What Are We Living for?

You’ve heard it. You may have even said it yourself. “He lives for sports!” “I live to eat!” “They live for their children!”

Oh, yes. Whenever we pour our life energies into someone or something, we are definitely living for that pursuit.

And it isn’t only men who live for sports. Here in Wisconsin, women also spend every spare moment reading, thinking, and talking about the Packers. We deck ourselves out in green-and-gold and wouldn’t miss a game at Lambeau Field or on TV. We even show up at church on football Sundays in our Packer finery. Okay, I’ll admit it. I wear Packer earrings, jerseys, and socks on game days! I suspect it’s not much different for fans of other football franchises.

Oh, and how about those of us who love to eat? Love to collect and exchange recipes, try new foods, go on and on talking about our favorites foods and spreading the news about our favorite restaurants. We enjoy heaping our plates at the barbecues, banquets, and buffets. Wouldn’t miss a church potluck or family celebration. Oh, how we love our food!

And, let’s face it. We all know parents who pour the lives, time, and money into their children.

Is this bad? Not really.

Actually, it’s good to have a pursuit that captures our hearts and makes life worth living. Even Jesus cherished a pursuit that captured his heart and made his life on earth worth living. He poured himself into teaching, healing, and giving so that we each might know how much he loves us. He was so focused on gaining an intimate love relationship with us that he was willing to die to make it possible.

He knew that we could not have a love relationship with our holy God until someone paid the price for our sins. He volunteered, and it cost his death on the cross. The ultimate act of his love.

Since his resurrection three days later, Jesus has remained focused on his pursuit. He waits eagerly for us to respond–to be so captivated by his unconditional love that we joyfully pour our lives into learning to know and love him more each day.

Focus: “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:15, New American Bible.

How about you? Who or what do you live for? Have you already responded to the Lord’s love?

 

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Love Your Enemies!

With increasing unease, Paul listened to his friend tell about seven years of suffering in a North Vietnamese POW camp.

Ron’s captors had tortured him relentlessly. He described how he had been bound tightly for days and left in agonizing pain. “I heard someone far away, screaming through the night. Then I realized. It was me.”

Paul clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Oh, how he wanted to do bodily harm to those who had tortured his friend so cruelly! His eyes blazed as he growled and asked Ron, “You felt that way, didn’t you?”

“No,” Ron quietly replied. “All through those days and nights, I simply prayed that they might come to know and love Jesus as their Savior.”

Paul’s anger rushed from him in a heavy breath. “Wow!”

Somehow Ron had seen his tormentors with a heart that looked beyond what they were doing. He saw their deep need for Christ and chose to obey Jesus’ command to love his enemies.

Few of us have suffered in POW camps. Yet at one time or another, we have all felt the sting of undeserved pain. Some of us–or those we care about–have suffered cruelty again and again at the hands of another.

We may want to lash back, but God offers a better way. Instead of stewing in our anger and biding our time to get even, we can choose to obey his call.

Focus: “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” ~ Matthew 5:44-45, The Living Bible.

How about you? Jesus said we will always have trouble in this world. But how might our lives and our world change if we chose to trust him by loving and praying for our enemies?

Promised Disaster Averted

What if you were sixteen years old and suddenly made president of the United States of America? What would you do?

Long ago, Josiah faced that horrendous problem when made king of Judah. For the next four years he sought God for wisdom for his chaotic land. Then, realizing the nation’s troubles were a direct result of the stench of the people’s sins and disregard for God, he set about to cleanse his country. He ordered all carved idols and cast images, all pagan shrines and altars and Asherah poles torn down and destroyed. It took six years.

Next, he sent for workers from all over the land to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. They set to work repairing, renovating, and restoring the magnificent worship center that Judah’s earlier kings had let fall into ruin.

In the midst of this work, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law of the Land and sent it to the young king. Josiah tore his clothes in despair. “The Lord’s anger has been poured out against us  because our ancestors have not obeyed the Word of the Lord, “he cried. He then sent Hilkiah and others to ask the Lord what they must do.

The prophetess Huldah gave them a message from God. Yes, the curses written in God’s Word would come to pass because the people had abandoned him and worshiped other gods. But, because the king had humbled himself and wept before the Lord, wanting to change his ways and the ways of his nation, God would not send the promised disaster during his lifetime.

Josiah took swift action. He summoned all the people to the Temple. There he read the entire Book of the Covenant and renewed that covenant with God. He pledged to keep its commandments with all his heart and soul and required his people to do the same.

Everyone made a fresh start. Throughout Josiah’s lifetime, they worshiped only the Lord God. They lived in obedience to his Word, and God blessed them for it.

We now live in times where our nation is in great danger. The people in these United States live largely ignorant of the great precepts of our United States Constitution. They barely think of, much less prize, its amazing freedoms which are fast eroding before our very eyes. As a result, these freedoms given to us by God who impressed them on the hearts of our founding fathers may soon disappear.

Unless we turn away from our selfishness and turn back to honoring God and this country which he raised up as a haven where all men (and women) are created equal, we have little hope. Yet it’s not too late to choose God’s way and save our land. God’s Word states it clearly.

Focus: “Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you” ~ Jude 1:21, New Living Translation.

How about you? What can you do  so that God can bless you and our nation? How can you help turn things around in our nation?

