What is Love?

My faith tells me that God is Love, but what does it really mean to me, in this world, to be loved and what does a relationship that embodies love look like? Is it one in which whatever I do and say is okay and praised by the other? One that is free from struggle, obstacles or disagreement along the way? “No,” and “No,” I do not believe so.

In looking around and considering society and relationships, sometimes “unconditional love” is twisted to justify words and actions that are self-serving and self-centered. Sometimes it is used to justify silence and inaction in the face of injustice or wrongdoing. Unconditional love does not mean saying “Yes” all the time. Although it is boundless or unrestricted, it calls us to say and to hear “No,” at times when we do not want to as well as to say and hear “Yes,” at times when we would rather not. Either way, it calls me to recognize that there is a time and a place for me, for us, and others, to be challenged…to be called to peel back the layers and look more closely at the root or the source that is driving us and motivating us.

On the surface, unconditional love may be mistaken for blanket approval. However, the road that is paved both on the surface and with nothing but approval and praise at every turn is called deceit. It leads to sinkholes, degrades the conscience, encourages indifference and ultimately, leads to defeat.

To the contrary, unconditional love does not need to be covered up. Where it exists, pretending, hiding or the stifling of thoughts and feelings, cannot. That is because its very nature calls for acceptance, honesty, and forthrightness; not exclusive of each other, but altogether and intertwined with each other.

So how can one know or sense the presence of unconditional love? For starters, where unconditional love exists, there is freedom…freedom to be oneself, but never at the expense of others and always alongside them. Another telltale sign, true love is never in a vacuum. It extends beyond oneself and beyond the relationship. Finally, and most importantly, unconditional love is always through the grace of God. Pray for it and you will receive it. Cherish it and it will flow through you.

“…Love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:5  

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I’m Listening (or at least trying)…

When God calls us, it is never in vain. No matter what God asks of us, it comes with a promise that we will not walk alone. God walks with us, strengthens us and enables us to answer the call as we go along. When we feel as if we are walking alone, it is often at our own hands. We have run ahead or stopped listening, leaving God behind. In those moments, we need to slow down and wait for God’s direction. It will come; eventually it always does.

Just this past week, I wrote the above statement. It is a belief that has formed and grown stronger over time and I have come to embrace it with all of my heart and soul. How can I be sure of it? How or when will God’s direction come? I cannot say. The answer is different for each person and each situation. Part of it is, and will remain, mystery. While I do not know all the details, I do know, and believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the answer will come through prayer…answered prayer. Whether it is through my own prayer or that of others praying for me, or another, or a particular situation, God hears all those prayers and answers them in ways that are far greater than we could ever imagine and that are for the benefit of all involved, and beyond, even if we cannot see it. All we have to do is look at history, our own, and that of the world around us, to see God’s boundless mercy, love, compassion… the hand of God.

If there is one thing that experience has taught me, it is that when I place my hope and trust in God, any situation, no matter how “good” or “bad” it appears, can be a blessing. God’s faithfulness to God’s people (each, and every, person who humbly calls out to God, with a sincere, open heart) throughout history, despite our shortcomings, is truly amazing. Think about it.

In what ways has God blessed us throughout our lifetime? In what ways has God rescued us from the wilderness? What can we do with the gifts and blessings we have been granted?

Recently, I saw this quote, “All through nature, you will find the same law. First the need, then the means.” (Robert Collier, Author). While there may be a temptation to attribute “the means” (or the answer) to people of great knowledge, great wealth, or great luck, I cannot help but think of the Great Creator. That is, the One who not only loved us into existence, but who also grants us the time, the talent, and the heart to find a way to meet the need without becoming self-centered and self-serving.

What wondrous things occur when we cooperate with the grace of God! When we answer that call…respond to that nudge, or when we simply start the day, or whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether it is in waiting for direction or moving into action, with, “Here I am, Lord. Help me to desire that which You desire. Let Thy will be done through me.”

The Summons (lyrics by John L. Bell & Graham Maule)

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.    

Follow The Yellow Brick Road…

As The Wizard of Oz cast took their bows, I felt a surge of emotion. What a blessing to witness such a production and to see the smiles on all of those faces. In the moments before the curtain closed, I found myself holding back tears as I marveled at the journey to this point.

While I only know the specifics of the journey and the growth that belongs to two of those many faces, I found myself feeling so happy for, and proud of, all of them…the whole team. I had seen the way they worked together and encouraged each other. My heart so touched by it.

In just three short weeks, there were roles assigned, parts learned, direction given and taken, and a whole lot of collaborating, cooperating and working together. Talk about tasting and seeing the goodness of God! There was value placed in every part of the show from the smallest of roles to the biggest; no one part was bigger than the whole.

These children and teens led by young adults had accomplished what often seems to be virtually impossible in the adult world. That is, genuine harmony (not just getting along to go along). They were able to focus on being the best they could be, individually and collectively; and never at the expense of any one member. They were able to cheer each other on, lift each other up, and to see and celebrate each other’s gifts.

They did not tear each other down. They did not allow their differences or envy, jealousy, fear, anxiety, or insecurity to get in the way. No, instead they were driven by the common desire for the show to succeed. This did not mean there were to be no mistakes or that there was an expectation of perfection. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the show was when something did not go according to plan and everyone rallied around each other and improvised. There were no fingers pointing or eyes rolling. It was so interesting, too, to see how the vibe from the backstage and then the stage carried over into the audience. It was so refreshing to be in such a positive, life-giving environment.

So how did this happen? I believe it happened by adhering to the golden rule and treating each, and every, person with dignity and respect. That is what good leaders do. Not only that, but they also inspire others to follow their example. Thank you, Heather for allowing the Spirit of God to shine, lighting the way for others.