John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

Why does Jesus make a claim that His love command is new and unheard of? At first sight Jesus’ love command does not seem to be new at all.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a quote from the Torah written thousands of years ago.

Loving one’s neighbor like oneself mirrors the Golden Rule, which happens to be promoted all over the world and is found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sanskrit tradition, Ancient Greece, Ancient Persia, just to name a few. However, Jesus’ love command clearly goes beyond the Golden Rule; instead of treating others like oneself, Jesus basically says: treat others as I treat you.  And with that, Jesus revolutionizes love by tying it to His person, thereby raising the standard: Dying so that others may live definitely takes love to the next level.

The apostle John remarks in one of his letters (1 John 1:1):

“We saw him (Jesus) with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.”

While the world witnessed God’s Son in the flesh, it had a hard time grasping the phenomenon of God’s love personified in Jesus. God’s love requires a step of faith, because we embrace a mystery we don’t understand. This is the reason why people were mystified when they ran into Jesus during His lifetime on earth, and that’s why people are still puzzled today despite our many discoveries and technical advances. How God loves is a strange concept to the human mind – who would have ever conceived the idea of God becoming a human being to walk in our shoes, to die and set us free?  These things are hard to swallow; God’s love simply is mind-blowing!

Let the love of God sweep you up, embrace you, heal you, carry you, and reform you. As you experience Jesus you will learn, one day at a time, how to live well and how to love well; and the world around you will get a taste of the same Jesus who walked this earth 2000 years ago – by seeing Him alive and well inside of you.

“The deepest love, the safest place I’ve found right in the palm of Your hand, my Friend, You carry me through; Jesus, You love me, my Redeemer, my Friend!” (The Deepest Love by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

 

1 John 4:18: “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

Motives are the determining factor in John’s letter. If our concept of God is that of a tyrant who can crush us at any time, then our faith in Him is fear-driven. It’s also a distorted view of God. The question would be, how did we get there? Why do we picture God as a tyrant?

Distorted views of God were probably passed on to us. Distortion always happens the moment we take our eyes off of the original and instead create a counterfeit to replace the original. The result is always scary. In the books of the Old Testament we read about idol worship where people create molten images, which they present to the world as their god. People don’t change. Idol worship is still a problem these days. We create distorted images of God, images that don’t represent Him but rather a quite different persona, Mr. Lucifer aka Satan.

If we know that God is love, then we don’t fear Him, and we don’t misunderstand Him as a disengaged and heartless ruler of the universe. We also don’t dismiss Him as a fairy tale. God is not dead, He is very much alive. Not a day goes by without the Holy Spirit knocking on a human heart’s door. However, God’s counterfeit is doing the same. There is a lot of activity going on between heaven and earth, and we’re right smack in the middle of this drama, like it or not. We can’t be neutral, we have to take sides, and we better know whose side we’re on. That’s the bottom line. Life is a battle. We all need God to wage a successful war. Know that this battle happens all over the world, and that everyone faces the enemy of the human soul, one way or another. Peter writes about this situation in one of his letters:

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.”

If we understand God to be the man upstairs who is not interested in us personally, most likely we get that image from an absentee father or in a corporate setting a boss who is not interested in his employees. If we understand God to be cruel, a tyrant who demands things to be done His way, then most likely we have experienced problems with a number of authority figures in our lives. All these things describe Satan very well, but are a far cry from the Trinity who is by nature engaged, self-sacrificing, willing to go the extra mile to redeem a situation heading for disaster, who picks up the pieces and starts over, who exhibits all the signs that we usually see in a person who loves us.

At the end of the year we are heading into a celebratory season. Nearly a third of the world population celebrates the arrival of God’s Son, the Savior of the world, Jesus. Let’s cling to the One who is for us, who loves us dearly, who saves us. He is the best news in the history of mankind. He is the hope of all nations, and He can be your hope and mine.

“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.”
               Martin Luther

1 John 4:20: “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?”

If we love God, we love what He loves: His creation in general and human beings in particular. That’s where the rubber meets the road! However, if we’re honest, that’s not always easy and sometimes downright difficult. One way or another, we are all challenged, which poses some unsettling questions:

  • How well do we love God’s creation?
  • How well do we treat animals?
  • How well do we love people?

Loving our Creator happens to be all-inclusive: we love the whole package: God and His handiwork.

