Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!
On this beloved day of the calendar, we celebrate our love for that special someone in our lives. Many of us will be giving (or receiving) boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses as an expression of that love.
But sometimes those roses have thorns, don’t they?
The truth is, love sometimes hurts. It can cost us something.
We think of Valentine’s Day as simply about romantic love, but the history behind this day shows us that true love is often about sacrifice.
This was certainly the case for Saint Valentine of Rome, for whom Valentine’s Day is named.
This third-century priest was known for his evangelistic work and for aiding persecuted Christians. He was martyred for his faith on February 14 in AD 269, executed by order of Emperor Claudius for refusing to deny Christ.
Saint Valentine patterned for us a life focussed on loving others; he refused to deny the Source of that love, even if it cost him his life.
Christ modelled that sort of sacrificial love, too.
He would let nothing stop His purpose of showing love to others by securing for them a way to spend eternity with Him, even if it cost Him His life.
And it did.
Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?
After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.
Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.
And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?
Their trick is something called “hardening.”
In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
But what is it that triggers the hardening?
Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.
It’s amazing what a cape can do.
Ask any child who puts on a superhero costume for Halloween.
They suddenly feel braver. Their confidence gets a boost. They believe that they can achieve things that they couldn’t before.
Actors understand this. Many actors report that they can more readily get in character for their role once they don the costume associated with it.
Interestingly, some actors identify with the characters they portray so much that they become real-life action heroes.
Tom Cruise has reportedly rescued people in real life at least six times, including coming to the aid of a woman set upon by muggers in London, rescuing a family from a burning boat in France, and helping the victim of a hit-and-run in California.
Likewise, action star Harrison Ford has pulled someone out of a burning car, and has used his own helicopter to rescue a stricken hiker.
The theory behind this phenomenon is called “embodied cognition,” and it might help explain how actors and others become their roles.
In the case of action heroes, acting brave in movies may lead to actually being brave. The more you practice something, the more you become it.
The key might be in putting on a costume or adopting a set of behaviours.
I think that’s why Scripture tells us to “put on” Christ.
Isn’t it lovely to receive a long letter from someone who loves you?
In an age of tweets, text messages, and sound bites, perhaps many of us are missing out on this special joy.
Several times a year, I am privileged to receive a long missive from an older male relative. These letters are hand-written, and the latest one was 18 pages long! I treasure these letters, and go back to them time and again to refresh my memory about what he’s said.
In the letters, my relative will share his views on world events, discuss the progress his garden is making, or pass along some wisdom about life. Invariably, he’ll also throw in a bit of cornball humour.
Throughout the letters are woven his love and regard for me. After all, you wouldn’t go to the trouble of writing an 18-page letter to someone if you didn’t care about them, would you?
Would you like to receive a letter like that from someone who loves you?
In fact, you already have!
God Himself has written letters to you in the form of the Bible.
If you live in a cold climate, you’ll know that getting dressed to go outside in winter can be quite an operation.
This is particularly true if you have children. Getting your little one bundled up warmly enough to brave the frigid temperatures outside can take a great deal of time.
First, you have to make sure they have warm underclothes and socks on. Then, you might dress them in layers of several tops, and select pants made of warm, thick material.
Once you’ve put their winter coat or snowsuit on them, you’re not done yet. There’s still their boots, hat, scarf, and mittens to don.
And then what inevitably happens when you’ve finally wrestled a recalcitrant child into all their winter gear, and are poised to leave the house?
Your little darling suddenly announces that they have to go to the bathroom!
Dressing in layers takes a lot more time and effort, but it’s essential to ensure that we’re kept warm and protected in winter.
Similarly, Scripture tells us to dress in spiritual “layers” as well.
It seems like marriage proposals these days are a competitive sport.
It used to be that a man would propose to his beloved over a romantic dinner, with flowers on the table and perhaps some violins playing. He would get down on bended knee, present a ring, and ask for her hand in marriage.
Apparently, that just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Now, proposals have to be over-the-top. They might feature anything from fireworks to skywriting. A will-you-marry-me moment nowadays might involve a scavenger hunt, a fake movie trailer, a full orchestra and choir, or a ride in a hot-air balloon.
More adventurous grooms might enlist a celebrity in the proceedings, hire a flash mob at Times Square, or arrange to appear on the Jumbotron at a sports game.
