God uses the life-threatening battles we face for good for those that love Him. Romans 8:28 tells us that quilt clearly.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
The key here is “love!” Do we really love God or do we approach Him as a tool to be used, a genie in a bottle who will grant our every wish? One aspect of life threatening illnesses is that they give us a “wake-up call” that we so desperately need. They remind us that our life is really not about us, it is about us being created in the image of a holy and perfect God and being given the opportunity to choose to love Him or not. Love is a choice, or it can be an obstacle, but regardless we chose it. You would think that while struggling for every single breath in a hospital bed one would choose to seek God and to trust in Him completely. As my kids would say: “not!”
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
God is telling us that life itself rest in Him, there is no other way. If we chose to hold onto our lives without Him at the center, then we will fail. We will die in a state of absolute turmoil, suffering and hopelessness. But when we trust in God, and make Him our “life” we are rescued by Him through the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. “Win-win” as my kids would say!
If I approach God, cry out to Him, tell Him I love Him and ask for a miracle, I have to do that with a heart that is repentant, sorrowful, loving, trusting and submissive. If I cry out to God and tell Him what I think He wants to hear so that He will give me what I want, then it’s nothing more than manipulation. Sure, I can cry out to Jesus but if my heart says “I will trust You if You do what I’m asking” then it’s simply me deceiving myself. To love God, and to trust in Him, is to do so even when I don’t receive the expected results. In fact, He might not answer me at all!
NOTE TO SELF: Get real with yourself!
As a pastor I have become very familiar with the last few moments of a person’s life. For most people desperation never hits as hard as it does during those final moments of existence. Suddenly they are faced with the purpose of life, what their life was all about and how it was handled. They find themselves faced with those moments when the “why” of life is being answered in full. There is no more waiting, no more procrastination, no more “I’ll think about it later,” its decision time! The gavel strikes downward and its blow is the final sound heard in this life.
Unfortunately, I see too many families that are blind-sighted by the death of a loved one. They never expected death to find its way into their lives so soon, surely not today! They find themselves overwhelmed as there has been no real preparation by either the deceased or their family. They are just gone … suddenly! And the phrase “it’s not about you” has never had such deep meaning!
In those final moments and afterwards I have seen many families take comfort in the memories of what the deceased accomplished. I hear statements like “what a great dad they were” or “they lived a good life.” And those are wonderful legacies to leave behind! But in reality, it’s too late for the one that lived a life outside of a relationship with God.
Why is it that we have such a hard time facing the reality of death?
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
How true it is even today! Jesus rose from the dead and still most do not believe. These greatest of all events are something I can’t control or quantify, and it is especially beyond my level of comprehension and understanding. For most people their lives are all about themselves, believing that at the end they will be due Heaven because of their self-evaluated well-lived “good” life. Unfortunately, most people are only shooting for “good enough” and not the “holy” that God calls us to seek.
This story represents the issue of serving oneself through life with no thought whatsoever regarding God. In the world today, we are assured that to live the good life we simply need to amass as many treasures as we can. It’s the “Burger King” way of life … “have it your way!” But God’s Word and the example of Jesus clearly show us that life is not about us but instead is all about loving God, being in relationship with Him and serving Him by serving others in His name. The cool part is that we find unbelievable contentment and purpose in that relationship with God, not so much in serving ourselves. So, the challenge for us is to establish a life of grateful service and not an attitude of serving so that God will owe us something. Let’s be clear, He will never owe you anything! It’s not about you!
NOTE TO SELF: Have life His way … it’ll be worth it!
Tom is not lazy but selfish. Since the day I met him, Tom has had the mythical “silver spoon” in his mouth. Tom grew up in a very modest area of Michigan and was the youngest son of a struggling family. His father was a local shop owner who did his best to put bread on the table but usually was just getting by. His family grew up knowing what it was to wait, to dream, to set a goal, to plan, to work hard and to receive the prize at the end of the day. He and his siblings were workers!
At an early point in his life, Tom transitioned from an extremely physical job with a major corporation to a position of leadership in one of the family businesses. He was lost! Tom had to learn the ins and outs of business the hard way, through trial and error, may times under the watchful eye of opinionated family members. To make the situation worse, he received very little support or training from the family. This was a shipwreck waiting for the right rocky shoreline.
As the years went by the family businesses flourished. Having the right products at the right time was in the family’s favor. It was the proverbial “being in the right place at the right time!” As the years sped by the company flourished but rising cost and family dysfunction played a part in its demise. As I saw it, the business was a ship in the ocean with only a “part-time” Captain, and even at that the rudder was broken too!
Tom was generous to a fault. He gave away so much! He would give away much of his own stuff, and would spoil people with the things that he gave away from the company. Many times, we give with the wrong motives. Tom gave away in order to receive. He was starving for power, position and recognition within the family as well as with a sense of his own self-worth. So, the answer he chose was to create the feeling of worth by having others indebted to him. Because of the resources at his disposal no one could ever out give him. This was a situation that could not last forever. But the case was it “felt good” today, let tomorrow take care of itself!
