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.

Backup Plan

The voice on the other end of the phone call was one of concern. My dad fell earlier that morning. Despite my warning not to move heavier objects, he chose to move a small but heavy five tier plastic shelf from one room to the other by himself. It was the kind that easily falls apart if not picked up from the bottom. I mistakenly moved it into another room two days prior, not knowing it belonged to him. He didnt want to trouble me. While I admire his resolve to undo my mistake, I never want to see him get hurt.

In the process of carrying the shelf, it fell apart. During an attempt to minimize the damage, he ended up falling forward, and his chest rammed into the corner of the shelf. At first, my mom was startled but he didnt seem to think anything was too bad. However, shortly after the bruise got much worse. When she saw it again a little later, she was strikingly alarmed by its newly formed appearance.

“That looks terrible,” I exclaimed when I walked into the house and saw the damage to his chest. I had to turn away at first. After looking back at it again, I noticed the swelling protruded nearly an inch outward from his chest. It was all manner of awful looking. I agreed he should have it checked out by a doctor. I was surprised he wasnt in more pain, but the pain did increase as time passed. We started to think maybe a rib broke and puctured something inside, causing internal bleeding. Being that he is on blood thinner, we are careful any time he bleeds.

I waited for them out in the waiting area at the urgent care center. Mom came out later to inform me it was a hematoma. After looking up what that meant, I was still a little unsure of his condition. In the meantime, they were taking a chest xray to make sure nothing else was going on. Afterwards, we were called back to the room with him to hear the doctor’s prognosis. The doctor told us it happened because of him being on blood thinner. If he were to drain the blood from the swollen area, it would simply fill back up, causing a loss of blood. The terrible swelling is what actually stopped the bleeding by putting pressure on the areas damaged by the unexpected trauma.

From what we could see, the bruise continued to worsen as time passed. The discoloration of his skin tone spread reaching across a large portion of his chest and even onto his stomach.
As awful as it looked on the outside, God had a plan in place which we were totally unaware of. Unknown to us, it started working the moment the injury took place. It took no effort on his part to get his body to do what was needed to start the healing process. Much like other miraculous powers built within us, this one too laid dormant until his body was attacked.

It’s interesting to see just one of God’s plans put forth into action. His ways are higher than our ways. When things happen in life, we may not be able to understand what is happening. From what we can see, it may look bad. It might even seemingly get worse before it gets better. But when you learn to trust in Him, you’ll come to recognize that this happens more often than we know. God is always at work in our lives, whether we see it or not. When we make good decisions and even when we make mistakes, He is there. He is never surprised and always has a backup plan.

Soul Sucking Moments

Has your soul ever felt sapped of the life force that drives you inside? While positive quotes are helpful, during these times uplifting words do not always help. I call them the soul sucking moments of life that leave you feeling completely drained. We push others away because we loathe the pain so much we wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.

Isolated on these lonely islands of despair, we still desire to connect – somehow, someway. It brings great satisfaction when we finally do connect with someone. Perhaps they have been through the same type of pain or knows someone personally who has. A powerful bond forms when people who share similar experiences connect with each other.

An important thing to remember when sharing painful situations is that they are not all the same. It can drive people away when you claim to know what they are going through. You may think you understand their pain but chances are high that you don’t unless you have been in the exact same circumstances. You may argue, pain is pain. True. Apples and oranges are both fruits, but they are also very different. In a similar way, our pain is unique to our circumstances and experiences.

When you haven’t felt the same type of pain and try to compare your pain to others, they may feel cheated. For example, the death of an elderly loved one varies significantly from people expericing the death of a child. But when you’ve lost a sibling and come across another person who also lost a sibling, there is a level of pain that you now share with that person. No longer do you bear the pain alone. Alas, there is another who shares in this struggle. That is a major reason why I believe support groups work so well. People share in a struggle and help support one another. While no two persons share identical lives, their relatability can revolve around these similarities.

There are times when that support may not be there. We flip through song after song, in search of one that will lift our spirit. It’s like being on a deserted island, finely tuning an old CB radio in order to find someone on the right frequency, somebody who gets us, who knows what we are going through. Then something miraculous happens when we find a song that stirs our soul to the core and it becomes “that song”, the one we turn to when bad is breaking loose in our lives. I have many songs like that to redirect focus off my worries and problems. When I change my focus to being on God alone, it helps more than anything else I’ve ever done.

