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Monday, February 15, 2010

Feb. 15, 2010 Happy Valentine’s Day

Since this will post the day after Valentine’s Day, it seemed a no-brainer to write something on the subject of the day’s history or at least come up with a few of the standard scriptures about love. Doing a little research, I came upon a bit of news that sent me in a different direction.

Our family spent almost all of 1987 in India with Youth with a Mission. One day in February, a woman on the staff mentioned that we had received quite a lot of mail. “Oh,” I said happily, “it’s a red-letter day.” I meant that it was a day of significance, because getting mail when you’re far from home is such a wonderful thing. The woman looked at me oddly, however. “How did you know?” She was amazed, because our mail contained several Valentine’s Day cards—thus our mail was literally filled with “red letters.”

Apparently there has been a growing animosity toward Valentine’s Day in recent years among Hindu fundamentalists who consider its celebration an example of the widespread “cultural pollution of the west.” According to Wikipedia, “those who violate (laws against Valentine’s Day) are dealt with harshly by
baton-holding brigands … who lurk in public places especially parks, chasing young people holding hands and others suspected to be lovers. In many parts of south India couples who are found in parks and other public places are immediately forced to marry on the spot.”

Talk about your arranged marriages…”How did you and Daddy get married?” “We were holding hands on February 14 one year and the police made us get hitched.” Not the most romantic courtship story, but since the day is named for multiple Christian martyrs, perhaps not so far out in left field as the traditional cupids, hearts, flowers, and chocolates.

Valentine’s Day may well have its origin in the pagan festival Lupercalia (Feb. 15), in which shepherds ran through villages naked, striking people as they passed in the belief that it would help with fertility and childbirth. When Christianity came on the scene, a “nicer” holiday was introduced, just as with All Saint’s Day at Halloween or Christmas at the Winter Solstice.

None of which has much of anything to do with the kind of love we each desire…the unfailing love we will only find perfectly in the person of God. The most loving human will inevitably disappoint and fail us, as we will fail others, but God’s love is never-ending. Romans 8:38-39 tells us that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NRSV).

NOTHING has the power to separate us from the love of God.

Sin has the power, however, to separate us from the God of love.

I challenge you, at this particular “Hallmark holiday” season, to do a heart audit, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal any unrepented-of sin. The traditional season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday, continuing through Easter. The very best thing to “give up” for Lent is all that would separate us from our true hearts’ desire…God.
Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February 1, 2010 Words of Life

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV

Years ago, missionaries from Kenya, East Africa, retired in the city of Fort Pierce, Florida, where I also lived; it was my privilege to get to know them fairly well, attend church with them, and sit under their teaching over the next few decades. John and Sophia Kitts had served some forty years overseas—John had worked with pygmy tribes (short in stature, he said it was the only time he was a giant among men); Sophie was a beloved radio personality. At the end of his career John worked as a prison chaplain, offering comfort and wisdom to inmates on Death Row. Sophia died in 1987; John, who had been blessed with a second wife, passed away in 2002.

John reported that all of the prisoners he spoke with were open to hearing about God’s love and forgiveness, which makes perfect sense. If you’re about to stand before a judge, it is good to know your lawyer is prepared. 1 John 2:1 tells us that we have an advocate, or legal counsel…someone to speak on our behalf… in Jesus himself. “Yes, Father,” he may say, “this one has sinned many times and deserves eternal death as you have judged righteously. But may I remind the court that I already served his penalty? My blood has already covered his sins, his past, his mistakes, his failures.”

I thought of this aspect of John’s work with prisoners facing death last week as I read from the Psalms by the bed of a man at the local hospice. Although the common perception of hospice is that of providing end-of-life care exclusively, people also come to the facility for symptom management or short-term respite care (for example, a family caretaker is ill or has to be away). Hospice patients may stabilize and return home or be placed in nursing homes. For many, of course, their stay at hospice is a launching pad into eternity. Visits from family members, friends, staff, and volunteers take on added significance as each moment may be their last.

As the verses above say, all scripture is beneficial. The words spoken to those who are either in the midst of great trials or at the ends of their life journeys—by John Kitts in the prisons of Kenya, by countless chaplains at battlefield hospitals, by loved ones and others at final bedsides—can bring so much comfort and encouragement, because they are the very words of life. And if those who are dying need to hear something other than judgment and condemnation, don’t those within our own households? Don’t those with whom we have contact every day?

Perhaps we would do better showing others the love of God if we didn’t focus so often on the things they are doing wrong, putting more emphasis on the fact that they have already been forgiven. We may have the privilege of being the one to tell them for the first time…or the last.

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.