I just walked into a wall for Cheryl.
No, I didn’t go to the wall for her emotionally; I literally walked into it.
You know, where you walk full speed up to a wall until your nose is half-an-inch away and simultaneously kick the bottom with your toe to make it look and sound like you walked into it? It’s a little something I perfected back when I was a kid because … I’ll just say it … girls loved it. Well, they laughed at me, but when you’re ten years old that pretty much means they really like you.
They also liked it when I fell down for them. I could fall down on cue any time, any place without hurting myself and it was impressive. It was a pretty stud move if any of you guys want to borrow it.
(Note: I stopped falling down on purpose quite a while ago. Falling down now is completely involuntarily.)
When I think back I probably didn’t need those strategies but they seemed to work in the short term in spite of the absurdity of the actions. Being myself somehow didn’t seem to be enough – it wasn’t overt, aggressive enough, so I brought out the heavy ammunition – clumsiness.
There’s another strategy that made sense when I think back to my early life. Christians saw sin as the enemy and so the best way to mobilize warriors in the war against Satan and his armies was to promote the analogy that we were ‘soldiers of Christ’. I admit that is a pretty good strategy – people will rally around a militant cause quicker than any other.
There were kingdoms and powers and battles to be fought. People were encouraged to be ‘prayer warriors’, doing battle remotely through their prayers. The Salvation Army famously based their entire organizational structure on a military formula, complete with uniforms, marching bands and paid soldiers.
I have an old hymnal here on my desk that I treasure. In the topical index at the back of the book there is a ‘Warfare and Victory’ heading with a list of songs under it like Onward Christian Soldiers and Sound the Battle Cry. There are also other headings for other topics: joyful songs, missions songs, revival songs, heaven songs, holiness songs, second coming songs, baptism songs, warning songs, altar call songs, guidance songs, youth songs, you get the idea.
But no heading for love songs. Or grace songs. Or forgiveness songs.
Don’t get me wrong, there is love, grace and forgiveness all through many of the words in that book and especially in the songs about Easter and Jesus.
But no heading for love songs.
Doctrinal songs by topic? Yes. Songs about what we do in church by topic? Yes. Here are songs about what we believe and how to get you there.
But no songs about love.
Don’t get me wrong (again), I’m not criticizing the songs or the saints that sing them whether they are old or young and I understand hymn books serve a practical function.
But no love songs.
It’s like we’re saying, God is love but let me tell you about God. Here’s the list of things you need to do for him.
That’s not how true love works, is it? If God is love, then why do we make him so burdensome?
But I know. I know, I know, I know, that it was love that drew me to God, expressed through many of those people who sang those same songs in that old hymn book. How many others have not been privileged to see the love behind the words and have chosen another way altogether?
I grew up with songs and sermons and doctrines most of my life and, although often scared, I never felt that I belonged in the Christian way of things. Until one day there I was, a twenty-something adult laying on the floor of the kitchen of our first home, painting floor trim while a ‘cassette tape’ played in the background.
Honestly, it was about this time of year. The tape was a choir from a christian college (to this day I don’t know why I played it) and they harmonized their way beautifully through songs I had never heard before. The melodies were heavenly and every lyric they sang was somehow related to Jesus, the Cross or Easter. Songs of life, peace, sacrifice … and love.
And there on the floor by the refrigerator I began to sense God, to feel something new and clean stirring inside. None of the usual doctrinal topics applied to that moment except the quote of an old timer, ‘My heart was strangely warmed.’
So let’s not distort God’s primary attribute by putting it further down the list; let’s start and end with God’s love because that is who he is. Let’s express love as our first and most important task and let’s live in that confident love ourselves.
- He’s not a police officer sitting in a speed trap waiting to catch you;
- He’s not an angry, rule-keeping old man pacing back and forth impatiently in heaven;
- He’s not an unconcerned autocrat running the universe from a distance;
- He’s not a sandal-wearing hippie who doesn’t pay much attention to right or wrong;
- He’s not a doting parent intervening whenever life is difficult or uncomfortable for us;
- He IS our strong, interested, loving, Heavenly Father.
- He IS just like Jesus.
If the topic is God, the subtopic is love. And vice versa.
‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’
(1 John 3:1a NIV)