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CHURCH CORNER: Key question is, do you love God?
By Heath Rainwater
The Vine Christian Ministries
Maybe I was a little fast for a sixth-grader, but before even entering junior high I not only had a girlfriend, but I thought I might be in love. I’ll change the names to protect the innocent; let’s call her Carol. Carol was wild thing! She was a cute, funny, free-spirited tomboy with wavy brown hair and a distinct raspy voice. We met in 4-H and used to do what all 12-year-old 4-H couples did: ate scones and elephant ears, drank jungle juice, caroused the cow barn, rode horses, the skydiver and the zipper and we talked about what it was going to be like in seventh grade. I remember sitting at home and torturing my brothers by playing an old 45 of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross about seven or eight times in a row. The song was called “Endless Love.”
Of course, now is easy to see that I was not really in love with Carol, but rather in “strong like.” She broke up with me after I proved too scared to French kiss one too many times. Funny how sometimes, especially in youth, we can mistake like for love. This is especially true when our strong like is played out by impetuous, dorky, yet slightly romantic acts.
I want to ask you a question: do you love God? How do you know its love? Prior to being betrayed, Jesus warned his disciples that all of them would be offended because of him and deny him. Peter said vehemently, “No way! Everyone else might, but I won’t! I will never deny you, in fact if I must die, I will die for you!” Peter believed his love for Christ was the real deal and that he was ready to die for the one he knew was The Christ and the Son of God. Peter was wrong and in fact denied ever knowing Jesus three times when pressured.
Of all of the commandments there are two that all of the others hinge on: 1) love the lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength; and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep both of these commandments, you keep all of them.
In any given church on Sunday morning if you ask the congregation to raise their hand if they love God, virtually everyone will raise their hand. They will mean it and like Peter, they will believe their love is the real deal. After Christ’s resurrection he appeared to Peter on the shore while they were fishing though they didn’t at first recognize him. After instructing them to cast their nets on the right side of their ship they netted a huge catch of fish and suddenly they realized it was Jesus on the shore. Peter was so happy and excited to see him that he jumped in the water and swam to him, while the others went in a little boat. Peter was always doing stuff like that and one could think, “Wow, look how much Peter loves Jesus!” But Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes!” Then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus asks Peter the same question two more times, grieving Peter because he did not just believe his words. Each time Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”
What Jesus says next is so profound and provides us with the litmus test for genuine love. I’ll summarize: Jesus says essentially that when a person is immature in love they do their own will and live their own lives, but when they mature in love and love is matured in them, they abandon their own will and lay down their lives for others. He spoke of how he himself had done that same thing and then he told Peter to do the same as he had done, following Christ’s example. Peter spent the remaining years of his life, seeking to do the will of God and laying down his life for the church. Peter was seen as a chief apostle, performing miracles and writing two books of the Bible.
If you love God pursue him with your whole life. He is worth it. Grow in love, don’t ever stop. Love people, laying down your life for them daily. That includes your time, your money, your eye contact and smile, kindness, forgiveness, your help and your friendship. When you love other people, who like you don’t always deserve it, you are showing them the love, mercy and grace of God. Love with everything!
I dedicate this article to my sixth-grade girlfriend, Dedra Brown, who tragically passed away shortly before our 20-year reunion. I pray to one day see her in heaven.