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How to Live a Real Life

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real… It doesn’t happen all at once.  You become.”  –from The Velveteen Rabbit

I took a few minutes yesterday to write a short encouraging email to a friend. It was a simple thing, really, something I do often and that I enjoy doing for people I care about. I soon got the following reply:

I love you John. Thank you for sharing. :) You warm my heart with your words.

Just like the Velveteen Rabbit, I am becoming real.  And just like the Velveteen Rabbit, it is because of love.  No, not the passionate, heart-stopping Hollywood stuff, but the ordinary give and take of simply loving people in simple and ordinary ways, and being open to receiving their love too. I like to think that’s what living a real life is all about.

But it’s not always so easy, is it? There seems to be two big traps that crowd out real life: fluff and drama.  By “fluff” I mean things that easily occupy the time in our day, that seem to be engaging and life-giving, but that really don’t have anything to do with the real business of life, giving and receiving love. Spending hours watching entertaining television, surfing the net to watch the latest cute kitten video, watering vegetables you can’t eat on Facebook— they all certainly seem to be enjoyable, but do they help us become real? Are they paths to giving and receiving love, or are we just pointlessly spinning our wheels, going nowhere?

The second trap is what I call drama: anxiety, worry, focusing on what others think, power, bitterness, greed— there are so many things that suck us into a whirlpool of drama that consumes our time and energy without giving us any life in return. Whether it’s that nagging thought of whether we really look pretty enough or a resentment that fills every waking thought, every second of drama in our life is one second less that we have to abide in love.

So, once you cut out the fluff & cut out the drama in your life, what next? Fill your life with pathways to give love, according to your unique gifts and your unique place in the world.  How do you love? I love best when I use words to encourage, teach, & give wisdom, when I listen, when I laugh, when I hug, when I help people with their health concerns. Spend time thinking about how you love best, and use your list to structure your time & priorities.

And how are you loved best? I am loved when I am open to God’s presence, when I am open to receiving gratitude (& hugs!), & when I immerse myself in life instead of being on the sidelines. Don’t be afraid of a life filled with both giving and receiving genuine love.

Do you want to become real? It’s simple: live a real life, a life filled with love. Start today.

Spiritual Seed Pack: Crazy Love

I love books that are in your face and don’t mince words. There are few books that are more straightforward than Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. His writing and his challenges are plain:

  1. What’s Wrong With Christianity Is That We Aren’t Crazy About God
  2. We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Don’t Really Know Him
  3. We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Are Too Crazy About Us
  4. Lukewarm Love for God Is Good for Nothing
  5. If You Get Crazy in Love With God You’ll Lead a Crazy Life

Crazy Love is a quick, easy read that will impact your life. I highly recommend getting that you read the whole book, but here’s your seed pack of its core ideas:

What’s Wrong With Christianity Is That We Aren’t Crazy About God

To just read the Bible, attend church, and avoid “big” sins— is this passionate, wholehearted love for God? –Francois Fenelon

Chan writes boldly that everyone can see that all is not well with the American church— that we really seem little different than people who don’t go to church.

“The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians.”— those are just symptoms, not the core issue. “The answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts”

The core issue is getting “crazy in love” with God. Remember when you were wildly in love with someone? It changed EVERYTHING— you were consumed with the person, every thought, every moment of your life was structured around them.

That’s the passion we need to feel about God.

Until we get crazy in love with God little will change in our lives or in the church.

We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Don’t Really Know Him

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. –A. W. Tozer

The first step in getting crazy in love with God is to really get our minds around who He is in all His power & glory & majesty & love.

“If my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the size of all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say He is only the small amount of water I can scoop into my little can.”

“God is holy. In heaven exists a Being who decides whether or not I take another breath.”

“The greatest good on this earth is God. Period. God’s one goal for us is Himself. Do you believe that God is the greatest thing you can experience in the whole world?”

We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Are Too Crazy About Us

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. –(James 4:14)

The second step in getting crazy in love with God is to get a proper perspective of who we are in relation to God and eternity.

“On the average day, we live caught up in ourselves. On the average day, we don’t consider God very much. On the average day, we forget that our life truly is a vapor.”

“It’s crazy that we think today is just a normal day to do whatever we want with. Do you live with the reality that perhaps today you will die?”

“We generally think our puny lives are pretty sweet compared to loving Christ.”

