Love in Action

The act of love is not convenient by any means. It requires sacrifice in times of suffering and patience to endure our struggles. A love with the aim of pleasing oneself will soon fade away to nothing. To love another above yourself is the very love Jesus Christ portrayed over two thousand years ago when he sacrificed Himself for the benefit of humanity.

What manner of love would give way to such a sacrifice? Christianity is a worldview in which a deity took up in a very personal way the suffering of humanity. Some people believe that penance through actions is a way to earn our way to a better life. My own actions are not an attempt to earn my way because I don’t believe that we can. Any act of love portrayed through me is because God first loved me. My desire is only to be useful in His hands. I believe that Jesus is the way. Not because my parents believe it, nor because of my blind acceptance of the unknown. Years of study and personal observation have led me to this conclusion. Any good that comes out of my life is from Christ living within me. When you see me fail, it is because my will was done, not His.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the flawed ways in which we secretly hide our sins from others. But ultimately no sin is hidden from God, who knows our innermost being, the one many of us would be ashamed to reveal to others. Jesus warned us that if we even conceived something in our heart it is the same as if we had already gone through with it. It’s like he knows the outcome of our actions before they ever happen.

History is filled with tyranny and injustices committed against human beings. At the very core of some of these atrocities is the wickedness of the human heart. When a person at any moment devalues a human life, they are violating something which is sacred, beyond human comprehension – pure love.

Much of humanity’s love is impure and stems from selfish reasons. We love another because of what they do for us or how they make us feel. Its transactional love and when the transactions cease, then so does the love. Like the picture above, when a strong enough wave comes, the love washes away, leaving no trace that love was even there.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us get stuck in a rut. On one side, we love those who care for us. On the other side, is loving those who do not or cannot love us back. For me, I’m at a place in life where I still try to refrain from praying down fire from the heavens to consume my enemies, similar to two of the disciples at the end of Luke 9 in the New Testament. All kidding aside, God is always working on me, chiseling down the edges and smoothing out the rough spots. When I look at the spec in others’ eyes, he reveals to me the log that is in my own.

The process is unwelcome because it is often painful. But I’ve come to believe it is because God sees a better version of me, the one that reminds Him of His son Jesus. When my actions are in line with His, His love becomes my love because my love is transformed. It now goes beyond exclusivity for those good to me. Christ’s love compels me to extend beyond my comfort zone and a personal world that revolves around me. We are instructed to love each other. In doing so, we must take whatever list of restrictions we have for who we will love and throw them out the window; preferably into a recycling container or at least a trash can. A new earth may be coming but let’s not destroy this one in the mean time. Let’s not limit loving our neighbor to the person next door. Let it be anyone around you. Regardless of what color their skin is, what they are wearing, what their beliefs are… love them. Sometimes a kind word is all that is needed to brighten a person’s day. Sometimes words are not enough and further action is required to demonstrate love. But by all means, find a way to genuinely love somebody today. Make a decision to love them and then take appropriate action to show it.

A Helping Hand

I went to the hardware store to pick up a couple of shelves. When I got to the isle where they were, a man was looking at the same shelf set I wanted to buy. He walked a few steps away when I approached. These were the tough, heavy duty kind of shelves made of metal. The gigantic box said it required two people to lift it. They were stacked high enough that I could slide them off onto a flat cart. However, it was not as easy as it sounds. The cart rolled around, banging everywhere. It was too short, about half the length of the shelf, so when it sat on the cart it nearly toppled over. Meanwhile, the man who I had seen on the way in stood only a few steps away. He paid me little attention, despite all the clanging, and checked out other shelving while I struggled. Occassionally, he glanced over my way but quickly turned back.

I thought the second one would be easier, but not so. However, I managed to get the second one loaded by myself as well. I walked toward the checkout counter and thought to myself, if that would have been me standing by, I would have offered a helping hand. Of course, I didn’t ask for help. I don’t know what it is about asking for help, but men hate it for some reason.

I checked out and went out to my truck. When I opened the tailgate, a man was walking by and asked me if I wanted help. While I won’t repeat his humourous words, I greatly appreciated the offer and accepted his help. Moments later they were both loaded, I shook his hand, thanked him again and we parted ways. On the way home, my back ached a little, likely from the effort I exerted on my own. I thought how much worse it could have been if I wouldn’t have gotten help.

