The Difference It Makes

I spent some time vacuuming up the pine needles from our Christmas tree this morning.  The tree had held up quite nicely, but it was time to show it the door.

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The door just wouldn’t open.

Naturally the door I wanted to show it to was frozen shut.  I guess the below zero temperatures and the snow up against it actually froze it shut.   Well, that was awkward.  That’s okay, I have other doors.  The only problem was that pulling this tree out of this other door, involved tree sap and pine needles all over the place.   They got everywhere, including in my clothing.  (enough said)

 

As I was deciding what to do to clean it up, I asked and answered a question that I answer many times each day:  What difference does it make?

We all want to make a difference.  It wasn’t very long into my attempt at cleaning that I realized the vacuum was not actually picking the needles up.  That immediately made me reevaluate what I was doing.  I do not want to waste my time running this machine over the carpet only to have the same little prickly things in the carpet when I was done.

I have thought about this a lot as it relates to ministry, parenting, marriage,friendship and my time in EMS.  Everything I do comes out of that desire to make a difference.  I hope that my ministry matters in someone’s life.  I pray that the way I raise my children impacts them positively for their entire life.  I hope that my marriage is making a difference in our lives.  I trust that when I go to help some stranger who calls for help that what I do helps them.  Nobody wants to waste their time.

But can you actually measure all of that?  I mean, who is to say that even if I can’t answer  that question, that a difference isn’t being made?  I have been on many EMS calls where the only help I provide is someone to talk with.

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“Being with cows makes me happy!”

Did that make a difference?   I have  had many parenting moments when I have wondered if anything I was doing was even making a difference.  And yet, my kids surprise me at times with the way they reciprocate affection to me.  One of my sons loves farming so much that just spending time with the cows makes him happy.  The other kids don’t care that much.  To him it makes a difference.  In my over 10 years of ministry, I have preached sermons that have connected and some that have been somewhat flat.  And yet, God takes those efforts and uses them for His purposes.

 

One day I decided to send a card to someone who I had not talked to in a long time.  I had no idea why they came to mind that day.  I sent it off and thought nothing of it.  What difference would my simple note of encouragement be to them?  Would they even read it?  A few weeks later I received a response.  They said that they had received my note at a dark moment, on a day when they needed to know that God was there.  I had no idea, but it made a difference.

I guess this is a challenge for all of us to live a little more free.  Free to love.  Free to give.  Free to be so full of life that you are willing to do things for people even if it makes no obvious difference to you.  Why?  Because it makes a difference to them.

Just Be There

I am not sure what I am supposed to say and yet here I am.  This young man just learned his fate “cancer.”  And I am in a car alone with him on my way to a waiting group of high school students wondering what is happening.   The very thing that never happens to you or someone you love, was happening.  What do I know about cancer?  I was just the youth pastor who was now just a bit more concerned with the faith of a few of the students in my youth group.  They were already confused and now this. The first one approached me almost immediately with  “If he dies, I am done”   Oh, God knows I prayed that was not a place I was going to have to go with them.  But this was an honest sentiment, which I appreciated hearing.  It represented real hurt and confusion.  I get it. I felt it.  I saw it in eyes and heard it in conversations.

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Care enough to enter another person’s world.  This is what Jesus did for you. 

I have often thought about those early days and about how much of a privilege it was for me to be brought in to such a personal journey.  I also thought about how inadequate and exhausted I felt during those many trips for treatment.  What did I have to offer?  I didn’t even have words to make anything better and my attempts to brighten the day wasn’t always met with great joy. And I can’t say I even blamed him for it because, let’s be honest, cancer is horrible enough without the chemo.  Add chemo and it is like hell on earth for people.  If you want to feel compassion for people, go into a cancer center sometime and hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see the 3-year-old kids pushing their chemo around.  It is gut wrenching at the best moments.   But there I was and  for over a year, I did the best I could to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  “Just be there”  was all I could do and it seemed like it mattered to some extent.  Interesting how God works because the end of 2013  after being there, I left Cape Cod and moved many miles from this church family.