Just imagine you built a house, put a lot of thought into the design, did not shy away from expensive materials and invested quite some time to get a satisfying end result. After your labor of love you decide to rent your place out. Subsequently, renters move into your property. You did all the due diligence, performed a background check, and made sure the perfect family moves in. Time goes by, and eventually, the lease is up. The renters move out. So you go to check on your property, and to your dismay this place now is a nightmare! How would you feel if your renters trashed your prized possession, your real estate that you developed with so much care? Do you think our Creator feels differently when we trash His creation that He built up from scratch? We would probably agree that treating His creation that way is not showing appreciation to the Owner of the universe.

The same is true when it comes to loving people. Unfortunately, a history of unending warfare goes to show that we are especially bad in the people department. In his letter to the Romans Paul explained how we could bridge differences between people, and here is what he recommends (Romans 15:7):

“Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”

One of Jesus’ revolutionary approaches in people management is to accept every human being regardless of race, social status, lifestyle, or amount of wreckage left behind. Jesus has a radically non-judgmental attitude that He wants to share with His followers.

Accepting people like Jesus has accepted them, is the beginning of a love journey, an adventure of a lifetime! Embarking on this kind of journey, Jesus won’t leave our side. He is the best travel companion ever! Hopping on His peace train we will make a profound impact in the world. Undeniably, the ripple effect of our love journey goes a long way – even though we might not notice the blessings we leave in our wake;  it’s a life well lived, and yes, you guessed it: it’s a wonderful life!

 “Get your bags together
Come bring your good friends too
Because it’s getting nearer
Soon it will be with you
Come and join the living
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer
Soon it will all be true

Peace train sounding louder
Ride on the peace train
Hoo-ah-eeh-ah-hoo-ah
Come on the peace train” (Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam)

Romans 8:38: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Fireflies are awesome! The picture of this post was taken by Photographer Takashi Zenihiro showing fireflies streaming through a Japanese forest in Ninohe. Firefly season is celebrated each year in this area, marking the beginning of summer.

We take it for granted that a light source, even as small as a little firefly, is noticeable in the dark. Yet the reason why light stands out is God’s doing. He separated the light from the dark. When there was nothing but a formless empty wet mess, God spoke. He spoke four words: “Let there be light”, and out of nothing light emerged. What follows in the first chapter of the book of Genesis is a series of God-ordained separations, thus laying the groundwork for life on Earth as we know it today (Genesis 1:6-9):

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good.”

We understand the benefits of separation here: without dry ground, no vegetation; without vegetation no animals to feed on the greenery; and without flora and fauna no life on earth – and no home for humans either. There is power in separation!  The builders of the atom bomb knew that as a fact when they succeeded in splitting atoms.

But then there are things that no separating force can divide, and that is God’s attachment to His creation. More powerful than the splitting of atoms, more powerful than all negative forces put together, is the power of God’s love.

Watch how Jesus loved His torturers when He prayed for them and uttered these famous last words before He died (Luke 23:24):

“Father forgive them! They don’t know what they are doing.”

In Jesus we can see God’s love acted out, impossible to fake. God has never stopped loving His creation, and He has never stopped loving us! Showered by His generous affections, we get inspired to go out and do the same, namely, spreading His love. And in case you worry about losing God’s affection at some point in your life, here is some good news for you: there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can separate you or anybody from His amazing love. How wonderful is that!

“All you need is love,
Love is all you need”              
Paul McCartney, John Lennon

Jeremiah 33:2-3: “‘This is what the Lord says—the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.’”

How does it feel when you are talking to someone, and you might as well talk to a wall, that’s how well your words are received? Isn’t it the toughest thing to feel isolated like that? We are born to communicate, and communication consists of sending off a signal to someone and someone picking up on it.

Welcome to God’s world! He’s been sending signals our way ever since He made human beings. Only trouble is, not everybody picks up on it. And the reason has nothing to do with our IQ. Understanding what God has to say is not a battle of the brains. It’s perhaps a battle with our pride or life’s circumstances, but it’s certainly not a lack of intelligence. In the book of Psalms it says so appropriately (Psalm 119:130):

“The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand.”

God communicates with every living thing, and not just with the human race. His ways to communicate are manifold, but the message filtering through is the same. His interactions with His creation show how God cares. Following are a few examples:

  • He charges His angels (Psalm 91: 11-12): “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
  • He gives assignments to the animals (Jonah 1:17): “Then God assigned a huge fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights.”
  • He dresses the flowers (Matthew 6:28-30): “[Jesus said in His sermon on the Mount] ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?’”
  • He commands the rocks (Numbers 20:8): “[The Lord spoke to Moses] ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’”
  • He commands the winds (Exodus 10:19):And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt.”

