1 John 4:20-21: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

Medications often come with side effects. My husband always likes to read the fine print for this very reason. Well, loving God also comes with major side effects: Our hearts get bigger! Embracing the person next to us, treating animals with respect, caring for our environment are the known side effects of loving God. Loving God, we love everything He loves. That just comes with the territory!

As our hearts expand, so expands our horizon. We notice things we haven’t noticed before. We develop empathy. We want to help. We want to be involved. We care. However, our hearts may run into some growth problems when old habits interfere.

Professionally, I used to prefer working on my own. For the longest time in my career I worked administrative positions that required attention to detail but involved little interaction with people. I have loved God all my life, but I used to be wary when it came to people. And this is a disconnection of a sort: God cares for people. If I really don’t care that much about people, how much do I really care about God?

God has a way of shaking things up, and today I find myself in a profession that has everything to do with people. I sing for a living now, and I find the greatest pleasure singing for memory care patients – that’s quite a long shot from running payroll, which is what I used to do in my administrative heydays.

I find that loving people brought me closer to God’s heart. And I believe this is where John was getting at in his letter. If we deny ourselves the opportunity to love people, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow closer to God. Of course there are various reasons why we get stuck, and we will have to face our fears, resentment and past hurts to overcome these barriers. God will help us as we do. He has helped me.

The ripple effect of our love journey goes a long way, even though we’re not aware of the blessings we leave in our wake. It’s an adventure of a lifetime; it may not be easy at all, but it’s a wonderful life.

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

Ask any actor preparing for a character role: To deliver a great performance, actors immerse themselves in the life style, way of thinking, and mannerisms of the person they are impersonating. This is what sets apart good acting from bad acting.

The same is true when it comes to imitating God. We all need to take a good look at His ways to become His imitator. God is so many things, but one of His finest features is His untiring ability to love. His love never stops. Imitate that, and you have a lifelong assignment!

Here’s a problem: God is God, and we are not. How are we supposed to love like God? We’re only human! Well, God knows that, and He gave us His Son so that we have a hands-on example how to love as a human being. We have the great opportunity to study Jesus, look at His behavior and get inspired by just reading the gospels.

What I love about the gospels is that they were written by four different people: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Four different people, four different angles! Reading these four accounts is a great way to do a character study, don’t you think?

If our life stinks, here is a way to introduce a new perfume: Get closer to Jesus by studying His life. Jesus has a way of changing our hearts and spreading His perfume there.

Take new parents for instance. Ask them about their first child. How did that impact their life? Parents will tell you that having children has totally changed their lives. Their hearts got bigger with every child they added to the family. And just like a new son or daughter causes a parent’s heart to grow, that’s similar to how Jesus operates. We open our hearts and let Him in, and our hearts get bigger. We walk with Jesus, and our hearts keep growing. And as we learn to love the God-way, we’re getting more and more involved in the world around us.

How exhilarating it is to love … falling in love is a prominent part of it. Staying in love is the weightier part. People who have been married for 50 years talk about that kind of love. But love has many faces. Investing in people without expecting anything back is another expression of love. Then it hits you from behind. The lifestyle of loving generously is actually fun! Granted, we run into disappointments, our hearts get broken multiple times, but in hindsight everybody will say: better to love than not to love at all.

And guess what: as we spread the sweet perfume called “love”, our lives no longer stink!

Romans 12:10: “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

In Queen’s rendition of the Bohemian Rhapsody we are presented with a murder case. The song powerfully expresses the contradictory feelings of a man who had just killed a person. Following is a brief excerpt of the lyrics penned by the late Freddie Mercury:

“Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”

We sometimes forget that by proceeding down the slippery slope of anger and hate we’re all prone to kill someone. The best way to prevent this disaster from happening is to pursue the opposite direction: Investing genuine interest in other people and to love generously is the way to go. The trick is not to differentiate between people because God doesn’t. God loves humans indiscriminately, always has, and always will. We’re supposed to follow His example once we jump on His bandwagon. Of course we have our reservations when it comes to loving everybody. Jesus had a conversation about this very topic with a teacher of the law.

