Love Letters

I’ve been reading the Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus recently, and I’ve come into a dilemma that I have never had to deal with before: I actually want to highlight quotes and passages in this book. You were probably expecting something more enlightening. Well, sorry to disappoint. I’ve never written or highlighted in books before, except one of the Bibles I used to have. I’m not really sure why, maybe it’s left over from having to return school text books at the end of the school year. So, I did what anyone else would do given such an important problem: I posted it on Facebook to see what everyone else thought.

Several of my friends told me to just highlight and write in it as much as I want, and said that even though I thought that was basically sacrilege, that if God was ok with me writing and highlighting in my Bible, that normal books were certainly ok. Well, I told them that I don’t highlight or write in my Bible either. One of my friends responded with “And why not? If it’s HIS love letter to YOU you should mark in it the things He tells you and reveals to you.” So, being the sensitive guy that I am, I naturally responded with, “That doesn’t make any sense, if a girl sent me a love letter, I wouldn’t write on it either, I’d write her one back. Or die of shock.”

While I’m sure that might say a lot about my confidence level with girls (feel free to hold psycho-analysis comments to yourself, thanks), it hits home in relation to what I’ve been reading. When I was a teenager, and thought I was in love for the first time, I didn’t care what anyone said, thought, or felt about it. I would defend the girl I loved with no hesitation, completely blind to any faults she had, or worse yet, simply ignoring what I saw so blatantly. As we grow older, we learn to temper those initial feelings until we find out if there’s anything substantial in the person and relationship…or at least we’re supposed to have worked that out by now.

Those initial feelings of love run us over and completely change us when we are younger, because we don’t have the experience or capability to control them. Then over time, we learn to handle feelings of love in a way that is deemed appropriate by society.

Tragically, we do the same thing when it comes to the knowledge and experience of the love of Christ. The feelings and realization of who we are in light of the cross that totally wreck all that we are when we first come to know and experience the love of Christ are fascinating. What can cause such a change in a person? Then it happens. Someone older, more “mature”, comes along and tells us that we have to control these feelings. We have to learn doctrine (which is definitely important) before we can understand what God did for us on the cross. We are told to calm down because these feelings are making us act crazy, though no one would ever say it like that. Because that would be much too honest, and shameful.

When we consider how the love of Christ impacted the disciples, we must ask one question: Should this love, this faith, be something that is tamed?

When we look at John the Baptizer, we see that he was beheaded for standing up to Herod concerning Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. Paul was executed in Rome for preaching the Gospel. Peter was crucified upside down for preaching the gospel. John the Beloved was boiled alive and then exiled to Patmos for the sake of the gospel, only because he didn’t die when they boiled him.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says this about Andrew:

…the proconsul charged and commanded Andrew not to teach and preach such things (Christianity) any more; or, if he did, he should be fastened to the cross with all speed.

Andrew, abiding in his former mind very constant, answered thus concerning the punishment which he threatened: ‘He would not have preached the honour and glory of the cross, if he had feared the death of the cross.’

Whereupon sentence of condemnation was pronounced; that Andrew, teaching and enterprising a new sect, and taking away the religion of their gods, ought to be crucified. A LOVER OF THE CROSS

The faith the disciples had in the love of the cross of Christ was so counter-cultural that it resulted in their execution. To the point that Andrew had the courage to basically say, “You wanna crucify me boys? Here’s a good spot, bring it on.” The logic of society would say that if he really wanted to make more disciples, then he would do what was necessary to stay alive so he could preach another day. That is cowardice. The love of the cross gave the men and women of the early church the courage and boldness to stand in the face of death and remain true to the gospel.

I believe that they held so fast to their faith for a couple reasons:
1) In times of war and persecution, there is no room for civilized people, only barbarians. Christ gave them a mission to accomplish, and partly because of the persecution, domesticating the gospel wasn’t something they had time to do. They had to carry out the mission, at all cost.
2) They realized that if the God of all that is sent His Son to die to save them for His glory and our good, what should we expect for our lives? Jesus told them to count the cost. They did, and they were all in. Additionally, they realized that if the Sovereign God of the universe wasn’t ready for them to die, there would be nothing that could take them before their mission had been accomplished.

When we consider the love we should feel for God in light of the love He showed us through the cross, it should invoke in us a passion to spread that message of hope and love. If God would have us speak to a billion people, or have us speak to one person who then speaks to a billion people, or have us die so that our names are written and remembered throughout history, or have us die among the nameless in history to make known the glory of God through the message of the gospel, should we really desire anything else?

Truly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Love is sacrifice. Love is counter-cultural. Love is barbarian.

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