Post Valentine’s Day Reflections


With Valentine’s Day behind us, rose petals falling and the chocolate running out, let’s take a second look at how we use the word “love” these days.

To describe our feelings for a dog, a daughter, a dad, a deity, or the décor in our home, the word “love” often comes to mind. It doesn’t matter how deep our commitment is, we just love it! Even if something does not exist, we can still “love” it (or “her” as in the case of a football player recently).

Remember the phrase, “as long as we both shall live?” Many couples now prefer, “as long as we both shall love.” Then, as the chocolate goes to the hips, the hair goes down the drain and feelings fade; so goes the “love” and the marriage. As Crystal Gayle used to sing, “Too many lovers [and] not enough love these days.”


Christian love is something else. It’s all about commitment and it leads you straight into a life and death conflict with evil. For Jesus, this was no accident: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8). This was no walk in the park.

Real love and evil cannot co-exist in peace. Jesus said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Thus, his all-out war on evil was actually a crusade for love. He was willing to suffer loss or pain on behalf of others. If you are wondering how a good God could permit suffering, take a second look at Jesus. God not only permitted pain for His Son but planned it! The devil understood this and tried to tempt Jesus with some less painful approaches to life. But Jesus chose the way of self-denying love and it cost him dearly.

Three centuries later, the Roman Emperor Claudius II personally interrogated a follower of Jesus named Valentinus to persuade him to convert to Roman paganism, or die. He not only refused but he tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. This cost him dearly too. The price of candy, flowers, Hallmark cards or even diamonds on Valentine’s Day pales in significance to the price St. Valentine paid for his faith.


Real love is defined by suffering which it willingly accepts in its battle against evil. Love is costly because sin and evil are popular and powerful this side of heaven and love cannot rest easy with that. This is why parents discipline their children. It’s why God sent Jesus to earth on a painful mission of love. It’s also why believers put on spiritual armor and stand up to evil—in that order!

The greatest love stories of all, from Jesus to St. Valentine, portray the high cost of love. Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). After commanding us to love each other, he added, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18).

Christian love calls for moral courage and an undying trust in Jesus who promised: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22).

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St. Valentine

Chocolate and Rose

Real Hope and Change

The contrast between Christianity and culture is clearly seen in the current debate regarding homosexuality. I am proud of Jesus’ church, his lovely bride, for the genuine respect I have seen her show to people struggling or living with homosexuality. This respect is rare and we see it contrasted with culture on two levels:

  • While our current culture dehumanizes homosexuals by saying they are biologically programmed and “born that way” (like animals) and have no real moral choice regarding sexuality, Christians rise to affirm their God-given humanity and respect their full free moral agency.
  • While the world denies that homosexuals can claim hope for being transformed by the love and power of God, the church holds that hope high for all sinners who repent.

To the extent that you are programmed by forces beyond your control, you are more machine than man. If inborn instincts and biological drives primarily animate you, you are more animal than human. Christianity dignifies human beings as distinct from mere machines and animals (for an overview of the crucial differences between humans and animals, see: Human)

About twenty years ago, a major news magazine featured a dog on the cover with the headline (paraphrased from memory): “Studies Say Animals Make Complex Moral Decisions.” The article was typical newspeak and proved nothing. Another article in this issue claimed as fact that humans have no choice whatsoever over their sexual preferences and orientations. So, the volitional qualities of animals were embellished while the complex moral capabilities of human beings (including how we approach sex and love) were drastically downplayed.

When the culture gets it backwards, Christians take heat for keeping it straight. Jesus taught that the first will be last and the last first because he knew human culture gets things backwards. When good is called “evil” and evil “good,” then good people suffer under the “new normal.” This began long ago in a garden when a slick deceiver claimed that obedience to God was foolish and disobedience was smart. Eve took the bait.

No! God made humans “in His image,” giving us a moral decision-making capacity that transcends nature and nurture. Sex was His idea as was marriage between a man and woman to put that idea into godly practice (see Matthew 19:4-6). Humans can uniquely participate in forming our moral inclinations, sexual preferences, attractions, identities and actions over time. The notion that homosexuals have no choice in one of the most intimate and fundamental aspects of humanity—how we approach sex and love in terms of preferences and priorities—is dehumanizing.

If the church wants a meaningful ministry that reaches people who identify with homosexuality, she must believe in the power of God to transform any human being who puts his or her life into His hands. It is popular to low-ball God’s power to change us because some want to wear the name “Christian” without being changed. However, Paul claimed, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No human being is helplessly stuck in an identity or state of mind or behavior with no hope for real change on God’s terms. Whatever leads us into sin need not define us forever.

Repentance places us in God’s hands and makes us soft for His re-molding over time. It cuts through all the dehumanizing excuses sinners make to shield them from the hope of a new creation. Repentance is the soil from which real hope and change grows.

A Polarizing Preacher

Preaching was Jesus’ passion. “That is why I have come,” he said (Mark 1:38). He was also a miracle worker and healer, but that’s not what got him killed. His enemies resented the popularity that his healing ministry attracted but it was his preaching that exasperated his enemies. Jesus’ disciples inherited his passion for preaching and, for most of them, it took years off their lives too.

