Life

13 Reasons to Live: There is Freedom

My 4-year-old son was horror-struck when he discovered the inner workings of a bee trap he found hanging from a tree near the school. “They…NEVER…come out? You mean, they’re trapped? How could ANYONE ever DO that to a BEE? That is SO MEAN!” he cried. The prospect of painful bee stings for him or his playground friends could not convince him a bee trap was a valid preventative tool. Those bees were tricked into a situation from which they could not escape. And that, to his precious little mind, was unforgivable.

We’ve all, at times, felt trapped in circumstances from which there seemed no escape. Maybe a habit looms large over our lives, a giant threatening to ensnare more deeply with every step we take. Or maybe temptation seeks to steal control of our minds, luring us away from solid ground. Or maybe something beyond our control has swept in and taken over our lives, entangling us in oppression.

We celebrate freedom every year, but it seems so far beyond our reach. Recent news headlines are evidence enough that the land of the free is a place of bondage in so many ways. In a land where slavery was supposedly abolished, we live as slaves to the consequences of our own choices and others’ actions.

Where is the freedom we claim to possess?

I refuse to believe we were created for bondage. We were not placed on this earth to be enslaved to never-ending moral decay. We were planted here by a loving gardener who desires for us to grow and flourish and have life that is truly life.

The Bible says that we have an enemy who is a life-stealer: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” But there is a Savior who is a life-giver: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Freedom comes not in doing whatever we so desire, for we can never be free from the consequences of our decisions. Freedom comes in knowing whose we are and why we’re here, and in living to fulfill the GOOD things our Creator has planned for us.

In my own life, I’ve witnessed hardened criminals become model citizens—all because they were touched by the freeing power of a life-transforming Savior. I’ve seen hopeless drug addicts released from their addictions. Violent gang members turned gentle and kind. If our Savior can do miracles in what seems the most impossible of circumstances, how much more in our own lives?

It is written that, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” He understands our daily battle with temptation, and yet, because he has overcome, he is able to help us to overcome.

Maybe your own struggle has led you to think life is not worth living. But know this: you can be free. In Jesus, there is freedom. And because you can be free, there is more than enough reason to live.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

 

Photo Credit: Sunset, Birds – Free images on Pixabay

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13 Reasons to Live: It’s Not Over

Blog_TheaterStageIt was my son’s first time at a play. When the curtain closed after the opening scene, he whispered, “Is it over yet?” I smiled and gently explained that there were many scenes to come before the end. He endured the remaining acts with impressive restraint for a four-year-old, though on the way home he broke down in tears. I thought it was because he’d bumped his head on the theater railing after the play, but instead he cried with greater drama than any of the actors combined, “That play was so long! It was super, super long. It was tooooo long.”

Sometimes in life, the curtain falls too soon. We’re in the midst of a trying circumstance or we’ve made some huge mistake, and we presume it’s over. Not realizing we’re on scene one of a multi-act play, we succumb to despair, thinking there’s no opportunity to redeem the mess we’re in.

Other times, it seems we’re trapped in a never-ending drama. Scene after scene unfolds and we find ourselves asking, “Will it EVER be over? How much more can I possibly endure?” We don’t realize the author has built one scene upon the other to grow his characters until the great and final outcome.

I’ve been thinking on this theme of 13 Reasons to Live for a few weeks now, considering what brings us to the point of despondency and what can bring us out. Wondering how we come to the point of wanting to give up and thinking upon all the reasons we shouldn’t.

Maybe we come to the point where we don’t have the fight in us to make it through one more act. What we don’t realize is this crucial truth of life: It IS a fight. Anything worth living for is worth fighting for, and will take fighting for.

I’m not talking about war in the way of battles and weapons. I’m talking about the day-to-day fight that must be fought for anything that’s good and worthy and true. It’s a spiritual battle, and often emotional, sometimes physical in the way that it drains our reserves and our resolve. If we’re not prepared for the battles that come, we will falter when they do. But if we’re in it for the fight, we’ll endure through the fight.