And the list goes on and on. Suffice to say, the Lord can speak to anybody and anything at any time He pleases, and His words don’t go unheard in the universe.

If we don’t hear from God, we can always ask Him to speak to us; we can ask Him anything! And since He speaks the languages of birds and angels, of wales and rocks – don’t you think He can also speak the language of your heart?

“Love in any language straight from the heart pulls us all together never apart.” (by John Mohr and John Mays)

Ephesians 3:17-19: “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Higher than our highest expectations, before the conception of the space time continuum, deeper than the deepest mystery, wider than this universe, that’s the measurement we apply to God’s love. In other words: it can’t be measured; and if God’s love cannot be measured, nothing can contain His love.

God gave Moses permission to gaze upon His beauty, albeit only from behind and without giving him even the smallest glimpse of His facial features; in the book of Exodus we read this compelling encounter between Moses and the Almighty (Exodus 33:18-23):

Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”  The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

God’s immeasurable love, condensed in the expression of His glorious face, is forever exuding from Him, permeating the entire universe.

This is why we encounter bits and pieces of God’s love everywhere we go. It is easy to see how God lavishes His love generously and passionately on His creation. A trip into the outdoors with the astounding variety of animal and plant life paints the picture. It’s similar to visiting a place with thoughtful design, tasteful decorations and brilliant architecture. Planet Earth is one astounding monument of God’s creative energies and love.

Ever looked into the eyes of a dog adoring the ground you walk on – or into the eyes of a person falling in love with you – or into the eyes of your sons and daughters as they touch your nose and smile that toothless smile when they are still very small? That’s God’s love in small dosage. That’s the stuff we’re made of because we were created out of love. I am writing this with caution, aware of how tainted love can be and how it has become almost unrecognizable in the dark corners of this world. While the darkness is devastating, it’s simply robbing us from the truth. The reason why we’re here is not an accident. We’re here because of love and we will always be attracted to love because that’s where we are from, that’s where we belong and that’s where we are meant to return – you guessed it: we are meant to return to God, Who Is Love.

Meanwhile we can witness how God’s love spreads like wildfire. His love creates and endorses life to the point that it conquers the destructive forces of death. That’s the potent power of God’s love! And while we may enjoy the measured love-approach here on Earth, my hope is that once we are immersed into Heaven’s surroundings we will not only see God’s frame and notice His footprints but we will also have the privilege of directly smiling at Him.  We are promised a new heart, hopefully a more suitable container of His love.

This is my hope: that you and I get to see God’s glorious face and that we are able to mirror His love into the world, endlessly into space, and ultimately back to God.

“Right back at ya, God!”

I say that, of course, with a twinkle in my eye. No disrespect intended!

”I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul rejoice!
Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your e
ar”    Laurie Klein

Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”

Speaking the truth in love is like a spoonful of sugar, which makes the medicine go down. Truth is sometimes nice to hear, especially when someone compliments you without trying to schmooze up to you.  Truth people like to hear sounds something like this: “Truthfully, you’re one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen.” We like to hear that kind of truth. But – what if the truth is ugly? Truth is still truth.

Here is where Paul’s advice comes in. He wrote in his letter addressed to Ephesus, an ancient Greek settlement in modern-day Turkey: “Speak the truth in love.” I find myself struggling with just that. One of the hardest things for me is to open my mouth and speak sad truth, especially knowing that it is difficult to accept. Without love the sad truth would be impossible to deliver. Without love there is probably no chance the message will be well-received. And without love the receiver of that message is not going to embrace it either, and isn’t that the ultimate reason why sad truth is communicated – unless of course our intentions are to condemn? Reality check: Jesus’ motivation has always been to restore; that’s why we hear Him say (John 3:17):

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Condemning, by its very nature, has given up on the so-judged person and is ready to throw this person into the trash. Condemning a person is like dumping a person. On the other hand speaking the truth in love is respecting and valuing that same person others have given up on.

So, speaking the truth in love is all about motivation – and we have the wisdom of ages to help us with that very difficult task, the Spirit of God, aka the Holy Spirit. Let’s not give up on anybody, and that includes us all. Instead of beating ourselves up because of recent failures, we want to speak encouragement into our own life by saying what needs to be said in love. Love is very powerful. Love brings the dead to life. There’s precious hope in love; and love is God’s trademark. John, one of Jesus followers, wrote in his letter (1 John 4:8):

“But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

If God is love, so are His children. Here’s to love!