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Love Is Caring, Not Gaming

Learn to love, Jesus said. For many of us, it begins with a spouse. Ideally, we love and are loved. It expands to family. Hopefully, love is experienced in our churches and small groups like Sunday School classes. Beyond this, it needs to expand into communities, businesses, nations and among all the people of the world.

I hoped, in turn, that the girls would appreciate the ones I gave to them. I devoted much time to making or selecting ones that hinted at my affection, but did not make me vulnerable to rejection.     <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Even then our secularized culture was teaching us to define love selfishly, more as conquest and ego satisfaction, than as deeply caring for the well-being of others. Today, the promos for “reality TV” shows suggest that love is all about conquest, control and pleasure. It is a game. It is all about winning and not losing. It is all about me, not us, not family, not community, not the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />kingdom of God.   
Being a Christian is essentially a matter of learning to be a “lover.” It is a matter of loving God and loving people. Loving God is usually easier than loving people. We learn about Jesus and his sacrifice to cover our sin. We experience the joy of forgiveness. We relish the beauties of God’s creation. We bask in his care and protection. And we respond by saying, “Thank you God for loving me.”    
When bad things happen to us—sickness, loss, disappointment, suffering—we may question the love of God. But later, as we reflect on these things, we see God’s hand and care, even in these bad times. Like Job of old, we may never understand the reason for such, but we come to see that those who love God are blessed in many, often mysterious and surprising ways.    
Loving people, at least for me, has been much harder. I have had to learn the difference between caring for someone and controlling them. I have had to learn that maintaining a relationship with a person or group is more important than striking back or seeking revenge for disappointment. I have had to learn that God does a much better job of bringing justice to relationships than I can.    
Jesus saw his culture, his family, even his disciples concerned with control and dominance and getting even. This understanding was the backdrop for the Sermon on the Mount. Most everyone was focusing on their own desires and hurts, and Jesus said, “Stop it.” Focusing on dominating and exploiting others will never result in true happiness. Your ego is not the epicenter of the universe. Trust in God to bring justice and happiness.    
Learn to love, Jesus said. For many of us, it begins with a spouse. Ideally, we love and are loved. It expands to family. Hopefully, love is experienced in our churches and small groups like Sunday School classes. Beyond this, it needs to expand into communities, businesses, nations and among all the people of the world.    
Loving in our culture often results in a person being misunderstood. Others will interpret our love as weakness, as an opportunity for them to exploit us, or as a ploy on our part to control them. 
Gaming, not giving, is the template most use for interpreting the behaviors of others. Christians struggle against the current. We get discouraged. Then we read a passage in the Bible, listen to a sermon or have a conversation with a friend—or even with God in prayer. And we are reminded that faithfulness, not success, is what God requires of his children.    
As Great Commission Christians we call on everyone to love God and experience salvation and eternal life. But we also call them to lives of love—at all levels and in all realms of life. And if we can ever teach folk to live lives of love, and they are given a new heart by God, there will be peace in relationships.    
So go on and buy valentines, candy or jewelry. Fix special meals. But always see these things as tools for expressing love, not a part of some game of exploitation and control.  
Love God. Love people.  
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.