The Love Paradox

face in square reflections
Image credit: <a href="">Sweet Cheeks Willie</a>

John 15:9-17

I loved you just like God loved me. Stay in my love.

This is how you stay in my love: do what I say. I do what God says. That’s how I stay in God’s love.

(I’ve told you all this so my happiness can be your happiness. Be completely happy.)

And this is what I’m telling you to do: Love each other, the way I’ve loved you. The ultimate love is to give your life for your friends. If you do this, you’re my friends. Not just my employees with no vested interest in what the employer is doing, but friends with a personal stake in, and a first hand knowledge of, the business.

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you. Now go and do what’s worthwhile, something enduring. On my account, God will give you what you need to make it happen. Do it for the love of one another.

It’s been said, “Love is a verb.”

In this passage, it is both a noun and a verb. It’s received and stayed in (perhaps even basked in) as a noun, and it is given as a verb. It is something both felt and done.

On either end of the love transaction, though, in this passage, what is paramount is that love is something that, both in the giving and the receiving, requires a personal stake.

You can be good to your employees. You can be a good employee. But you can only love a friend.

You can be in a business for the money, or to make a living. But you can only be in love when you’re committed to a project or a person with your life.

Noun or verb, Jesus says love as a personal stake means two things:

First, you can only really be happy – completely happy – when you’re in love. Which is to say, you can only really find that which truly fulfills you when you’re willing to risk giving yourself away.

Second, the project or person worthy of that kind of personal devotion isn’t something that you decide upon. There is no “going away to find yourself.” Rather, it’s something (or someone) that chooses you. It is not finding, but allowing yourself to be found that matters.

What’s In Your Offering?

gift wrapped with bow
Photo credit: <a href="">Dr. Wendy Longo</a>

Malachi 3:8-12

“So you think you can rob God? You think I’m fooled so easily? ‘We’d never do such a thing!’ you say. And yet your charitable contributions and your gifts are empty. Damn the whole lot of you for robbing me. Bring something really worthwhile to my house. If you’re going to bring a gift of food, at least make it something edible. Go ahead, try it! See if I won’t rain down blessing on you. I’ll turn away the locust swarm, so your harvest will be rich. I’ll make sure your vines won’t wilt,” God says.

“Then everyone will say how lucky you are because of how wonderful your land is,” says God.

There’s something to be said for the old saying that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing right.

Especially if you’re doing something for someone. You can’t expect much appreciation for something done with a grudge, or done only half way.

If what you’re offering to someone as a gift isn’t really the best you have to offer, don’t expect them to treasure it.

Most people can see right through a gift insincerely given. Most people can tell when you’re just phoning it in, when your heart’s not really in your work, when you’re putting in time but not putting in the passion. And if most people can tell, any God worth talking about can tell, too.

When you’re putting your passion into your work, and when you’re doing your work as a real offering of love to the world – whatever that work is, whatever service you offer – that’s when things start to move. That’s when people start to come together around your mission. That’s when putting in the effort starts to pay off.

Not to mention, that’s when you will find that in spite of it’s being the hardest work you’ll ever do, it’s the work that will bring you the most happiness.

How to Be Truly Happy

sillouette of girl with arms raised, balloons in background
Photo credit: <a href="">Camdiluv</a>

Luke 11:27-28

As he was speaking, a woman in the crowd interrupted him, yelling, “Your mother must be so glad to have born and raised you!”

He called back, “Yes, and those who hear and then do what God asks of them are truly happy!”

At it’s beginning, Luke’s gospel focused on Mary’s having been called and obedient to God in agreeing to give birth to Jesus. In the Magnificat (Luke 1:48), Mary claims that “all generations shall call me blessed.” The woman in the crowd seems to be confirming Mary’s words.

Jesus’ response is that the happiness and fortune Mary experienced was not hers alone. Rather, it’s the result of following your calling: “doing what God asks.” The same happiness is possible for everyone.

I’m not saying that everyone is going to get angelic visits, or hear the voice of God audibly speaking to them. But I think Jesus was convinced that everyone is capable of knowing what they were made to be, who they authentically are. Like the woman in the crowd, though, we get star-struck by the good fortune of others. It’s easy to get so caught up in how much we admire someone else, or wish we could be like them, that we forget how much we have to offer the world ourselves.

If Mary’s story is any indication, saying yes to what we’re called to do takes a huge amount of courage. It’s hard work. Ask anyone who has born and raised a child.

According to Jesus, though, mustering the courage and putting in the effort is the only way to be truly happy. Living vicariously through someone else is never quite the same as living life yourself.

Song 1

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Photo credit: <a href="">Christine Olson</a>

Psalm 1

Is not following bad advice,
Is not running with the wrong crowd,
Is not getting your self worth by comparison with others.

Is loving what’s right in God’s sight,
Is practicing doing right around the clock.

Those who follow this advice are like trees planted on the riverbank,

Not so with evil folk.
They are dust in the wind,
They won’t have a case in court,
They won’t get a pew in church.

God guards the righteous wherever they go,
But the evil road leads to certain death.

If only it were true!

In reality, bad things happen to good people, and quite often those who are most evil win their court cases and have plaques honoring them in churches. Better to think of this song as an ideal, so far as everyone getting what the deserve is concerned.

Even so, the wisdom in the song is in it’s description of where happiness is found – and where it’s not. Regardless of external circumstances and rewards, happiness is a result of an inner bent toward right.

A friend who just returned from a three-week tour of villages in central Africa yesterday told me how striking it was to see so many people in such terrible poverty who wore great smiles. Surely, their suffering is incongruent with their deserving. Yet they are in many moments, happy. Contrast that with the robber-baron who has everything but whose soul is so empty it’s turned his life into a black hole sucking in everything and anything indiscriminately. No happiness there.

You can have happiness now, even while longing for (and working for) the justice that is not yet.