Revelation 3:15-16: “I know you well—you are neither hot nor cold; I wish you were one or the other! But since you are merely lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!”

The opposite to love is not hate. It is indifference. Love and hate, though opposite poles in the spectrum of emotions have something in common: and that is passion. Love and hate both care  – even though with different intentions. Taking passion out of the equation, we’ll experience the lukewarm approach to life that Jesus so despised. Passion is a state of being awake while indifference is a state of being asleep; true passion never stops, if anything, it grows. On that note, in the book of Proverbs we find the following wisdom statement (Proverbs 30:15-16):

“There are two things never satisfied, like a leech forever craving more: no three things! No, four! Hell, the barren womb, a barren desert, fire.”

Passion does not stop with just two illustrations, but expands to three, then to four – to rub it in what passion is all about: Hell never feels overpopulated, a barren womb always craves babies, a barren desert always craves water, and fire always craves more fuel. As we can see, all four examples are eternally hungry for more and never reach a state of complete satisfaction. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous rock tune by the Rolling Stones “I can get no satisfaction”; and being in a perpetuate state of dissatisfaction may seem undesirable, but as it turns out, it just depends on the attitude and outlook on life, and dissatisfaction could actually work to our advantage. It’s dissatisfaction with a bad situation (fill in the blanks) that lets us try different avenues to usher a much-needed change. Love never sits down and says: that’s it – I’ve loved enough. Love grows mature to manifest itself in even more intricate ways. To that effect we read in the same chapter of the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 30:18-19):

“There are three things too wonderful for me to understand – no, four! How an eagle glides through the sky. How a serpent crawls upon a rock. How a ship finds its way across the heaving ocean. The growth of love between a man and a girl.”

Love may not be the opposite to hate, but it is the adequate answer to hate. If fire meets fire in a wildfire situation, the fire will die down. Counter fires are used for damage control. In the same way we almost always see an outpouring of love in the aftermath of catastrophic events. Think about the heroes born on 9/11. The most recent bad news transpiring from Las Vegas is another reminder that human-kindness is not completely dead. The shocking mass shooting during an open air concert led to countless acts of heroism. It makes me tear up seeing how people are scrambling to help in the wake of this horrible disaster. The ugly side of humanity seems to wake up the sleeping giant of indifference and gets us engaged. We come together, and we pull our resources. That’s what we do – and this gives me reason to hope. No matter how bad it gets, love is the first responder. Love chips in. Love comes up with unusual solutions in answer to a crisis. Love reaches out. Love shares burdens. Love heals.

Love is never satisfied with the status quo. Love will make things better because it never gives up, neither does God, neither do we.

“When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes I will dry them all. I’m on your side when times get rough …like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.” (Paul Simon)

Isaiah 14:12: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!”

“The devil made me do it!” Ever heard that excuse after catching someone red-handed?  Looking into the creation story we find the same excuse coming from Eve after God confronted her (Genesis 3:13):

“Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘How could you do such a thing?’

‘The serpent tricked me,’ she replied.”

“The serpent made me do it!” is Eve’s way of defending herself, serpent and devil being used interchangeably here.

What would the devil have to say in his defense if asked the very same question? –  “Devil, how could you do such a thing?” – It appears that the devil does not have anyone to blame but himself. However, if we’re honest, we are in the same boat with the devil. We really have no excuse for our bad behavior, and hiding behind the devil when we’re caught trespassing doesn’t help at all.

So, what does God do in situations like that? He resorts to punishment. Following His conversation with Eve, God addresses all guilty parties one by one (Genesis 3:14-17):

  • Serpent’s judgment: “So the Lord God said to the serpent, “This is your punishment: You are singled out from among all the domestic and wild animals of the whole earth—to be cursed. You shall grovel in the dust as long as you live, crawling along on your belly. From now on you and the woman will be enemies, as will your offspring and hers. You will strike his heel, but he will crush your head.”
  • Woman’s judgment: “Then God said to the woman, ‘You shall bear children in intense pain and suffering; yet even so, you shall welcome your husband’s affections, and he shall be your master.’”
  • Man’s judgment: “And to Adam, God said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit when I told you not to, I have placed a curse upon the soil. All your life you will struggle to extract a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat its grasses. All your life you will sweat to master it, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from the ground, and to the ground you will return.’”

