First and above all

This year’s 8th grade graduates at Rock Valley Christian School graciously invited me to speak at their graduation. They asked me to offer a few reflections on their grad text, Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

It occurred to me that you actually hear this invitation, this call to love all over the Bible: Joshua, David, the prophets, the apostlesGreatest Commandment graphic found with Googlethey all call God’s people to ditch false gods and love the Lord their God with all they are. Jesus himself says it’s tied at first place as the most important command of all – right up there with loving the people around you. From the secrets deep within you to the very tips of your fingers, from the core of your identity to your every action, the Bible calls people to love God first and above all.

Loving God, as I told the graduates, is all about honoring him, deeply respecting him, and obeying his good will for us as described in the Bible. We can choose to love God similarly to how we can choose how we treat our parents or siblings, or how a certain pair of jeans or a video game becomes our favorite because we choose to wear it or play it over and over. Our choices are connected with what we love.

So I encouraged the graduates to make the choice to love God before and above anything or anyone else.

I was quick to add, though, that their ability to choose to love God is possible only because he first chooses to love them. If it weren’t for his creative power in making us, his redeeming power in saving us, and his ongoing power in equipping us, we’d never choose to love God. If God waited for us to sign up to honor, respect, and obey him, he’d be waiting for eternity.

Can we respond perfectly to God’s call to love him first and foremost? No. And God knows we can’t. Only one Person in history could keep all God’s commands perfectly. Many years after Moses preached Deuteronomy 6 to the people, God sent him – the Father sent Jesus “to stand in our place and be perfect for us,” to quote The Jesus Storybook Bible. Keeping commandments and rules won’t save us. Only God in Christ saves us because he love us.

I concluded with reminding the graduates that the Holy Spirit is working in each one of them, empowering them to reflect God’s great love back at him and the people he puts in their lives. Through their grad text, that’s what God was inviting them to do that very day, this summer, as they begin high school, and for the rest of their lives. I believe it’s good news and good advice for everyone regardless of when they will finish school or how long it’s been since they’ve graduated.

This is the column I wrote for today’s Rock Valley Bee
based on my grad address at RVCS.

Destiny according to “Twilight”

Twilight: New Moon Last week, the second entry in the Twilight vampire romance series – New Moon – was released on DVD and Blu-ray.  Wildly popular, the movie made $142,839,137 at the box office in its opening weekend at the theatres (the third biggest opening weekend ever for a movie in the US and Canada).  Over 4 million copies of the DVD have been purchased since they became available last Saturday.  That adds up to a lot of people.  (While I’ve read the book, I did not contribute to the above figures.)

I’d like to work on the assumption that by far most of these people understand that vampires and werewolves are make believe.  I wonder, though, how many of the more implicit false messages are equally disregarded.  When New Moon came out in theatres, presented an enlightening piece called “Top 20 Unfortunate Lessons Girls Learn from Twilight.”  A couple of these lessons include: “It’s OK for a potential romantic interest to be dimwitted, violent and vengeful – as long as he has great abs” and “If a boy leaves you, especially suddenly (while telling you he will never see you again), it is because he loves you so much he will suffer just to keep you safe.”

Here’s another implicit message: “Of the 6.8 billion people on planet earth, there is one with whom you are destined to fall in love.  If you cannot find and be with this person, you’re hooped.”

This is a pernicious lie that circulates even among Christians.  It suggests that love is directly connected with fate with no emphasis on how love is a choice.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Monica and I never met at King’s and that we each married someone else.  Can you picture God wringing His hands and giving up on Monica and I because we did not marry the person we were destined to marry (i.e. each other)?  I believe that God would have been able to bless us even if we had married someone else.

Or, look at it from the human point of view.  Let’s say for the sake of argument that Monica or I at some point meet an individual we wonder we were actually destined to marry.  It might be tempting to give up on our marriage and pine over the “one that got away” instead of choosing to nurture the love we’ve established so far in our marriage.

Implicit messages in New Moon and many other romantic books and films suggest that we fall in love as though we are victims – we cannot help it or control it, so we might as well not fight it, especially if we fall in love with the one we’re meant to be with.  While attraction plays a role in people meeting and loving each other, ultimately, love is a choice.  Love is a verb; it’s something that we do (as Clint Black sings).  When the initial attraction wears off or your marriage feels unfulfilling at the moment, choosing to love will carry you through.  And sticking it out may bring you to a better place than you can currently imagine.

::  I find this interesting: Hollywood’s double standard on male and female minors showing off their bodies is mentioned at the end of
the New Moon review at Plugged In and discussed in more depth at Identity Revealed.
::  A
song by Michelle Tumes about two hearts that were indeed “destined to entwine” (lyrics here).