“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins”—1 John 4:10(NLT).
As long as I can recall, I have loved reading. My love affair with books began with my mother’s reading aloud to me. As an elementary student, my reading habits often got me into trouble. Instead of paying attention to the teacher, I would squirrel away my library book behind a textbook.
My tastes in reading ran the gamut from mysteries to science fiction. My mother often caught me hiding under the bed covers at night with a good Nancy Drew mystery, using a flashlight to read the words penned to capture a child’s imagination.
As a child, reading was an escape from the world into an imaginary one set in different places and different times. I still love reading make-believe stories today. However, fiction is not my only source of reading material.
“I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.”
Recently, while donating some used books for resale at our local library, I was asked to pose for a photo with my favorite book. The Friends of the Library is using the event to spark interest in reading. As I pondered the question, I tried to remember some of my favorite books. My mind recalled some childhood as well as adult books I had thoroughly enjoyed. But were they really my favorite?
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”—Psalm 136:1(NRSV).
On a recent overcast day, the cold had driven the birds to my suet feeders. The feeders are located outside my kitchen window, offering me a great view of the variety of birds dining on the peanut butter laden treats. When we have an extremely cold winter, I have to refill the feeders more often. With this year’s milder weather, I’ve not had to do so. The usual visitors are shades of brown and gray.
On this particular day, several cardinals showed up to eat their share. I marveled at their red beauty and by the contrast they provided to the dull winter colors of the bare trees and dead grass. While the drabness of winter doesn’t bother me, the unexpected appearance of these creatures brought hope to my weary soul. Overwhelmed, all I could say was, “Thank you, God, for sharing your love today.”
What does love look like?
If we would only open our eyes, we could see a glimpse of God’s love everywhere, every day. I am reminded of this when I see an elderly person struggling to open a door and, before I can respond, a teenager rushes to pull it open. I always smile because it’s a reminder of His love.
Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” That’s love.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”—Luke 9:24-25 (NLT).
Some people might be surprised to learn the world does not revolve around them. What? You mean it doesn’t!
As infants, we sure thought it did. We cried and someone tended to our needs. We got fed. Our diapers got changed. We were picked up and rocked to sleep. In my case, the rocking chair didn’t work for my eldest, so I had to dance him to sleep. I’ve known other parents who had to place their infant in a car seat and drive him repeatedly around the block until he dozed off.
However, some never outgrow this demanding behavior. If I whine enough, people will do what I want. If I stomp my foot, they’ll jump. If I pucker up, ready to burst into tears, they’ll do anything to keep me happy.
“We shine most brightly when we give ourselves away.”
Guess what! That’s not what God wants from His children. If we hang onto our lives, always seeking to please ourselves, we’ll never grow up.
In his book “It’s Not About Me,” Max Lucado writes, “When God looks at the center of the universe, he doesn’t look at you. When heaven’s stagehands direct the spotlight toward the star of the show, I need no sunglasses. No light falls on me. Lesser orbs, that’s us. Appreciated. Valued. Loved dearly. But central? Essential? Pivotal? Nope. Sorry.
“Perhaps our place is not at the center of the universe,” he adds. “As John Piper writes, ‘God does not exist to make much of us. We exist to make much of him.’”
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs”—Proverbs 10:12 (NIV).
In a recent morning devotional, the writer shared about the loss of his 17-year-old grandson, the fatal victim of a robbery. Commenting on his grandson, the grandfather said, “We had recently attended his high school graduation, and he planned to enter college in the fall. He was a handsome, loving and talented young man. Now, suddenly, he was gone.”
As the writer continued to share his story, my heart went out to him and his family. I can’t imagine the pain they’ve experienced. The writer said, “The senseless murder of our grandson was not part of God’s plan. ‘What,’ I wondered, ‘led the killers to tear a hole in the glory of God’s world?’ The only answer that came to me was that evil had taken root in their lives because love was not there to crowd it out.”
As I pondered this thought, I had to agree. If someone never experiences the love of a parent, a kind neighbor, a compassionate school teacher, a loving church family or even the kindness of a stranger, how do they understand the love of Christ? As the writer above said in his devotional, “Many people who commit crimes against their neighbors have not experienced God’s love through their interactions with others. Much of the violence in life can be prevented if we Christians extend love to all people.”
If God can love us, surely we can love those around us.
All people—even the ones whom we’d rather avoid? The ones that rub us the wrong way or slyly insult us…do we have to love them too? Yes, according to Jesus, even the ones who annoy us, step on our toes, invade our personal space or whose personal habits cause us to turn up our nose in disgust.
“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me”—Matthew 25:34-36 (MSG).
If you were asked to describe true love, how would you answer? Look up the synonyms for love in a thesaurus and you’ll find the following words close in meaning: affection, appreciation, devotion, emotion, fondness and friendship, along with several others. But these are man’s words.
I like the definition for love found in God’s Holy Word: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).
If we don’t love, how can we, as Christians, be the light He calls us to be in the world?
From a secular viewpoint, love is often associated with the physical aspects of a relationship and the expression of that love through gifts such as candy, flowers and cards as seen on Valentine’s Day. While there’s nothing wrong with these things, from a Biblical perspective, true love is found in the spiritual. True love is not just between a man and a woman but is found in all of our relationships when we seek a higher calling.