And then there’s the man whose proposal took an entire year to create. Unbeknownst to his girlfriend Jennifer, each day for 365 days Dean Smith videotaped himself proposing to her, every time with a unique message. On the 366th day, he showed her the completed video and finally proposed in person (she said yes).
Why do people go to so much trouble?
Because they want to show their intended how much they’re loved.
Did you know that God has done the same for you?
He loves you deeply and He wants you to know it!
Let’s see how God stacks up when it comes to showing love.
One of the things I love about antiques is that they usually have a story to tell.
The type of wood and the style used to make a piece of furniture can tell you where and when it was made. Marks on the bottom of pottery give you a clue to its origins, and perhaps even the name of the artist who fashioned it. The condition of a piece tells you what sort of life it’s had.
But occasionally antiques tell us something a bit deeper than that.
For instance, I recently bought an antique oak side chair dating from the mid-1800s. It’s nothing impressive, simply the type of armless chair you might have at your dining room table.
The tale it tells is rather moving, however.
I can tell from the dozens of drilled holes around the perimeter of the seat frame that it once had a cane or rush seat. The material must have broken decades ago, because a plywood seat was later installed. Even this seat has been upholstered twice since.
One of the chair’s bottom rails broke at some point and is being held together with a tiny makeshift splint. Several of the back splats fractured as well, and were replaced with ones made from a different type of wood. There’s also evidence of repairs to wobbly joints over the decades.
What does all this tell me?
That someone never gave up on this little chair.
With all its woes and breakages, they could have simply thrown it out. But they loved it so much that they thought it was worth repairing, and they did so, over and over again.
Do you know that God feels the same way about you?
He’ll never give up on you!
Weeding the garden, like forgiving, is a task that’s never-ending.
We can’t simply say, “I weeded last week, so I’m done now. I won’t need to weed for the rest of the season.”
Every gardener know that the weeds will keep cropping up. The job of weeding is one that lasts for as long as you have a garden.
So it is with forgiving those who have offended or hurt us. Forgiving is not optional for believers: we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
But sometimes we think that it’s a “one-and-done” effort. We grudgingly forgive someone once, and assume we’re done with it.
Inevitably, though, we learn that it doesn’t work that way. The next week, we might ruminate about what they did to us and get mad all over again. We find there’s still a root of bitterness in our heart, and we have to forgive them once more.
Like weeding, the duty to forgive is ongoing. It may require more “rinse and repeat” cycles than you might imagine.
If something doesn’t fit your idea of a garden, is it still a garden?
I must confess to having trouble warming up to Japanese gardens. They often feature distinctive elements such as conifers and moss, gravel raked to suggest waves in water, stone lanterns or water basins, and perhaps a bridge.
But to me, a garden isn’t really a garden unless its primary focus is an abundance of colourful flowers.
So are Japanese gardens still gardens? Very much so!
They still celebrate nature, even if some elements are suggested rather than incorporated literally. They still reflect the beauty that God has placed on this Earth. They still have the essentials down pat.
I guess I need to expand my idea of what a garden is.
We shouldn’t look askance at the way others have created their gardens. God smiles on them all.
Perhaps this is a lesson we can apply to the Christian life, too.
Is it just my imagination, or do weeds actually grow faster than the flowers I’m trying to nurture?
Gardeners will know what I’m talking about. Weeds seem to be gifted with internal steroids that accelerate their growth, outpacing the delicate flowers that we’ve brought home from the garden centre.
Weeds don’t seem to be affected by lack of rain or by intense heat. They’ll grow just about anywhere. They’re speed demons of growth compared to the flowers we try to baby along with regular watering and fertilizing.
I looked into this crucial issue on behalf of readers of The Faith Cafe, and found that weeds do have some competitive advantages.
Weeds which are perennials have the benefit of established root systems that have been alive for many years; these dormant roots have a lot of stored energy. Perennial weeds grow faster and are harder to kill than annuals.
Weeds are already acclimated to the region’s soil, and are highly adaptable. They’re usually native plants that thrive in the local ecosystem, unlike plants from the garden centre which may be non-native and need time to adjust.
Weed seeds are already present in our garden soil. They bide their time until the right conditions present themselves, and then race out of the soil. They’re often excellent self-propagators and are opportunistic growers.
All these things give weeds a head start over the flowers we favour.
This got me thinking:
Why do the “weeds” of our character grow better than the fruits of the Spirit?
Are there lessons we can learn from the natural world?