And what carries us through the daily warzone? The knowledge that we’re in the midst of redemption’s story, in which the Author of all life is the Author of our lives, working every scene together for good.

We may think it’s over, but in His hands, it’s not over until He says so. Only the Author can determine the end.

Or maybe we think it’s endless. But there will come a time when the battles of our days will cease. We’ll see that it was worth the fight, and it was worth our living and enduring. Because no Author starts a good work without bringing it to completion.

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

 

Photo Credit: Bella Rose Arts Centre – Wikipedia

13 Reasons to Live: Tenacious Beauty

Tenacious. Not a word typically associated with flowers, but one I’d deem most appropriate. While beautiful, delicate, or colorful may seem a more suitable description, flowers must be tenacious to survive the harsh landscapes of earth.

Think of the wars, the famines, the storms and disasters, the fires that ravage and devastate our land. And yet, the flowers still bloom.

Have you ever considered the vast beauty that surrounds us, not only in flowers, but in trees and hills, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, canyons and waterfalls? Have you ever appreciated the exquisite uniqueness of each animal that graces air, sea, and land? And does it ever confound you that each of these exist despite the surrounding death and decay? The evils of earth pale in comparison to the beauty which prevails.

I once heard the story of two men in prison, one who gazed hopelessly at the brick wall beside his bed, the other who spoke unceasingly of the landscapes beyond. The hopeless man began to believe the other was given a better lot in life, until that man perished. The now empty bed revealed both men had the same view all along, only one had trained his eyes in a different direction.

When we live with our eyes trained on suffering, our lives become laden with despair. We may become convinced we have nothing to live for. But when we train our eyes beyond, we see there is so much more.

I found this quote in a book I was reading this week: “In Paradise Lost, John Milton compares the evil of history to a compost pile—a mixture of decaying substances such as animal excrement, potato skins, egg shells, dead leaves, and banana peels. If you cover it with dirt, after some time it smells wonderful. The soil has become rich, natural fertilizer and is tremendously well suited for growing fruits and vegetables—but you have to be willing to wait—years, in some cases. Milton’s point is that the worst events of human history—those that we cannot understand—even hell itself—are compost in God’s wonderful eternal plan. Out of the greatest evil, the death of Jesus, came the greatest good” (Peter Scazzero).

Everything which would seek to steal beauty from this world and joy from our lives is compost for the greater things to come. Every tear is a seed sown, the ground watered for greater things to come.

All the horrors of history, all the tragedies of today are nothing compared to the glory God will one day reveal. His son Jesus Christ died on the cross to make all things new.

Yes, there is suffering. Yes, there is evil. Daily, we’re bombarded with news we’d rather shut our eyes and ears to.

Yet still, there is beauty, tenacious beauty. Where there is beauty, there is hope. And if there is hope, there is reason to live.

 

Photo Credit: Free photo: Flowers, Nature, Flowers For – Free Image on Pixabay …

13 Reasons to Live: This Ain’t Hollywood

Something happens when you grow up in the shadow of Hollywood. And you don’t have to live in Southern California to feel its effects. The shadow extends far beyond sidewalk stars and palm-lined streets, reaching into living rooms across the globe.

There, in our very own homes, the modern media preaches its self-proclaimed gospel from lit-screened pulpits. It tells us “follow your dreams and be yourself” all the while showing us which dreams we should follow and which self we should be. That dream should be larger than life, catapulting us to center-stage before the awe-inspired watching world. That self should be known to all, its talents recognized and applauded by multitudes if it is to be of any significance.

And if you don’t find that million-strong crowd of personal adorers, then maybe you’re not so significant, after all.

Maybe your life isn’t worth living.

Far too many of us have built our lives on the foundation of this lie only to be find our would-be masterpiece crumbling under the weight of disappointment.

As in Pixar’s the Incredibles movie, “in a world where everyone’s super, no one is.” It’s the paradox of this fame-starved generation. We’re told to hunger for world-wide significance, when all the while that banquet table is bankrupt.

