BE LOVE TO SOMEONE

Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18 (NTE)]

lilyEven though we live 1,400 miles away, I still stay in touch with our northern church; after all, it was our church home for forty-six years. Over the last several months, I’ve joined them in a weekly abundance exercise, the purpose of which is to realize the abundance in life promised by Jesus. Reminding me that “love is an action word,” my abundance assignment was: “Be love to a family member or an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.” I was to call or visit someone with whom I’d fallen out of touch and the reconnect was to be more than a quick note or text. Since my calendar was already crowded with meetings, guests, deadlines, chores, and other obligations, I griped that the last thing I wanted or needed was another task (even if it was as simple as meeting an old friend for lunch). With an abundance of items on my to-do list, I certainly didn’t need one more to have an abundant life! I figured this exercise could wait for a more convenient time.

That was my frame of mind when, the following day, I learned that the pastor at my northern church has metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into proper perspective. While I’d been complaining that showing a little love to someone was inconvenient and disruptive, he’d been given a diagnosis that truly was inconvenient, disruptive, and life-changing!

While grumbling about the inconvenience of the exercise, I’d missed the whole point: love. Indeed, love is an action word and rarely is there anything convenient about it. Selflessness, generosity, patience, kindness, bearing all things, and enduring all things: none of that sounds convenient and sacrifice always comes with a cost! In the ultimate act of love, God sacrificed His only Son for us yet I dared to grumble about arranging a lunch date! Out of love, Jesus laid down His life for us sinners but I didn’t seem to have time to spare for a friend! Yes, love often is inconvenient, even challenging, but we must never consider love to be a burden.

The pastor’s troubling diagnosis and the unexpected news I received the next morning that my sister died are vivid reminders of why we should reconnect with those we’ve let drift away. We don’t know if there will be a more convenient time tomorrow, next week, or the week after because we don’t know what the future will bring either for them or for us. There never will be a better time to be love to someone than today! Ann Voskamp said, “You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” Is there someone to whom you should be love? There’s no better time than right now to do it!

Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others. [William Arthur Ward]

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” John 13:34 (NTE)]

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NO QUID PRO QUO

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

persicaria maculosa - redshankWe recently heard a great deal about quid pro quo, a Latin phrase which means “something given or received for something else.” Although every bribe is a quid pro quo, not every quid pro quo is a bribe and there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving something to get something in return. After all, a quid pro quo occurs every time we exchange money for goods at a store! When Jesus gave us what we know as the Golden Rule, however, He didn’t mean quid pro quo. He expects us to give while expecting nothing in return or pro bono, meaning “for the sake of the greater good.”

After quoting Matthew 7:12, another abundance exercise told me to “Let someone ahead of you in traffic.” When I received the task, it was high season here and the roads were clogged with snowbirds and spring breakers—all of whom seemed to have left their driving manners at home! Nevertheless, I willingly yielded the right of way in a roundabout to a driver who should have yielded to me.

Unfortunately, as people cope with the new normal of this pandemic, rather than the “Golden Rule,” a sort of “Me first!” mentality has set in, not just on the roads, but everywhere. Ignoring the government’s specific request to do their part in protecting the most vulnerable, spring breakers have packed restaurants, bars, and beaches while partying shoulder to shoulder en masse. Granted, the young are less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can pass it on to those at greater risk, including our first responders and health workers who selflessly put themselves at jeopardy for the greater good! It’s not just the young; in spite of requests not to hoard, store shelves are picked clean as people grab case after case of paper goods and soap. Sadly, along with every story of spirit and generosity, we find another one of people selfishly putting their wants above the good of their community with things like price gouging and excessive shipping fees. Some casinos, exempt from state orders, have irresponsibly chosen to remain open while equally irresponsible people are gathering there!

Even when it just entails yielding the right of way to another driver, doing unto others as we would have done to us is easier said than done. While extending grace to family or friend is relatively easy, extending it to strangers often depends on convenience, mood, or the possibility of quid pro quo. Jesus, however, tells us to love others as he loved us, which is sacrificially—expecting nothing in return—pro bono.