Sowing Generosity Reaps Rewards

One year a farmer brought in such an overflow of crops that his barn could not hold them. He sat down to think about his problem, and a while later jumped up in his excitement. “I know! I’ll build new and bigger barns. I’ll be set for years to come!”

But God said, “You fool! This very night you will die. Then who will get all this that you are hording for yourself?”

Even if the farmer had not died that night, he would have been a fool. God gives us wonderful resources of time, money and possessions with a greater purpose in mind. He wants us to enjoy those gifts, but he also wants us to share them freely with others.

Do we know someone  who has suffered a death in the family? We can take time to go to the funeral and comfort them with our presence. We can slip a gift of money in a sympathy card to help with expenses. We can bring a meal during the days while they are still stunned by their loss.

What about a family who has lost everything in a fire or suffered some other tragedy that we read about in the newspaper? We can send them a check to help them get back on their feet. If a neighbor, we can share our home and do whatever is needed to help them through the hard days ahead.

Do we hear of someone ill or injured? Even if we don’t know them or they live far away, we can pray for their recovery.

And how about elderly family, friends, and neighbors? We can make time in our busy schedules to visit, to help them shop or get to appointments.

God not only provides us with countless opportunities to help others with the resources he gives us, he rewards us both here on earth and in heaven. So go ahead. Be generous!

Focus: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.” ~ Luke 16:9, The Living Bible.

What about you? What opportunities do you see God give you to to be generous with the resources he has also given you?

Love and Faithfulness at Work

Chee! Chee!

A piercing distress call pulled my attention to an area of the parking lot where three little girls giggled. Their father drew them away from the mother bird. As others walked by her nest, the beautiful killdeer spread her wings and puffed up her feathers in a protective bluff.

A few feet away, I looked among the rounded decorative stones where she stood guard. Sure enough. She had laid a clutch of eggs, almost invisible in their surroundings. Settling back on her eggs, she also became nearly invisible.

As the weeks went by, intruders frustrated her efforts to see to the safety of her eggs. Severe thunderstorms battered her. Yet nothing could drive her away. Nothing could pressure her into abandoning her special work. Because of her faithful love, four baby killdeer came into the world. She continued vigil over them until they were ready to go out in this world on their own. Once again, she had completed God’s plan for that season of her life.

When Jesus entered public ministry, no doubt he felt battered, too. His mother and brothers heard how he worked day and night with barely time to eat or sleep. Worried about him, they arrived to take him home. Instead he continued his ministry to the poor and needy. Important religious leaders scorned him, tried to trick him, insulted him and plotted to kill him. Yet he refused to run and hide.

When he told his closest friends that he would be betrayed and die on a cross at Jerusalem, they didn’t understand. One tried to talk him out of it, but no one could drive him off course. Nothing could pressure him into abandoning the special work he had come to do.

With all the faithful love in his heart, he held true to God’s plan to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind. He knew that, only through his death on the cross would we ever know the blessing of eternity in heaven with God. God, who loves us more than we could think or imagine.

When life batters us, we have a choice. We can yield to well-meaning arguments. We can run and hide. Or we can refuse to be pressured off course. Instead, we can pray for the strength to be a blessing and hold true to God’s plan for this particular season of our lives.

Focus: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” ~ Proverbs 3:3, New International Version.

How about you? Like that little mother killdeer, are you struggling—or have you struggled–with a particular season in your life?

(This blog post is adapted from a June 2005 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

The Last Supper

Jesus looked around the Upper Room where he and his disciples had gathered to eat their Passover supper. Though they were unaware, he knew his time was near. Within hours, he would hang on a cross, dying an excruciating death for the sins of all mankind. On the third day, he would come gloriously back to life.

His gaze found  Thomas who would doubt him, Peter who would deny knowing him, Judas who would sell him to his enemies. All of his disciples so devoted to him now would run for their lives when he was arrested this very night. At the moment, however, they were squabbling over who would be greatest in his coming kingdom.

Leaving his place at the table, he–the great Lord God among them in human flesh–put on the garb of the lowliest slave in a Hebrew household. Filling a basin with water, he knelt down before his astonished disciples to wash their dusty feet.

When he finished, he said, “I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet” and urged them to do the same because “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13-15, New International Version).

On the night before he died for all of our sins, Jesus set us a great example of humility. No matter what position, talent or wisdom we might possess, we are to be one another’s humble servants. If we willingly perform even the lowliest of tasks to serve the people in our lives, Jesus promised we will be blessed. Yes, we will be happy!

The apostle Paul expressed the same idea when he wrote that we should …

Focus: Be devoted to each other in brotherly love and honor each other more than ourselves. (Romans 12:10).

How about you? Have you served someone else and found yourself blessed by that simple act?

(This blog post adapted from a March 1999 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

I’m Beginning to Wonder

I’m beginning to wonder. What day goes by without a friend stopping in to meet a need? This time it was my dear friend Susan Baganz. Putting aside her own pressing needs to write, edit, and take care of all things mommy, she came from out of town to help me put up this blog. (I’m told writers should have a blog!)

So here I am, up and running due to Susan’s unselfish love for a friend. Forever grateful to her for her kindness, I’m also forever grateful to God for providing such a friend. One with whom I can laugh and be silly. One who understands this writing life and can talk incessantly about it with me.  What a joy! Also one who shares my love for God and the incredible depth of meaning He brings to a life, no matter what the challenges.

How about you? Do you have such a friend?