In other words, we need to step back, take a look around, and realize that—

“Life is all about God and not about me at all.”

“Frankly, you need to get over yourself.”

Lukewarm Love for God Is Good for Nothing

“Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?” –Chan

The third step in getting crazy in love with God is to realize that what usually passes just fine for devotion in the American church is pretty lame in the eyes of God. Chan says that just because we are saved and try to live a good life, we assume that we are the “good soil” in Christ’s parable.

DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU ARE GOOD SOIL.

“When we want God and a bunch of other stuff, then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it.”

“Most of us have too much in our lives.”

“Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on the things of this world?”

Do we really see God as infinitely more precious than anything else in our life?

“Well, I’m not sure You are worth it, God.. You see, I really like my car, or my little sin habit, or my money, and I’m really not sure I want to give them up, even if it means I get You.”

“We need to realize that how we spend our time, what our money goes toward, and where we will invest our energy is equivalent to choosing God or rejecting Him.”

“We disgust God when we weigh and compare Him against the things of this world. It makes Him sick when we actually decide those things are better for us than God Himself.”

Do we really consider ourselves as fully devoted, no holds barred, to God?

“If you sign up for the Marines, you have to do whatever they tell you. They own you. Somehow this realization does not cross over to our thinking about the Christian life.”

“Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to.”

“Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering.”

If You Get Crazy in Love With God You’ll Lead a Crazy Life

The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life. –Daniel Webster

The life of a Christian should be marked by the word OBSESSION. Not obsessed with a list of rules or performance or measuring up, but obsessed with loving God and loving others through Him.

“Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress.”

People who are crazy in love with God love freely, give freely, serve freely, sacrifice freely, take risks, are humble and honest with God and with people.

“If we really believe that if we sacrifice things on earth so that we will have an eternity of rewards, it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Dare to imagine what it would mean for you to take the words of Jesus seriously.”— & GET CRAZY!

Book Review: This Is Your Brain in Love

Dr. Henslin’s first book, This Is Your Brain on Joy, presented a good introduction to the physiology of some common biochemical disorders of the brain and steps to diagnose and treat them.  I was expecting this new book to be a helpful exploration of the physiology and biochemistry of love.

However, this book really isn’t much about the biochemistry of love at all, but is instead an uneven and disappointing mashup of various topics, some helpful, some confusing. There is a short first chapter which serves as a warm introduction to the concept of romantic love and its biochemistry.  Next is a chapter on sexuality and spirituality, which was a nice read but has really no connection to the rest of the book.

Suddenly, he launches into the main part of the book– talking about the five “love styles” which are trumpeted on the book’s cover but are really just a thinly retooled rehash of his first book— describing five basic types of brain pathology.  I was frankly confused— “wait, this is just talking about pathology, this isn’t about love at all”  ”what if my spouse and I don’t have any biochemical pathology, do I just skip the next 130 pages?” “where does personality style end and pathology begin?” “Is he implying that most people have deficient biochemistry that needs treating?”

He ends the book with another unrelated chapter titled “The Secret to Lasting Love” (short version: be kind, patient, honest, & forgiving), and then appendixes on brain-healthy eating, sexual addiction, brain scans, and hormone therapy for women.

Overall, the book has some helpful new information, but fell far short of my expectations.  Read his first book instead.

Book Review: L.O.V.E.

There’s no shortage of books on marriage: Amazon currently lists over 14,000 under the search term “marriage help.” And there’s no shortage of books by the married psychologist couple Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott: they have already written over a dozen.

So what does this book add that is useful? It is a good discussion of personality temperament psychology as it applies to marriage. Originating in ancient Greece, temperament theory poses that there are four basic flavors of personalities, that cause people to desire and react differently. In the ancient system, these were known as choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. Forty years ago then young Christian writer Tim LaHaye re-popularized this theory with a series of books including his classic Spirit Controlled Temperament. In the 1990s psychologist Gary Chapman repackaged the four temperaments concept in his popular marriage book Making Love Last Forever using the animal word pictures of lion, beaver, otter, & golden retriever.

In L.O.V.E, the same basic breakdown is used, but repackaged as “love styles” with the labels Leader, Optimist, Validator & Evaluator (that spells out L. O. V. E. in case you weren’t looking.) There are chapters that explain each of the four types, and then chapters on how to best relate to each of the four types in a relationship.

