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*Special thanks to Shila and Pragna for their encouragement and inspiration*

Still Learning After All These Years!

I’m almost seventy one years of age and at times I feel as though I'm just beginning to "get it". Get what, you might wonder. “Get” how emphatically important "love" is to God as displayed through His creation to His creation. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that it's the "ultimate aspect" of our lives He most enjoys viewing and hearing. 

While recently reading the following passage from Ephesians I found a further layer of meaning being applied to love’s beneficial content. While loving, the lover, is automatically rewarded by God with an abundant wealth of priceless, life enhancing, nuggets of spiritual gold! Love, while  initially being imparted for the benefit of others, actually  boomerangs and sets us up for entry into all the spiritual riches this scripture reveals so beautifully. According to the bible there’s no doubt, love is the pre-requisite to all else! Love is "first" and "non-optional" in the pecking order of importance to God's heart.

Ephesians 3 - 16 > 21

The Apostle Paul writing: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”.

It would seem clear, that one cannot truly experience in themselves nor impart to others the "fullness of God" without first and foremost being rooted and established in His love. Love above all else is our directive with the promise from God that "the rest" will follow by His all-sufficient provisional grace. In laymen’s terms: First things first. If we don’t get “this” the rest won’t matter.

The Rest?

The phrase "the rest" is interesting. It has two different meanings both of which are applicably appropriate in the light of our chat. I actually don’t write books, I chat using a keyboard!

"The rest" can mean that which God provides us with as we take seriously His call to love as a first step to many more. The previously mentioned benefits that are the rippling effect heaven applies to our surrender to God’s will for our lives. The add-ons that naturally arrive when first things are addressed first! Folks, it’s a strangely confusing atmosphere to live in when we find ourselves contemplating step two before step one has truly been aligned with God’s heart.

But there is also "the rest" our souls can enjoy by voluntarily deferring to a walk of love when options to refrain tempt our flesh. You know those “nasty difficult times” when the annoying  circumstances of life allure us with their justification information being whispered in our ears that "just this one time" it would probably be OK to abstain as justified by the circumstances.

But it's in "those times" we hear Jesus saying: Everyone loves those who love them, but I say, because you are not “everyone”, to love your "enemies" as if they were your friends because I did from a cross. Folks, following Jesus is not complicated but it is most assuredly challenging! To fully embrace a Jesus who didn’t look for reasons “not to love” is a daunting task. In that He didn’t, we shouldn’t! If we do we will most certainly find them with little effort! But in doing so we circumvent our reason, purpose, and calling from God’s viewpoint. It’s tragic for us to act like “everyone”!

This is amazingly true all things considered: During His thirty three year sojourn on earth, Jesus never once raised a fist in anger to anyone! It is He who rebuked Peter with these words: If you live by the sword you will die by the sword. That was after Peter had cut off a soldiers ear in an attempt to protect Christ from being captured in the Garden Of Gethsemane. In the middle of that chaotic atmosphere our Lord’s main concern was for the soldier as He took the time to re-attach the man’s ear before being dragged away in chains.

If the cross isn’t enough as a standard to align ourselves with when it comes to love, consider this and let its breath-taking illumination marinate in your heart: The last person amongst the many that Jesus healed while on earth, was the soldier who had come to arrest Him!

Jesus healed His enemy! He spent his last few moments of freedom meeting the need of one who hated Him! Folks, Jesus was radiantly consistent to the very end according to His Father’s purpose for His life! As He said: I didn’t come to be served but rather serve. And He did, always!

I would think if there was ever a time not to love, “that time” in the Garden would qualify as justifiable? But isn’t that the real point? Jesus never looked for reasons “not to”! Jesus would caution: Just because it’s justifiable doesn’t make it right for you my beloved. Your standard is not of this world, it’s of My world!

During the same time frame and just prior to Gethsemane while having His “last meal” with His disciples, Jesus bent His Holy knees to wash the feet of Judas, all the while knowing that those same feet would walk the path of betrayal a short time later.

Friends, Jesus had a veritable plethora of daily reasons “not to love” every moment He was on earth. But our Lord chose “not to”, “not to”. You see, within its most highly purposed essence love is not an emotion but rather a choice! It’s true value is only confirmed in its most difficult times to activate. It’s only in those times we discover if the love we are using is fair-weather to some and all-weather to a selective few. Jesus was as far from “selective” as one can imagine!

God is Love!

As stated by John in his gospel: “God is love”, therefore it stands to reason that He created us to love, not only Him but equally important, each other. How’s this for clarity? “If you say you love God and yet hate your brother or sister, you are lying and the truth is not in you”! So who is my brother or sister? Well, seeing as we have the same Heavenly Father/Creator and seeing as it is He who is speaking, my brother or sister would be YOU!