I recently found myself feeling sapped of energy and strength, caught in a soul suck moment. I turned on a song and suddenly, I could feel myself being lifted out of the pit. Out of nowhere came the sound of a squawking bird. It was not a continuous squawk, nor was it a one time occurence. The hackeling sounds came in between moments of relief while I was trying to let go of my worries. Like a crab trying to pull me back into the mess with all the other crabs, the squawking pulled at me. However, captivated by freedom, I knew I had to let go of the squawking. Gripping on to the freedom instead, required effort. The squawking, however, was completely out of my control. Sure, I could have tried to silence the bird, but another would likely take its place. Instead, I let the bird squawk because that is what squawking birds do. After that, I clung to my freedom song and climbed my way out of the pit.

When you try to climb your way out of whatever trouble you find yourself in, there will likely be some people who have something to say about it. Let them squawk. Focus on your freedom and climb your way out.

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!”

Goodbye 2018 (Christian)

Another day and another year that has come to an end. This year was undoubtedly filled with surprises for each of us. For some it was a terrific year filled with great success, family, career, and health. This is likely a smaller number but we are happy for them. For most though, it has been a mixed year filled with ups and downs. There are even some that consistently struggled this year with failing finances, relationships, health, career – you name it. Each barrier stood out as an obstacle blocking the way in our pursuit of happiness.

If you are Christian, you may find yourself reflecting on how good everything went according to plan. Be grateful to God for the work He has done in your life. If all your plans for the year fell into a pit and you are left wondering what is next, be grateful to God for the work He has done in your life. While it seems to be contrary to be grateful for when things didn’t go our way, the Bible instructs us to give thanks in all things.

One of the things that sets Christians apart from others is our faith. We can look like literal fools to the rest of the world. From an outside perspective, we may have every reason to believe that things will not work out. The odds may be against us. The decks may not be stacked in our favor. Failure, even death, may be knocking at our door. The pressure to quit might be higher than ever in times past. Yet we choose to believe. We choose to believe because that is exactly what it is, a choice.

We are called to press forward. Pressing is an action that takes effort to overcome the opposing forces that are at work against us. The greater the opposing force, the greater the strength that will be needed to overcome it. Despite how things appear and how we feel, we press on! Hidden just beneath our weakness is the strength of God, ready to enable us with the power to overcome.

God has promised us so many things. It’s up to each of us to search for what they are. It is on us to choose to believe Him in spite of dismal circumstances. The world is faced with the same challenges, as no group of people are exempt from the troubles of life.

However, others should watch us and stumble in thought as to why…

Why do these people get up when they should stay down? Why do they lift their weary heads high with hope? Why do they refuse to quit? What makes them get up time and time again?

If only we could show them, it is not what, but Who! It is the One in John 14:6 that declared to be the way, the truth and the life. It is the One who promised us an abundant life in John 10:10. It is in Christ that we live. We spend our Christian lives getting to know God through His Son Jesus and His Spirit that dwells in us.

So if you find your end to this year challenging, remember the old saying, carry on Christian solider. A soldier was likely referenced because it is a soldier’s duty to follow orders. A good soldier exhibits courage in the face of fear. They fight bravely through adversity. They rise to whatever challenge awaits them. When obstacles block them, they find a way over, a way around, or by God’s good grace, a way straight through. They look death in the face and say, not today.

I don’t know what came your way this year, how it came, or why. But I believe and trust in my God who is infinitely greater than the sum of all things that work against us. I choose to look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and acknowledge that God is not finished with your story. By the inner working of His Holy Spirit, I choose to believe that He who began a good work in you, shall complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.

To my fellow Christian Believers, keep the faith! Let’s show the world in this new year why we are different!

Happy New Year and may God bless you in the year to come!

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.

The Faith Connection

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The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In a similar way, faith is the shortest distance from where you are now to where you want to be. In order to get to the next level in your life, it’s going to require faith.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is not an easy task. The is a reason you stay is because it feels so good. The moment you step out, it immediately gets uncomfortable. Uncertainty slaps you in the face. Meanwhile, your mind is telling you what a fool you are.

However, faith says, “You’ve got this. Take the next step.” It does not care about limitations, shortcomings, or even failure. It only knows one way and that is forward. Faith is now, acting only in the present tense.

Everyone has been given a certain amount of faith. Therefore, no one can say they do not have any. Perhaps they haven’t used what little they have. Fear is the opposite of faith.

If you were to plant two seeds in the ground but nurture them differently, you would see different results from each. Whichever seed you watered and fertilized the most would grow faster and look healthier. If you did not nurture one at all, the plant would be in terrible shape, and possibly die off. Such it is with faith and fear. Whichever one you feed the most, will grow. Likewise, if you starve one, it will whither away.

Build upon the faith you already have. Exercise it like a muscle to make it stronger. Understand that a little faith goes a long way when it is real, genuine faith.