“All you need is love.” —The Beatles

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans, 8:38-39.

Heart-shaped boxes of candy line the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores. There is a line at the Hallmark counter. Themes of love are everywhere. Unless you live under a rock, you have noticed Valentine’s Day is near. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend approximately 17.6 billion dollars to say, “I love you” this year. A staggering figure in the same country where 40 to 50 percent of us fail at marriage at least once, and there is so much disharmony between the sexes, the races, and the political parties!

I don’t know of anything in our upside down world that has been more advertised, and at the same time more distorted, in recent years than the word love. Not long ago in a study on the book of Revelation, a respected Bible teacher taught that for everything God designs, Satan designs a counterfeit. I am reminded of the street vendors in New York City who sell knockoffs of just about every designer label a consumer desires. Those fakes can look pretty good at first, but it is not long before the shoddy workmanship or the lesser materials disappoint.

Like the authentic purse or piece of jewelry, love that lasts does require a greater investment of capital. It would be a good idea to study the real thing before spending frivolously on the imitation. Who would know that the real thing is so worth it if our chief source of information on the subject comes from the glossy covers of the star-studded magazines in the checkout lane at the Kroger?

It occurs to me that the Agape brand of love described in the familiar love passage of 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most expensive exercises there could possibly be when it comes to human relations. It is not a feeling as much as it is an action. Not seeking our own comfort or rights, not demanding our way, always loving the other regardless of reciprocity—what could be more foreign in today’s world or more counter to our selfish natures? Christ’s sacrificial death is the only perfect example. We speak so often of the “free” gift of eternal life that we fail to fully consider there was nothing “free” about it from God’s perspective.

There is a great paradox in authentic love. Even in our imperfect attempts, the sacrifice required—whether it is a sleepless night walking the floor with a crying infant, sitting by the sick bed of a dying friend, or waking up day after day to go to a job we despise in order to take care of those who depend on us—is always worth it in the long run. The more we allow God’s love to invade our “me-oriented” hearts, the more of His kind of love we have to give to everyone around us. And as is more often than not the case in God’s economy, the blessings have a way of coming back to us.

Get ready to examine your own perceptions of love in this issue. Beth O’Reilly’s miracle heart transplant inspired me on so many levels. The steady prayers and perseverance of her friends and family through her critical illness, the loving and anonymous gift of a heart from a grief-stricken family, and God’s supernatural presence tell a profound love story you won’t soon forget.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, Cindy Townsend shares a mother’s heart in “This is My Story.” And in “Living My Call,” Reverend and Mrs. Clifton Goodloe give us their best advice on marriage and parenting from the vantage point of 50 successful years, six children, and 15 grandchildren!

Lydia’s “Food for Thought” appeals to the “sweet tooth” in all of us this month. Martin Willoughby’s “As I See It” reminds us of the only true motivation for the Christian life—love for Christ.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy. As Beth O’Reilly says, “Love is the only thing it is okay to do in excess.”