Sacrificial love entails far more than letting someone into traffic. While we need a generosity of spirit in all places and at all times, if ever there was a time we desperately need the Golden Rule, it is now! Our response to God’s grace must be to extend His grace to others, not because we benefit from it, but because we should. Rather than our good, let us consider the greater good! May His Spirit enable us to treat others as we want to be treated: with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

Nobody should seek their own advantage, but the other person’s instead. [1 Corinthians 10:24 (NTE)]

Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:3-4 (NTE)]

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HAUGHTY EYES

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Mattew 7:1-2 (NLT)]

peacockWhile I learned about international finance and Brexit at a women-only seminar, I also learned something more important by my reaction to two of the attendees. Their plumped up lips, wrinkle free faces, and curvaceous shapes indicated the work of a plastic surgeon and their perfect coifs and make-up caused me to wonder if they’d been professionally done that morning. Dressed from head-to toe in designer wear, it was obvious they shop at stores like Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, and Fendi rather than Kohl’s, T.J Maxx, or Old Navy. One woman’s long cardigan sported Gucci’s trademark red and green stripes and her purse, belt and shoes all displayed the designer’s gold double G logo. The other woman, with her very blond hair, heavy make-up, lavender rabbit fur vest, matching silk blouse, swanky jewelry, and glittery Lucite heels, looked like she belonged in an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Granted, their appearance was over-the-top for a meeting that called for “business casual” but the women did nothing to justify my negative reaction to them. Later, a quick internet search told me that they run in a far different circle than do I and frequently attend local charity fundraisers (the kind where tickets range from $350 for lunch upwards to $1000 and more for dinner). While their lifestyle is significantly wealthier than mine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. That they choose to spend money in a way that seems extravagant to me doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent, compassionate, generous, kind, or even devout Christians. For all I know, along with their affinity for designer clothes, they also tithe to the church, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and regularly go on mission trips!

I thought of Jesus’ words about judging others. I certainly didn’t want someone to judge my value based on my attire and I had no right to do the same with theirs. Then, realizing I would have been more accepting of someone arriving at that same meeting in jeans, scruffy sneakers, and sweatshirt, I recalled the Apostle James’ words about discrimination. Written to the early church, he told them not to show partiality to the rich. If it’s wrong to favor the rich over the poor, isn’t it as wrong to favor the poor over the rich or the ordinary over the flashy? Granted, James didn’t want the early church to show favoritism to the wealthy in hope of getting financial assistance and this situation was different. Nevertheless, his point was that prejudice and discrimination is wrong. The rich and poor have the same value to their Father in Heaven!

Self-righteous, I’d pridefully compared my modest attire with their showy display of wealth which, in their circle, probably isn’t showy at all! Other than their wealth, I really knew nothing about the women and yet I’d instantly viewed them as one-dimensional stereotypical “trophy wives” rather than individuals. I’d even shared catty comments with the woman beside me. While looking down on these two women instead of looking at them, I’d judged others without noticing the huge log of haughtiness in my own eyes! Although the Lord detests “haughty eyes,” [Prov. 6:16-17] I’d been looking through them and it was my haughty, arrogant, self-righteous eyes that caused me to belittle those women.

We shouldn’t judge people by their economic status any more than we should by their race, religion, gender, age, nationality, accent, politics, disability, appearance, or marital status. It is as wrong to fault the rich for their wealth as it is to discount the poor for their poverty. Everyone is our neighbor, a child of God, and someone to love.

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. [James 2:8-9 (NLT)]

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BE THE CHURCH!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

Shepherd of the Hills - Schapville IL

Shutting their doors last Sunday was not an easy choice for church boards or parishioners. We are designed for community; gathering together for prayer, praise, instruction, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper is part and parcel of being a Christian. Suddenly, our worship experience, traditions, rituals, and church family were taken from us with this new concept of “social distancing.” What it comes down to is simple: Jesus’ command to love one another. Right now, the best way to love one another is to avoid putting anyone, most especially those at high risk, in danger. Unfortunately, that means no longer meeting together in houses of worship.