This isn’t Hollywood. The average person will not become famous, while those who do live under the constant scrutiny of their so-called admirers. The sooner we let go of the pursuit of self-exaltation, the sooner we’ll find contentment

Consider what is now the most well-known name in history…Jesus.

What impresses me most about him is that he could have come with all the trumpets and fanfare of heaven, yet his coming was undetected by the wider world. He lived a virtually anonymous life until the start of his ministry, and even then he didn’t succumb to the clamor for earthly success. His brothers urged him to pursue a place of greater recognition, saying, “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Jesus replied that his time had not yet come. He refused to be enticed by earthly significance, even when mobs tried to crown him king.

His significance came from humility, servanthood, and sacrifice. From putting others before himself, to the point of death. He had three close friends and twelve disciples. Beyond that, there were crowds and multitudes, yes, but his greatest investment was in the seemingly inconsequential. Think of how small Israel was in comparison to the surrounding empires. Jesus never left that speck on the map, yet there was his greatest impact.

So here we are, in Hollywood’s shadow, moping about because we haven’t garnered a billion followers on social media or landed a slot on the latest Reality TV talent show. Depressed? Check. Discouraged? Daily. The constant striving leaves us weary.

Maybe our self-perceived insignificance is one of the reasons we’ve considered taking our own life.

Yet the most influential, significant person in history lived the most humble life and died the most despised of deaths, giving not just hope…but LIFE, abundant and everlasting, for the world. For generations to come. In his eyes, you ARE significant. And in his hands, you FIND significance—not in pursuit of the world’s applause. But in living the life you were created to live, surrendering to sacrifice for those in your own sphere of influence, however small it may be.

And that is enough reason to live.

Photo Credit: Hollywood hills sunset | Rayleigh scattering gave us an ambi… |

13 Reasons to Live: the Promise of Redemption

I recently attended a birthday party where my kids received tokens to play games for which they could win tickets. After depleting their supply of tokens, they took their tickets to the exchange counter, hearts hopeful their few hours of play would earn a decent prize. With expectancy in their eyes, they gazed up at the toys, games, and oversized stuffed animals looming before them.

How disappointing when the desk clerk re-directed their gaze to the sparse supply of mini-candies behind the glass counter. Yes, 1,000 tickets would earn a prize. Three bite-sized candies.

At least my kids are easily contented enough to be satisfied with a night of fun and a few chocolates. But I’ll have to admit, my calculations of token cost to ticket wins to actual prize results left me doubtful I’d return to that venue apart from another party invitation. All that work earning tickets failed to yield a worthy result.

It got me thinking of another promise of a greater exchange: “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” (Romans 8:28). Here, we are told that ALL THINGS will be used for good by the God whom we love. The blessed. The bad. The painful. The tear-rending. ALL will one day be redeemed. ALL will be used for good.

And we will not be disappointed.

God makes good on his promises. He will not give us a handful of candy in exchange for our trials. One day, whether here on earth or in the glory of heaven, we will see. God, the master designer, weaves good from every thread of pain wrought on this earth. That’s what makes him God.

He alone is able to redeem the worst of circumstances to bring forth something beautiful.

A precious woman named Corrie ten Boom endured the deepest of hells in a World War II concentration camp. After losing her Father and her sister to the ravages of suffering, she was able to stand and say, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” I can’t imagine coming through such horrors with confident assurance of God’s goodness. Yet Corrie knew that somehow, in some way, all her suffering would yield a greater return both here and in the age to come.

We may think that all the suffering life brings is reason enough to end our own. But the knowledge that we have a God who is able to bring beauty from ashes, joy from tears, and praise from despair is reason enough to live.

Now my kids’ short-lived disappointment in getting a less-than-expected prize is nothing compared to the disappointment many of us have experienced in life. But it serves as a timely reminder that IN GOD’S HANDS, nothing is wasted. He will exchange all our suffering for something good. We can’t see it now, but one day, we will see. And it’s gonna be worth it.