The Bible tells us to give and to give freely, but with the right attitude of heart. We are to give without recognition as the motivation behind it. As the Bible teaches us …
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
Why is that? It’s because when others see your acts of generosity and shower you with accolades and compliments your heart has a tendency to become overwhelmed with pride. Jesus tells us to simply do our acts of generosity quietly, without fanfare, so that it remains a private matter between the individual and God. That way God is completely honored and the sacrificial act remains pure. It is pure in the sense that the motivation behind it was not for selfish recognition but for the glory and purpose of God. It is the practice of it not being about me but God.
Life is tough, and life is a process of learning. Tom was learning that “It’s not about him” during those years he spent giving generously to others. Today he enjoys a personal quiet relationship with God whereby he can continue his acts of service and generosity without one hand knowing what the other is doing. Like most of us, Tom has learned though the experiences of life that there is a greater purpose outside of our own edification. We are here to glorify God, to do His will and to participate in His ongoing plan of salvation for the world. Tom has learned that the greatest joy humankind can ever experience in this world is a quiet, selfless, serving relationship with God. You see, it really is not about you!
NOTE TO SELF: Give, serve, love without recognition
Alan is a middle-aged man who lives in a depressed area of Michigan. Alan has had all of the opportunities that are available in the area as well as the support of a loving hard-working family. Many of his family members have also offered Alan opportunities over the years to work. Most of them are farmers and while farm work is hard the opportunities to work and excel have always been there. Over the years the family has offered to help Alan find work, work for them and move into a productive life, but it has had little impact on him.
Alan’s family is a very close-knit family that deeply cares for each other. In that care there has been little that they have not done for those in need especially family members. Alan has had all of the opportunities necessary to live a meaningful and productive life, but “Alan is Alan” as his mother once told me.
Alan has an attitude of “taking!” Entitlement! In his mind it is easier and more rewarding to “get something for nothing” than it is to set your sights on a goal, work hard for it and then earn it. “Heck no, why work?”
Alan has also jumped on the bandwagon of disability. Now before I start a riot, I want to make one thing clear. If a person is truly disabled and unable emotionally or physically to provide for themselves it is the responsibility of society, especially Christians, to provide for them as needed. Our goal should also be to provide for them with exceptional generosity and love. Helping the helpless is one of the most “God-honoring” things we can do as Christians!
But Alan is lazy. Over the years I have come to know this young man as one who does not have any physical or emotional limitations. He is strong and has always been in good health but he chooses to not exert himself. In this small town you can usually find Alan at most of the local church free community dinners, and the free clothing store where he takes great pride in finding “like-new” clothing. Alan is quite bold in his “taking” attitude, and going to the emergency room whenever he has the slightest ailment is not a problem, all without ever opening his wallet. Hmmm, I’m not sure he even has one!?
The Bible tells us that the man who refuses to work should not eat.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."
When we refuse to use the health, strength and opportunities God has given to us in order to provide for ourselves it is dishonoring of God. If I am able to use the abilities that God has bestowed on me and yet refuse to, I am essentially dishonoring the gift that God has given me. As beings created in the image of God we are to have a heart of giving not taking. We are to do our best as a way of honoring our Creator and establishing ourselves.
In the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow meets with his first mate to assemble a crew. At the end of their conversation they repeat the pirate’s code: “Take everything you can! Give nothing back!” Such is the attitude that has crept into Alan’s heart. He finds no reason to give, only take and he refuses the idea of hard work and self-provision.
As a “taker” from life Alan has chosen to walk away from any sense of responsibility. In some ways he has become a product of his environment. Now don’t get me wrong, Alan is not without the majority of fault, but he has certainly been influenced by the culture surrounding him. This small town has suffered so much over the past several years. Business’ have vacated the area while drugs and laziness have filled the voids. Statically most of the residents of the area are either retired from a business that use to be there or they are struggling farmers who can’t compete with the larger farms nationwide. In this situation neither the retirees nor farmers can financially afford to relocate, they are stuck!
At times I see “takers” as “leeches!” These people live off the hard work of others. They spend more time looking for ways to be supported by the government and other social agencies than they do for legitimate opportunities to care for themselves and others. The idea of being a responsible child of God is far from the realm of consideration. Unfortunately, drug use has flourished among this group of individuals. It has become an escape from reality. It has become commonplace. It has become blatant!
Alan lives in a trailer park known for drug trafficking and transient people. Many who live in the trailers are just passing through town, just trying to get away from something or someone. Alan finds himself in the middle of this culture and goes from trailer to open trailer depending on the night, available food and drugs.
It is not hopeless! Alan could leave this environment but he chooses not to. Many times, it’s easier to “take all you can and give nothing back!” For Allan, it is all about him! But the good news is that God never gives up, and neither should we! God will never give up on any individual, always trying to “wake them up” to a life of love, responsibility, servanthood and relationship with Him. Even when “It’s all about me” God still reigns.
NOTE TO SELF: Love others, but don’t enable them