I imagine Satan was chuckling in devilish glee last week as church after church cancelled services and closed their doors. What Satan doesn’t understand is that, while a church is a building, the Church isn’t! Scripture likens the Church to being a family, a flock of sheep, a body, and the “bride” of Christ. Whether a cathedral or a gazebo at the beach, the Church isn’t where we go, it’s who we are! Simply put, the church is a body of believers who live out the Gospel in their words and actions. We don’t need walls, pews, sound systems, kneelers, hymnals, programs, and video screens or an altar, stage, organ, choir, sanctuary, sacristy or narthex to do that!

Not attending church services or Bible study doesn’t mean we stop worshiping, praying, learning, or serving. We just have to do it another way by taking advantage of 21st century technology with things like streaming, pod casts, conference calls, FaceTime, App offerings, and on-line studies. Granted, it’s difficult to be the church when we can’t meet together, even in small groups. Nevertheless, we can still check on and encourage one another, paying special attention to those who live alone or may be without any support system. When necessary to leave our homes for supplies, we can continue to be Christ’s hands and feet by picking up necessities for house-bound neighbors. We even can evangelize by sharing our church’s online services with others. Although we all have suffered economically, some are better off than others. For those who are still able, continued (or even increased) support of our churches, missions, and relief organizations is a must. The need doesn’t go away when church doors shut! We’ll have to be creative, but we can continue to love and serve our sisters and brothers—even from a distance.

We can seek the hidden blessings in our isolation. Between closures and cancellations, I deleted forty events from my calendar for the next thirty days. My habitual complaint has been lack of time but, now that my calendar is free and I have nowhere to go, I have plenty of it! Let us endeavor to look at this forced isolation as a blessing rather than a curse!

Even though we can’t meet together, we must continue to encourage one another by finding joy in our trials and inspiring others to do the same. Using WhatsApp to spread the news, a Spanish trainer held a workout class on a low rooftop. Looking down through their windows, his class did jumping jacks and squats while sequestered in their apartments! Locked-down Italians have been having impromptu concerts from their balconies: a guitar and flute duet was presented in Turin, a man performed a trumpet solo in Trapani, and the streets of Siena and Salerno were filled with song as housebound people sang to one another. Last Friday, the term “flash mob” took on a new meaning when thousands of confined Italians stood on their balconies or hung out windows and made music with whatever they could find. A quarantined magician aboard the Diamond Princess is offering a daily televised magic show to his fellow room-bound passengers!

Most of us can’t lead an exercise class, sing from our balconies or make quarters disappear (except into vending machines), but we all can find a way to be the church. For example, the young people from a Colorado SK8 church are making grocery and pharmacy runs for the community’s elderly and housebound. As Christ followers, we continue to praise God, find joy in our circumstances, and bring light into darkness! While church doors are closed, our hearts and minds remain open to receive the joy of the Lord. We will pass that joy and His good news on to others because we are the church!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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A NEW NORMAL

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything. [James 1:2-4 (NTE)]

hoary comma anglewing butterflyBy the end of the phone call, tears were rolling down my cheeks; yet another loved one is seriously ill. Given my age and that of my friends, I shouldn’t be surprised; we are nearing our expiration dates so receiving news of someone’s illness or death is becoming my new normal.

As I added this new name to my lengthy prayer list, I considered the new normal for those on it: chemo, radiation, weekly blood work, reconstructive surgery, chronic pain, widowhood, Parkinson’s, financial troubles, Alzheimer’s, the challenges of staying sober, and the demands of 24/7 care giving. Their normal certainly isn’t one they would have chosen deliberately.