Photo Credit: Caves Background 1 Free Stock Photo – Public Domain Pictures

13 Reasons to Live: It’s Not About Me

In a sea of carnage, engulfed by enemy gunfire and immersed in the ravages of war, Desmond Doss had every reason to join his comrades, scale the cliff, and return to the relative safety of the military base. Instead, he remained in the hellish battle; rooted in the knowledge he was there for a purpose though despairing he couldn’t hear God’s voice amid the clamor of war.

Until a faint voice cried out in the distance. “Help.”

Armed only with a ragged Bible, Doss scoured the grisly landscape of death for signs of life. One by one he snatched devastated bodies from the grip of the grave, lowering them with painstaking care over the side of the cliff; again and again he returned, risking his life with each venture until some 75 comrades were lowered to safety.

I can’t imagine emerging from even five minutes of battle unscathed mentally and emotionally. The average person would drown in the unmerciful memories. War would seem the ultimate weapon in conjuring 13 Reasons Why to give up on life.

And yet, in the midst of one of the fiercest of World War II battles, Desmond Doss found a reason to live. “Give me one more, Lord,” he prayed repeatedly until his mission was complete, staying true to his conviction: “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing…to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

Any honest person could easily come up with a list of 13 Reasons Why to plan a swift escape from this sin-sick world. Maybe if pain weren’t standing guard before death, more of us would already have left the madness of earth far behind.

But here we have a choice. We can wallow in the mire of suffering until it overtakes our resolve to live. Or we can finally declare: “It’s not about me.”

Desmond Doyle survived war without a weapon in hand, emerged from the fire a hero because of this one choice he made. He did not cower in fear of the greatest giant known to mankind. He did not succumb to complacency, savagery, or despair.

Instead, he listened for that one voice crying, “Help.” And then another, and another. And little by little, he put a small part of the world back together.

Maybe if we adopted this grand mission of putting even the smallest pieces of our own corners of this world back together, we would find our purpose is far greater than ourselves. And we would find that is more than enough reason…to live.

13 Reasons to Live: Worth Holding On To

Is life worth living? This question haunts the most honest of souls. When shrouds of darkness roll in, it’s tempting to wonder whether it’s worth fighting for another breath.

13 Reasons Why deals with the aftermath of the death of someone who came to believe her life was not worth living. And it deals with the before-math—-the events that brought her to this sad conclusion. The screen adaptation of the story has stirred up controversy, with some saying it will awaken viewers to the plight of those considering suicide, and others saying it may inadvertently glamorize the idea.

In the midst of the battle of words, we overlook the sheer hopelessness at the core of the death-set heart. Convinced the darkness of earth outweighs the light, the desperate are driven to pursue death, believing it their only escape from our sin-sick world. But what if instead we set before our eyes a litany of reasons to live, instead of a recitation of reasons to die?

While we could use the evil of the world to deny purpose for life, what about the good? A history of suffering men and women found enough good in this world to keep living, to keep moving forward. Would we be here now, if not?

Men and women from the beginning of time lived through famine, sickness, plague, holocaust, war, slavery, death, and more. And yet the common theme is each found a reason to persevere. Must not the good outweigh the evil, if generation upon generation has survived through the deepest of hells?

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” Helen Keller, herself suffering incredible loss, spoke these words of truth. If suffering can be overcome, and is overcome, and has been overcome through all of history, there must be a reason. There must be something greater. Something worth living for.

In the midst of darkness, on the precipice of battle, Samwise Gamgee spoke these words to his friend Frodo. Though spoken in the realm of fiction, they ring of truth in our non-fiction world of suffering: “By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories…the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer…Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding onto something…that there’s some good in this world…and it’s worth fighting for.”

My prayer for you is that you find that something worth holding onto. Cling to it through all the darkness that is and that lies ahead. And that you come to see this shadow is a passing thing. In the end, light will always prevail.

Photo Credit: Free photo Texture Cave Structure Drain Background Stone – Max Pixel