Discussing the specifics of loving God and particularly our neighbors, a teacher of the law spoke up and asked Jesus: “Who’s my neighbor?” In an attempt to narrow down on the amount of people to be loved he asked Jesus this very loaded question. “Who is my neighbor?” really leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation, if you think about it. Basically, we pick and choose whom to love and whom to pass by. In other words, we categorize people, apply tags, and consider some of them not worthy of our love.

Well, Jesus’s answer is a classic. He told the story of an unnamed person who got mugged and left on the road to die. After having been conveniently ignored first by a priest and then by a Levite, a despised Samaritan finally came to his rescue.

After telling the story, Jesus answered the law expert’s question with a question of His own (Luke 10:36-37):

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

God created no sub humans. Our job is to love everybody. How that works, I don’t know. I would say it’s humanly impossible. But we can start with the people right next door. And as we walk with Jesus, the Master in Human Relations, we can learn from Him. No doubt, loving people is a wild ride and it will break our hearts more than anything, but according to our Creator, it’s all worth it; love will eventually cut down on murder cases; and love most definitely will make the world a better place.

1 John 3:18: “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

This is a letter to the cynics, to all the people disappointed and burnt by love.

“I love you” are three consequential words. The Lord Almighty speaks and lives these three words every second of the day, and His love leaves distinctive footprints wherever He goes – for us to discover.

If followed by action, “I love you” will initiate the most heartbreaking, heavy-lifting, heavy-duty, and daring adventure there is. There’s no detour out of the mess called “love”. Love is messy because the object of our love is either challenged: all human beings are – or the object of our love is holy: God, that is.

If we human beings love the Holy One and our unholy human counterparts, then there’s no telling which part of our loving is more challenging: to love the holy or the unholy. It’s bad enough to be disappointed over and over by people who are precious but selfish by nature, but if we have loved the Holy One at any length of time, we also know that this entails quite a bit of bewilderment on our part. God is God, and He is no human being. Loving Him is like being dropped on an unknown planet. God does not respond like humans do. God speaks, and His Words have seven different meanings. God is always right, and we, most likely, are always wrong. Try to explain God, and here’s another frustration coming our way: nobody can explain Him, but that does not mean we would give up trying to understand Him. We won’t because that’s how we get closer to God.

Love is the messiest thing between Heaven and Earth. If we’re lovesick, heartbroken, at the end of the line with people and frustrated with God, we should do ourselves a favor and take Time Out; however, under no circumstances should we think about quitting. We don’t give up on people, and we don’t give up on God. Love may get on our very last nerve, take our very last reserves, may turn us into a different person and drive us absolutely crazy, and yet, love is the most precious thing there is. If in doubt, let’s convince ourselves to hold on just a little bit longer, because better days are ahead. Nothing is as bad as it seems – that’s conventional wisdom!

Mr. and Ms. Cynic, whatever you end up doing, and wherever you end up going, you certainly do yourself a great favor by not dropping out of the game called “Love”. Regardless what you’ve been through, regardless how bad you feel: don’t give up on this one thing that ultimately holds you together.

Come what may, my friend – never give up on love!

“And I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won’t you try to come

Come away with me and we’ll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I’ll never stop loving you”
            Norah Jones

Matthew 22:37-39: “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Love – Love – Love threefold is something extraordinary: The Son loves the Father, the Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit loves the Son. The Father loves the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit loves the Father, and so forth. The Trinity’s eternal flame is the love they have for one another.

I know, the Trinity is a strange concept to the human mind. We’re so much more used to things that come in two folds: Mom & Dad, Bed & Breakfast, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, you know what I mean.

In the realm of love, regular math simply does not apply. 1+1=2: right? Well, if two lovers come together the outcome will be multiplication not summation. When lovers mingle, they multiply. As physical reminders, offspring is coming out of such unions who also begin to mingle and multiply, and so the world population has grown exponentially ever since the Trinity erupted into their world-famous frenzy of activity, creating a great big universe. Love naturally thrives.

On the other hand, in the realm of the Trinity, does One and One and One necessarily equal Three? Yes and no, so it seems. The Trinity is known as the “Three in One.” Put that in mathematical logical context, and then instead of an explosion you have sort of an implosion. No one is more “One” than the Trinity is. The Trinity are of one heart and soul, eternally fond of each other.

