“‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these”—Mark 12:30-31(NLT).
For over 11 years, I’ve sat down at my computer each week to write this column. It wasn’t part of my retirement plan after leaving education in 2005. But God had other plans.
Although I grew up in the church, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until my late 40s. I’ve never regretted accepting Jesus as my Savior and Lord. There have been times, however, when I wanted to give up. Trials have left me drained but Jesus has sustained me.
When I grow weary and want to quit writing, His Holy Spirit encourages me through the feedback I receive from readers. Writing for His glory is a labor of love.
We can’t love the unlovable on our own.
Love is the answer to the current discord and hate in this world. If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t our life reflect the light of His love? If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t we love everyone, even the unlovable among us?
Love everyone? What about the person next door who disturbs the neighborhood by constantly yelling at his children? What about the neighbor who leaves trash scattered across his lawn, distracting from the beauty of the area? What about the grumpy one who never speaks, even when you try to establish a relationship? I admit it’s not easy and I sometimes fail.
Injustice, chaos, violence, strife, racism and fear followed by anger, retaliation and nationwide unrest have come to define our country over the past several months. Beginning with the mass shooting in a gay night club in Orlando, FL, the shooting of a black man in Minnesota and another in Louisiana, and ending with the killing of police officers in Dallas, Texas, we are seeking answers and guidance.
Why does it take a tragedy or a series of tragedies to motivate people to speak out about the problems in our world? My thoughts, however, are, “Why are we just talking about it?”
We can give lip service to these shootings, point fingers and blame others, come up with “feel-good” slogans or we can hit our knees and begin praying.
Peace doesn’t come automatically.
Christian author Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote on Facebook, “Praying for God’s comfort, love and compassion for those who have lost loved ones, friends, and family members in Dallas, and wherever lives have so senselessly been taken. And praying for a nation gone so far away from God. Praying that we can come back to the One who holds everything in His hand, not in a moment of silence, but through deep, deep, prayerful cries on our knees, prayers of submission, prayers of surrender, and prayers of longing to be a people who shine as lights in a dark world. How we need You, Jesus! Bring us back to You!”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”— Romans 8:37-39 (NIV).
Standing on Seventh Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the man was holding up a sign. The “Tulsa World” photographer who snapped the photo of him said it was nothing new. It’s quite common to see someone standing on the side of the road holding a sign. In this case, however, the man holding the large sign was not asking for anything. Not food. Not money. Not a job. Nothing.
It was the man’s simple message that drew the photographer’s attention and led him to interview the holder of the white cardboard placard. Written in bold, black lettering were three simple words: Love Never Fails.
When questioned about the sign, he freely admitted suffering from bipolar disorder. He told the reporter he holds the sign while repeatedly reciting The Lord’s Prayer quietly to himself. “It’s selfish,” he said, “because it puts me in a state of serenity.”
He added, “It’s like a mantra.”
No matter what storm you face, you need to know that God loves you.
While some people stop and give him money, he told the journalist that isn’t why he does it. He has a job at a fast-food restaurant and he’s not homeless.
The photo and story, appearing in a December issue of the newspaper, has stayed with me. I clipped and saved it. If you saw the photo, you would see what I see on the man’s face—a presence of peace blanketed over him in love.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins”—1 John 4:10(NLT).
As long as I can recall, I have loved reading. My love affair with books began with my mother’s reading aloud to me. As an elementary student, my reading habits often got me into trouble. Instead of paying attention to the teacher, I would squirrel away my library book behind a textbook.
My tastes in reading ran the gamut from mysteries to science fiction. My mother often caught me hiding under the bed covers at night with a good Nancy Drew mystery, using a flashlight to read the words penned to capture a child’s imagination.
As a child, reading was an escape from the world into an imaginary one set in different places and different times. I still love reading make-believe stories today. However, fiction is not my only source of reading material.
“I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.”