The irony of it all is that they were literally within three minutes of each other. How could so different a result occur so close to each other. Another question popped into my mind. Which guy do you think you should be like, the first, or the second? Indeed, the second, although most of what I see is the first. This is why you must be the second was the thought that followed. I knew I read a verse that could relate to such thinking, Galatians 5:13-14. It mentions humbly serving one another in love. This is not to imply the first guy did anything wrong. But not doing anything wrong is not necessarily doing anything right. He may have been consumed by thought, which is how we all get at times. Whether the second guy realized it or not, he was living out the scriptures.

The secular version of this could be referred to as random acts of kindness, which has become increasingly popular. Whether it is trendy or not, does not matter. Do good. The world needs as much kindness and generosity as it can get. It sometimes takes a conscious effort to look for ways you can help. Look and then help. The second guy recognized a need outside of his own world and jumped in to see how he could help in mine. To that man, I say thank you my friend, may God bless you for stopping just a brief moment to help make my day better.

Future Self

No matter how dark my hair gets, my blonde roots make an appearance now and then. When I opened my mailbox there was a single letter inside, with no return address. Much to my surprise, the handwriting was my own. I gasped. My future self was writing to me! Perhaps to warn me of something. Seconds later, I thought, you idiot, that is the self-addressed envelope you sent a few weeks ago to the local tax bureau for a receipt.

Leaving this ridiculous moment in the past, a thought often intrigues us after receiving hindsight. That’s because we have made countless mistakes in life, many of which could have been avoided. But unfortunately we do not have the luxury of steering ourselves in that fashion.

What we do have though, alternatively, is an urgent need to steer those who come after us. As “experienced lifers”, we have an obligation to young people, a duty to fulfill to any who will listen. If you were hearing your words instead of speaking them, what would the message be? What message are we sending our young people?

There is a scripture in the Bible, Judges 2:10, that mentions a new generation that came up that did not know the Lord or what He had done for the people of Israel. How does something like that happen? How could an entire generation turn away from God? Perhaps the previous generation spoke more of today’s troubles than yesterday’s victories. Until young people have experiences of their own with God, all they have to rely on is what information they are receiving from others who have had experiences with Him.

There is a weird connotation with some testimonies, not knowing whether they are real or not. But when we come across one that is false, it shakes our faith. A seed of doubt is planted and if given the chance, it will grow. But not all testimonies are false. Some are very real and cannot be dismissed. I don’t believe God changes the way we do, nor that He is a respecter of persons. We can add to our faith by building on the faith of others. Even if there is the smallest chance that God will do it for me too, I would want to know that it was possible.

But what if we are silent, no longer telling the stories of all that God has brought us through? Miracles start out miraculous, but when time elapses, they became less of a deal to the point which we may be tempted to not even tell the tale any more. However, telling the next generation how God worked in our lives accomplishes two things. First, it illustrates to them the possibilities of how God can work in their life too. Second, it brings to remembrance in our own minds what God has done previously for us, which helps reinforce our faith for the challenges we face today.

There are no do-overs. We cannot erase our past. But while this future self isn’t likely to tell us about what will come, it is in our power to do the next best thing. We have a responsibility to help those who come after us. We can tell them the stories of how God brought us through the struggles and challenges we faced along the way. If they are open to hearing our past mistakes, they have the potential to learn from them without having the often painful experience of living them. If they can build on the foundation God has started in us, then think of the heights they can achieve beyond what we did. Progress is made possible by those who continue to strive to do more and become more. If there were a future me out there, I have a feeling what he would tell me.

“Reach higher!”

Big Brother’s Birthday

40. What an old bat you are? But only I am allowed to say that. I guess if our dad surveyed back when Moby Dick was a guppie, then where would that leave you and I? Old together, yet apart. Together, through God’s unfailing love. Apart because you live in a world immeasurably greater than mine. When you left this one, I grasped for answers as to why. I’ve never gotten that answer but I’ve gotten something of far greater significance. A new life.

Had you not left here, I doubt my path would look the same as it does now. Before I cared only of money and material things. The indescribable pain I felt later altered my course. I wondered before if I was a Christian just because I didn’t want to go to hell. Since then, I’ve dedicated my life to following Jesus in a whole new way. Might I add, not just when everything is going well but even when life feels like a tortuous, inescapable, living hell.

