I’ll never forget the day I learned I was about to become the father of a daughter. The ultrasound machine filled the darkened room with our baby’s heartbeat. Did we want to know? Yes. “You’re going to have a little girl.” For the rest of the day, I could scarcely write, or do, or think. I could only listen to songs about fathers and daughters and dissolve into a tearful, thankful, joyous mess. It was not as though a new love was born within me. Rather, mysteriously, a love that had already lived within, a love that had always been there, had found the person for whom it was meant.

I had the same experience with our second daughter, and when we adopted our third. We were not seeking to adopt. One night my wife showed me a picture from China. We recognized not that she should become ours but that she already was ours—that this luminous smiling girl had been hidden in God’s will for our family from the beginning. We loved her before we met her, and now our love for her calls forth her love for us.

Perhaps this is one reason the Bible often describes God in parental terms. Parental love shows us how love precedes the beloved. Love draws forth the beloved—out of the womb, out of the teeming crowd on the other side of the world, or out of nothing. The love within the Godhead was not incomplete. But it overflowed. It was creative, as all love is. It called forth the beloved and summoned a faint echo of itself in our love for him. God willed to create a people who would love him and love being loved by him.

In his online article series “The Elusive Presence,” editor-in-chief Mark Galli makes a compelling case that American evangelicalism has forgotten its first love. We love God’s mission more than we love God. A missionary friend once lamented that he treated God as “the best boss I’ve ever had.” So where do you go when you need to start over, to learn to love God again?

I once asked a mentor this question. He thought for a moment. “The more you understand God’s love for you, the more you’ll love him.” Just so. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

To Galli’s point, the church is the school for love. In the church we learn to love God, and in loving God we learn to love others. The love of God is the beginning and the end of the story and the only true wellspring of the church’s mission in the world.

I hope this issue roots you more deeply in the love God demonstrated in Jesus. May you enjoy that love for its own sake, and may it bear fruit in your ministry to others.

Timothy Dalrymple is president and CEO of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @TimDalrymple_

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