love looks like. I saw my past, present and future smiling back at me, people with whom I have shared life with, who embraced some of my deepest struggles, successes and failures, and who see me as someone they consider a friend. These individuals painted a picture for me, showing just how important I was to them and their presence that night, along with several letters of encouragement that I will always keep close by caused my heart to be full. To be honored like that, loved in a way that absolutely spoke my love languages was a moment that will never leave me.
Growing a year older has also brought the realization that there really is a time that comes to “put away childish things,” as Paul so eloquently wrote in his letter to the Corinthians. I have begun to understand the significance of who I am in Christ, that it’s just not about having a quiet time or doing what it takes to get rid of the “guilties,” but rather an understanding that we are really more than we think we are, that because we are “a new creation” we have this ability to overcome the sin in our lives, to really live in an incredible freedom, clear from being ruled by self-esteem issues. Paul says in Romans that we are free in Christ, that we are not slaves to sin. As hard as it may be to swallow that, it really is the truth. Paul is telling us that we have no excuse to sit in our corners feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling like we aren’t worthy to be in the presence of God. It’s through Christ that we are able to do that. Starting in verse 12, Paul says, “…we are under obligation, NOT TO THE FLESH, to live according to the flesh, you must die. but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the things of the body, you will live.” This next part is key. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not receive a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption by which we cry out, ‘Abba Father’ (or in its basic form “DADDY DADDY.”)” As crazy as it seems, the sonship that we have with God is the same that Christ has, but it’s because of us being IN Christ that we are able to do so. And because we have that freedom, our approach to the throne, to God’s presence, should be looked at, not as a hat-in-hand, I’m guilty and I know it type of approach, but of the approach of a little child, able to sit and play at the Father’s feet and just enjoy being with Him. We have the ability to have the same relationship with God that Christ does. Verse 16 says, “….we are children of God, and FELLOW HEIRS WITH CHRIST, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
1 Corinthians 1:9 says “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Somehow the ‘fellowship’ that Paul talks about (Koinonia in greek, which means “common ground”) allows us the idea that we are equal with Christ in the eyes of the Lord. What does that mean? Well, we read through the first couple of chapters of Ephesians, and we see that being in fellowship with Christ to God allows us sonship and an inheritance and all these amazing things. But we also have the ability, as we read in John 15:10, to love each other in the same intense, pure, unconditional way that God loved Jesus and that Jesus loved us. He says later in John 17:23 “I in them and You in me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent me, and loved them even as you loved me.”
So what we have here is the ability to, not only love people like Christ loved us, but to represent who we are in Christ to bring glory to God. How does this play in today’s ‘practical’ world? We have confidence in who we are. We can love without limitation. It allows our relationships to be more vulnerable and safe and genuine. What I have come to understand about myself is that everything that makes up who you I am is ultimately defined in terms of God’s perspective and no one else. Hear that again. God’s perspective defines me.
There are days when I really do get that, days when I am spiritually “healthy.” I am confident, passionate, and understand how to love and be loved. Then there are days when I am completely vulnerable to even the slightest criticism. I could care less about the people around me, about anything really except myself, and I sort of ‘check out.’ It’s not healthy and it’s another part of this ‘growing up’ that I’m embracing, but I know the truth, and the matter of really believing what Paul says in his letters is the key to getting through those “unhealthy” periods. Understanding authentic love, represented around a table the night of my birthday or giving me a huge hug when I get home from work, reminds me that, not only can I receive it fully, but give it away with just as much passion abandon. After all, it’s how God CHOSE to love Christ and how he CHOSE to love his disciples. Surely being in Christ, I can love others that way. Maybe I just choose not to.
Love is a choice. I am grateful for those that have chosen to love me. I hope that the next 30 years will be a constant growing up in that truth, loving others the way He chose to love me, fueled by faith and driven by hope. “But the greatest of these is love.”