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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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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SECRET KINDNESS

deptford pink flowersDo nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3-4 (RSV)]

While we usually think of charity as giving to the poor, Biblical charity means love or agape: absolute love of God and universal good will to men. Not limited to gifts of money or goods, charity is any act of kindness or generosity to others. Perhaps Paul gave us the best definition of charity in his words to the Philippians—charity starts with caring for others more than we care for ourselves!

My next exercise in learning how to live an abundant life was one of charity, with the additional element of anonymity; I was to secretly do something kind and not get caught! This seemed better suited for another century when people left May baskets on doorstep. Nowadays, with surveillance cameras at every doorway and corner, it’s difficult to do anything without getting caught (and possibly shot)!

While I’d like to think we all regularly do kind things, we usually don’t keep our actions secret. “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom,” said preacher Matthew Henry and our motivation for any kindness should be our desire for God’s approval rather than man’s. Nevertheless, we rarely make anonymous donations to charities and we often point out favors we’ve done so they don’t go unacknowledged! When Jesus said to keep the left hand from knowing what the right has done, he was telling us to keep our giving a secret. [Matthew 6:1-4] This exercise of doing a secret kindness, albeit a small one, was a way to understand what He meant. As Matthew Henry explained, “Do it because it is a good work, not because it will give thee a good name.” Giving, whether of money, goods, or good turns, is not a spectator sport.

I wondered how this exercise in anonymous kindness would lead to better experiencing the abundant life promised by Jesus until I remembered Jesus’ words found in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” The blessings given to us from God are far greater than any we could possibly give and yet it appears from His words that our blessings depend on the generosity of our spirit. Jesus, however, never promises those blessings will come back in kind. Leaving someone a May basket doesn’t mean we’ll get a basket on our doorstep and writing a check to a charity doesn’t mean we’ll get a larger check in tomorrow’s mail. Nevertheless, Jesus promises that we’ll get back more than we give. When we freely give of our love, joy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and grace while expecting neither recognition nor acknowledgement, God will refill our stockpile until it overflows. That is abundance!

If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away. [Mark Twain]

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (RSV)]

 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [Proverbs 11:24-25 (RSV)]

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WHOSE TIME?

For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (VOICE)]

clockEcclesiastes tells us there is a right time for everything, Colossians and Ephesians tell us to use our time wisely, Proverbs warns about wasting time, James cautions that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, Corinthians warns us time is short and, readily admitting that his time and future are in God’s hands, David tells us to number our days. Nowhere does Scripture tell us how to have more time!

Time is precious and, like money, it can be given away. Unlike money, however, it can’t be saved for a rainy day, earned, found if lost, earn interest, grow when invested, or be replenished from a trust fund! Whether we use it wisely or not, once time has passed, it’s vanished forever!

I thought about time when my husband reminded me that I was to meet the church women for breakfast the following day. Having forgotten about the appointment, my initial reaction was a groan. I enjoy being with my church sisters: sharing, learning, laughing, encouraging, and loving one another. Nevertheless, I resented taking my time from a busy Monday to do it!

As God would have it, that morning’s reading took me to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and the words of the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Regarding the young man whose soul they hoped to capture, Screwtape writes: “Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.” Those words described my reaction perfectly! Rather than seeing the blessing in fellowship, I’d seen only an intrusion on my time.

The devilish Screwtape instructs Wormwood to encourage the man’s false assumption that his time is a birthright and that every hour of every day belongs to him alone. Wormwood is to guide the man to consider interruptions of any kind as time that is stolen from him, work as time that is unduly taxed, and religious duties as a “generous donation” of his time.

Whether it was coincidence or the Holy Spirit’s intervention but Lewis’ words quickly caused an attitude adjustment regarding what I thought of as “my” time. Even the demonic Screwtape recognized that time is a gift that can’t be owned. He points out to Wormwood that, just as a man can’t hold title to the sun or moon, he can’t be the owner of time. We don’t own the heavens, church, friends, family, God, or our very lives and our time (whether an hour, a day, or a lifetime) does not belong to us. Any time with which we’re blessed belongs to God; He’s just allowing us to use a little bit of it. Rather than owners of our time, we are but stewards of His! Remembering that every day is the Lord’s day, let us always use His time to His honor and glory.