Recently, while donating some used books for resale at our local library, I was asked to pose for a photo with my favorite book. The Friends of the Library is using the event to spark interest in reading. As I pondered the question, I tried to remember some of my favorite books. My mind recalled some childhood as well as adult books I had thoroughly enjoyed. But were they really my favorite?
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”—Psalm 136:1(NRSV).
On a recent overcast day, the cold had driven the birds to my suet feeders. The feeders are located outside my kitchen window, offering me a great view of the variety of birds dining on the peanut butter laden treats. When we have an extremely cold winter, I have to refill the feeders more often. With this year’s milder weather, I’ve not had to do so. The usual visitors are shades of brown and gray.
On this particular day, several cardinals showed up to eat their share. I marveled at their red beauty and by the contrast they provided to the dull winter colors of the bare trees and dead grass. While the drabness of winter doesn’t bother me, the unexpected appearance of these creatures brought hope to my weary soul. Overwhelmed, all I could say was, “Thank you, God, for sharing your love today.”
What does love look like?
If we would only open our eyes, we could see a glimpse of God’s love everywhere, every day. I am reminded of this when I see an elderly person struggling to open a door and, before I can respond, a teenager rushes to pull it open. I always smile because it’s a reminder of His love.
Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” That’s love.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”—Luke 9:24-25 (NLT).
Some people might be surprised to learn the world does not revolve around them. What? You mean it doesn’t!
As infants, we sure thought it did. We cried and someone tended to our needs. We got fed. Our diapers got changed. We were picked up and rocked to sleep. In my case, the rocking chair didn’t work for my eldest, so I had to dance him to sleep. I’ve known other parents who had to place their infant in a car seat and drive him repeatedly around the block until he dozed off.
However, some never outgrow this demanding behavior. If I whine enough, people will do what I want. If I stomp my foot, they’ll jump. If I pucker up, ready to burst into tears, they’ll do anything to keep me happy.
“We shine most brightly when we give ourselves away.”
Guess what! That’s not what God wants from His children. If we hang onto our lives, always seeking to please ourselves, we’ll never grow up.
In his book “It’s Not About Me,” Max Lucado writes, “When God looks at the center of the universe, he doesn’t look at you. When heaven’s stagehands direct the spotlight toward the star of the show, I need no sunglasses. No light falls on me. Lesser orbs, that’s us. Appreciated. Valued. Loved dearly. But central? Essential? Pivotal? Nope. Sorry.
“Perhaps our place is not at the center of the universe,” he adds. “As John Piper writes, ‘God does not exist to make much of us. We exist to make much of him.’”
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs”—Proverbs 10:12 (NIV).
In a recent morning devotional, the writer shared about the loss of his 17-year-old grandson, the fatal victim of a robbery. Commenting on his grandson, the grandfather said, “We had recently attended his high school graduation, and he planned to enter college in the fall. He was a handsome, loving and talented young man. Now, suddenly, he was gone.”
As the writer continued to share his story, my heart went out to him and his family. I can’t imagine the pain they’ve experienced. The writer said, “The senseless murder of our grandson was not part of God’s plan. ‘What,’ I wondered, ‘led the killers to tear a hole in the glory of God’s world?’ The only answer that came to me was that evil had taken root in their lives because love was not there to crowd it out.”
As I pondered this thought, I had to agree. If someone never experiences the love of a parent, a kind neighbor, a compassionate school teacher, a loving church family or even the kindness of a stranger, how do they understand the love of Christ? As the writer above said in his devotional, “Many people who commit crimes against their neighbors have not experienced God’s love through their interactions with others. Much of the violence in life can be prevented if we Christians extend love to all people.”
If God can love us, surely we can love those around us.
All people—even the ones whom we’d rather avoid? The ones that rub us the wrong way or slyly insult us…do we have to love them too? Yes, according to Jesus, even the ones who annoy us, step on our toes, invade our personal space or whose personal habits cause us to turn up our nose in disgust.