Jesus is the perfect reflection and mirror image of God. He said: ”If you’ve seen and heard Me, you’ve seen and heard my Father in heaven thus Jesus is equally the embodiment of love. From whatever perspective you view Him, you see only love!

We are scripturally described as branches connected to the “True Vine” who is Jesus. It is from Him only we derive our needed daily sustenance for a healthy, abundant, spiritual life. I’ve said before but it’s worthy of repeating: “Branches don’t produce fruit they bear fruit and the world gets to share what we bear”. Thus the importance of connectivity. We are mandated to love as we’ve been loved by our “True Vine” Jesus. Connectivity assures us the wherewithal to do so as our Lord’s love is poured into us His branches, producing fruit that is to be an exact reflection of the Producer’s heart. In short: The responsibility of a branch is to faithfully display not produce!

Just One Thing?

Jesus said so very clearly: "By this one thing (love) everyone will know you are Mine"! Not by our astute political insights nor by our intellectual prowess nor by our ability to debate others nor by our denominational rightness nor by our bank account balances. These are the things we use to impress ourselves with ourselves but Jesus added no such inclusions as to our identity as being "obviously" His to the world.

It has been said that there are those, who after following Jesus their whole lives, leave loved ones surprised at their funerals to discover they were Jesus People. Did they not say enough? Perhaps, but the most likely conclusion is they didn't “love enough” with what they said. Their actions didn’t confirm their words as having legitimacy, thus those words were dismissed. In one ear and out the other!

Let’s shift this very real dilemma from a singular example at a funeral home to a broader all-inclusive viewpoint, which includes personal responsibility. Question: When we as individual members of the body of Christ get dismissed does Jesus himself not equally get dismissed as collateral damage to our unloving or selective loving mind sets? I don’t see why not seeing as we claim to represent Him. Oh how often we have left the Lord to navigate around a terrible presentation. We may have said all the right things but if our “love quality” doesn’t match our words, our behavior negates it all. The world is saying: Don’t tell me, show me how your Jesus loves. I think that’s a fair request when we consider our claims.

Not wanting to put words in the mouth of Jesus, but our Lord could have said: They will know you are Mine by your self-less transparent display of My love in all you say and do, not in how much you know. He could have further added: It is not “what you know” that should be on display but rather “Who you know”. It is I who is the determining factor to you being heard.

In short, and I think to be considered with spiritual sobriety as seriously important to God: We aren’t here to "prove something" to others but rather represent “Someone” to those very same others. That Someone is Jesus! If what I proclaim isn't enveloped in love, then what I proclaim  is for not, even though it may be truer than true? This is the danger of spiritual intellectualism. That which is learned can stay lodged in the mind when it needs to move south to the heart to achieve its meant to be impact.

I sing and I write and boy do I talk! But if the motive propelling my activity isn't rooted in love, I am biblically described as being no more than "noise". On the other hand, if I am rooted in love, God partners with the activity thus making it matter with His anointing!

Singular Purpose?

It’s a common question amongst us followers of Christ. What is my “purpose” according to God. I think we at times confuse “purpose” with “ministry”. While ministry reveals the “what” we do, purpose reveals the ”why” we do what we do.

Paul stated our “singular divine purpose” as "Christ Followers" with shocking clarity in Galatians 5 - 6 as he wrote: "The only thing that counts is faith". Now, if Paul would have simply stopped there with a full stop period as I conveniently implemented we'd all feel much better about our lives "counting" in the big picture of God's kingdom. “We’ve got big faith so we’re good to go”, could be our “battle cry”! But Paul removes my implemented “full stop period of convenience” and by doing so manages to get my undivided attention! He causes me to put my victory dance on hold for a moment as I sense he has something of importance to add. As I lean in and listen to brother Paul’s conclusion he drops the proverbial “other foot”!

You see the Apostle Paul wasn’t quite finished yet as he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned this "qualifier " to complete the thought: "Faith expressing itself through love". Oh, Oh! So it’s not just faith but rather faith being expressed through love “is all that counts”. It was also Paul who said: "If I have the faith to move mountains but have not love, I have nothing and am nothing. Dear friends should I state the obvious? Nothing isn’t very much!

Well, that truth snapped my head back causing me sit up and take notice. You see it strongly suggests this chilling possibility to my heart. I can live out my entire life invested in all manner  of "good things" and yet utterly miss "my purpose", if my behavior's foundational premise isn't rooted in an all-inclusive love “for all” as is reflective of Christ’s love! Now folks, I know I’m not to fear anything as directed by Jesus but I do fear “that” as having any possibility of becoming my reality. I also sense “that” can happen far more easily that I’m comfortable imagining.

The Template Is Jesus!

