Leave Them Better Than You Found Them

After I wrote yesterday’s post, I remembered something.  Actually, I was just about ready to fall asleep and I had a thought pop into my brain.  As a side note, that is a strange place for that to happen for me, usually it is when I am taking a shower that I think the clearest.  But anyway, I got to thinking about how in many different places in my life I have been told to “leave it better than you found it.”  This is easy to understand when you are given something to borrow, or you are in someone’s home.  But what about if we thought the same about the people we encountered everyday?

Encouragement comes in many places.

I was at a hotel with my family some months ago and I noticed an older couple strolling around the lobby.  The older man was in a wheelchair and his wife was pushing him around.  Immediately I had compassion for them because they looked tired to me.  She loved him and would do anything for him.   He had some sort of health problem that limited him to the wheelchair.  I noticed they wanted to go into the pool area to see what was going on in there, but holding the door was challenging.  I went over a held the door so they could come in and then when they left again.  They both smiled at me and thanked me for my help.  I didn’t do much, but I hope I left them better than I found them.

Words have the power to hurt and heal.  Of course working with people can be a challenge.  If I chose to be negative or grumble about others, I will just add negativity to an already negative situation.  People don’t always do things like I do them.  Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes other people make mistakes.  We are all human.  One thing that helps make things better is gratitude. I can say thank you.  In fact, I have found that one way to counteract negativity in the workplace or in the home is to say thank you, even to that person that can rub you wrong.  Actually, this is probably something we all can do better at.  It doesn’t hurt and it is free.

What can you do today to leave them better than you found them?  Someone needs you to lift them up today. 

Who can you lift up today? 

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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 Always Wins

As I watched my boys ride their bikes around the yard with their light sabers in hand, I had to appreciate the normalcy of this afternoon.  As strange as it might seem to those without children, these are routine activities in our world.  In fact, it is these behaviors that will be missed when they are grown and gone.  Within these games are moments of conflict.  No, it is not that we are conflicted about their activities while watching them, but our children will invariably injure each other and get irritated with each other.  It is highly dramatic for a few moments, and then it is forgotten.    These are normal conflicts between people who ultimately love each other.  We live in it and move on with forgiveness.  Love always wins.

One week ago today was the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  It has been a highly dramatic week, the likes of which we don’t experience in this country often.  Consider how quickly things progressed and how this battle played out for all to see on live television.  These types of events are on a whole different level for us because they demonstrate callous disregard for human life.  There is no battle between opposing forces, or even any chance to disagree on anything.  Someone plants a bomb in a crowd and walks away without any thought of the lives that will momentarily be changed.  It is a cowardly way to make a statement of any kind.

In the aftermath, we wept with those who wept and rejoiced with those who rejoiced.   We prayed for God to make sense out of the nonsense.  The horror of it all was replayed in our minds as our children asked their own questions about what has gone on. Why do people do such things?

The world is broken by sin and sin kills.  However,  God has made a way out of it!

There is a stark contrast between the conflicts that happen between brothers and conflicts that happen between cowards and innocent people.  The later  hurts us deeply and strengthens our resolve to stand against it.  Why?  Because we inherently recognize that these actions are wrong and should not be tolerated.  They are actions that should never be forgotten even as we move on in prayer for the suspect and those he injured.

May we turn to God for strength and hope as a nation.  May our hearts desire be for people, all people, to know the love of God through Jesus Christ.  The only answer for all of this evil is a Savior, Jesus Christ.

We can never forget what sin has done to us all.  We cannot lose sight of our God who paid a high price to free us from the bondage of sin.  Sin always kills and we can to be free from it.  Love always wins.

Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13


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?

Why love?

This way..follow me
This way..follow me

Staying on course in life is about knowing whom to follow.  Following the wrong person will take you to the wrong place.   We truly need to commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ.  That means everything from obedience to trust.  As we do that, it changes us.  But, do you realize that following Jesus is about more than rules.  It is mainly about love.  God loves us and we love others.  This is a truth that is inseparable from a follower of Jesus Christ.

Your Sins are Forgiven

“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” – 1 John 2:12

The verse says that our sins are forgiven on account of his name. He does not beg for mercy for us, but he asks for that which his own blood has been sacrificed for.

When we live in the light (with Jesus)—our life does express love.  This love allows us to look at each other with humility because we recognize that we don’t deserve to the salvation we have received from Jesus.   No matter what we have done, compared to whomever, we have been forgiven on Jesus’ account.  We have no reason to hate anyone.

Now, how does this translate into love for others?  What does this have to do with relationships?

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”  1 John 2:9

God’s Word lives in You

“I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.  I write to you young men because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” – 1 John 2:14

The word ‘known’ is repeated a few times in verse 13 and 14. The word is the Greek indicates that someone has come to know something by spending time, or through exposure.  When I was first getting to know my wife, before she was my wife, we spent time talking together.  We would sit for hours and ask each other questions and talk.  As we did things together with other people, we learned more about each other.  It is that experience, that time together, that helps build relationship.

This verse adds one key to help us to know God – His Word.   This Word of God lives in us!  That means it does a work in us.  It causes us to recognize sin and to understand a little more about our place before God.  It helps us to draw nearer to Him as we are exposed to it.  And look at what happens.

1-    Strength!  We need strength don’t we.  Everywhere we go we are bombarded with images and ideas that are counter God’s Word.  Friends who don’t uphold God’s Word might lead you a completely different direction.  We need strength.

2-    Overcome evil – We also need to understand the spiritual reality.  There is evil in the world that has been overcome by Jesus Christ.  We are able to overcome him as well because of Jesus Christ—by the Word of God

 When God’s Word lives in you it is active, working, shaping, and speaking to you.   This affects all areas of life, especially relationships because we are told who we are in Christ and how we are to live with each other in unity and without gossip, slander, or false accusations.  God’s Word is a remedy to relationship drama!

 You are a Child of God

This is not something you earned.   This was made possible because of Jesus Christ.  You did not do anything to earn that place.  It ia on the account of Jesus Christ that you are welcomed into the family and given a place of honor, a place of inheritance, and eternal life.

“In the days that followed the American war, many an incident was told of the tender bonds of fellowship and suffering, on the battlefield or in the Southern hospital – bonds which often gave the stranger a place in the old homestead as dear as that of the fallen soldier boy whom he had befriended.  One such incident is related of a wretched tramp who called one day at a farmhouse in the west and was refuse, very naturally, by the suspicious housewife.  But the stranger drew from his well-worn pocket a scrap of paper and handed it to the woman.  It was the writing of her boy, and it told how this man had fought by his side and then had nursed him in the hospital until the last hour had come; and how, as these lines were being written, he was committing his dying body and his last messages home and mother to his hands; and it asked them, if they ever met, to receive him and love him as he had been loved and cherished, for his sake and in his name.  That was enough.”

The haggard face and ragged dress and tramp-like appearance of the stranger were all forgotten, and the rough man was clasped in that mother’s arms and taken to that home circle as a child, for the sake of another.” – From the book The Life of Prayer by A.B. Simpson

This is how we have become identified with Jesus and our Father receives us in His name as He receives Him. This tears down barriers and removes hostilities.  We don’t hate each other, we love.  We have nothing to be angry about, we have been given eternal life in Jesus Christ.

love is not optional
love is not optional


 Renew yourself tonight to the love of God and of His people.  If you have a grudge against someone, it is time to end it—Jesus Christ has ended the hostility between us and God and we have no reason to hold any hostilities or anger.  Hurts are real.  People do evil things, but we must do all we can to allow the love of God to be a part of who we are.  It is not an add-on – it is the essence of God’s work in us!