A Valentine Paraphrase of the Love Chapter 

First Some History
During the severe persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire in the third century AD, a church leader named Valentinus was secretly marrying Christian couples. He did this in spite of the edict from Emperor Claudius II forbidding young men to marry since he wanted them to be soldiers with no ties to home and family. Valentinus was arrested, and when he would not renounce his faith was condemned to be beaten with clubs and beheaded.

While in jail, Valentinus became friends with the jailer’s blind daughter with whom he had long conversations. The day before his execution he wrote her a loving farewell note signing it, “From your Valentine.” He was executed on February 14, 270 AD. Two-hundred and twenty-six years later, Pope Gelasius designated this date to honor his martyrdom, the patron saint of love and marriage.

A Day for Lovers
Valentine’s day, and hundreds of thousands of Valentine’s cards were exchanged by husbands and wives, and by boyfriends and girlfriends all across the western world. Last Sunday, thousands of preachers seized the opportunity to speak of God’s love, very likely using 1 Corinthians 13 as their text.

And rightly so. God, after all, is love. He is the living embodiment of every line of that great Love Chapter. I remember memorizing it in the Shakespearian language of the King James Authorised Version. “Charity suffereth long and is kind. Charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself.”

But what matters is not if we memorize it, or in what version we read it, but, rather, how we implement the truth of these lovely words with the people who we encounter every day.

Each act of love is a choice. A life of love is made up of thousands of moment to moment choices. Choosing to love our spouse, partner, child, friend, or even our enemy means more than mouthing those three words: “I love you.” When we say “I love you” to someone, God wants us to mean this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paraphrased
Verse 4
You may at times exasperate me, but because I love you, I will choose to be patient with you.
You may at times treat me badly, but because I love you, I will be kind to you.
You may be much superior to me in many ways, but because I love you, I will not envy you.
I may be superior to you in some ways, but because I love you, I will not brag about myself to you, nor be proud of who I am or of what I have done.

Verse 5
You may at times be rude to me, but because I love you, I will not be rude to you.
You may at times be headstrong and opinionated, but because I love you, I will never manipulate you to get my own way.
You may at times do or say things I don’t like, but because I love you, I will not respond in anger.
You may at times do things to hurt me or wrong me in some way, but because I love you, I will forgive you and not keep track of them.

Verse 6
You may at times make life hard for me, but because I love you, I will always persevere in doing what is right and deepening our relationship.

Verse 7
Because I love you, I will always support you, always trust you, and always expect the best of you, giving you the benefit of any doubt.
You might let me down, but because I love you, I will never fail you.

Love in Action
This is exactly how God loves us. Obviously, this standard goes far beyond human love. This is the way God wants to love others through us: through our hands, our feet, our voices, our writings, our help.

This is also the way He loves hundreds of billions of people who do not yet know Him. Just think, 1,620 people groups have yet to receive God’s Valentine’s card, the Bible, in their language.

The Letter from Ireland

“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our friends, fellow linguists and Bible translators in Brazil telling us this surprised and confused us. What are they talking about? we wondered.

The Report
We had just reported at a regional conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela, so we can teach people to read their own language. We have more helpers than we know what to do with.”

The Complaints
It turned out that some of our friends struggled to be accepted by the people in their villages. Some complained that they couldn’t find anyone willing to pronounce words repeatedly, so they could learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.

Jo and I had no idea why God was blessing our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way. It certainly wasn’t because we paid the villagers so well. Our income was well below where it should have been, and we simply couldn’t pay any more than the bare minimum.

The Letter
Then, one day, we received a letter from an Irishman named Joe that explained it all:

“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Jo,
I just heard that you were assigned to translate the Word of God for the Canela people of Brazil and I am delighted. In the 1920s I was a young missionary traveling from one village to another evangelizing the Portuguese speaking Brazilians. One day my companions and I stumbled on a village we had not known was there. The people couldn’t understand Portuguese, and we couldn’t understand anything they said. Moreover, they were a fierce looking group, carrying clubs, spears and large bush knives. We did not want to stay the night there. So we traveled on and slept in the jungle.”

