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When You Love What Must Be Done

Blessing or Burden?

Every time I read 1 John 5:3 I stop for a few seconds. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.“ When I read this as a young man, it sounded strange but now that I have a family, it makes much more sense. Over the holidays, I had the privilege to spend time with my kids and grandkids. Since we all live in different cities, there was a lot of work to do to get everyone in the same place. Since my three sons are athletic, there was a lot of work to do to keep everyone fed. Since my grandchildren are 4 and 2, there was a lot of work to do just to keep them entertained and to clean up behind them. Some of the tasks that were required to make our time together possible were:
• Make airline arrangements.
• Prepare the car for travel.
• Pack the car with 5 people’s suitcases and Christmas presents.
• Pack clothes, etc. for a week away from home.
• Buy groceries for 9.
• Clean up toys.
• Prepare 8 dinners, 8 lunches and 9 breakfasts for 9.
• Clean up toys.
• Do dishes 18 times.
• Clean up toys.
• Prepare bread to feed ducks, help my granddaughters get their winter coats on, walk to the lake.
• Carry one of my granddaughters for ½ mile
• Feed ducks at the lake.
• Build a snowman.
• Help my granddaughters slide down a small snow hill.
• Walk back from the lake.
• Carry one of my granddaughters uphill for ½ mile.
And on it goes . . . .
The amazing thing is that none of this seemed hard because I love the people I was doing this for. And that made all the difference. When I am connected to my loved ones and have a mutual environment of love, the work is not burdensome. I simply do what needs to be done without feeling put upon. In the same way, when my love for God is clear, anything He asks of me seems like a privilege rather than a command. The problem comes when I lose focus or connection. Then I feel used, taken advantage of and manipulated. The work hasn’t changed but the weight of the work certainly feels heavier.
I have also noticed a correlation with my profession. When I love what I do, it doesn’t seem like work. When I dislike what I must do, it feels like a chore. I saw this in action over one of the lunches I shared with my family. Two of my sons got out a pad of paper and a pen and started strategizing over football. One of them is coaching in high school and the other one is playing in college. The coach wanted to sharpen his skill so he was asking the player to help him evaluate their defensive scheme. Technically, they were working but you would have never known it watching them. They were animated, energetic and fully engrossed in the conversation. They love what they do so it was not a burden.
The challenge for me now is to allow discomfort to be a reminder. When the work I must do for my family feels like a burden, it means I have lost connection with them. When the work I must do for my profession feels like a burden, it means I have lost sight of the privilege of productivity. When the work I must do in my spiritual growth feels like a burden, I have lost touch with the love God has for me.
May love overshadow everything we need to do this week!

Muddy Tires

Every once in a while I hear a statement that captures my attention and gets my mind racing. It happened recently with my son. He has taken up mountain biking as a hobby and decided to explore a new trail. It had snowed a couple of weeks before and temperatures had been fluctuating from mid-twenties at night to high forties during the day. He researched the trail on the internet and carefully planned his route. He didn’t take into account, however, the fact that the slowing melting snow would impact the trail. I asked him how his ride went.
His reply was, “I didn’t get very far. So much mud accumulated in my tires that they stopped moving. It was so thick I had to pick mud and rocks out of the tread. I finally had to just turn around, find a hose and ride home on the streets.”
We laughed about it as he told the story in great detail but the idea that accumulated mud stopped his progress wouldn’t go away. I started thinking about the ways this statement applies to my life.
• Life is intricate so it is hard to predict every obstacle. I may set goals, plan out a course of action, anticipate the challenges and still miss an important fact (like melting snow creating mud). Remaining flexible enough to make mid-course corrections is as important as being firmly committed.
• In this world, mud accumulates. When it is a little, it is not too difficult to deal with. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) We can “hose off” and get back on the trail without too much effort or agony.
• When a lot of mud gums up the works of my life, I must make significant decisions and put in concerted effort. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) If my son had stubbornly kept going, he would have had a very long day. He could have dug the mud out of his tires, rode a few feet then repeated the process but it would have needlessly exhausted him. He could have gotten off and pushed his bike along the trail but it would have defeated the purpose of trail riding. He could have gotten angry and put more effort into his peddling to overcome the buildup of the muddy obstacle. I am pretty confident that would have only wore him out without producing any better results. The best thing for my son to do was to turn around, learn from the misadventure and be wiser next time.
I think the reason this statement stood out to me is that I see so many people stubbornly refuse to make changes when change is obvious. We all battle with desires in our hearts that lead us to unproductive and unhealthy paths. We all hit obstacles despite our best intentions. We all face decisions that could needlessly complicate our lives and halt our progress. So often, we just keep moving in the same direction rather than admitting the mistake and turning around. It has now become one of my goals this year to admit to muddy trails as soon as I am aware of them.