Before, when things didn’t go my way, I resented God. I would question everything with my own superior intellect. But as time passed, I’ve realized that all I’ve come to know or could ever know in this lifetime would make for a silly comparison with that of our Almighty Creator. His ways are higher than my ways. I do not always comprehend what happens, or why. While I am a firm believer in expressing gratitude for everything, I’ve found new meaning in giving thanks. My heart now melts when I express my gratitude for what God has given me beyond material things. Things come and they especially go. I remember the emptiness, the vast seas of anger that clouded my thoughts, and the intense pain of loss that caused me to become a different person. I was convinced that I would remain in that state of mind for the rest of my life. No one could convince me that I would ever be released from that prison, and no longer held captive by terrible imaginations.

I believe the human heart longs, whether knowingly or not, to be satisfied. The societal bar seems to get lower and lower with each passing year. In the pursuit of pleasing ourselves, I fear we have lost ourselves. What is now considered immoral is muddier than ever before. As a society, we slip further and further. Things that were once an outrage, are now commonplace. I used to think deprivation was a most terrible thing. I’m starting to wonder about the opposite now as well. In seeking to pleasure ourselves, especially in American culture, we’ve lost sight of significance.

Stress seems to be a normal part of everyone’s day, an excuse to further separate ourselves from others. If the television is turned on, it will be only a matter of seconds before finding a program in which people are killing each other, lying, cheating, needlessly swearing, or any number of unspeakable acts against fellow human beings. It has become so commonplace that when we see it happen in the news, we continue eating our dinner and briefly shutter at the thought of it. We raise the question, what is this world coming to, and then dismiss it and move about our busy lives.

We become outraged at the mistreatment of animal life, which is rightfully so. But when we see a fellow human being suffering, we turn our cheek, sure not to make eye contact. We pity them less and less because we have lost our sense of compassion for each other. If anything, I feel as though we have torn down the walls of compassion in order to build monuments to ourselves. Front and center of our lives is a statue of me, my life, the way I want it. Don’t get in my way. On one side of the coin we endeavor to make our lives easier. On the flip side of that same coin is a most damnable pursuit of pleasure without regard for the cost to ourselves or humanity.

With every inch that we give, another is demanded. I shutter at the unspeakable acts committed by people who desparetly need help. They seek it from anywhere and everywhere, by any means. Their hearts cry out for love and acceptance, but the world gives back a false sense of hope, despicably packaged with a fancy label and an empty promise. All claim to bring satisfaction to our longing hearts, yet fail miserably, leaving us broke and destitute. Tossed aside are those who lay in ruins. Hopeless, they dare not lift their eyes. Devalued by others, they do not see their own worth.

Our society has mastered the art of selling lies. In the advancement of this new age, we have done away with spiritual matters. Many claim to be Christian, yet do little to show it. We have taken the throne of God and put ourselves on it. Piece by piece we lose a part of what is sacred, I ask, when will the whole be gone? Is nothing sacred any more?

The news has always informed us of the terrible acts committed. Kidnap. Rape. Murder. When I read that children, even babies, are being sexually abused, it makes me want to scream. I ponder the question of why. Why is this allowed to happen? In our disgust, we turn to God, looking for answers. Or at times, rather, we turn to Him to place the blame. With fierce judgment we condemn Him for not doing anything to stop such atrocities.

Nevermind the fact that we sit in our air conditioned homes in our comfortable furniture, living a life many in the world would consider one of ease. We have so many things going for us in America it is almost repulsive. Yet most of us do little to prevent such acts. Sure, there are a handful of people working tirelessly to stop it. But ought we all be outraged? Ought we all get behind one another and put an end to such heinous crimes? Ought every door hiding such atrocities be kicked down and the accused brought to justice?

But our self-indulgent, lackadaisical selves refuse to take ownership under the assumption that someone else will take responsibility over these problems because we have our own to deal with. May God forgive us for not seeing the wickedness in our own hearts, and refusal to turn from our ways. Our own sense of self has hindered our view of God and that of each other, putting the needs of ourselves above, ultimately violating the two great commandments Jesus gave.

It does not take one of us, it takes all of us. Each person has a responsibility to take ownership of. Each gift we are given has a purpose. Yet when we do not use our individual gifts, humanity as a whole suffers. Every single day that passes, tears fall and hearts mourn. The grave swallows up the potential that lies within so many who never tapped into it. People are killing themselves because they see no way out. They are poisoning their bodies with all manners of substance for even a few short moments of relief. Our world is full of hurting people who need help, who need hope. I see that now.

I cannot speak for everyone, but I can boldly speak for one, whose life will never be the same. In your short 27 years here, your life mattered. Even after your passing, your life still matters because it matters to me and to our family. I’ve come to appreciate life as never before, acknowledging that all life matters from the moment God breathed life into it, even in its tiniest forms.

