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Friday, January 23, 2015

Love is more than a four letter word

Quite some time ago, one of the national marketing campaigns for a well-known cellular carrier asked the question, "Can you hear me now?"  In time, this became a hallmark question associated with a little humor in circles all around the globe - people asking each other if they "could hear them now" when they needed to repeat something, or if they were just making a point about needing someone to listen.  Today, I think the question we might consider is can you see my love now?  People have an excellent opportunity to put into action the words they speak - by modeling the love of Christ to others.  This might look like us stopping by the side of the road to help a woman with small children bouncing in the backseat change that flat tire.  It might resemble us helping an elderly man or woman put those groceries carefully into their trunk so as not to break the eggs.  It could also look like us sitting at the bedside of a friend who has just received bad news from the doctor, holding their hand and crying a little with them as they process the news.  Whatever it looks like for you, today will present itself with opportunities galore to "love each other" through what another can see - not just what they hear us say.

But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!” (I John 4:20-21 CEV)

If we consider this passage carefully, we find the measure of how much we are truly loving God is found in the evidence of how well we are doing with loving each other.  If we can "see" and "feel" each other - then how we love the ones we "can" see is a reflection of how well we are "in love with" and "loving" as God loves us.  Mom and Dad exemplified love in our family in a variety of ways.  We had warm food on the table, three squares a day, and a nice place to lay our heads at night.  We had clothes appropriate for the season and the occasion.  We may not have had the latest of fashion trends, but we were neat, clean, and always well-polished.  We also had moments of solitude with which we were to consider how we could have done something differently - usually whenever we crossed the line into disrespect or not so desirable behavior.  We had some discipline which made us sit up and take notice, while other discipline simply redirected our behavior in subtle ways so as to "form" us into responsible citizens.  Love in my home had both sides of the coin - good, caring, and easily embraced measures which revealed a tender side combined with a tougher side of love which was designed to correct wrong behavior.  God's love isn't much different, so when we love in a similar manner to his love revealed to us, we are exemplifying Christ to the world around us.

We cannot disrespect others and say we love God.  God shows creation respect - choosing to allow us to use our free-will to make choices instead of lording it over us, demanding his way or the highway.  Yep, there are expectations established, but the choice is still ours.  So, God does respect his creation and we should exemplify this respect in our relationships with each other.  This might mean we give a little when someone isn't right on the mark, so to speak. It might also mean we challenge them a little to get closer to the mark.  We don't criticize their "miss", but rather we lovingly assist them realize the correction needed in order to at least come closer to the mark.  This might look like helping someone who is trying to quit smoking with some practical steps like developing a "smoke plan" which slowly reduces the number of cigarettes they smoke each day.  If they are trying to avoid a certain tempting food in order to reduce the amount of calories they take in, you might agree to go with them to the cafeteria to help them stay on track with their diet.  When they are working on developing solid habits of exercise, you might suggest you each go on a walk following lunch each day.  You don't criticize them when they don't follow the plan, indulge a little, or miss a few days walking.  Instead, you respond as God responds to you - in mercy, love, and forgiveness - with the end result of helping one make the course correction necessary.

Our passage suggests another truth:  Love God first and love him "well".  When you do this, you are able to love others equally as well.  We may not "see" God - nor are we able to wrap our arms around him in a palpable embrace - but we do "sense" him and "know" his presence.  We know his truths upon which we stand - we also know his commands are there for our protection and safety, not to discourage us or keep us from enjoying life.  We see his love modeled in sacrifice and can experience the intensity or depth of that love in the magnificence of what God was willing to sacrifice to bring us close to him in restored relationship.  When we begin to see God's love and appreciate how much he loves us, we begin to find ways to exemplify this love to others around us.  It isn't usually that we need to love God more - we just need to appreciate the fullness of his love toward us a little more. You know, God might just show you and I how to love even the most unlovely among us if we'd stop long enough to embrace his love a little better.  Just sayin!