Love That Overcomes Hate

First Story
A few days ago, as I walked into Walmart a man at the door approached me. “I am homeless,” he said, “would you have a bit of change for me?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, “come with me.” As we walked back to the car, I said, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and love to help someone when I can.” I reached into a small bin below the dash and filled both hands with coins that I had been accumulating for just such an opportunity as this. When he held the pile of coins in his hands, he looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “Thank you, God bless you.”

“May God bless you too,” I said.

A Statement of Love and Acceptance
I have used that line, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and like to help when I can,” many times in all sorts of circumstances; from simply holding the door for someone carrying a bag or a baby, to stopping behind a car that had suffered a deer strike, and spending a messy twenty minutes pulling the dead animal back out through the windshield and extricating the passengers from the wreckage. And even when being courteous in traffic, motioning silently to another driver, I mentally repeat that line.

I wish I could tell you that I never act selfishly or get upset at other people. Just ask anyone who knows me well, like my wife and family. I often fail in my walk of love. We are human and Satan and his demons are the source of hate against God, and he looks for ways to destroy us who are God’s children. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) That is why in my morning prayer time I often pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13)

Second Story
A few hours after the Walmart encounter, in one ten-minute television news segment, I saw and heard people with faces distorted by rage and mouths pouring out a rant of hate against those responsible for implementing an—at that time—politically correct method for integrating indigenous school children into Canadian culture. Others expressed deep disgust at the concept of June being the Rainbow month celebrating gender diversity. I heard a report of a twenty-year old driver, presumably filled with hate, who rammed his truck into a family of five Muslims walking peacefully on the sidewalk, killing four, making one orphan, and himself into a murderer.

God’s Opinion of Love and Hate
Hate is the opposite of love. Hate comes from Satan: love comes from God. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Love is the central concept of God’s two greatest commands. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Love is the identifying characteristic of followers of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Application of Love
It is relatively easy to love other followers of Jesus. What is not as easy is loving those who hate us, curse us, and do nasty things against us—from something benign like cutting us off in traffic, to treating us who are Jesus-followers as utterly self deluded and a hindrance to social progress. Which of us have not yielded to the temptation of speaking disparagingly of anti-God political parties? Yet, Jesus also commanded his followers to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-44).

May the God who loves us, help us to consistently love others—all the people He brings into our lives, including those who are still led by the evil one.

Commitment is Not Enough

A song popularized long ago by Dean Martin has the lines,

Try standing on a corner, watching all the girls go by.
You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking,
Or for that wooed look in your eye.

True, you won’t go to jail for mentally ravishing those girls, but you may go to a worse place.

A God-given Talent
We human beings, in contrast to animals, are the species with a highly developed ability to think, to imagine, and to visualize. We have the amazing God-given talent to picture in our mind something that doesn’t yet exist, to mentally create situations that have not happened.

God’s gifts are perfect and meant for our good. But Satan seeks to pervert these good gifts. He tempts people to misuse every good thing God provides. For instance, God gave us the capacity to use words to speak the truth and to encourage, but Satan turns that to lying and cursing.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the use of our imagination. Every kind deed, every self-sacrificing action anyone has ever done on earth, started as a thought in someone’s head. So did every evil, selfish deed.

The Power of Imagination
Jesus, knowing the power of imagination, warned his male hearers to stop looking at women and imagine having sex with them. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he said. And He could have added, “If you keep on thinking that way, you will eventually commit the actual, physical act with her or someone like her.”

Over time, we human beings tend to accomplish the things we think about imaginatively. The stronger and more emotionally we respond to our focused thinking and visualizing, the surer the eventual outcome will match our mental picture.

Researchers showed that our imagination is even stronger than our will. They drew a vertical and a horizontal line on a square sheet of paper dividing it into four equal squares. They asked each subject to hold one end of a half-metre long piece of string with a small weight at the bottom, extend their arm and firmly commit to holding the weight directly above the intersected lines in the centre of the paper.

The researcher then told him, “Close your eyes while holding the weight steadily over the intersection, but imagine it is swinging back and forth from left to right.”
In nearly every case, the weight would soon start to swing from left to right.

Marriage as an Example
Imagining and fantasizing overrides firm decisions and commitment. Marriage is an excellent example. A couple will make a firm decision to be faithful to each other and make a public commitment during their wedding ceremony. But if either of those spouses consistently fantasizes about being intimate with other people, that marriage is doomed. Over time, the tendency is for that fantasy to become real. The poet Emerson was right when he said, “People are what they think about all day long.”

So, what should you and I think about? Here’s the apostle Paul’s advice: “Whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:8.

Reinforce Commitment with Imagination
My wife and I committed to serve the Canela people of Brazil by translating the Word of God for them. We then reinforced that commitment by using our God-given imagination as for over twenty years, we mentally pictured Canela villagers reading the Bible in their own language and applying its truths to their lives. Decades later, what we had consistently imagined so strongly became a reality as Canelas read the Scriptures and started cleaning up the negative, destructive and messy things that Satan had introduced into their culture.

To build enduring, satisfying marriages, both spouses need to commit to spending the rest of their lives with each other. That is a given. But how many of us married folk commit every day to fantasize, dream, and imagine intimacy only with each other?

And do we keep that commitment even when we are standing on a corner and happen to see an attractive person of the opposite sex going by?


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.