The material is well written and organized, and provides some useful insights both into yourself and your mate. Reading through L.O.V.E. I had some new “aha!” moments even though I have read other personality typing books in the past.

A few qualms: I didn’t appreciate that the four “styles” are presented as original, even though they are obviously based on previous typing systems. Second, I was bugged by the book’s repeated references to the extra cost online typing test that the Parrots’ have on their website. Lastly, except for a few generic Bible verses, this shouldn’t be considered a “Christian” book— there is no talk of grace, no talk of the role of the Spirit, no talk of God’s plan for marriage or the differing roles of husband and wife. Overall, however, L.O.V.E. is a good read that should be useful for any marriage.

How People Are Not Like Pac-Man

Most people have played Pac-Man at some point in their lives. Most of us will get past a few levels, only to eventually get eaten by the ghosts and lose the game.

An expert, however, can play the game through its 255 levels without losing once. How can they win so flawlessly over and over again? Simple: the game always stays the same. The ghosts (the bad guys) have behavior patterns that never change; learn the patterns once and you master the game. The Pac-Man you won at in 1980 you can win at today doing the exact same thing because it is the exact same game.

And that, my friends, is precisely how people are not like Pac-Man. People change.

Yes, I know you already knew that, but do you live like it? Have you thought about the implications of it?

The people that you knew in 1980 do not exist anymore. They have become different people. The people you knew last week do not exist anymore either; they have become different as well, and so have you.

This means that the relationship that you have with them has to change. If you “play” your relationship with your parent, your friend, your spouse, your child, in the exact same way that you did ten years ago, you will lose— people are not like Pac-Man. This is a prime reason relationships fail: the people change, but the relationship does not.

The moral of the story? Look at your vital relationships with your friends and your family. Are you trying to play by exactly the same rules? Do you expect your spouse to devote the same amount of time to you as she did before she had children? Do you expect your friend to be able to drop everything he was doing to go golfing the way he did before he got married? Do you expect your teen to relate to you the same way he did as a tween?

For a relationship to grow and flourish it has to change with the passage of time, just as the people that make up the relationship do. Don’t try to force your past rules or past expectations on the people in your life; always be looking for “new patterns” to win at your relationship “games” everyday.

The Difference Between Love and LOVE

waterfall by Johan Larsson via Flickr

For much of my adult life, I thought that God loved me.

Which was a sad state to be in.

What do I mean by that? I mean that although I had read books on religion and theology, and had read the entire Bible through multiple times, I felt God’s love only in terms of how a human might love, if even that.

Although I couldn’t have put it in words, my heart felt that God loved me out of obligation.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if God was up in heaven saying, “There’s Hollandsworth, you know, he’s really not very lovable, he’s actually kind of a mess, but, you know, Gabriel, I’m God, and he’s a Christian, so I guess I have to love him.”

But that’s not how God loves me at all.  The Bible clearly says how infinite His love is, how He delights in His children, how precious we are in His eyes, despite all our flaws and stumbling.  The nature of His love is so much higher and stronger and grander than we can even comprehend, and to know & taste of this love is to have our heart transformed.

How, then, can we grasp this love of the Father for us?  How can we get our minds around it, and let it change our hearts?  Jesus gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son to show us the love of the Father.  And I have to admit, I used to think, “Wow, it took a lot for that father to forgive his son, even when he came and asked his forgiveness.”  But that’s not what the story says at all!  Luke 15:20 says:

But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Realize this: the father saw him & loved him, ran to him & embraced & kissed him BEFORE the son asked for forgiveness, BEFORE the father even knew whether his heart had changed.  For all the father knew, his son was still the ungrateful, self-centered jerk that had insulted & publicly dishonored him.  For all the father knew, he was still the son who legally deserved to be stoned, or at the very least disowned and not worthy of even the father’s gaze in his direction.  But such was the father’s love, that it was LOVE, poured freely out without any regard to how worthy the son was in anyone else’s sight or judgment— not even the son’s.

The astonishing, incredible, life changing truth is that God has poured the ABSOLUTE FULL measure of His infinite love upon me right now, and there is NOTHING I can do to make Him love me more, or make Him love me less.

If you think in word pictures, imagine standing under this mighty waterfall of God’s love, with it roaring and completely enveloping you, giving you strength & joy & peace & love, never ending, for all eternity.