We love Jesus for a very good reason. Because He first loved us! Therefore, we should desire to emulate His love for the same very good reason. We should be “first to love” in our interactions with others. Just imagine for a quick moment: He loved us and loves us when we were and are our least lovable! His love never changes, That's the sweetly anointed fragrance of grace we are blessed to inhale “freely” with every breath we take! Simply out of gratitude, mustn’t we then to exhale it to others, “equally freely”!

Blessed to be a blessing is our walk’s directive. This indwelling river of life we enjoy must flow in and through us, never to be hoarded. Water than ceases to move becomes stagnant. It loses its ability to “refresh” our thirst. In time it becomes “irrelevant” to others and ourselves. It’s in the flow of this heavenly substance that we find ourselves re-imbursed and re-immersed with new water daily.

The "For God so loved the World cross of Christ" leaves no doubt nor room for internal debate that Jesus has removed selectivity from our purposed heavenly mandate in Him! Does it then not make sense that we should voluntarily comply if we are going to follow this Jesus?

Jesus has established our template of conduct as one immersed in a commitment to self-less love. Not surprisingly in the slightest, it aligns itself perfectly with the one Jesus used while on earth. The instructional scripture that comes to mind: “No servant is greater than his Master”. Furthermore we don’t have different templates nor are licenced to create our own. They’re identical for all. That being said: We do get to opt in or out. We don’t “have to” do anything. Loving intimate relationships work best with “want to’s” rather than “have to’s”. So, We have choice. But as I see it, it’s "either or" but not both. “Both” is the worst of both worlds.

Hot Or Cold

Jesus prescribed two temperatures He could deal with. Hot or cold but Jesus cautioned strongly concerning luke-warm. That Jesus would prefer cold to warm I think reveals something of profound importance. Could it be that Jesus knows that “cold” often has a reason for being “cold”, but their ears are still open to His voice, even though they may be vigilantly and angrily cold over an experience that may have shaken their faith. Those who are “cold” might be like the prodigal son who missed home but couldn’t imagine home missing him. Maybe in a quiet moment Jesus will penetrate that heart with the healing news that: “I do miss you child. I watch for your return every night”. Perhaps that’s all it would take for cold to become hot once again.

“Luke warm” tends to have become deaf to God’s voice through complacency. They established their own template and have been living it for a long time on their own terms. They are neither here nor there as they sit comfortably on the fence of double-mindedness. But they are not left out in the cold and summarily ignored as irrelevant by Jesus. Come-backs are His specialty folks! Our Lord “wooingly” appeals to the luke warm heart to “return to their first love and their first love will return to them”. There’s that word again! LOVE!

We All Qualify!

Good news: This offered by God place of spiritual residence is not exclusive for the elite among us but rather an open invitation to the “available” and “willing of heart”. Thus, we all qualify for inclusion and habitation! We need only to move in! Love as a place, is an atmosphere meant for permanent residence not periodic visitation. No looking back once you inhabit!

It's been said, and I so love this clarifying statement: "The quality of our love can be measured by our willingness to be inconvenienced by others". That's the nature of Jesus Christ as I see it! Jesus embodies that truth to a tee!

But may I add a slightly different slant on the same thought. "The quality of our love for Jesus can be measured by our willingness to get over ourselves and get into Him". Equally true and reciprocally fair, don't you think?

Love Always Wins!

When we walk in a full blown, no holds barred, commitment to love we walk in "contentment". You see love doesn't judge it trusts that love will win in the end. Love doesn't try to manipulate victory. Love believes it already has it. Medicating flowery words or actual fact you might ask?  Let’s check it out!

Jesus, though innocent of any wrong doing, hung on a cross like a common criminal. Jesus had options at his disposal but deferred His own well-being for that of the world. What was “fair” never crossed His mind! He had something much bigger in mind than what “fair” was. We can learn something applicable to our lives from that reality!

Motivated only by an immeasurable love "for all" including His executioners He remained silent throughout His ordeal, like a sheep being led to slaughter. While being mocked by his abusers He chose to bless them with forgiveness. Jesus did take a few moments to be sure His mother would be taken care of as He established Mary and John as Mother and Son to each other going forward. The bible describes this unimaginable scene as "No Greater Love". 

The “obvious” for those in attendance that day suggested, as it will in our own lives at times, that love had lost. As our Lord's life blood drained away His breathing simultaneously would have become more and more excruciatingly difficult as the hours passed, with each moment feeling like a "lifetime" to this altogether lovely One from heaven named Jesus. Can we even imagine the pangs of hopelessness and helplessness His adoring onlookers would have felt. They heard His teachings. They saw His miracles. The blind were given sight. The lame and crippled walked. The lepers were given new skin. The dead were raised back to life! They had heard of the woman caught in adultery that Jesus embraced restoring her dignity. There was the prostitute, who once touched by Jesus, became a faithful follower. In fact she was there at the foot of the cross. She was the woman who washed her Lord’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. And now this! This nightmare didn’t make any sense to anyone!