Notice that God does not punish everybody equally. His punishment seems to be tailored to one’s individual learning needs. This approach gives me reason to hope. He could have wiped out all of His misbehaving creatures, including the devil, his followers and naturally also God’s latest species – Adam and Eve, aka mankind. Did He do that? Obviously, He did not. If He had extinguished His rebellious creatures right then and there, caught in the act of disobedience, then we would not live to talk about God’s amazing grace!

Anybody going through the arduous loss of an important relationship can probably relate to God’s lament illustrated in Chapter 14 of the book of Isaiah. Here we read God’s journal entry about the loss of a dearly beloved son. He affectionately named him “Son of Morning”, aka Lucifer. His name reflecting the beautiful rising Sun is a love declaration in itself. However, at the time of this writing this relationship is broken. God and Lucifer are no longer together. Loss of a child is a sore wound in any parent’s heart. Those of us who have lost a child share in God’s profound grief.

I have heard people ask the question why in the world would God still put up with Lucifer after all the damage he has done? – I’m turning this question around and say, good thing God hasn’t given up on Lucifer yet. The fact that Lucifer is still around is another walking and talking sign of God’s miraculous love.

Far be it from us to completely understand God’s mysterious ways; but when in doubt we can always default to His tried and true identity: if God had a DNA, then love would be written all over it, because God is love; Love is who God is, it’s the engine of all His thoughts and actions.

“He is jealous for me

Loves like a hurricane I am tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy” (David Crowder)

Matthew 16:15: “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”

“Who am I?” A long, long time ago Jesus asked a probing question during a heart-to-heart-talk with His close friends, and this question is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. – Who is Jesus? – In trying to come up with an adequate answer, we’ll be surprised, once we dig a little deeper; and in the process we are also prone to discover who we are. So, here’s to finding identity!

There are plenty of ways to identify ourselves: we go by our civic identity, our physical identity, and what I call our personal identity – the way I view myself and how others view me.

  • Civic identity: If we are operating a vehicle and joining traffic we better have our ID on us. Once the police pull us over and we don’t produce our driver’s license we’re in deep trouble. We also need proper identification to be employed. To pay taxes we need a tax ID number.
  • Physical identity: The police use fingerprints to ID a person. There are no copycats in God’s creation, not even with identical twins.  Here is an interesting fact: Let’s say an identical twin commits a crime leaving only DNA at the scene – it is possible to suspect both twins of the crime since their DNA is virtually the same. But if the criminal twin leaves fingerprints as well, it will exonerate the other twin. Twins’ fingerprints are very similar but distinguishable upon close examination. That’s how physically unique every human being is!
  • Personal identity: This is where it gets tricky. We have mirrors to look at our physical features. Obviously that’s not how it works with our inner being. There are myriads of personality tests to give us a rough idea how we are wired, but just as physical features don’t stop with our size and skin color, our personality features don’t stop with a personality test and how others try to categorize us. We will find out sooner or later that every person is far too complex to fit in any man-made box.

If we had to choose between the three above-mentioned IDs and determine which part of our makeup is the most crucial, I believe we all would agree on personal identity. It’s a theoretical question anyway, but I doubt that it would matter to us if there was someone out there sharing our fingerprint, and other than a legal hassle, we could exist without a tax ID number. But it’s hard to live without self-respect. That is why it is so important to understand that we are loved. In one of his letters John elaborates (1 John 3:1):

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”

God has loved us from the moment of our conception, and He has a passionate desire to turn us into family. God wants us close. He wants us to know Him, and this is why He reveals Himself to us in key moments of our lives. Jesus is called the bridegroom for a reason. He marries members of God’s creation into God’s family and turns them into family members. We become God’s children thanks to Him, and this is our new cherished identity that defines us – wherever we are and wherever we go.

“There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.”

(Songwriters: RICHARD DAVIES, ROGER HODGSON)

1 John 2:1: “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.”

In the criminal justice system judges play many roles. They interpret the law, assess the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials unfold in their courtrooms. Most important of all, judges are impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. So when we refer to God as our judge then most likely the courtroom scenario comes to mind. However, there is a big difference between people’s judgment and God’s judgment, and here is why:

In God we find a judge who is not judgmental.