And so a message came to me in November of this year that this young man was nearing death.  My heart hurt.  My mind raced.  How do I pray?  What do I do?  And then when I got the news that this young man died, I wept.  I was really surprised by the emotion that I felt and came out of me realizing that he was free from this pain now.  I guess that is what the Bible calls”sorrowful and yet rejoicing.”  It is this strange dance of emotions and I did them both.   In that moment I knew I needed to get there for the funeral.  I just needed to be there.

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A ride my boys did to support those with cancer. 

As only the Lord could have planned, I was already planning on being gone on a Sunday from my current church and it was that Sunday that the funeral was planned.  Now the hard part:  getting an affordable flight on Thanksgiving weekend.  Through a variety of circumstances, God provided and there I was.  I was there.

I didn’t know what was going to happen.  My mind went back to a time when I was in High School and a young boy was killed in a car accident.  I remember the youth pastor up front, weeping, completely broken.  They always told me that if you do youth ministry long enough, sooner or later you will bury one of your students.  I just could not believe the day had come.

But in all of this, I was struck again with this simple realization.  There is great power in just being there. And all I shared were stories, reflections of my time being there.  In all my time playing games during chemo, I didn’t really provide a ton of insight, I provided my presence.  People in the church were overwhelmed that I had made the journey.  It inspired them in a way that I was grateful for, but wasn’t expecting.

This is what the Church is all about.  This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  You don’t have to have all of the answers.  You don’t even have to have an answer at all.  I didn’t.   You need to simply be there.  Learn to live in relationship with others.  Love people.  Allow yourself to care for them.   I learned the power of that in a profound way.  It is a privilege I will never forget.

Gasoline, aloe and lukewarm milk don’t mix well.

Quick, hide, here he comes!

When people see you coming, what do they perceive?  That can be a difficult question to answer, but I believe it is important.  It is important because so much of what people know about Jesus Christ comes from their interaction with people who follow Him.  In other words, how we treat people with both our actions and also with the way we speak says a lot to people about Jesus Christ.

We are going to have a little fun today as we look at ourselves.  The overarching question here is: “What effect does the way you talk have on the people around you?”  What we want to see is where we are and how we essentially can adjust ourselves to God’s Word.

There is nothing that says summer like a campfire.  Sitting around burning wood has the ability to help people slow down and relax.  Fire, in its proper place, has many useful functions.  Take fire at the wrong place and time and there will be problems.  When you take fire and add gasoline you have a potentially deadly mix.

If your personality is what you would call a fiery one, you could have a hard time expressing love to people.  This will severely hinder relationships you have and ultimately push people away.

Gasoline 

Gasoline is an important material for our daily life, but it is also a highly dangerous substance.  We put it into our cars where a spark ignites it and it makes the car move.  If you take that gasoline out and throw a match on it, it is highly explosive and volatile.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Now take the picture of the unstable nature of gasoline and apply it to your friends, co-workers, or your spouse. We all know what it takes to get the people closest to us worked up.  Some people take great pleasure in getting the people in their life all worked up.

This also has a lot to do with temper.   Hot tempered people are often hard to be around because you just never know when that sudden burst of rage will come from.

“A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” Proverbs 15:18

When someone has a hot temper, it is as if they are taking a fire that is dying and stirring it up with gasoline.  The fight might not even have amounted to anything until they started to overreact. The phrasing here literally used is “cool it.”  Just cool it already!   A patient man will calm a conflict by exhibiting self-control.

Are you a hot-tempered, gasoline type person?

Aloe  

Seems like they are putting aloe in a lot of different lotions and things now.  But, Aloe Vera is a plant which has inherent soothing and  healing qualities to it, especially for burns.

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 15:14

Words can bring healing to someone, or words can crush a spirit.  Someone who operates as aloe, will bring healing words to a situation.  They understand that words mean something and therefore can hurt someone.  They also recognize that with their words they can speak words of healing into a situation.

” A man finds joy in giving an apt reply– and how good is a timely word.” Proverbs 15:23

 An aloe person is able to speak the right words into situations.  It might be a nice word, some piece of advice, or  a scripture that has some meaning for the circumstance.