Love simply defies all concepts. Love just is. Love originates from the Trinity. The Trinity loves one another and loves everything and everyone they’ve created. All life forms are because of the Trinity’s unending and unfailing love. And we, the product of the Trinity’s love, we are only truly happy if we love just like the Trinity does: it may seem preposterous – but in all reality we’re wired to love like the Trinity, as Jesus worded it so pointedly:

“You must love the Lord your God” (….) and: “Love your neighbor as yourself”

We love ourselves as the Trinity loves one another, and back it goes when we love God, the source of our being. So, we love the Trinity, ourselves, and our neighbor with all our heart – because it’s good for our heart – with all our soul, because love is life to our soul – and with our entire mind, because love creates a sound mind. Falling out of this love circle, we literally destroy ourselves because our existence is wholly based on (you guessed it): love – love – love!

“Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling
Do you feel my heart beating
Do you understand
Do you feel the same
Am I only dreaming
Is this burning an eternal flame?”
      The Bangles

1 John 4:11-12: “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”

What hit me this morning is the fact that God’s love is brought to full expression in us. Think about that for a moment. God’s extravagant love comes to full fruition in the way we live out love, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year after year. You get the picture! Granted – we all have our fall outs and days we’re less proud of, but think of the golden moments when we did the right thing, loved a stranger, cheered on the underdog, spent quality time with a friend, invested in our family relationships …. Yes, all of that completes God’s love expressions. Isn’t that amazing?

Go out and do what we are born to do. Give it your best shot – our human love may seem frail and tainted, awkward at times, it may backfire like an elephant in a china shop, but never mind! Our love may not be perfect, but if our intentions are they not only make this world a better place, they complete God’s intentions to pour out His love all across the universe and specifically right into your zip code, in your neighborhood, in front of your door step.

We’re born to take the highway, born to go out of our way, born to give all that we’ve got, we’re born to love and to be loved.

“See the stretching sun at dawning
Wipe the stardust from his eyes
Feel the morning breezes yawning
Telling me it’s time to rise”    
                        Joni Mitchell

Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.”

Looking for love in all the wrong places? If we did, we would not be in pursuit of the unfailing kind of love. True love originates from the Godhead – Three in One. One could say that the Trinity possesses the patent for love.

In our pursuit of love and righteousness we might have run into plenty of counterfeits throughout our lifetime. I can’t think of a greater disappointment than to discover fake love. This deplorable theme has been the subject of many sad love ballads, one of which was penned by American singer-songwriter Randy VanWarmer in his 1979 hit single: “You left me just when I needed you most.” Somebody pretends to be our friend, or worse, the love of our life, and then leaves us standing in the rain. Should we now close down like an oyster and never trust a soul again? Wouldn’t that be like slicing all remaining tires of our car after having a flat tire? (A relative of mine posted this analogy on Social Media today. Pretty funny, isn’t it?)

The point is to stop expecting great results if we are not treasure-hunting for the genuine gem; we should neither settle with second best by trying to live happily ever after with a fake Diamond.

Let me share an open secret: if you have in your mind to check out God, if you are actively seeking Him out, you will be successful in the end, because God loves to be found. While God is not in the habit of playing hide-and-seek with you, there is a major issue at hand that might trip you up in your God-pursuit. It is very human to look for love in all the wrong places. It is also very human to look for God in all the wrong places. Fake gods equal idolatry. Just as fake friends are a sore disappointment, so are fake gods.

God gave us a compass called conscience. We are definitely not left to our own devices in this world. We have a lot of help. Don’t forget: God wants to be found. He’ll put heaven and hell to work to make that happen. Yes – even hell can be helpful at times. People going through unspeakable tragedies may end up saying “I’ve been through hell in a handbag”. Have you ever noticed that light shines ever more brilliant in the dark? Light is more noticeable in shady places. Finding God during life’s darkest hour is not so unusual, after all. Of course that does not mean that God uses pain to manipulate us. It simply means that pain can sharpen our senses and help us distinguish between counterfeit and original. We know when we’ve struck gold. We know when we’ve found unfailing love.