Romans 13:9-10: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

If a robot asked us “what is love?” wouldn’t we need to download a descriptive manual to explain what love is all about? – I know this seems a little far-fetched, but just humor me for a minute. – The Ten Commandments are like a manual explaining that we show love when we do not steal, when we do not lie and refuse to take advantage of someone’s misfortune; all the while we help our neighbors, give generously, conduct fair businesses and show respect for ourselves and other people by upholding the so-defined love standard.

Granted, we are no robots and the word “love” should mean something to us; unfortunately, not all of us are born into very promising circumstances, and then love may not make a whole lot of sense. Looking at the people of Israel around the time when they received the Ten Commandments from God, they were refugees roaming the Sinai desert – escaped slaves. A slave is considered a prized possession at best and mistreated like an abused animal at its worst. All day push and pull; do this, don’t do that!

600,000 men of military age were counted when the Israelites left Egypt. Israel’s exodus may have ended for them the Egyptian tyranny, but a former slave now had to redefine his entire existence. Multiply this times 600,000 and we are looking at a major identity crisis of an entire people group.

I believe issuing the Ten Commandments at this point in history was extremely helpful. It turned a motley crew of refugees into the people of Israel who made it through the desert and are still around today. – What about now? Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today? – Well, does humanity still have issues with this thing called love?

While commandments written in stone are no replacement for love, they represent a road map showing us how to get there. Most importantly, the commandments all point to its Author – God Almighty – and finding Him, we find everything.

1 John 4:11-12: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

What hit me this morning is the fact that God’s love is brought to full fruition in us. Think about that for a moment. God’s extravagant love is expressed in the way we live, day by day, week by week, month by month and year after year. Granted – we all have our fall outs and days we are 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, 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 in your neighborhood, right in front of your door step.

“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

Romans 8:38-39: “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.”

There is power in separation. The builders of the atom bomb knew that as a fact when they succeeded in splitting atoms. And yet, there are things that no separating force can divide:

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.

In Jesus we see God’s love acted out. Jesus shows us in a million ways how God loves us. His follower John once wrote that our world is too small to carry the amount of books that had to be written to describe Jesus’s life on Earth. Yes, our world of misunderstandings, pettiness and warfare is much too small to conceive of a love that generous. The love of God is counter intuitive and counter cultural. It is all invasive and all inclusive. It is a love that stops nowhere and goes everywhere – and even embraces mortal enemies. Jesus prayed for His torturers before He died and said (Luke 23:34a):

Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

I rest my case.

God will not give up on loving us, not in a million years. It is something to remember in our worst hour. His love puts us back together and heals our brokenness. His love is both soothing and infectious. Inspired by His generous affections, we go out and do the same. We spread His love. And it all starts with receiving His.

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

1 John 3:11: “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”

Cain and Abel – the brotherhood that didn’t work out!

Cain was her firstborn, and Eve was fascinated with him. Anyone with a first baby can probably relate. She looked at Cain, counted all his fingers and toes, took note of every little detail about him, looked at his face and detected family resemblance. Proudly she turned to Adam and exclaimed (Genesis 4:1):

“She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’”

Eve gave birth to more children, but Cain remained the special someone, the first child she ever had.

As Cain grew up, he became a farmer while his brother Abel learned to take care of his father’s flocks and herds. Adam and Eve taught their sons and daughters from an early age to express their thankfulness to God by bringing choice gifts. When the time came to offer his gift to God, Cain brought a selection of his produce while His brother Abel brought one of the most promising looking specimens of his flock.

It is unclear how God’s favor materialized, but at the end of the day Abel’s gift stood out, while Cain’s gift was not well received – and Cain was not smiling! His frustration was written all over his face, and the relationship to his brother quickly turned sour. God immediately addressed the issue with Cain (Genesis 4:6-7):

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’”

Unfortunately, Cain had his mind already made up and refused to listen. Soon after, he killed his brother in cold blood.

This is the incident the apostle John was referring to in his letter. He wrote (1 John 3:12):

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”

Comparing Cain with Abel is a puzzling affair since none of the brothers neglected to offer gifts to the Almighty. What makes Cain’s gift so undesirable? In order to answer this question we have to dig a little deeper – past appearances.