Are you a healing words, aloe type person?

Lukewarm Milk

When I read through this the image of lukewarm milk came to mind.  I have had many times at a gathering where I have grabbed the milk and it has been warmer than I would have liked.  It wasn’t sour yet, just getting warm.  People who live this way with other people have the same influence on someone as a person who just poured a glass of milk and realized it is not as cold as it should be.  But, since they don’t want to be rude and waste it, they just drink it.  They do avoid that person in the future, creating a strained relationship.

“The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

People who are living life following Jesus Christ, desiring to be used by God, will have wisdom available to them because they are reading God’s Word.  They can then provide some meaningful words to others.  Those who think they know it all, but don’t have any substance to their answer, those are like lukewarm milk.

These are the loud mouth people in your life.  The people who have something to say about everything, but they have no idea what they are talking about.  They might be nice, but no one really takes them all that seriously.  You might fall for it once, but as soon as you take their advice and get hurt, you never come back.

Are you a meaningless words, know it all, lukewarm milk person?

What does this mean for you? 

“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” Proverbs 15:17  

The real motivator for all of this, the real substance for purpose in this, is love.  Love motivates us to encourage, to support, to pray for and uplift people with our words.  Love calls us to have some substance to our speech, to read the Bible and apply it to life in a way that is meaningful for others and ourselves.

This is a hard assessment because it causes us to critically consider how our lives are impacting other people.  Essential to this discussion is our love for God.  If we love God, then we need to set aside the temper and let God use us to love others.

 Make today a day that your words are used for healing and love, not for quarrels and meaningless talk. It will make a huge difference in the relationships you have with others. 

Overcoming and Loving

We perceive our life through the lenses of our eyes.  I see that thing and I want that thing.  I see that game and I want to play that game.

The same is true of what we believe are limitations to what we want to do.  Often people will be under the impression that God is simply trying to take away any fun we might have, when the opposite is actually true.  His commands are a blessing to us and a blessing to other people, but the commands are not all there is.  There is a life change and a new direction that takes place.

Be Overcomers Through Christ

Once again the theme is here that we need to love others because we love God.  But this is not where it begins.  It begins with Jesus Christ on the cross.  This gift of salvation in Christ is available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.  It is offered to everyone, but you must receive it.   That means each person needs to choose to follow Christ for themselves and to trust that He has died for their sin.   It is the only hope we have for a future after death and for a meaningful life now.

Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world.  You know what is so awesome about that is that we get to receive that from him.  In other words, we overcome the world because of Jesus.  He died for us and we receive from Him a new life.

And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. – 1 John 5:4

This makes the challenges we face bearable knowing that Jesus suffered and died in more ways that we did and He overcame the problem of sin in this world, which is the reason we have suffering in the first place.

So, let me encourage you, if you have never given any thought to truly surrendering your life to Jesus, that you would do that.   Jesus offers to all who would believe eternal life because he has paid the penalty for our sin.

Here is an example of how this looks in a song by Matthew West called “Strong Enough”

 You are not strong enough.  You need Jesus Christ.

You are to Love Other People in Christ

We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. – 1 John 5:2

A mark, or a tell tale sign that you are follower of Jesus Christ is how you treat God and how you treat other people.  We are commanded to love God and love other people.  What is confusing is how people often view God’s commands.  But it says  here also  that his commands are not burdensome.  His commands are actually a means to a blessing for you and for others.

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:3

God is not taking your fun away, but giving you a new path that leads to far greater blessing.  It is not about following the rules, it is about knowing Jesus Christ as your friend, as your Lord, as your Savior.

This love for other people matters too.  It matters because people will often see God in you through the way you treat others.  God’s love is made known through you to others.  This involves looking outside of yourself.

There is a video from the Skit Guys that captures this pretty well.  I am not able to embed it here.  I would encourage you to go there via the link and watch it.  I think you will find it to be challenging. — Dennis: An Original Masterpiece (opens in new window)

Who are you around that you could reach out to in love?  It is not all about you.  Jesus came to give of Himself, die for us so that we would go out and live for Him.  This world needs to know the love of God and we are commanded as followers to reach others with that love.

