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.”

One day Paul mailed an important letter to Corinth. It is one of the letters that are recorded in the New Testament.

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 then I imagine was a cultural melting pot with an influx of visitors from all over the world. Paul’s friends lived in an exciting city and they met a lot of interesting people. Apparently, in their daily interactions they couldn’t help but become impressed with certain people’s resumes. So 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.

So Paul sat down and wrote a letter, basically a 101 on how to check out people. In a laundry list of human accomplishments Paul featured some remarkable stuff, brilliant people who are multi linguist, perform major breakthrough in scientific research, move mountains – only to top it off with sacrificing their lives for a good cause. Wonder Woman or Superman if there ever was one! And yet, Paul didn’t think so. He basically says that great deeds rely on great motivation. As an example, we know that sacrificing one’s own life can be the utmost expression of altruism – or it can be marred by cold fanaticism. Terrorist suicidal missions are a glaring example.

Heart of the issue then is the presence or absence of love in all we do or don’t do.

To live a life of love, we need to be connected to the Originator of the universe. Original love comes from God. 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.”

Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”

“Love your enemies” gives our opponents a human face. The enemy turns from an animal into another human being, someone like me, a person I could relate to.  

Who is your enemy? Have you identified one lately?

In times of war it seems easy to pinpoint the enemy. War crimes are committed. People die. The brutality of killing people during war has coined the term “post-traumatic stress disorder”. It became a buzzword in the 1970s in large part due to the diagnoses of U.S. military veterans of the Vietnam War. Essentially, even in war times when we have the license to kill to defend our country, at the end of the day we’re still killing people. Our human makeup is not as tough as it seems. Killing people catches up with us eventually. It’s deeply disturbing to the human psyche, which explains why people get sick over it.

It’s easy to see that we’re thriving in times of peace. If a profession was assigned to the human race, would it be professional killer? Hopefully not. If anything, we’re professional lovers not killers. After all, God is love, so His children naturally reflect love in their ways of dealing with other people. We’re here to procreate, spread out, discover the universe and build something new. To kill not only brings death to the people we killed, it also kills our spirit, it messes with our psyche and kills us physically further down the line. What goes around comes around.

In the end, it is much more inspiring to be generous. God gives sunlight to both evil and good. Whoever is our enemy, he or she is a person. We don’t know the entire picture of our enemy. Instead of hating this person, we need to give it a rest. It’s detrimental to our own health to even just wish destruction on anybody. Essentially, ill wishes will hunt us down and come true in our own life. We’re made to bless not to curse.

So, instead of making matters worse, let’s focus all our energies to solve problems, building bridges where we find an opportunity, and reconciling whenever we can.

As we embrace today, let us love in all forms, shapes and sizes!

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

Love can be thorny. Love can hurt. 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. Just as fake friends are a sore disappointment, so are fake gods. Can we live happily ever after with a fake Diamond? Probably not. If we have been through any amounts of heartbreaking break ups we know how disillusionment feels like. 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. Pretty funny, isn’t it?)

True love originates from the Godhead – Three in One. One could say that the Trinity possesses the patent for love. God has the good stuff. Love tried and true. True love.

Here is an open secret: God loves to be found. He’ll put heaven and hell to work to make that happen. Yes – even hell can be helpful at times. 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 all want to know what’s real. We don’t want to live a lie. In pursuit of the real deal we will stop dead in our tracks when we have that “aha moment”, when we realize there is a God who cares.

We know when we’ve struck gold. We know when we’ve found unfailing love.

Psalm 33:4-5: “For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.”

We hold a sponge soaked with water, dripping wet, ready to wipe a window. We could say the sponge is saturated with water. Similarly, Earth is saturated with the love of the Lord.

Planet Earth remains an outspoken testimony of God’s love with its wide variety of wildlife, its astonishing makeup of continents and islands and their different climate zones, sounds, colors and smells. The best thing about His creation: it procreates, because God created living beings. The best thing about creating us: We can be creative too! Human beings are known for coming up with new ideas all the time. That’s how they make contributions to human history.

Despite its many challenges, planet Earth is a wonder to behold.  Any project that is seen through from start to finish has details attached to it. The devil is in the details, isn’t it? Well, think of the myriads of details that hold our whole universe together. Any builders who take pride in their work tend to be attached to their building projects. God is certainly no less attached to His work, which is His creation.

However, His attachment comes with a great price. Imagine something you have invested in, and along comes someone who decides to sabotage all your hard work. How would you feel about that? Well, God’s creation story represents just that: God worked the universe. Once He completed His job, He looked around and was very satisfied with the results. But then the Snake entered the scene – and the rest is history.

God, who controls the mechanics of a whole universe, deliberately stands back and lets us do our own choosing. Freedom of choice was first invented by God. It certainly worked against Him in the Garden of Eden, but then the gift of our love is given freely, and that, my friend, means the world to Him.

God’s way of standing back and letting us choose to reject Him is a hallmark of His love. His love His generous and freely given, but by no means manipulative. He lets us do whatever we think we need to do and will not love us any less. Dolly Parton’s song “I will always love you” reflects some of this generous spirit in her lyrics:

“If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I’ll go but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way
And I will always love you.”

The unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth; He loves us – and He always will.

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.