Saturday, September 27, 2008

Experiencing God's Love - part deux

Earlier this week I was thinking of how God shows His love for us, in the big ways and the small ways. Sunrises. The fact that we wake another day, that our bodies even sustain life. That God in His holiness and perfection would actually want to be in a relationship with us.

Then I thought, Why do we stop with what we receive when we talk about experiencing God's love? God loves us so much that He keeps giving. Shouldn't part of our experience of God's love be in our own giving, in paying His love forward?

A few years ago I had the privilege of being a counselor for a crisis telephone hotline affiliated with a large church in California. How it happened was one of those things where I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, met with some close friends in prayer, God opened doors, and next thing I know, I'm in training to be a counselor. (The timing and process was almost that simple. Really.)

As a counselor I spoke with callers with problems ranging from the lonely, people grieving the loss of a loved one, to recovering addicts, people being treated for mental illness, even people on the edge of wanting to hurt themselves (thankfully, the really intense calls were far-between). Many callers were simply calling for prayer, just to know that God still loves them, and that someone cares.

Among the calls that stand out most for me are the ones where I prayed with the caller at the end, and I'd say something that could only have been from God. I'm not talking about praying in tongues. These were times that I prayed words and phrases that were not part of my normal vocabulary. If you asked me today what the caller's situation was, or what I prayed, I couldn't tell you. I simply don't remember. But I do remember this: by the time the call ended, the caller had a sense that he or she was still significant and loved in the eyes of God.

God's love is not meant to just be kept in a storehouse for when our hearts are feeling empty. It is meant to be given away, freely, unconditionally, with no expectation of return. I am humbled that God used me in that ministry so that others could know and experience His love.

Now it's your turn to share your stories.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life's Challenges

A few days ago I was typing out some thoughts for my weekly post. But today when I went back to put the thoughts into some coherent format, the notes were not where I thought they were. Which means that the beginnings of what could have been a work of literary genius (yeah, right) are now *poof* gone.

Don't you hate when that happens? Something you hoped would work one way suddenly changes its course, without first asking your input. There's a word for that ...

" C H A L L E N G E "

Yes, I am now challenged with starting my post over, from scratch.

If only all of life's challenges were of that caliber. But, alas, they are often somewhat more complex. For example, your boss asks you to forgo a pay increase so the company can stay afloat, and the following week your spouse loses his job, leaving you with the challenge of seriously renegotiating financial priorities.

Or, here's another one. Your 19 year old college student son totals his car, leaving your family unit, which goes four different directions in the morning, with only one vehicle. Now what?

And I'll give you one more. Dad's got cancer. Chemo is not an option because it has a high risk of causing a stroke. Medications aren't working. All that can be done is to make him as comfortable as a cancer patient can be as he waits to die. Mom's a wreck. How can you get through this and still be strong for your own daughter?

These are real life challenges, happening to people who are very close to me. In every single case, the people involved can either let the challenges overcome them, or can somehow find a way to not only survive, but to thrive.

Thrive?? You mean actually enjoy the trials that unexpectedly come our way?

Well, not exactly the trial itself, but what unexpectedly comes out as a result of going through it. If we look for the lessons learned and their benefits, our lives become more alive as a result. If we do not, we risk irreparable damage to the relationships that are most important to us.

We don't come to these results overnight. And we can't get there on our own. It takes perseverance and strength to get there. It takes friends and family and God to lean on and see us through, to help us to carry our loads when we feel we can bear no more.

The first couple learns that "things" are not as important as they creatively learn how to appreciate each other. The second family has more of an opportunity to spend time together and have more meaningful conversation. The third 40-something discovers that her parents do deeply love her, and she learns how to show that love to her daughter.

(And this post turned out far better than the notes I originally had.)

The life we gain from enduring life's challenges far outweighs the life we lose by giving up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


A few days ago I spent a little more time than usual catching up on reading blogs online and ended up running behind in my morning routine. Even though I knew I had enough time to get to work, I felt the need to make up for my lollygagging. Now, normally I drive close to the speed limit on my route to work since there are a few places where motorcycle officers like to rest on their Hondas (or whatever they ride), but that particular morning I felt the need to drive a little faster than usual. And I thought, if character is who you are when no one is looking, then what does this morning say about me?

I asked a couple of people what traits a person of "good character" would have. Some of the responses were
Honesty---Integrity---Loyalty---Good morals---Decency---Modesty---Reliability

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. One of the people that answered went on to say that someone of good character is someone who strives to be Christ-like.

That's an honorable ambition, to be Christ-like. But you know what? We all fail at that. So does that make us bad people? No, not if we do our best every day.

But do we? Can we honestly say with the utmost integrity that we are 100% loyal in practicing good morals, decency and modesty, with 100% reliability? Do we
really try our best in every action to be Christ-like? I don't think I've met another human being who can say that he or she does. I know that I can't. Otherwise I wouldn't have felt the need for speed earlier this week, and drivers wouldn't need the warning sign that is shown in the picture (and the officer would be at It's A Grind sipping coffee instead of sitting on his motorcycle).

It's been said, "Sow behavior, reap habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny." For those that believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, our destiny is eternal life in heaven. But our behaviors, habits, and character do not meet God's standard of holiness and would taint the purity of His glory. That is why Jesus took on our sins when he died on the cross. For, as Watchman Nee once said, "The Spirit can't anoint what the cross hasn't crucified." When we surrender our character, flaws and all, to Christ and accept His forgiveness, we will be able to partake in the glory of heaven.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Being Useful

A mother and her young daughter were walking in a downtown shopping district on a January afternoon. In the urban hustle and bustle, the little girl noticed a homeless man shivering against the bitter cold. As her mother tried to pull her closer, the girl walked over to the man. She pulled her fuzzy scarf from around her neck and placed it around his. The mother's heart welled up, that her daughter had more compassion than any of the hundreds of people who walked by that same man that day.

As they started to walk away, the homeless man called to them, motioning them back. He held out his hand, holding a dime -- probably all the money he had -- and said to the girl, "This is for you."

The mother politely refused, saying that payment is not necessary. "But I want to give this to her," he replied, holding the dime out further, tears of gratitude forming in his eyes.

It was then that the young mother realized that this man, who by the world's standards had less than nothing, still felt that he had something to give. And that by refusing his gratitude she was robbing him of his sense of usefulness.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is in the temple and watches people as they throw their offerings into the collection box. Here's the story, as told in Mark 12:41-44 :

Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all."

Everyone has a life story that tells how they came to where they are today. Certainly the man in this one had never planned to be homeless on a cold day in January. The widow probably never planned to live in poverty, and surely never expected to be noticed -- in a positive way -- by the Messiah of all people!

We've all had times when we felt down and out, like we had little or no worth in the eyes of the world. We don't ever have as a our life-goals to see ourselves as being utterly useless. We got there from our disposition to sin, to letting others down. Even though we might not have lived in the financial poverty of the homeless man or the widow, our sins have placed us in spiritual poverty. I'd venture to say that if God gave out "heavenly credit reports" on our souls, most of us would have "spiritual bankruptcy" on there at one time or another.

Even in the worst of our moments, Jesus sees each and every one of us as a person of extravagant value, someone worth dying for. In fact, He paid for our debt to get us eternally out of our spiritual bankruptcy. If we accept His gift, we can live a life of worth and usefulness.