It’s Personal

The most astounding thing to me about Christianity is that it’s personal. When Jesus invaded my life, he dealt with my heart and began directing my life as an individual. I have grown to discover that my life is part of a worldwide, history-wide plan but God guides me and you specifically to fulfill our parts of the puzzle. This is why some passages in the Bible stand out and become intensely personal.
1 John 4 is one of those passages for me. As I read it again this morning, I was struck by how much of this chapter has been an intricate part of my life. Verse 4 started it all, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” I had been reading the Bible after seeing the movie, “The Exorcist,” when I was sixteen years old. The movie shook me up because I heard it was based on something true and I couldn’t see much difference between me and the girl on the screen. The question that haunted me was, “If anything like that could happen to her, what would keep it from happening to me?” I hoped the Bible was going to have something for me and when I read, “. . .the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” the light went on for me. That night I asked Jesus to live within my heart and to guide my life.
Verse 7 then opened a new world for me, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” My mom was racked with various fears so we lived a pretty isolated life. We didn’t have family friends and there was a general distrust of people in my home. When I met Jesus and started attending a Bible study with other teenagers, I discovered a group of real friends who genuinely cared about one another and were solidly committed to each other. It was awesome.
Since meeting Jesus, I am amazed at how many times I have quoted verse 18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I realize now this verse became important because of the fear I grew up around but it has grown to be a major theme in life. I respect God immensely but I am not afraid of Him because I know He loves me. I have had the privilege of introducing many people to my Savior as I have explained that they don’t need to be afraid of Him either. I have seen numerous individuals break through barriers in their lives as they have grasped the truth of God’s love and willingness to work on their behalf. Life is filled with the unknown for all of us but we can face it without fear when we are convinced that God loves us.
Finally, verse 19 is engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. Pam and I adopted this phrase as our motto from the earliest moments in our journey together, “We love because he first loved us.” We are both convinced we have the strength to love one another because we discovered the personal love of God in our hearts. He is bigger than our disappointments and greater than our irritations as His love renews our interest in one another year after year.
At times, I feel 1 John 4 was written for me. I know this is not entirely true because God has much bigger things going on than just my life but I am convinced He had me in mind when He led John to put these words on paper. What passage has become this personal in your journey?

The Sweatshirt

It was yard work day and it was cold outside. I was almost excited because I wear my most comfortable sweatshirt on cold yard work days. The garment has seen its share of battles. It is worn in spots. It is decorated with paint stains, grease stains and grass stains. It has recorded some of my best achievements and my silliest mistakes. I could easily make a case for upgrading to a new sweatshirt but I keep this one around for two reasons. First, it is comfortable. There is nothing worse than trying to work in uncomfortable clothes. Second, it reminds me to be honest.
If I were to tell you this sweatshirt is in perfect condition, I would be lying to you. In the dark, it is my favorite. If feels so comfortable that I could be convinced to wear it anywhere. The problem is, any place I went would have to be dark to be acceptable. If I were to try to persuade myself that I could wear this garment over to a friend’s house for a social gathering, I would be fooling myself. If I even attempted to convince my wife that this would be the perfect outfit for our next date, I would enter one of the most intense arguments of the year. She would recognize immediately that I was trying to manipulate her to believe a lie. The truth is my sweatshirt is a mess and is not fit for public consumption. Anything short of that would be a lie.
This was John’s point in 1 John 1. He is reminding us that we have an incredible privilege of knowing God in a personal manner. It is a relationship of respect, friendship, partnership, and honesty. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (v. 5) Anytime I spend time with God, the lights go on. There is no hiding and there is no way to deny reality. It is not a thing of shame because God has welcomed us into his presence. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (*v. 3) It just requires honesty for it to not be weird.
• If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie. (v. 6)
• If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves. (v. 8 )
• If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar. (v. 10)
• If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (v. 9)
• But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (v. 7)
We are simply talking about doing what is obvious. If I showed up at your house for dinner in my old sweatshirt, you would notice immediately. You wouldn’t have to stop to think about it. You wouldn’t have to ask yourself, “If this appropriate dress for a dinner party?” You would know instantly that I was either inconsiderate or out of touch and you would say something.
I have noticed that when it comes to the areas of our lives that are incomplete or still corrupt, we try to hide from God. John is simply telling us to be honest. God already knows and He cares. He wants to help us grow through them but we can’t get started if we aren’t willing to be honest.
Jesus, give me the grace today to own up to what is already obvious to you.