1)Do you know Jesus as your Savior?  Have you accepted His gift of eternal life and been reborn, despite all the struggles and sin?

2)Who can you show God’s love to here, at home, at school, at work?  You have no idea what kind of difference you might make in someone’s life.

 

 

Love = Verb

Love isn't love until you give it away
Love isn’t love until you give it away

Love is often showed to be all about emotion and feeling, but it is not only that, it is more than that – it is about action. 1 John 3:11-18 gives us a solid picture of what that looks like and what that means for us.

Love Continues Naturally

Now I don’t know about you, but love is hard work at times.  Still as someone who follows Jesus Christ, a very significant part of your life is love.  There is no way around that.  It should naturally flow out of you and become more normal that longer you walk with Jesus.

When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, there is an exchange that takes place.   We give up our ways and we take His ways.  We set aside the part of us that wants to be God and we let Jesus be Lord, director, King of our life.  When this happens we go from a place where we are sinful, rebellious people who deserve eternal death, to people who literally take on the perfection of Christ.  No, we are not perfect.  We are looked at as perfect because of Jesus Christ.  We accept the gift He gives to us and we then pass from death to life.  We are born again.  We die to our old way of living and are born again in God’s way; in this way we then live forever.  In the old way we don’t.

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. – 1 John 3:14 (NASB)

When you love you show that you have entered into God’s sphere of life.  We know this because it is completely different from the world, which hates Christians.  Love naturally flows out of those who have had that internal change

Love Gives of Self in large and small ways

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? – 1 John 3:16-17 (NASB)

 Love might be giving your life for someone else. Love might be helping someone put groceries in their car.  It looks different all the time, but it is still about giving of yourself for someone else. Love gives of itself in order to help someone else’s life.  Love is not limited to some supreme sacrifice; it involves lesser ones.

One thing we notice about Jesus is that He was never too tired or busy to minister to the needy.  This was often a problem for His disciples who were on a schedule and didn’t want to waste time on some lesser issues.  Jesus never saw it that way and He stopped and helped people as He went.

This means that we continually lay down our lives, not literally necessarily, but in the sense that we go through life with eyes open to people around us that might need us in some way.  We ask God to gives us eyes to see the world as He sees the world. It is one of the simplest, yet most powerful ways we can share the love of Jesus with people.

What can you do to demonstrate this to people in your neighborhood?  Schools? Homes?

If you see a need, as a follower of Jesus, you really ought to help.  This is what Jesus did and how we, in turn, share Him with the world.

Love is God’s Supreme Purpose in all that He Does

Back to verse 16, it says that Jesus laid down his life for us.  Why did He do that?  What was God’s motivation for doing that?  Love.

It was love that pursued us and died for us.  It was God who saw the destructive path the world had chosen for itself and decided to intervene.  God loves you.  God loves me.  God loves the collective world so much that He would take His perfect Son and place all of our collective sin, all of it, on him and let Him die for it.   Love kept Jesus there.  So, if you want a picture of love in action, you look at Jesus Christ.

God loves you! Will you live in it, apply it, and give it away?
God loves you! Will you live in it, apply it, and give it away?

The challenge is applying this.  So many people go through life completely ignoring God, or maybe acknowledging that He exists with no real heart connection.  God wants a relationship with you.  That is what this is all about.  You and I can enter into His Kingdom if we accept the gift He gave to us as our own.  We recognize that our sin separates us from God, but that God was not content with that, so He entered into His creation in order to bring us together.  He took our sin and died for them so that we would be forgiven and set free from it.  And because of it, we get to experience life with Him forever – eternal life in heaven.

Love is not just sentiment; love is action. God has acted to save you from eternity away from Him.  Will you accept that gift and live in that gift of love?

When the blessing comes around to you.

