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Love Extended: A Summer Reflection

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18).

I don't love as much as I should. Not really. I can fake being invested in people's lives. I can be energetic, extroverted, and funny, but only for the purpose of others noticing me. When people start to notice me for things I've done wrong, I respond in anger, self-pity, or a desperate scramble to cover things up. Ultimately, I don't love because I fear so much. I'm afraid of failing in front of other people. So I study. I study so I know all the right answers to life's problems and so that others won't know how much I don't know. I put on a mask, hoping nobody will pry it away.

This summer has been a time of God prying away that mask and that fear, bit by bit. But as those things are being pried away, I've come to know deeply what it means that "God is love." In 1 John, the apostle explains that the love of God was shown by Him sending His Son into the world (1 John 4:9). I know that I am loved because Christ died for me and His Spirit abides within me (v. 13). If I am loved by God--if that is my primary identity--then I am free to love God and love others. In verse 7, John writes: let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Therefore, since my identity is "beloved child of God," I do not have to be afraid of failing. I can mess up and still know that I am loved.

During the two months of interning at Gospel Grace Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have known nothing else except what it means to be loved unconditionally. The predominant religion in Utah only teaches a sentimental love based on how well one performs. It's not a love that is known in Scripture. It's not a love that reaches to the lowest depths and meets the vilest of people and welcomes them home as inheritors of heaven. No, only those who are "temple-worthy" are privileged with that sentimental love. All others are cast outside the gates, sometimes quite literally. An atmosphere like that causes tension between the non-religious and the religious but also produces an ecosystem where Gospel-centered relationships flourish. Salt Lake City is a place where true Gospel love is electrifying and authentic.

There are two ways I have seen myself exposed and challenged in my need to appropriate God's love for me. The first is evangelism. Having grown up in a Christian home and attending a Christian college, I know all the right things to say. And yet, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, I let my fear control myself. This summer, I have shared the Gospel more times than I ever have in my whole life. Straight up. Why have I not shared the Gospel as much as I should? Because I do not love people as much as I should. I fear failing and tripping over my words. But, if I'm loved by God, I can choose to love the person in front of me and share the Gospel with them.

The second way in which I’ve seen my need to appropriate God's love for me is in deep discipleship. If I am loved by God, I am free to love others by investing my life into theirs so that they can personally know what it means to be loved by God. Over the summer, Pastor Will Galkin has worked with the staff through J.T. English’s Deep Discipleship. Combined with Will’s discipleship times and the friendships I’ve gained, this book has pushed me to think more intensely on the ways in which I can pour myself into the lives of those around me. Since Gospel love is so electrifying, it has been a joy to see individuals and churches passionate for the discipleship of other believers.

Ministry is messy because people are messy. So often, its assumed that you must fix yourself before you can be a part of Christian community. Such an assumption is so far from the truth. After all, Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Lk. 5:32). So many times, churches and Christian schools are afraid to get messy in order to make disciples. They'd rather have an individual fix their problems than love him or her in order to fix their problems. In the meantime, younger generations feel like they have to hide their sin for fear of being found out and condemned. Don't you see? Both parties are driven by fear--fear of messiness and fear of confrontation. But, as John writes, "perfect love casts out all fear" (1 Jn. 4:18).

I am loved by God despite my brokenness, therefore I can love others despite their own brokenness. I can let others speak into my life about my sin because I know that God loves me and that they love me. Church stops being about my desires and more about how I can love those who are also loved by God. Evangelism stops being about how I can one-up an unbeliever and more about how I can love him or her by sharing my life, my resources, and ultimately the Gospel. If my identity is found in how much God loves me as His child, then that love will eventually extend to those around me.

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