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!

Mark 12:29-31: “Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Jesus is describing a love circle here. The first commandment is to love the Lord, and the second is equally important: to love your neighbor as yourself. These two love commands are a circle that cannot be broken. The reason being: love is not solitary and love is not exclusive.

1)      Solitary love: Love focused on just one person – could be myself, which is narcissism, could be a person other than myself, which is idolatry

2)      Exclusive love: Love based on conditions – could be withholding love if a person is not up to standard, could be favoritism and club-forming creating insiders and outsiders

Life-giving and productive love exists in God’s unbroken circle: Loving the Lord, loving one’s neighbor, loving oneself. We hear a lot about loving the Lord and loving the neighbor. However, we don’t hear a lot about loving oneself, and yet, it’s an equally important part in the love circle.

Song lyrics by Gerald Goldstein, Linda Creed, Michael William Masser address the issue of self-love in the song “The Greatest Love”, made famous by the late Whitney Houston:

“The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all”

If you don’t love yourself, you are similar to a broken vessel, and the love God pours into you will never fill you up.  Broken as you are, you cannot contain love and therefore you won’t sufficiently give love. This would be a dysfunctional circle.  Jesus puts this dysfunctional circle back together by being bruised for our transgressions, by being broken so we could be made whole. Prophet Isaiah wrote in chapter 53:5:

“But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”

Let Jesus restore your self-worth, your dignity, so that the love God wants to pour into you can be contained, so that you can love God and people. John wrote in his first letter to believers (1 John 4:19): “We love each other because he loved us first.”

Let God love you; let God heal you; and be introduced into the Circle of Love!

Deuteronomy 30:16: “For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways.”

This is a picture of my husband serenading me as we were camping at Yosemite in California.  We’ve been married for more than a decade now. Time flies! Bill loves to think about stuff when he showers. He calls them his shower moments. He comes up with song ideas or a genius solution to a nagging problem. The other day another light bulb went off in his head and he shared it with me: “Law without love is slavery. Love without law is still love.” Incidentally, I’ve been reading up on Deuteronomy these days and was wrestling with the concept of having to deal with 613 different laws, as penned down in the Torah. So I listened up, and I have to say that his statement got me thinking. What he says makes perfect sense considering that there was no law at the beginning of mankind, but there always was and has been – love. I believe everything that came to be was conceived out of love because the Creator loves His creation. Consequently, if deprived of love, we all die. Love is why we breathe.

So love preceded the law; people came first and the law came later – almost like an afterthought so it seems. Nevertheless, common sense and moral aptitude have always existed because God gave us a conscience.  It is common sense that stealing is harmful to human society. It’s no rocket science to figure out that sexual relations outside marriage will hurt any marriage relationship.  It is obvious that no one can replace the person who was just killed.  So, without being spelled out – the law has always been in place, and love is the key to obeying all these laws.  Apply love to the law, and the Ten Commandments look something like this:

Love has no other God but the Lord; Love does not idolize; Love does not abuse the Lord’s name; Love observes the Sabbath rest; Love honors the parents; Love does not kill; Love does not pursue sexual relations outside of marriage; Love does not steal; Love does not lie; Love does not covet.

Love the Lord and people, and you are home free. Isn’t that the truth? Bill would say: “Yepper doodle!” Here’s to you, Bill! Here’s to Love!

“And even though we ain’t got money. I’m so in love with you, honey” (Anne Murray song lyrics)

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.”

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want those kind of things
That money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money
For money can’t buy me love”
(The Beatles)

“Old love, new love
Every love but true love

Love for sale!” (Boney M.)

Song lyrics sometimes say it all. Today I want to explore “love for sale” as opposed to “true love”. In John’s gospel Jesus is hammering out a new commandment to His followers, which says, and I quote (John 13:34):

“Just as I [Jesus] have loved you, you should love each other.”

