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The Playground: Love

As we continue our “Playground” series, this morning we are going to focus on love.

A wise man once sang, “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” That simple song contains a powerful statement regarding something we all desire.

We all long to love and be loved. We seem to have a God-given, natural desire to give and receive love. However, we often limit our definition of love from the unconditional and sacrificial love God demonstrates to the kind of romantic, fairy-tale love that’s only discovered in novels and cheesy Hallmark movies.

For some of us, it was on the playground where we discovered our first love – or crush. It was also on the playground where some of us first learned about cooties and broken hearts.

I want to invite you to think back to your first crush…can you remember and picture the circumstances? Who was it and why? Can you recall the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, or hearing some beautiful love songs playing in the background as you daydreamed about winning over your crush?

For some of us, we had some fool proof methods for finding out if the focus of our affection felt the same way about us…I found a short video that highlights one of those methods…(the link to the VIDEO can be found HERE.)

I’ve been promising all of you an embarrassing story about attempting to impress my first crush…I skipped the “do you like me note” and went straight towards trying to win my crush over through impressive feats of strength!

It took place on the monkey bars. If you know anything about the playground at Royerton Elementary school, which I’m not sure why you would (other than the fact that last Sunday I talked about the dangerous old slide), the monkey bars served as the prime location where the cool kids would hang out. In reality, the truly cool kids would get on top of the monkey bars, sitting with their legs dangling off. The kids like me, who wanted to be cool, basically hung around in the near vicinity of the monkey bars.

In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I’m not a fan of heights – and even the top of the monkey bars would test my fears. So, even if I was cool enough to hang out on top of the monkey bars, you couldn’t pay me to do it!

One day, I worked up some courage and in an effort to show off and impress my crush, I decided to attempt hanging upside down from one of the bars.

Some of you may have noticed that I have a tendency to sweat even if I’m just thinking. This isn’t something that developed later in life, but has been with me since birth. For those of you joining me in Guatemala – you are in for a real treat – because you’ll get to see the sweat in all of its glory! We will have enough people on our trip to have 2-3 vans to transport us to and from the work site and you’ll all be trying to get into the van that I’m not riding in at the end of the day.

Back to the monkey bars: the problem is, if you are prone to be a sweaty mess, hanging upside down, while letting your arms dangle is a recipe for disaster.

As one might expect, my sweaty knees slipped along the bar and I fell on my head.

Now, what you should know is that this was before the days of mulch or rubber tire shreds on playgrounds, so I fell onto the concrete slab that was probably poured to help stabilize the monkey bars.

It knocked the wind out of me, I freaked out, she freaked out– I thought I was dying- when I finally caught my breath, I yelled, cried, ran away.

The teachers observing this catastrophe probably should have placed me into concussion protocol. However, given that it was the 80’s and I was always a little bit quirky, it would have been difficult for them to figure out if anything was “off”.

Surprisingly enough – My crush didn’t really have any interest in becoming my girlfriend!

Last week I talked about the dangers of the slide – but on the monkey bars, we would climb up on top – listen kids, don’t try this – we would climb on top, stand on the bars and then play a game of chicken – running/walking/shuffling towards the other person to see who would jump or fall off first – even though I’m terrified of heights – and yes, the top of the monkey bars are too high for my comfort zone – I was never one to back down from a challenge – so I would power through my fears and join in the terrifying fun!

Fast forward from the embarrassment on the monkey bars…I recall the desperate longing for love when I took my first job at a church in a town far from home. When I moved, I knew absolutely no one outside of the church. And, I barely knew anyone in the church. One guy in the congregation owned a record store – so I bothered him a lot – it got to the point where he would have me cover the register and watch the store while he went out to dinner with his wife.

I spent many nights laying on the floor of my apartment, staring at the ceiling, begging God for something more than what I was experiencing.

I remember going to church and our congregation was going through a “building healthy marriages and families” series. All it did was remind me that I didn’t have any kind of romantic interests and no family and that caused me to feel even more incomplete. I remember talking to a pastor about it and the pastor said, “Oh, well, just remember all this stuff, it will be good when you get married and have a family.” And, my thought was, “Listen, pal. That’s not even on the radar at this point. So, nice try.”