One of the best parts of a loving church family is their desire to invest in other people.  I know I have been blessed as I have taken time to interact with some of the youth at some sort of school event or other outside activity.  Just showing up speaks volumes.  What has started to happen now is my own children are  finding themselves on the receiving end of this.  There are various adults who will give up time to show my children some support.  It has made me understand the value in that all the more.

IMG_20130205_190942Tuesday night I took all four children to the high school for something my oldest was doing.  He is involved with uni-cycling and they were going to be performing at half time of one of the basketball games.  What a joy it was for me to see some of our church people there to watch him.  One of them even asked him for an autograph.  You should have seen his face.

The church is about more than showing up on Sunday.  We live in the context of community.  We love each other, cry with each other, and celebrate the life of faith we have.  Having more people who love the Lord coming alongside my children is a blessing that means more than I can adequately articulate.  I guess what goes around does actually come around.  If you don’t believe me, check the video out.

This leads me to a challenge for me and for you.  How are you intentionally investing in other people?  I know that might sound scary.  But it is not just the role of pastors to come alongside people.  This is the job of the entire church.  It is not too difficult, but it does take time.  Showing up at something that is meaningful to a student, or a family, will make an impact.

Here is a short video I shot of the event.  Keep in mind that I was wrangling a couple of children as I shot this video.  My son is the one that comes around the far side at the two second mark and then comes closest to us as he makes the circle.

I sat and watched.

waiting roomI sat and watched.  It was not that I was supposed to watch, I just had nothing else to do.  A pharmacy is an interesting place in the middle of an above average flu season.  Me, well, I am there for a similar reason.  They tell me that they will call my name soon, but soon is sure taking a while.  The steady stream of people coming in and picking things up is somewhat annoying to me in my feverish state. I waited, though, what else was I going to do?

To my right was a young man, probably 22 years old.  He was waiting too, but he was obviously not feeling like me.  I noticed he managed to eat an entire bag of beef jerky and an orange drink while he waited.  Me, well, I sat in the chair and waited.

A little while later an older couple came in.  He went to the counter to pick up his prescription  but they needed more information.  This man is a first timer.  He took care of the necessary questions about insurance and took the seat next to me.  In the mean time his wife came to check on him.  He just made a few hand gestures at her and she went over to the greeting cards and began looking at the funny ones.  He just sat, like me, and waited.

It wasn’t too long before they called jerky boy’s name and then the man next to me.  His phone rang as he was getting up and the conversation revealed that he had some sort of sudden health issue he was trying to get a handle on.  The person on the other end was clearly concerned about what was going on.  In the mean time his wife was trying to get the prescription for him.

“That will be $55” said the cashier.  There was a moment of pause and then she got her husband off the phone.  The cashier continued, “insurance paid $83.  The doctor specified a name brand on this.”  A few moments of quiet back and forth between the two indicated that this was more than they thought it should be.   I sat and watched this with empathy   For a moment I thought about getting up and paying for their prescription   I mean, obviously the man has a condition and they can’t afford the medicine.  A life is worth more than any amount of medicine.   But I didn’t.  I didn’t because I knew that I did not have the cash in hand to do that.

They pulled out a credit card and paid for it that way.  I finally got my prescription and was on my way.  I was bothered by what happened.  I want to be in a place where I can see a need in front of me and be able to help them.  I have no idea if they could afford it or not.  I do know that it would have been at least a nice gesture if I would have went up and told them I would help them out.  Can you imagine what would happen if more people did that?

The other thing that gets to me is the opportunity that I might have missed.  Was it God who was prompting me to get up and somehow help them, or was it just my fever?  If it was God, would it make any difference if I had the money or not?  I don’t know if God was prompting me to do something or not.  I do know that this does inspire me to look around  a little more.  I waited for a long time to get a simple prescription, while sick, and God showed me something.    I wonder if we need to wait a little more.  How much is being missed because we are in such a hurry?

At that moment, God wanted me to wait and see what was going on.  And while I didn’t talk with them, it did open my eyes to some simple needs people face right in my own community.   It also gives me a goal to be at a place where I am able to be generous with people.

You know now that I think about it, I was supposed to watch.