Then I thought about the new normal to which all of us are adjusting because of COVID-19: social distancing, elbow bumps and toe taps, streaming church services, travel restrictions, hand sanitizers and bleach wipes, phone calls and emails instead of meeting over coffee, broken supply chains, cancellations, working from home, lay-offs, school closings and on-line classes, along with hoarding, shortages, and price gouging! None of us are immune to COVID-19 and many of the people I know and love will be touched by it. Things will get worse before they get better and there will be more tears before this ends.

COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives and, while we have little control over the virus, we do have control over navigating our new normal. The eight bottles of tequila in one woman’s cart told me how she’s planning on doing it! Three women in Australia got into a brawl over a cart of toilet paper while, in Italy, a man’s inadvertent brush against another erupted into a fist fight that ended only when the police and an ambulance arrived. Don’t let that be us! While we can’t discount the threat, our new normal must not be one of anger, violence, alcohol, fear, complaint, drugs, denial, depression, paranoia, panic, or anxiety.

Let us remember that we have a God who loves us. Life isn’t perfect, but it hasn’t been perfect since Eden! Nevertheless, life is doable, not on our strength, but through God’s power. Coronavirus (like pain, disappointment and loss) is just another one of those unwelcome gifts that come with life in a fallen world. Like Job, we will never know the “Why” of it but, as Christ followers, we know in whose hands we rest.

Jesus told us trouble was inevitable; no one gets a free pass. Nevertheless, a pastor friend often says, “It’s all good.” In itself, COVID-19 isn’t good any more than are cancer or the death of a child. Nevertheless, it’s “all good” because God, in His infinite wisdom and love, will bring good out of it. We may not see it, we don’t always like it, and rarely do we understand it, but it is all for good. While we may have tears, R.C. Sproul reminds us, “For believers, there are no tragedies!”

Because of Christ, we have victory over sin and Satan; Romans 8:28 assures us that we also have victory over our circumstances. Let us stand on God’s promises and boldly navigate the next several weeks while praising, thanking, praying, walking in faith, and bringing light into the darkness (while frequently washing our hands)! Let the joy of the Lord be our strength in this new normal.

We know, in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28 (NTE)]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

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SPEAK

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

zebra longwing butterflyMy latest exercise in learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus was both easy and difficult: I was to speak to one person about God, even if all I said was, “God is good” or “God loves you.” Since I write about God five days a week, said “God bless you!” to a friend, and talked about God with my pastor, I figured I was done, except I knew I wasn’t.

As with every abundance exercise I’ve been given, I wondered how this task led to an abundant life. When I took notice of God’s incredible creation in the first exercise, I joined the Psalmist in praise, thanksgiving, and worship. The second exercise entailed both acknowledgement of my sin and forgiveness, the third and fourth required me to encourage others and to be kind while expecting nothing in return. With last week’s assignment of sacrifice and this one of speaking about God, a common thread began to emerge: abiding in the Lord. Since we can’t abide in Him without being obedient to Him, each exercise involved obedience to His word. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that obedience brings blessings—both to us and to others. The abundant life Jesus gives us is only realized when we truly are obedient to Him: when we abide in Him and He is us.

Obedience often means stepping out of our comfort zone and this exercise took me out of mine. Although talking about God with other believers and writing about Him in my blog fulfilled the letter of the assignment, it didn’t fulfill its spirit. Blessing someone when they sneeze or adding, ”God’s peace and joy,” to an email may be a start but they’re not the end of our Christian witness. Even though we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the world, many of us are hesitant to do that and our reticence is what prevents us from enjoying the richness of our faith. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth,” are the words of evangelist Charles Spurgeon. His words tell us that he knew what it was to experience the abundant life in Christ; it’s “heaven here upon earth!”

It is our commitment to Jesus that brings His blessings and true commitment requires obedience, even when that means stepping forward in witness. We are blessed by God when we bless the lives of others and I can’t think of a better way to bless someone than to share the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness. Obedience—abiding in Jesus and He in us—is the key to an abundant life of blessings.

It is the greatest pleasure of living to win souls to Christ. [Dwight L. Moody]

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (ESV)]

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [Luke 11:28 (ESV)]

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