The words bear repeating (why don’t you say them out loud):

God has poured the ABSOLUTE FULL measure of His infinite love upon me right now, and there is NOTHING I can do to make Him love me more, or make Him love me less.

Say it, pray it, meditate upon it, & ask God to open up your soul to the reality of His infinite, unconditional love today.

Three Steps to Heal a Wounded Heart

broken heart by CarbonNYC via Flickr

We All Have Wounded Hearts—

Whenever two people are in contact, they will end up wounding each other.  That’s the inevitable result of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Doesn’t matter how much they love each other or how careful, kind, & considerate they are; the time will come when pain will be inflicted.

Sometimes the wound is trivial; sometimes it is devastating.  The wound can be a one-time injury or it may be repeated daily, growing deeper & more painful over months & years.  It can come from the hand of a casual acquaintance or from the person who means the world to them.

Regardless of the source or the severity, what we all end up with are wounded hearts.  Whether it’s a little wound easily ignored, or one that feels like our whole chest has been ripped open, we know that it needs to be healed. 

The question is, how?  How do you heal a wounded heart?

What We Usually Try Doesn’t Work

We all try to do our best to answer that question for ourselves, but we usually don’t do such a hot job of healing our hearts.  Often, we end up just trying to stop the pain for a while and think that we are healing the wound.  So we use addictions, whether of food or drink or drugs or sex.  Or maybe we will try to plug up the hole with success or shopping or other “stuff.” Others will turn to anger or revenge to try and seal over the wound. None of these patches last, and all of them end up wounding the heart in even deeper ways.

But what does work?  What will bring true & lasting healing to a wounded heart?  I have found there needs to be three steps to fully close the wound and fully heal the heart.  They all need to be done, and they need to be done in order.  With these three steps, I can guarantee that any heart can be healed of even the deepest wound.

Simple, But Not Easy

The three steps are simple, but they are not easy.  If they were, then doubtless we wouldn’t be struggling so often with a wounded heart, would we?  Because it is not easy to heal a wounded heart, there are two prerequisites, two things that you must have before you can walk the path of healing:

The first thing we need is humility.  Without humility, you cannot take even the first step to healing a wounded heart. But as anyone whose heart has been wounded knows, humility is very hard to come by when you’ve been wronged and you’re hurting.  It’s the exact opposite of what our heart naturally seeks when wounded. 

“Why should I be humble?  I’m the one who was wronged, I’m the one who is hurting, I’m the one whose life is a mess!  Look at me!”  All of those reasons sound, well, reasonable, but unfortunately they’re all wrong.  No spiritual problem can be solved when the heart is gripped by pride.  That’s why Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  We must allow our heart to be humble, even in its woundedness, before healing can begin.

The second prerequisite for healing a wounded heart is Jesus. Honestly, you can read all the books, go to all the seminars, and meet with all the counselors you can find, but until you fall down at the feet of the Healer from Nazareth, your heart can never be whole.  Jesus Himself told us that his mission on earth was to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18 NKJV).  Only the Spirit of Christ can give you the strength to follow the three steps.  You must be willing to go to Him & trust Him with your wounded heart.

First Step: Forgive

The first step to heal a wounded heart is to forgive.  Yes, it doesn’t sound fair.  But it is true.  Until your heart is filled with true, pure forgiveness, it will never heal.  Never.

I won’t pretend this is an easy step.  If the hurt is deep, it’s not easy at all.  But it’s necessary. You cannot make any progress at all in healing your heart until you forgive the hurt that has been done to you.  That’s why Jesus taught his disciples over & over the importance of forgiveness.  Whether He was in prayer (Matthew 6:12) or in parables (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus focused on forgiveness.

If you think, “I just can’t forgive this…” then know that if you are a child of God you can forgive, for you can have the mind of Christ. He can help you forgive even the worst of sins against you.  He is our strength & our example, for He forgave those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  Pray for the Lord to grant you a heart of forgiveness.

Second Step: Accept

I wrote about the beauty of acceptance back in 2007.  In that article I outlined the three barriers we face in truly accepting one another:

  1. Lack of Intimacy
  2. Failed Expectations
  3. Hurt From Wrongs

We need forgiveness to get past all these barriers, but our hearts need to grow beyond forgiveness to heartfelt acceptance.  We can look to Jesus as our guide, for He was known for His acceptance of the rich and the poor, the saint & the sinner, the priest and the prostitute.  He accepted all who came to Him (John 6:37).

