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.”

Ever been there? You want to jump into the water, yet fear is holding you back and all you can do is dip your big toe into the vast sea? I can completely relate. Here is my story:

All things music and art have always come natural to me. Math and science unfortunately, not so much! Professionally, instead of going for the stuff that comes easy, I went for the stuff that was difficult for me. I figured, rather than trying to make it in the world of art and music it was safer to apply for an administrative position. And so the story goes – until 40 years later. My husband and I have been going back and forth on the issue for a while, and in October 2018 we finally decided to go through with it: I left my safe corporate position and became self-employed. Evelyn’s Music Entertainment with focal point on Memory Care was born. Yesterday I sang “Somewhere over the rainbow” with dementia patients humming along. I got goose bumps.

If our instinct is to run and hide when in our heart of hearts we know we should do a leap of faith, we need to remember: Avoiding risks at all costs, we may just miss out on an adventure of a lifetime!

Against all odds, God’s love somehow manages to overcome anything and everything. I can’t explain it, but once several steps into my new adventure, things just happen. There’s trial and error, there are good days and bad, but overall I’m a happier person because I know I’m doing what I love to do.

We have a very good reason not to be afraid. God’s love empowers us to be bold! Walking with God, we can face our daily uncertainties. His love drains our fears, and we know we are as safe as can be.

Romans 13:9-10: “For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”

If a robot interviewed you, and the robot asked you “what is love?” – What would you say?

It’s a weird question, I know, but please bear with me! I was just wondering why we have 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible when God could have just written one word: Love!?

Now let’s pretend just for a minute: If you were a robot and you knew little to nothing about love, wouldn’t you need a handbook explaining what love is all about? So here is “Love 101”, it comes in this great edition called Torah, and it says something like this: We show love when we don’t steal, when we don’t lie, when we don’t take advantage of someone’s misfortune; all the while we’re reaching out, we’re helping our neighbors, we’re giving generously, we’re conducting fair businesses, we’re taking a break from the daily grind on Sabbath, and we’re showing respect for ourselves and other people.

Granted, we are no robots, so the word “love” should ring a bell, but let’s be realistic too. We are born into various circumstances, not all of them very promising. Let’s take a look at the people of Israel for instance around the time when they received those 613 commandments in the Sinai desert. They used to be slaves, now they were refugees. They had been slaves for so long, it literally became their identity. All day push and pull; do this, don’t do that! – And the taskmaster was around all day long. A slave is considered a prized possession at best and mistreated like an abused animal at its worst.

After the exodus there was this great void that the taskmaster used to fill. A former slave had to redefine his entire existence. Welcome to a hefty identity crisis! Did this person need help? Certainly! Now multiply this case times a million – because 600,000 men of military age were counted when the Israelites left Egypt – and now we got serious issues. Did 613 commandments come in handy at the time? I believe so. It turned a bunch of refugees into the people of Israel who made it through the desert and are still around today. Do 613 commandments still come in handy today? Well, does humanity still have issues with the thing called love?

While the commandments penned down in the Torah are not a replacement for love, they are a road map when we get lost. Most importantly, the commandments point to its author. If we don’t know anything about love, God Almighty is always a good place to start!

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. 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 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: “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.”

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’s all invasive and all inclusive. It’s a love that stops nowhere and goes everywhere – even embraces mortal enemies. Jesus prayed for His torturers before He died and said (Luke 23:34):

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

I rest my case.

Here is a spoiler alert for you: God’s love will stretch us if we open our hearts. Hearts get bigger and life gets better when we let Him in. Don’t even assume that God could lose interest in His creation! God won’t give up loving us, not in a million years. It’s 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: [ More on Love and Hatred ] “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 the firstborn of the family, and Eve was fascinated with him. Anyone with a first child can probably relate. She looked at Cain, counted all his fingers and toes, noticed every little finger had a proper fingernail, looked at his face and detected family resemblance. Proudly she turned to Adam and exclaimed (Genesis 4:1):

“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 kid she ever had. Firstborn status in the Middle East was bound to give preferential status to the eldest son.

Adam and Eve taught their kids from an early age to express their thankfulness to God by bringing choice gifts. As Cain grew up, he became a farmer. When it was time to offer his gift, he brought a selection of his produce. Meanwhile his brother Abel had learned to take care of his father’s flocks and herds. He 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 at all – and Cain was not smiling! His frustration was written all over his face, and the relationship to his brother quickly soured. God addressed the issue at hand 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.”

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

This is the incident 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 is asking ourselves why we do what we do. Doing the right thing has everything to do with right intentions. We all know how wrong motives can be harmful. Certainly no good comes out of hatred. Love on the other hand puts everything into the right perspective. And love must have been the overriding factor that initiated Abel’s gift, while Cain’s gift was probably motivated by something less worthy.

There are all kinds of wrong reasons to give gifts, however, God is only interested in gifts given for the right reasons. So in all we do or don’t do today, let’s remember: love is king!

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 a love story. Most commonly the love expressed between a man and a woman comes to mind when we hear the word “love story”. However, love has many faces. There’s love between species when we witness the devotion between an animal species and a human being. When a pet dies it feels like a member of the family has passed away. If that ain’t love, then what else is?

The overarching love story, however, is God’s love for His creation. That’s the glue that holds the universe together. God’s love is very unusual, to say the least. When the Son of God entered the scene, people were attracted to Him. From the get-go, Jesus struck them as unusual, and they could not put a finger on it. The apostle John remarked 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.”

People were clearly stunned when they ran into Jesus way back then, and we’re still mystified today. How God loves is a strange concept to the human mind. – Who would have come up with the idea of God born into a human family? Embracing God, we embrace a mystery. The good news is, we don’t need to understand God to love Him. 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 same Jesus 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! If you’re a pet owner you would agree. Pets become way more than four-legged furry balls. Most likely the pet’s lifespan is shorter than ours, and inevitably the day comes when we have to let our pet friend go. I am writing this, and I still have tears in my eyes as I think of our cat that passed away less than a year ago. My mother decided never to have a pet again after she had lost her pet. And some people won’t.

Ultimately, whenever we open our hearts and let somebody in, we run the risk of our hearts being broken. Still, look around. I see risk takers everywhere! We like to say: “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

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 wouldn’t agree that inventing humanity was just one great big mistake of His. If that’s how He felt about us, I don’t think we would still be here. But here we are – still kicking! We’re here because we’re loved. I’m not sure that God would say it this way, but apparently, we’re worth the pain.

Whenever we see love acted out, we know that’s God’s heartbeat, right there. His love never gives up, and neither do we. There are a million reasons to become a cynic and give up on love, yet we soon discover that life without love is no life at all. Despite what you and I have been through, as long as we choose life we choose to love again.

Love perseveres. Love never gives up. That’s the beauty of love!