Today is a unique day. It's appropriate that as Lent begins this Ash Wednesday and we remember that this year's “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” also happens to fall on Valentine's Day, that we celebrate Love. Because there is no greater love than that of God for us, as His Son gave up Heaven to come save us from ourselves. That love is greater than anything else in this world, and we, and the world, need it. Although we usually think of family and romantic relationships on Valentine's Day, I want to shift the spotlight over to a love greater than we can possibly imagine. Let me tell you my own story of how I found that love in Christ and live in it every day.
We always attended church. I was in my late teens before I realized church was optional for some folks. It was never optional in my home. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings—you didn't schedule anything for those times because that was God's time.
And I honestly never resented that. I always, throughout my life as long as I can remember, had a relationship with God. I remember praying in 1st grade during class. I remember teaching myself to memorize the Lord's Prayer one morning when I woke up before the rest of the house. I remember making up praise songs on my walk home from school.
However, I wasn't saved. In the church I grew up in, we believe that children have to mature enough to make that decision on their own, and despite my relationship with God, I had not felt called to take that step to the altar.
That call came, as so many do, at church camp. It was June 1987, and we'd lived in Germany for six months. There was a group of singing Texans from Lubbock Christian University, who came every year to be counselors at a camp in Germany, and that camp was affiliated with our church home. So my parents drove several hours to drop me off at a beautiful, pastoral setting in the wheat fields of Deutschland.
I spent several days getting pumped up with the love of God. Our counselors were awesome, college kids who sang in a group called Best Friends. They sang like angels, and acted that way to us young campers.
I saw five students go forward at the altar call, and I saw them baptized in the camp swimming pool. But something kept me back. I was feeling the worship, I was feeling the camaraderie and the love, both of God and my fellows…but I wasn't feeling the need to go forward.
Something changed the last night there. We met in a small room with a large circle of chairs, just enough for the campers, encircling the room. All the chairs faced the center, and there sat a bucket of water, so hot there was steam coming off it, and an actual crown of thorns.
As we filed in, the lights were low, and the camp director stood near the bucket. He indicated for everyone to take a seat, in order, and we sat down and waited. It was hard to see, with the lights dimmed, but not hard to hear, as everyone was silent.
John Paul, our camp director, started with one camper in front of him. He knelt in front of her, and another counselor stood behind him with the crown of thorns. He took off her shoes and began to wash her feet with the bucket of water and a cloth. He was tender and soft, and talked as he did it about Jesus washing the disciples' feet and what that meant. The counselor then placed the crown of thorns on that camper's head, and talked, in a soft voice, about the meaning of the crown of thorns.
Next a line of counselors came in, holding buckets. They all began to wash campers' feet, softly, and you could have heard a pin drop. It was solemn and meaningful. The crown of thorns was passed from one camper to another.
I was crying long before it was my turn.
When a counselor knelt in front of me, I couldn't help feel but that I was there in that room when Jesus made himself, the King of Kings, into the Servant of Servants. I wept openly as the representation of Jesus washed my feet, and I felt every bit the sinner. I knew I needed salvation, and I knew I needed it now. So at the end of the night, when John Paul prayed and asked for God to come into each and every heart, I walked to the front. I needed God, more than just the relationship we already had. I needed him more than I needed anything. And that is where I found my salvation. My salvation. Not just a word in a song or a theme in a story, but the thing I could never give myself but that Jesus gave so painfully, but so freely. I saw my need for it, and I accepted it. With that decision, everything changed, and it has been the single most transformative, important, and sweet relationship in my life.
I know me, and I know that without Him, there are things I never would have had the strength to do. And I know that I would probably still be stumbling in the dark trying to figure out my own worth and identity. But when those things are settled, and you lay your life before Christ, things get really good. Not always easy, but always good and purposeful. If that's something you're looking for, I'm here to tell you that the answer is right in front of you. Begin your personal relationship with the Lord today. You'll always remember this as the best Valentine's Day of your life, where you found the love of your life.