With the help of humility & the Spirit of Christ, accept the one who wounded you. When your heart can reach out to another’s heart, understand that they are human and flawed just as you are, and forgive their wrongs, then the healing balm of acceptance can further restore your heart.

Final Step: Love

Once we have forgiven and once we accept, then our hearts are free to love.  I know, part of you is saying, “Wait, I just want my wound healed, I just want to feel better, and now you’re telling me to love the person who caused this?”  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Our hearts were made to love, and they will never be whole until they wholly love.  Instinctively, we know this to be true.  Jesus taught that it was the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), and He gave us the specific commandment to love one another (John 15:12).

How can we love someone who has wounded us & hurt us, who may even hate us?  Here again, Jesus is our example, for while we were still in rebellion against Him, He loved us enough to die for us (Romans 5:8).  And the Bible promises in Romans 5:5 that we are able to love because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Truly, we are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

A Final Thought

Forgive. Accept. Love.  The three steps of the path of healing, a path that can only be taken girded with humility, walking with Jesus.

Jesus can heal our hearts & free our hearts to forgive, to accept, & to love.  As God heals your heart’s wounds may you grow to embrace and rejoice in the following words from 1 John 4:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God….

God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…

We love because He first loved us.

Book Review: The Love Dare

Half of all marriages end in divorce.  That means most marriage relationships are either severely dysfunctional or headed that way.  What is the answer?

The Love Dare’s answer is that we don’t really understand how to live out the love that marriage requires.  Inspired by the movie Fireproof, this book is a forty day devotional that covers various aspects of the true sacrificial love which is missing from many marriages.

There is a lot to like about this book.  It clearly explains the nature of mature love & practically challenges you to live it out.  It emphasizes how YOU have to be the one to take responsibility and change, regardless of how your partner does or does not respond, and it shows how the strength for that kind of love is powered by a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This book has had a powerful impact on thousands of people, and I am very thankful for the truth it teaches.

However, the book does have some shortcomings.  First, the book is unnaturally constrained to fit the plot of the movie.  The movie’s plot confronted the main character with his need for a personal relationship with God mid-way through, and so the book follows suit.  Halfway through the forty days, we suddenly shift to a presentation of how living out sacrificial love should make one realize his absolute need for Christianity.  For Christians reading a book on marriage, the discussion of how our relationship with Christ should structure our marital relationship should be foundational, should be page 1.  On the other hand, a non-Christian reading the book frankly is unlikely to be impressed by this sudden foray into an altar call in the middle of the book.

Second, the book spends little time on the differing roles of the husband and wife in a marriage.  From a Biblical standpoint, there are real & crucial differences in how a man loves & responds to his wife vs. how a woman loves & responds to her husband.  The Love Dare doesn’t address these differing roles which are very important to the success of any Christian marriage.

Third, I felt there was this unwritten “if you do these steps your marriage will be transformed” aura to the book.  While all marriages can benefit from going through this devotional, I think that many seriously troubled marriages will not have the movie’s storybook happy ending at the end of forty days.  Consequently, I fear people will either conclude they failed in some way or that God failed in some way.  Neither would be true.  Many marriages need more than just a good devotional; they need intensive personal intervention by a  person of wisdom such as a counselor or pastor plus two partners who are both committed and humble.  In my experience true humility is seldom found in both halves of a troubled relationship.

The Love Dare is forty days of wisdom and challenge that will benefit any marriage; just don’t consider it to be the complete cure-all for every troubled relationship in the world.

Four Quick & Easy Discouragement Busters

Ever have “one of those days”— one where you seemed hammered in every direction by things that seemed expressly designed to discourage you?

Sure, we all have had those days, where our spirits took a beating.

So, how do you respond when you get blindsided by discouraging thoughts and situations?

Well, you don’t need silly cliches. (Anyone remember “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“?)

You don’t need a 238 page doctoral dissertation on the causes of discouragement and how to overcome them.

But….. what would come in handy would be a few easy to remember truths that you can use to immediately shore up your battered spirit.  Something direct, to the point, to turn your mind away from what’s trying to seize control of your thoughts, and set yourself back on the road to both positive thoughts and actions.

So, the next time you are attacked by discouragement, just pull out these four quick and easy discouragement busters and turn yourself around!