But Jesus, oh but Jesus, in the middle of the most hideous of circumstances looked past the obvious to the "glorious reward" that awaited Him on the "other side" of "obvious". Can you guess what that reward was? US!

You see folks, it is WE who are the living, breathing confirmation that love wins! In the darkest of historied days on planet earth and in the middle of the most "horrific obvious" imaginable, love won!

This is the quality of love we've received "freely". This is the quality of love we are mandated to dispense "freely". Never selectively but always all-inclusively. We must decide if we are going to represent ourselves with our understandable but inexcusable biases or Christ's heart. They are radically different approaches to Christian life. 

But as Jesus said: "If you love as I love, everyone will know you are mine". In reverse order: If you don't they won't. Isn't it interesting how God's loves always compels while everything else repels. Thus it's a powerful "game changer" as we sojourn with our Savior!

I know first-hand when I see those who Jesus allows to cross my path as the one's He saw from His cross, I see them differently. With my visual changed I find my attitude follows suit! Seventy one and still learning. God is so patient with me! I trust His patience is rewarded by my loving behavior toward His creation! All of his creation without exemption or exception!

I spend a lot of time talking to strangers. I actually enjoy the exercise. Perhaps I find its appeal in the shock value I get to see on faces. The most commonly asked question? Why do you care about me, you don’t know me? My standard but truthful response? Because you matter! Again I get the: How do you know I matter, you don’t even know me? To be clear: These folks aren’t nasty just curious. Do you know God uses curiosity to invoke more questions that have a pre-ordained landing spot?

Back to my answer: “You matter because I matter and if you don’t then I don’t. In that I do, you must! It’s both of us or neither of us.

As convoluted as that statement might seem, it always turns a ten minute chat into a one hour conversation with God in the middle! I personally think He likes the thought. He most certainly blesses it. I’ve have no black eyes or broken noses due to my encounters, which I embrace as spiritual treats from my amazing Shepherd. Considering our subject matter I think the thought is worthy of consideration.

To the reader with appreciation. Thank you for giving my 73rd Ebook a read. I sincerely hope it has provided some insight into what I consider a life changing subject. We all do use the word “love” rather flippantly at times. The problem is: Within the context of our flippancy, we try to accommodate the challenges of God’s version of love. That’s like using an inferior product to achieve superior results. It doesn’t work and is frustratingly temporal at best.

When the lesser version begins to seep into my daily reality I look to the cross for re-calibration. While unpleasant as a visual, it does serve to jolt me back into the self-less lifestyle of love I am called to live. That’s the place I find my greatest fulfillment, contentment, and joy. Things seem far less confusing when I abide in that place of love. To be honest: It feels like home! The place I’m supposed to be.

You know an enemy can’t be an enemy without our participation. We have to co-operate with that transaction for it to find its completion. That’s why Jesus said to “LOVE” them. Doors tend to stay open when we LOVE, even if it’s just a crack. Hatred slams them shut! LOVE keeps our souls sweetly fragranced and usable for God. Hatred imparts a poisonous, toxic, stench to our hearts and disables our usefulness. Given a choice in the matter, and we do have one, a toxic stench just doesn’t sound like my cup of tea! I’ve concluded: If it’s hard to love as Jesus loved, it’s harder not to!

My Ministry - Our Ministry

Mark 6 - 38 & 41: “How many loaves do you have He asked?” “Go and see”. When they found out they said, “Five and two fish”. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to His disciples to DISTRIBUTE to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all”. ( Five thousand plus, were fed that day! )

In the biblical story of the “fishes and loaves”, I so clearly see three dynamics in play to achieve the desired completion of the heavenly orchestrated equation. The young boy GAVE what little he had, our Lord then MULTIPLIED it, and the disciples then DISTRIBUTED it.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus, after the multiplying didn’t say, “Come and get it”. What He did say was, “Everyone find a place to sit on the grass and I’ll bring it to you, through my own”. Folks, He loves to involve us. He loves to make us matter! We are blessed beyond measure to be written into, His stories! Just imagine: Invited by Him to participate in His plans for others!

From the inception of the idea of writing books to be made available to “all freely”, there has never been a moment when I haven’t been aware of its ministry context. I could easily be seen as the “young boy” in the story. Jesus has most certainly multiplied my meager offering to Him.

So may I invite and encourage you to be a distributor of that which He has multiplied, thereby elevating “My Ministry” into “Our Ministry”, thus completing “His Ministry”. There’s something about that idea that sounds “perfect” to my heart!

We all have friends, family, work mates, school mates, etc. I’ve included a simple directional on “how to find” the “fishes and loaves”. Please feel free to share “what you eat” with others. You have no idea where it could lead to! That young boy’s mother could never have dreamed, what that little lunch she had prepared for her son on that fateful morning, would produce!

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