When we think about our desire to experience love, many of us can identify with those feelings of isolation, loneliness and the absence of love.

At the same time, some of us take a flippant attitude towards the use of the word “love.” I love the spicy potato soft taco at Taco Bell (possible tangent), I love coffee (its proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy), I love the Tai Verdes song “A-O-K”,
“Living in this big blue world
With my head up in outer space
I know I’ll be A-O, A-O-K
I know I’ll be A-O, A-O-K
When I see trouble come my way
I be makin’ lemonade
I know I’ll be A-O, A-O-K
I know I’ll be A-O, A-O-K”

Now, if you look that song up later…please only listen to the edited clean radio version…and maybe not even that…maybe we should just forget that entire Tai Verdes reference!

I sure hope I love my wife, kids, family, friends and Jesus more than I love a taco, coffee or a song I probably shouldn’t reference during a worship service.

1 Corinthians 13 – even for people outside the Church, this is a fairly familiar passage because it’s often used at weddings. 1 Corinthians 13 is intended to be more than a blueprint for the love in marriage. It’s meant to be a blueprint for how we love everyone, always.

The kind of love God calls us to is a love deeper than playground crushes. Love is deeper than intense appreciation for spicy potato soft tacos, coffee, and goofy songs!

Love is commitment, covenant, sacrifice. “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

Our challenge is to love everyone, always…which means we will respect everyone, always. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with this!

Do we possess the characteristics of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13? As individuals, as families, as followers of Jesus, as the church? When I read the paper, watch the news or just make general observations while walking around downtown, my neighborhood, or the mall, patience, kindness, and truth seem to be in short supply. I see a lot of arrogance, selfishness, rudeness, jealousy, impatience, anger, hatred, complaining and the intentional spread of falsehoods.

God calls us to rise above this and commit ourselves to a love that goes above and beyond.

Maybe I get close to this kind of love for my family and closest friends. Maybe I get close to this kind of love for my church.

Do I possess this kind of love for my neighbor who parks his van in front of my house instead of pulling it into his empty driveway?

Do I possess this kind of love for the person at the gym that doesn’t appropriately wipe down the equipment after their workout?

Do I possess this kind of love for the person who doesn’t share my appreciation for the spicy potato soft taco?

Do I possess this kind of love for the person who puts cream, sugar and flavors into their coffee?

Do I possess this kind of love for those I’m tempted to classify as “other” – because of their religious or non-religious affiliation, political perspective, moral and social values, nation of origin or immigration status?

Do I love everyone, always?

Church researcher David Kinnaman found that those outside the church view Christians as judgmental, intolerant, and hypocritical. Isn’t it interesting that, as Christians we’re called to love God, neighbor and even our enemies, and yet those outside the church view Christians as intolerant, hypocritical and judgmental? For me, intolerance and judgmental behavior seems contradictory to love. As followers in the way of Jesus, we are supposed to known for our love…

We are called to love and be for our neighbors, and yet, many outside the church only know what we’re against…they indicate that they don’t feel welcome, accepted, wanted or loved by those who are called to love everyone. That could indicate that we aren’t practicing the kind of love that Scripture calls us to? It could indicate that we are limiting the scope of our love.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the author speaks about the giftedness of those who believe and then begins to point us to a “better way”. Chapter 13 clearly demonstrates that love is the better way…that love needs to be above all things.

Again, “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

Wesley- “All is nothing without love.”

Love never fails.

The challenge then, as followers of Jesus, is to strive to embody and extend this kind of love. It’s vital to our Christian witness.

When we are tempted to be impatient, we need to remember that love is patient.

When we are tempted to be less than kind, we need to remember that love is kind.

When we are tempted to be jealous or prideful, we need to remember that love isn’t jealous and doesn’t brag.

We need to remember that love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I have work to do when it comes to loving the way Jesus and the Scriptures call us to love.

Jesus told us the two most important commandments are to love God and neighbor. He expanded that teaching to include love for our enemies. Maybe the first step to loving those who are difficult to love is to seek and extend forgiveness. Maybe it begins by seeking forgiveness from those I have harmed or offended, whether intentionally or unintentionally – and continues as I forgive those who have harmed or offended me, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Anything less than love for everyone misses the mark.

All we need is love…love is all we need.