The Life-Changing Power of the Love of Christ (Part 3)


(catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 first!)

Halfway through my sophomore year of college, I was broken.  I knew I wanted a different life, and I knew that supposedly Jesus was The Way.  Turning over a Jesus leaf sounded awfully boring but at that point I had had my fill of excitement for awhile.  I had just been disciplined by the Dean of Students for desecrating my suitemate's dorm room one night after she inadvertently caused a fight between my unstable boyfriend and my unstable self.  (I was a real peach.)  My parents decided it was time for me to move home and finish school at the local university, more out of concern than real anger.

I returned home over Christmas break, flattened.  No longer cutting, no longer partying, no romantic relationships to speak of.  All of the energy I once had for slapping bandaids over bullet holes was suddenly gone. I wanted something real.

And I would search desperately for it for over a year, more lonely than I had ever been in my life.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't get very far on my own.  But the funny thing about God is, if you give Him an inch, He’ll take a mile.  He put someone in my path who would relentlessly coax me into going first to her small group, and then on a mission trip to Mexico.  I didn’t want to do either one, but having no life makes you hard pressed to come up with scheduling conflicts.  I had no excuses, so I showed up.

And Christ Himself came alive to me within that community.

He came alive in the words and prayers and the love of my sisters and brothers.  He came so alive that I began to crave His presence.  I wanted to know Him the way that they did.  They would talk about His love as though it were something life-changing, and I was the best kind of jealous.  Because just like all the other kids I grew up around, I knew that Jesus loved me. But then, He loved everyone.  It never really meant that much to me.

But it meant everything to them.  And I needed to know why.

I moved into a huge house with 8 other girls.  They called it a "discipleship" house, which was weird but which I figured would probably keep me from getting drunk and hooking up with exes.  Sign me up.

To this day, I think living there was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  So much more than friends, those girls were my teachers, my confessors, my cheerleaders.  They were the church to me.

(and sometimes we dressed alike and took professional pictures together in the park... because in college this makes perfect sense.  at least it did in 2004.)

I fell in love with Jesus that year, and I fell hard.  I gobbled up music, books, anything that would speak to me of the perfect love of this God-Man.  It's hard to explain the kind of intoxication that I felt, the addictive nature of the presence of God in a room or in a heart.  He was so near to me; loneliness, fear, emptiness, they would all flee at the sound of His name.  He was showering me with His affection, bucket after bucket splashing over my head.  On Friday nights you could find me holed up in my bedroom, scrawling notes in my journal while listening to sermons on the love of Christ.  One of those sermons led me to the book of Hosea.

There's not a lot of emphasis in our Western church culture on the little Old Testament prophet Hosea, and it's only our loss that it is so.  I personally haven't found a more beautiful picture of God outside of the Gospels themselves.  Hosea was a prophet whom God told to marry a prostitute.  (Let that sink in and obliterate the boxes we stuff Him into.)  Hosea gave his life to represent to all of humanity the committed love of God for an unfaithful people.  A people like me.  Maybe a people like you?

In chapters 1&2, he talks about hedging her in with thorns; creating pressure in her life that all but forces her to return to her first love.  I felt like I was reading my own story.  No doubt I still had my own free will but in His kindness He had hedged me in with thorns, He had made it so very easy to choose the path that led back to Him.

Hosea 2:14-16
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her there.
Then I will give her her vineyards
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
It will come about in that day
That you will call me “Husband”
And no longer “Master”

Hear me out: this is NOT a romantic thing.  It is not a sexual thing and it is not a gender thing. It is about a relationship of unconditional love, rather than a relationship of rules.

It’s about a God who “speaks kindly”. It’s about a God who wants us to know that He is so much more than a Master.  He is Love Itself.

What saved me was not necessarily community.  But the community introduced me to a Jesus who liked me.  A Jesus who was not sitting around, passively feeling disappointed in me, but a Jesus who was actively trying to commune with me every single day, and who was using my circumstances to draw me towards His open arms.  Once I met THAT Jesus – the real Jesus – well, I was undone.  Because that love was something real.  I knew it to the core of my being: that love would change my life.  

And I’m here to tell you, it did.  And it continues to.

Sheer grit is necessary at times, but it only gets us so far, and it was never meant to be all we have.  We cannot make ourselves be changed, not truly.  But if we can catch just a glimpse of the reality that God loves us and what’s more, He likes us, He enjoys us… well we can’t help but be changed by that.

In chapter 3, God tells Hosea to "go again! Go again and love a woman who is loved by another lover."  This is the image of a relentlessly loving God.  Jesus doesn’t save you once and say that’s it.  Love compels Him to save you again. And again. And again.  He never stops saying, "I will go again for you."

For most of my life, I saw Jesus as a Master.  And what’s more a Master who someone like me could never, ever satisfy.  I ran from this Master because I couldn’t bear to live as a disappointment.  But by the grace of God, He hedged me in with thorns so that He could speak kindly to me.  So that I would have ears to hear His tender words towards me.  

Turns out, Jesus wasn’t mostly sad over me. 
And He wasn’t mostly mad at me.
He was in love with me, and however long it took, He would have my heart.
My life changed when I realized Jesus didn’t just love me because He’s Jesus and He has to.
Jesus liked me.
He likes me.
And I'll never get over that.


(Be sure to check in next week for the 4th and final installment of the series!)

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)