God, our righteous judge, can discern the truth of a situation like no other; unlike a judge in the criminal justice system, God sees the whole picture. He profoundly understands where we are coming from and what led to the case presented to Him. In one of his letters John wrote (1 John 3:20):

“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”

We are our own worst enemy when it comes to judging ourselves or others. When our emotions run wild we tend to blow everything out of proportion. And who is completely insulated from other people’s opinions? Whether it’s popularity or a bad reputation, it all affects our judgment. We have a hard time being impartial. God on the other hand is unaffected by all these things. King David knew that and relied on it. After his controversial nationwide census, God sent Prophet Gad to challenge King David with three choices. David’s choice revealed that he trusted God’s better judgment (2 Samuel 24:13-14):

 “So Gad came to David and asked him, ‘Will you choose seven years of famine across the land, or to flee for three months before your enemies, or to submit to three days of plague? Think this over and let me know what answer to give to God.’ ‘This is a hard decision,’ David replied, ‘but it is better to fall into the hand of the Lord (for his mercy is great) than into the hands of men.’”

If God is the perfect judge, then Jesus is the perfect attorney. In Jesus we have an advocate in heaven fighting for us. We have someone in heaven who acts as our attorney, who understands us like no other and pleads our case. Jesus has our back. He is for us. If we feel stuck in our limitations, Jesus has a way of setting us free by lifting our self-inflicted burdens off our shoulders. All our shame, the things we hide, actions we’re not proud of, can become a thing of the past.

By the way, renewing people is Jesus’ specialty. In the last book of the Bible He encourages us with these words (Revelation 21:5):

“And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new!’”

Using progressive tense, our renewal through Jesus appears to be an ongoing process. In other words: Jesus is making all things new 24/7. Doing something all the time, that person probably knows what he or she is doing. In the same vein we could say that Jesus is very experienced in saving and renewing people. If you haven’t looked into His track record yet, you are encouraged to do so. You’re up for an amazing discovery!

1 John 3:19-20: “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”

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)

John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

As I was driving down Southern Avenue this morning, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car right in front of me: “Stop texting, just drive!” This made me smile. Actually, beside the obvious practical implications – avoiding accidents while being an alert driver – this little bumper sticker is pretty profound if applied to life in general. How about:

  • Stop worrying, just live!
  • Stop judging, just love!
  • Stop all prejudice, just explore!

Worries, judgmental attitude, and prejudice all distract from living life to the fullest.  Paul calls this kind of life “freedom in Christ”.  In one of his letters he wrote (Galatians 5:1):

 “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

Anything infringing on our God-given freedom is some form of slavery. If caught up in drug and alcohol abuse, we’re enslaved to it. We could also be enslaved to our work, to our possessions, to other people’s expectations and opinions, to our personal anxieties and worries, and the list goes on and on.  The bad thing about slavery is that it keeps us in a box, and we’re unable to unlock our true potential. Jesus wants us to get out of this box – and following Him we will. That’s Jesus redemptive activities in a nutshell!

Quoting from a song in the 60s, freedom is NOT another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom is the opportunity to live the surprising life that we’ll experience when we follow Jesus, and we’ll never know where Jesus will lead us today….we just need to keep an open mind!

If marbles stand for preconceived notions, then we need to let go of all our marbles to keep an open mind. Preconceived notions can infringe on our relationship with God and can also prevent us from reading the Bible altogether. If someone has a bad reputation we usually proceed with caution. Bad reputation will kill any chance of a good relationship. Have you ever noticed that God has a bad reputation to most people who don’t want anything to do with Him? In the same vein, if we ran into some bad experiences with religion don’t you think that would affect our relationship with God?

We need to take advantage of the redeeming qualities of the Son of God who can heal all our hurt and bring us to a place of peace where we don’t have to prove anything, where we can start from scratch with God and abandon any tainted ideas about Him.

Lastly, after we’ve lost all our marbles, let’s stick to this newfound freedom!  Once we are freed from our box, we need to refrain from the lifelong habit of putting other people or even God into a box. Let’s identify and abandon our preconceived notions and get a fresh outlook on life.

Go with God and stick with Jesus. He will defend our freedom like no other.

“You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah

Hallelujah!”                                                        Leonard Cohen

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