In my search for truth since your passing, I am coming to know the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. Never before have I felt this much alive, this much hope, this much peace, this much joy, this much compassion. On and on the list goes of the goodness God has shown in my life. I know this much, I do not deserve it.

But as 1 Peter 3:15 reminds me, I must be ready to give an answer to the hope that lies within me. That hope is my life, my light in this world’s dark places, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for helping me find my way.

Happy 40th Big Brother! I love you very much and will see you again one day!

Give me a Smile

Symbols are used everywhere to convey a message. Smiles work that way too. It is one gesture that seems accepted all over. Perhaps one of the reasons is that babies smile all the time. When they smile, we smile too. Somewhere along the way, when life has crapped on you enough, you stop smiling as often, if at all.

But the amazing thing about babies is that they get over things quickly. Once they get fed, they are happy again. Life is good! They have no idea when or how the next feeding will occur, but they aren’t worried about it right now. When they have a messy situation they are rescued from, they are filled with happiness. They don’t dwell on that stinky mess they were just in. They stay fresh in the moment! Babies smile like no other. Perhaps we could learn something from them.

Some people are self-concious about the condition of their teeth. Fake teeth, no teeth, a few teeth, all teeth… I don’t care. I’d rather see someone give me a genuine smile with whatever they had than a fake smile with perfect teeth. A sincere smile is priceless and must be freely given. For something that is free to give, it’s a wonder smiles aren’t shared more often.

When you smile at people you interact with, it can change the tone of a conversation. But what happens when they don’t smile back? Smile anyway. Some people cannot muster up a smile for whatever reason. Don’t let that distract you. Smile for them. Smile big. Enjoy life!

Heart Troubles

People take human heart conditions seriously to avoid further complications in life, as they should. Emergency crews rush to a scene to assist. It’s really amazing to see them in action. Many endanger their own wellbeing in the process and have earned a place of respect in our hearts, spiritually speaking. But how do we treat matters of this spiritual heart? Are they treated with urgency or are they disregarded due to their seeming insignificance?

I believe what goes on in our spiritual hearts has a great effect on what we see in our lives. It doesn’t take long to notice someone with a troubled heart. A key indicator of what is in someone’s heart is revealed in their language. When you listen to them, what is coming out of their mouth? Not their vocabulary but the content of what is said. Are they positive words or negative? Bitter or sweet?

Many times we do not even realize what is in our own heart. Another helpful indicator can be found when reading the Bible, which serves as a helpful guide to show you what is inside your heart. The words inside will show things about you, but you must look for them. It’s a huge book after all! For instance, our ability to love others is a reflection of our own heart. If you have a great deal of hatred, we will know it because of the lack of love demonstrated toward others.

Spiritual heart problems may not affect you like a heart attack will, but they are still vitally important. Resolving them can lead to a more joyful life and make your relationships even more special. So if you need help in this area, call on Jesus! Whatever the condition of your spiritual heart is – broken, beaten, crushed…. He will give you a new one, He did for me and I wholeheartedly believe will do the same for you.

Why Risk It?

Why build anything meaningful if there is a chance it will be lost? If you have lived long at all, you have asked why countless times. Life hurts so much when something is taken away from us. It can be a toy, a pet, family member, friend, or any number of things.

It gets to the point where we are afraid to want again. Our fear overpowers our desire to have. When this happens, all hope seems gone. When our hopes and dreams get dashed on life’s rocky areas, it leaves us in dangerously low periods. Thoughts warn at the slightest hint of hope. “Don’t get your hopes up. Remember what happened last time.”

If we remain stuck on these thoughts, life will live out as a tragedy. Living with no expectations seems like the easy way out. Less pain, less sorrow; it really sounds like a great deal. But it is a fool’s hand to play. Life has a way of swinging like a pendulum. If you do nothing, you will feel nothing and experience nothing.

However, when you decide to take a risk and hope, the pendulum starts swinging again. You will feel happiness and sadness. Understand that the more you swing in one direction, you open yourself up to swinging in the opposite direction when the pendulum returns. Basically, the greater the happiness you experience, the greater the pain you may feel if you lose it.

Again, why risk it? The shortest answer is because it is worth it. When you open yourself to experience all life has to offer, you will gain precious memories that will remain long after what created the memories is gone. As hard as memories are to look back on, they help us remember the love that we shared, a priceless gift to cherish for a lifetime. After tragedies occur in your life, take some time to heal. God can give you the strength, comfort, and healing you need in these times. Then embrace hope once more and live a full life!