The Answer
He went on to tell us that he later discovered this people group was called the Canela. Then he told us a little more about himself, and we were astonished to read that he started to pray for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born!

He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter to us.

He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela and Jesus built His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.

The Prayer Project
After Jo and I left Brazil, we were involved in an intensive public speaking ministry throughout Canada and the United States. After two years, we spoke at a conference in Surinam, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. It was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.

We walked from house to house greeting our Canela friends and renewing acquaintance with them. We also took pictures of individuals, groups, couples, and families. We kept a careful record of the names of each person on the picture and how they were related to the others.

When we returned home, we printed out the four-hundred pictures and the names. Then during the next speaking tour, I told the story of Joe the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would like to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”

When volunteers came to ask for a picture and a name, I warned them that they would be praying “in the dark” with no updated information, just as the Irishman had prayed. Even so, after a few months, four-hundred individual prayer warriors across North America volunteered to pray for the Canelas on the pictures.

The Rest of the Story
I still receive notes from people telling me they continue to pray. One lady wrote, “I signed up to pray for a little three-year-old girl over twenty years ago. I have been praying for her every day and updating her age. I am now praying for her as a twenty-five-year-old wife and mother of children.”

God continues to bless the work of the missionaries currently in the village who promote the reading and studying of His Word. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.

This is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. The Irishman was involved in prayer for most of his life. God invited Jo and me to spend thirty years of our lives in training, linguistics, teaching, and translation. Others are involved in giving and prayer.

Some of us, like Jo and I, have seen the results of our work. Others, like those praying “in the dark” will only see the results, and receive God’s reward, in eternity.

The Two Notes

“We hate you, we reject you, and we never want to see your faces in our village again!”

The note, signed by the young Canela chief of a new village, was addressed to Jo and me. Soon friends ran up to tell us the same kind of message had been sent to the chief and the leaders of the old, main Canela village where we lived as Bible translating missionaries in Brazil.

That note hurt!  Jo and I had been adopted many years before by Canela families, and the chief of the new village was a younger brother in my extended family. He and I had always gotten along well, and now this.

The Power Struggle
The previous year when some families talked of starting another village in a location near a different creek, everyone thought it was a good idea since the main village was getting a bit crowded. People from both villages helped to build homes, clear jungle, and plant manioc fields in the new location. But after a year, relationships deteriorated into a political power struggle between the two chiefs, each wanting the most people in his village.  And now, after weeks of vicious gossip, the new village chief and leaders had sent notes breaking off all relations with those of us in the old village. According to their oral history, this mutual hate between related villages was a long-standing tradition.

Our Response
Jo and I talked and prayed together and then sent back the following letter:
“Dear younger brother chief,
We received your note and read it, and it seems that you hate us and reject us and never want to see us again.  We don’t know why you feel that way.  Maybe someone lied to you about us.  We want to remind you that we are of Jesus’ group and, therefore, we don’t hate you back, nor do we reject you.  Instead, we love you now and always will.  To prove that we love you, we are sending twenty litres of lamp oil and thirty kilos of salt for you to distribute to all the people in the new village.
Your older brother.”

Angry Words
After we sent the letter and the gifts we faced a barrage of angry words from our relatives and friends in our village.

“Why did you send them gifts?  Don’t they hate us all?  That’s fine. We hate them back. We don’t need them.  Just let them sit out there in the dark without lamp oil. Let them eat tasteless food. They hate and reject us. Fine, we’ll hate and reject them!”

That evening the elders’ council called me to attend their meeting in the village plaza to listen to the chief and his counselors.  Each one spoke his piece.  All had the same theme.

“They hate and reject us, so, therefore, we’ll hate and reject them.  Also, we don’t understand why our friend sent them gifts in exchange for their insult.”