Jesus was a polarizing preacher, especially when telling parables. His stories had a way of making soft hearts softer and hard hearts harder. The one about tenant farmers (Mark 12) angered his enemies and left them looking for a chance to arrest Him. After telling a parable about two sons (intentions alone don’t cut it), Jesus told the local chief priests and elders that prostitutes and tax-collectors were entering the kingdom of heaven before them (Matthew 21:31). Ouch!

Jesus’ apocalyptic tale about sheep and goats (Matthew 25) pit two groups of people against another with eternal ramifications. His story of the rich man & Lazarus (Luke 16) pits a wealth man and a poor man against each other again with eternal consequences. His parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) represents two poles of people as “wheat” and “chaff.” Jesus related a polarizing tale about a prodigal son (Luke 125) who was lost and then found, dead and then alive. It featured contrasting attitudes between two brothers, one of whom was embittered by the happy ending. The parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25) pits those prepared against those who are not. His parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22) demanded an either-or decision–no three ways about it.

Jesus was a polarizing preacher even when not telling parables. He said,

  • “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23)
  • “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)
  • “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

It would be safe to keep my thoughts focused on the first century or to imply that Jesus’ outspoken courage applies only to paid preachers. Actually, all Christians are preachers. “Preach the gospel at all times,” said St. Francis of Assisi (182 – 1226), “If necessary, use words.”

In word and in deed, Jesus is our primary example. However, it won’t hurt (well, perhaps it will a little) to consider the wisdom and courage of some more recent men of God who shared Jesus’ passion for preaching:

  • “Don’t go out for popularity. Preach nothing down but the devil, nothing up but the Christ.” ~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).
  • “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” ~ George Whitefield (1714 – 1770).
  • “When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or they don’t like it, and get mad.” ~ Dwight L. Moddy, Ancedotes (1881).

Jesus could have lived to a ripe old age had he given up preaching about sin. To this day, preaching on the severity of sin and need to repent polarizes and alienates people. The good news of forgiveness gets polarizing when people figure out that it excludes the excuses we embrace for our most treasured sins. Woe to the honest Christian preacher who, like Jesus, makes that clear.

Staying safe is not a preacher’s prerogative. However it is a popular motive for many pretenders today. In his book, An Earnest Ministry, John Angell James (1785-1859), put his finger on the problem in words that resonate today:

  • “From the general strain of some men’s preaching, one would almost be ready to conclude that there were no sinners in their congregations to be converted.”

Pulling Weeds

I learned the art of weed discrimination at an early age. Pulling weeds was my main livelihood as a boy, at fifty cents an hour.

A weed is a plant that grows where it’s not wanted. Usually, it grows rapidly and reproduced with ease. My parents wanted crabgrass and dandelions out of the lawn so they were weeds. Thistles, pennywort, pigweed, pokeweed, ragweed, hemlock, stinkweed and tumbleweed also had to go. I lived in weed heaven, so I always had a job.

A Perplexing Parable:

Jesus told a parable about weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). Actually, it was about the kingdom of heaven and the weeds were not so heavenly. A farmer planted good seeds and went to bed. At night, a nefarious enemy spoiled his field. When the wheat broke ground, so did the weeds. The servants were confused. They knew only about the good seeds and asked, “Where then did the weeds come from?”

How? Why? These are questions even non-farmers ask about unexpected or undeserved consequences in life. It’s just not fair.

“An enemy did this,” replied the owner. Perhaps it was a competitor or some unruly kids. Either way, the culprits were long gone and the servants would have to deal with it. They asked, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”

“No.” The owner was unwilling to risk rooting up wheat in the process of digging out weeds. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” he ordered. Only then would the wheat and weeds be separated. Meanwhile, they would have to live with the weeds.

Purity and Unity in Conflict:

A Christian is not just anyone who wears the label. Fewer people will enter the kingdom of heaven than those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” (Matthew 7:21). Must we put up with the fakes? Must we tolerate unwanted people and unfair circumstances in the kingdom? Should we excuse the spiritual blindness, doctrinal apathy or ethical laziness we see around us for the sake of unity? Do the banners of Christian unity or doctrinal purity entitle believers to rid the field of the hypocrites, free-loaders and other spiritual riff-raff? How can there be real Christian unity when wheat must abide with weeds?

Purity is important to God. There is a time and place for spiritual discipline in God’s church. Paul predicted that savage wolves (Acts 20:29), often in sheep’s clothing, would be found among believers. There are biblical terms for dealing with such painful problems and pretenses this side of the harvest.

However, church discipline is tender territory–off limits to Lone Ranger Christians who think they know best. Weeds often look like wheat and if I qualify as wheat, then I know wheat can sometimes look like weeds. It is dangerous to judge by appearances under the presumed banners of either purity or unity. We must work in God’s fields until harvest, even if weeds benefit from our toil and we have to suffer from their prickly personalities. Division in God’s kingdom rises when the wheat think they shouldn’t have to put up with weeds, especially at church. Sorry, but we do. Prior to the final harvest of history, God’s kingdom will be a mixed bag. Can we live with this?

Maybe our definition of unity is too utopian. Perhaps our personal picture of purity is too perfect (or my alliteration is too tacky). There will always be a creative tension between purity and unity. Still, I have a creative question that may cut through some fog: Does God want us back at the base inspecting each other endlessly to weed out the weak, or does He want us marching through the fields planting seeds? I think real Christian unity will grow as more weed-pullers become seed-planters.

The Holy Spirit may right now be transforming some pesky weeds at your church into wheat. He may even want to use you in the process.


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