Reality check means asking ourselves why we do what we do. Doing the right thing has everything to do with having the right intentions. We all know how wrong motives can be harmful. Absolutely no good comes out of hatred. Love on the other hand makes everything better. And love must have been the overriding factor that enabled Abel’s gift, while Cain’s gift was probably motivated by something less worthy.

There are all kinds of wrong reasons to give gifts, but it is important to realize that God is only interested in gifts given for the right reasons. Love is the determining factor. Love rules.

Proverbs 30:19: “The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman.”

Love is a beautiful mystery. We cannot predict the way of an eagle in the sky and neither can we predict the unfolding of a love story. The overarching love story is God’s love for His creation. His love is the glue holding the universe together. God’s love is remarkable, to say the least. When the Son of God walked this earth, people were attracted to Him. From the beginning Jesus struck them as unusual, even though they could not put a finger on it. The Apostle John elaborated on the mystery of Jesus in his letters (1 John 1:1):

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

People were clearly touched when they met Jesus walking the roads of Israel, and we still wonder about Him today. How God loves is a strange concept to the human mind. – Who would come up with the plan of turning God into a human being? This is something that completely blows my mind. How does He get these unusual ideas? Thankfully, we do not need to understand God to love Him back. All we need to do is open our hearts, receive His love and enjoy the ride.

Let the love of God sweep you up, embrace you, heal you, carry you, and reform you – one day at a time – and the world around you will get a taste of the mysterious Son of God who walked this earth 2000 years ago – by seeing Him alive and well inside of you.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“Ben, you’re always running here and there
You feel you’re not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind and don’t like what you find
There’s something you should know, you’ve got a place to go”
 
(Song lyrics by Don Black / Walter Scharf )

A love song about a rodent pretty much says it all. Love sees things differently – and if you are a pet owner you would probably agree. Pets become endeared to us. Most likely the pet’s lifespan is shorter than ours, and inevitably the day comes when we have to let our four-legged friend go. I still have tears in my eyes as I think of our pets that have passed away over the years.

Ultimately, whenever we open our hearts and let somebody in, we allow our hearts to be broken. The famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is relevant. Although the pain of loss is difficult to handle, it is love that makes life meaningful. We do not want to miss it.

When God decided to put humans on the map of the history of the universe, I believe He deliberately chose to accept the pain that came with it. If we had an interview with God and asked Him: “Why in the world did you create humans? That really backfired, didn’t it?” – He probably would not agree that inventing humanity was just one great big mistake of His. If that’s the way He felt about us, I don’t think we would still be here. But here we are – still kicking! We are here because we are loved. I am not sure that God would say it this way, but apparently, we are worth the pain.

Whenever we see love acted out, we know that is God’s heartbeat, right there. His love perseveres and so do we. There are a million reasons to become a cynic and give up on love, yet we will soon discover how empty a life that is. Despite of what you and I have been through, as long as we choose life we choose to love again.

Love never loses hope. – This is the beauty of love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

As a Roman colony in 44 BC, Corinth flourished and became the administrative capital of the Roman province of Achaea. Still today, Corinth is a major road hub and back in the day of the Apostle Paul I imagine it was a cultural melting pot with an influx of visitors from all over the world. Paul’s friends lived in an exciting city teaming with people, some of them brilliant, some of them influential. Apparently, in their daily interactions they couldn’t help but be impressed with certain people’s resumes. They started inviting them over and listened to what they had to say. Some of their advice came to Paul’s attention and it did not sit well with him.

In Paul’s ensuing letter he put things into perspective. In a laundry list of human accomplishments, Paul featured highly talented people who were multi linguist, performed major breakthroughs in scientific research and had a faith that could move mountains – whether this was literally or figuratively speaking is beside the point. Beyond that, these people were willing to sacrifice their lives for a good cause. In a nutshell, Paul was describing Wonder Woman or Superman – and yet, both Superman and Wonder Woman may entirely miss the mark. In his ballad on love Paul painted a vivid picture revealing to the sophisticated Corinthians what truly matters.

Great deeds come from great motivation. As an example, we know that sacrificing one’s life is considered the ultimate expression of altruism – however, self-sacrifice can be marred by cold fanaticism. Terrorist suicidal missions are a glaring example. Heart of the matter is the presence or absence of love in everything we do or refrain from doing.

Original love flows from God. Connected to the Originator of the universe we live a life inspired by His 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: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”