How does Jesus love? A good way to find answers to this question is to delve into the gospel records of the New Testament. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He had an encounter with the devil.  In that encounter the devil made Jesus an offer (Matthew 4:8-11):

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

Jesus’ love to the Father is loyal.  However, Satan is always under the assumption that love is loyal only up to a certain breaking point.  He has to find out through thorough testing, which is why he is also called the tempter.  The tempter’s approach is that love can be bought – with the right price-tag anybody’s love is for sale! One can say that the tempter does not know true love and does not believe in it either. He stares at this phenomenon in his lab work when he puts love under the microscope by putting his test objects under tremendous tests, again and again, as much as God allows it.  Remember Job’s story? Job went through a series of test sessions; and God allowed them to happen to show Satan and the world that there is such a thing as true love, love that cannot be bought.  However, Satan didn’t think so.  His reasoning was (Job 1:9-11):

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

We know how the story ends.  In the end Satan is proved wrong.  Job held on to God for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, which is precisely what we say in our marriage vows – “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

True love is not for sale. True love does not cheapen a relationship by objectifying human beings or worse, by objectifying the Eternal One. True love does not treat God like someone who can be bought.

God is true love; and His love is generous, overflowing, compassionate, and free – no strings attached, no conditions asked, no price tag hidden. The love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is a powerful change agent.  Just look at all the life stories recorded in the Bible.  Hopefully you’ll see some of those life stories played out in your own life. God’s love is well and alive today!

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Jesus was well aware of the problems we have in differentiating between original and counterfeit. In the realm of faith the question becomes: who’s a believer and who’s just faking it?  Being the master of simplicity Jesus boils down complex problems by cutting right through them and getting to the bottom of the issue.  His approach: parables and life application stories as well as imagery and metaphors. To simplify the problem of correctly identifying people, Jesus is grouping them into two categories:

  • Category I: Fruit-tree-people
  • Category II: Thorn-bush-people

At first sight the difference is very apparent: a thorn bush does not bear fruit while a fruit tree does. In the 7th chapter of his gospel Matthew writes: “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16)”

To answer Jesus’ question: obviously no one can pick grapes from thorn bushes. But what if the fruit is not authentic? And I believe that’s what Paul was getting at in his letter to his Greek friends in Corinth. One can identify a lot of problems by just observing how people act, however it takes a closer look to see through their complexities.  Paul was probably describing his old self, before Jesus changed him, when he portrayed this fantastic person who knew it all and had it all.  He was talking about a person appearing to be fitting the fruit tree category nicely, with plenty of charitable deeds, wisdom and insight, well-versed, speaking several languages, successful, enjoying a great reputation, and who was willing to be martyred for his belief system. That’s Paul as we know him from the book of Acts:  Paul was born in the city of Tarsus, a major city of his time and cultural melting pot. Paul probably grew up at least bilingual, speaking Greek and Hebrew fluently.  He completed his education in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most respected teachers of his time. Charitable deeds belonged to the code of conduct taught in the Torah, and Paul would have rather died than renounce the Torah. “So here is a tree with plenty of good fruit”, one would say, “Right?” – And Paul says: “Wrong! For all intents and purposes this fruit tree in all reality is a thorn bush.” – “But why?” one would ask. “What is so wrong about being brilliant and ready to die for one’s beliefs?” Well, here is a reality check, and it might come as a shock: brilliance and willingness to die for one’s belief system does not make one a saint!

So what is the real difference between sinner and saint? Looking at Paul’s example we find that a saint is not necessarily a self-sacrificing charitable person; and a sinner is not necessarily a lawbreaker charged with the death penalty as Jesus was. The defining feature of a sinner or a saint is the presence or the absence of love. Back to that fruit tree: have you ever encountered fake love? Then you would not be surprised if there is such a thing as fake fruit.  So there are thorn bushes out there, dressed up like trees with some fake fruit on it.  The good news is:  if there is fake love, then the genuine original must be somewhere, and it is! There is such a thing as true love; and there is such a thing as genuine fruit coming from the Tree of Life.  The original – you guessed it – is God.  God is love; and the fruit of His love is found in His children coming from His Son who is the Tree of Life. Genuine unselfish love is not something we can produce out of hot air. Original love comes from God and changes us dramatically when we receive it. Instead of pretending to love we can live love. Love is real because God is real; love is authentic because God is authentic; and love is the greatest because God is the greatest!

1 Corinthians 13:13: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”