Then the chief turned to me and said,
“They even treated you that way, when all you have ever done is good. You taught them to read and write. You gave them medicine. You’ve never done anything against any of them.  I don’t know why you sent them that gift.  I hate them on your behalf!” He lapsed into silence, and I asked permission to speak.

My Explanation
“I want to talk to you,” I said.  “I’m not just going to give you my thoughts about this; I’m going to tell you what Our Great Father in the Sky thinks about this.”

I then went on to tell the chief, the elders council, and the village men gathered to listen what Jesus taught about how to treat our enemies.  I quoted Jesus and his orders to do good to those who hate us, to feed our enemies, and let them insult us. They listened, scowling and muttering to each other.  In the end, they said they still didn’t understand, but they wouldn’t be upset with me anymore for having sent the gift.

“Anyway,” they said, “it might make that group over there feel ashamed of themselves.”

Jo and I went to bed that night with happy hearts, possibly the only happy hearts in either village.

The Second Note
Three days later another note arrived from my younger brother chief—one with a startlingly different message.
“We’ve changed our mind. We don’t hate you, and we want to make peace.  You can come to our village any time you want.”

Whew! Thank you, Jesus!

It still took some months—a centuries-old culture based on mutual hatred doesn’t change overnight—but the bad feeling between the villages had begun to dissipate. Eventually, the Canelas turned the new village area into a joint manioc raising project, and the inhabitants began returning to the main village.

Jo and I were delighted that besides translating God’s Word in the Canelas’ language, we had a God-given, perfect public opportunity to translate His Word into action for everyone to see.

After this demonstration, no one in either village had any doubt that change was possible and that a new ethos of mutual love and acceptance could someday replace the old spirit of hatred and rejection.

A New Habit for a New Year

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first InSights & OutBursts after our Christmas blogging break. I had intended to write and post this last week, but The Flu got Jo and, since we were driving down in the motorhome she couldn’t help but share it with me, so we were both “out of it” for over a week.

A New Line in My Diary
Although I have been writing a daily diary of some sort for over half a century, this time I added a new emphasis.

Five years ago, Jo and I started writing down special things that we were grateful for that happened during the previous week or so. We usually do this as part of our shared devotional time. The result is a list of well over a hundred items each year that have moved us to give thanks to God.

This year, however, I was impressed with the large amount of negativity in world news. Politics, personalities, and problems of every kind, all of them negative and leading me to think negative thoughts. So, I wanted to discipline myself to notice even more things in the world, and in my personal life, for which to praise and thank God. I, therefore, added a ‘Gratitude:’ tickler line to my diary template to remind me every day to think through the previous twenty-four hours to search for something, somewhere that would be praise worthy.

The First Two Weeks Beta Test
New Year’s Day we packed up our 22-year-old motorhome and started driving to California to visit our American family as well as some financial and prayer partners. Naturally getting out of the snow and ice and into green grass and T-shirt weather later that week, was the filler for one Gratitude line! So was a day when we made good progress, without any problems.

But the next day a half a dozen nasty surprises jumped out at us. As I was writing up that day’s negative events that happened to us personally, I wondered if there would be anything at all for which to be grateful. But it jumped right out at me from my own writings! Twice, we had to deal with a dead battery in the car we were towing, and twice men appeared, within minutes, who were happy to bring their vehicles around to boost the battery.

The Satisfying Results
Since “God’s compassions are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23), I committed myself to think of something new to be grateful for every day, and not mention something I had already written up earlier, even though I was still thankful for it.

Based on my experience of the past couple of weeks, I am already sensing some differences in my thought life. I tend to more readily follow the apostle Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Our Focus: The ruined trailer or the brilliant rainbow?

Although there are terrible things happening in the world all around us, I keep focusing on the positive aspects. There may be a horrible disaster, but God’s love remains steadfast  and no matter what the negative circumstance is, He can “replace a spirit of despair with a garment of praise” (Isa 61:3) And, as my general thinking grows more positive, my faith in God’s power, love and wisdom grows stronger. Being grateful for something specific and new is probably a good, new habit to develop at the start of a new year!

What good, new thing are you starting this new year?