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September 6, 2017

Love has become nothing more than a cute word in our day and age. The word is so misused that it has lost all of its meaning and power to affect us. The pithy quotes about love I saw hanging in homes during our journey was a reminder of the hypocritical uselessness of the concept of love the world has adopted. Love, for me, has to go deeper than the saccharine, syrupy quotes that are bandied about. It is so sad to see because love, real love, the sacrificial love that costs us everything, is more powerful than all the hate the world can aspire to.

When Wanda and I had our spiritual renewal in the late 90’s we both began to hunger for Jesus like never before. Out of that desperate yearning a cry rose in my heart that turned into a prayer that God answered. You see, I grew up in a loveless home and spent much of my childhood and youth alone. I did not have any friends and loneliness was my faithful companion. So when God stirred my heart again I cried out to know what love was. There was a song by Chicago that became my prayer, “I want to know what love is. I want you to show me.” For someone who grew up without love I was desperate to understand love and the love of the One who laid down His life for me.

In crying out to know what love was I was really asking to know Him Who is love. I didn’t fully understand that at the time but I did know that I knew nothing about love. I had so misspent my youth that I did not know love nor could I show it properly to others. Like all people I would have to be properly trained in love if I was to be His. The only way I could learn to love would be to submit to His leading and let Him show me. Although I could not love, I could obey. That was enough for God to work with. It is also the first lesson of love I ever learned. “Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way for it is not self-seeking;” 1 Cor. 13:5. Obedience to His will is the first step I learned to do in the dance of love. If I was to learn what love is I had to obey the One who is love.

The next lesson I had to learn in love was to deal with my past. “Love takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].” 1 Cor. 13:5. Since I had learned to drink harm from others I had to be trained how to drink nurture from God. This was a tough lesson and took many years to learn. Eventually I was led by God through a deep healing process over my past and was able to be set free. When I had learned to let go, forgive others and was forgiven, I was learning how to love. Despite what had been said and done to me I had to bring it all to Jesus’ cross. There was no act of ‘self’ done by me or against me that was greater than His sacrifice. Nothing. When I was set free from my past I found there was no root in me that satan could pull on to pull me away from Jesus. I was no longer in pain in those areas of my life and I did not react as I once did. “Love is not touchy or fretful or resentful;” 1 Cor. 13:5.

Jesus’ example of love when He was on earth and His constant love towards me kept teaching me how to love. I began to learn that I am not love, He is. I do not have love in me, I can only accept His love and reflect that love to others. It was only in letting Him destroy the ‘self’ in me that He was able to create an ever clearer reflection of His love through me. This required that I simply continue surrendering my ‘self’ nature to Him. In this way I learned another basic of love, “Love is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. Love is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride);” I Cor. 13:4-5. By letting Jesus destroy my pride in my ‘self’ I was set free to love. My identity was to be found in Him alone and not in anything I could ‘do’ for Him. Pride and love are mutually exclusive.

When Jesus began leading us on our wilderness journey, we had to make some very brutal decisions. Those raw decisions revolved around letting go of many things we held dear. Giving up is never easy, especially when that which you are giving up is precious to you. We had a stark reality ahead of us and we had to decide if we would give up everything to follow Jesus or not. It was at these moments of intense spiritual battle where we gained great victory by letting go of the temporal so we could receive the eternal. After we had given up, Jesus rewarded us with another lesson in love. “Love never is envious nor boils over in jealousy,” I Cor. 13:4. In letting go of stuff we now could receive more of Him and the pull of the things of earth disintegrated. It was a tremendously revelation of freedom knowing that we would not have to lust over things as He would provide all that we needed.

As we journeyed in homelessness we met many who abused us verbally. Their words cut into us deep. I cannot say those words did not hurt for they did, painfully so. Jesus, however, was leading us and we had to look to Him to heal the wounds others inflicted on us. It was a choice of either taking all the pain to Him and being set free, or holding the pain inside and becoming bitter. We met too many bitter people that thought evil of us and we did not want to be like them. We decided as a family to take our pain to the One who took all our pain on His cross. By this act we learned another great lesson of love. “Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person,” 1 Cor. 13:7. We either had to forgive and love those who hated us or be consumed by hatred for them. We had to learn to reflect Jesus’ love for others, even when they tore us to shreds with their words. This did not mean we just took the blows smiling, we did not. Sometimes we had to stand up against the vicious attack and stop them but we did so carefully. “Love is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly.” 1 Cor. 13:5. On a rare occasion a person would see what they were doing and repent. It is very rare but it does happen. At these times we celebrated that they were sensitive enough to yield to God’s Spirit. “Love does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.” 1 Cor. 13:6.

There was one final lesson of love that we learned as we walked through many years of hardship, struggle and homelessness. It was the greatest lesson of all and the hardest to learn. It is so important that Paul mentions it no less than 5 times in 1 Corinthians 13. It is this lesson that only those who give up all and follow Jesus truly learn. It is the lesson of patient enduring love. “Love endures long and is patient and kind; Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, Love’s hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and Love endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].’” 1 Cor. 13:4,7-8. It was this love of Jesus that stood with us during our whole wilderness time. In standing with Him we learned to endure through every hardship and not quit. It is this love that goes the distance when you are hungry, tired, cold, wet, alone and miserable. It is Jesus’ love that held us tight when all of hell was unleashed against us. It was the love of the Father that kept us safe during the dark stormy nights. This is the love that endures long and never failed us. This is why we did not quit.

I have used Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 as a backdrop to describe a little about what we learned of love. If I were to describe all we learned about love it would be a very thick book. Paul’s words have been our plumb line for understanding love for a very long time. His admonition to love is much needed today. There is a warning, however, that I feel must be given to those who read our story and think that they could repeat such a journey without Jesus’ leading. In 1 Cor. 13:1-3 Paul states, “If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.” No enterprise, regardless of how lofty the intent, will succeed if there is no love of God in it. Love is the beginning and the end. Without love there is nothing.

This love I have talked about here is not the love of the pithy quote or off-hand comment, no, it is the deep, practical, sacrificial love that gives up all for Jesus. This is the love Jesus showed us on the cross when He endured all for us and did not quit. His abiding presence with us is His love. He is the great Son to our reflective moon. We bring Him great joy when we are so aligned to His will that we accurately reflect His love to others on this earth. To gain that goal you must allow Him to mold and shape you, to remove all dross, the ‘self’ nature in you, so you are pure before Him. Only then will you properly reflect His love to others.