#1 God Loves You

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)

This is the most simple, yet most important discouragement buster in the universe– to focus your mind on the incredible fact of God’s love for you. I’ve written before that there is no greater reality in the universe than Christ & His love.  Every pain, hurt, nuisance, and discouragement fades away if we simply focus on God’s love.

As we focus on God’s love for us, our natural response is to respond in love to God. Telling God “I love you!” has tremendous power to lift your spirit out of discouragement.

#2 You Are God’s Poem

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
 
The Greek word for “workmanship” here is poiema. Yes, it’s the original word from where we get our English word poem.  As a child of God, you are His workmanship, His masterpiece, His poem of strength and beauty that He is crafting for eternity.

When we are discouraged, we think that things don’t matter, that we don’t matter, and we often stop taking care of ourselves and stop taking care of others.  We cease from the good works that God created us to walk in.  But the truth is that we do matter to God, that we are special in His sight, and that we can bask in the light of His love and care.  With this focus we can regain the strength to once again treat ourselves and others around us like the poiema of God.

#3 God Will Reward You for Your Faithfulness

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)

When we get discouraged, one thing that frequently happens is we lose hope and give up on doing good. We think, “What’s the use?” That’s why both Jesus and Paul remind us that no good work goes unrewarded. Even if it seems like we are getting nowhere, we can still be confident that God is seeing our acts of love, kindness, and courage, and that He will pay us in full.

When you get discouraged, keep trying, keep giving, keep loving, keep doing good, looking to God’s sure reward.
 

#4 Heaven Is Your Home

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)

No matter how bleak our situation, we can take heart that every letdown, every pain, hurt, illness, heartbreak, or even death, is only temporary. This world, with all its discouragement, truly is not our home. God will one day remove every imperfection that could ever cause us to be discouraged, and our joy with Him will be unbroken, forever.

God loves you; you are His poem; He will reward your faithfulness; Heaven is your home. Encourage your heart with these wonderful truths today.

The Most Important Choice You’ll Make Today

choice love garden path

Each day is a series of choices.  Some days the choices seem to come fast and furious in a helter-skelter chaotic blur.  Other days there seems to be only one choice, the one that seems to scream for your exclusive attention and leaves you emotionally petrified and mentally exhausted.  Whatever kind of day you are experiencing today, let me draw your attention to the most important choice you will make today, one that will affect every other choice and every other part of your day.

The choice is both simple yet difficult: simple to say, difficult to do.  Here it is:

Today I choose to love, embrace, & enjoy God, others, and life.

Take a moment to savor and reflect upon each word:

Today…  There has been much said about the importance of living in the moment, in the now, and it is true.  You must live today, and the choices you make must be for today.  You can choose to live in a past which you can do nothing about, or live in a future over which you have no control.  Choose to live in today.

I…   no one else will make this choice for you, and no one else can hinder you from making this choice.  It is up to you.  Choose.

Choose…  again, it is your choice to make.  Live intentionally: know that you are making the choice, and know what choice you are making.  Don’t let your life and your soul be a ship shoved in whichever direction the storm is raging; let your choice be the anchor that keeps you firmly where you want to be.

Love…  the pre-eminent commandment from the Bible is to love God, and then love others.  It is that simple.  And yet it is still our choice to love.  Sometimes it is a hard choice, but the alternative, not to love, empties our souls.  Love God, love others, and love the gift of life.

Embrace… All is a gift: receive it and embrace it as such.  God has given us Himself as the most precious gift of all.  Embrace Him.  Every person in our life is there for a reason, even if they seem to be indifferent or even hurtful to us.  Choose to embrace them.  We can merely live life, or we can give it a big bear hug, even with its pain.  Embrace life.

Enjoy…  Loving and embracing opens our hearts to joy.  Genuinely enjoy God as you love His beauty and embrace His presence.  Enjoy everyone in your life for who they are and what they bring to your life.  Enjoy your life, amidst both the victories and defeats, the peaks and the valleys.  Enjoy every day, enjoy every minute.

Love, embrace, enjoy.  It really is your choice.  Choose God, choose others, choose life today.

For those interested, the garden path photo was shot by me at The National Aboretum in 2006.  The text was added via the very cool editor at www.picknik.com.  If you’d like a copy of the picture, you can download it in various sizes here.