I give the moments of my life over to You, Eternal One. [Psalm 31:15 (VOICE)]

Everything and everyone under heaven is Mine! [Job 41:11b (VOICE)]

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ENCOURAGEMENT

When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. [Acts 11:23 (NLT)]

One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own. [John O’Donohue]

irisNicknames were as common in Biblical days as they are now. Simon’s politics gave him the nickname of Zelotes (the Zealot) and the impetuous behavior of James and John probably earned them the nickname of “Boanerges,” meaning “Sons of Thunder.” While it was Simeon’s dark complexion that gave him the name of “Niger” or “the Black Man,” it was the heartening behavior of Joseph that earned him the nickname of “Barnabas” meaning “Son of Encouragement.”Although our knowledge of Barnabas is limited, we know he was an apostle in the early church who encouraged the Jerusalem church by selling a field and giving it the money. His encouragement, however, wasn’t limited to finances and, without his encouragement, we might not have much of what we call the New Testament.

In spite of Paul’s conversion, his reputation as a persecutor of Christians frightened the apostles and they refused to meet with him. Barnabas became the bridge between the two and he urged the apostles to accept the new convert. It was Barnabas who encouraged Paul to come to the Antioch church where the two spent a year teaching (and encouraging) before departing on Paul’s first missionary journey. Barnabas then encouraged his cousin John Mark to join them on this expedition. When John Mark lost heart and departed, Paul refused to give the deserter another chance. It was Barnabas who encouraged the young man to go with him on another mission while Silas joined Paul. Although both Barnabas and John Mark had differences with Paul, eventually they reconciled and Paul again asked John Mark to join in his ministry.

I thought of Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” because my third “Abundance” exercise was to leave a surprise note of encouragement for someone. Coming from the Old French word encoragier, “encourage” means to make strong or hearten: to spur someone on and promote their progress or growth. Without encouragement, a person is like a flower trying to bloom without enough water or fertilizer; neither will reach their full potential. It was with Barnabas’ encouragement that the early church got planted and Paul and John Mark were able to blossom. Without Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul might never have been accepted by the church, taught in Antioch, traveled throughout the Roman Empire to reach Gentiles, or written the thirteen Pauline epistles. Not one to hold a grudge, Barnabas forgave John Mark and encouraged his cousin’s faith by including him on another mission trip. As a result, John Mark, the man who once deserted the Apostle Paul, became known as the Apostle Mark and the author of the gospel that bears his name.

At some point in our lives, we all need words that inspire courage, enthusiasm or confidence; validate, comfort, or console; bring strength, perspective, or hope. Paul told us to “encourage one another and build one another up,” but I wondered how doing that encouraging helps us live richer more abundant lives. To encourage someone, however, we first must appreciate them and it is by appreciating and valuing the people in our lives that we realize how truly rich we are. Barnabas appreciated the potential of both Paul and John Mark even when others didn’t see it. May we all be worthy of being called a Son or Daughter of Encouragement!

Your greatest pleasure is that which rebounds from hearts that you have made glad. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are already doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)]

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. [Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)]

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LET IT GO (Part 2)

frost aster - northern cataulpaInstead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)]

After writing about forgiving ourselves as a step to experiencing the abundance of Christian life, I came across some classic Peanuts comic strips (drawn by Charles Schulz) that illustrate the importance of forgiving others, as well. In the first one (originally published Christmas Eve, 1972), Charlie Brown tells Snoopy that Poochie is coming for a visit. Snoopy responds that “it would be like getting the mumps twice! …You don’t forgive someone who does to you what she did to me!” The sulking Snoopy then whines, “Just what I didn’t need…a Poochie Christmas.”

A week later, Snoopy is lying on the roof of his doghouse when Charlie Brown tells him of Poochie’s arrival. “I don’t want to see her!” replies the dog. Saying that beagles have long memories, Snoopy relates his last encounter with Poochie. He was just a puppy when she tossed a stick for him to fetch. Eager to please the girl, he retrieved it just in time to see her walk away with an English Sheepdog. When Charlie Brown expresses amazement that Snoopy remembers the incident so vividly, the beagle replies, “How could I forget?” Showing the boy what he’s holding, Snoopy explains, “I still have the stick!” The following week, the story continues with Poochie’s visit. Wearing his sunglasses, Snoopy puts on his “Joe Cool” persona and snubs the little girl. Refusing even to speak with her, there is no reunion or reconciliation and a disappointed Poochie leaves.

Peanuts looks like kid stuff but Schulz’s characters show us what it’s like to live in a world of disappointments—where our baseball team never wins, the football is yanked away, kites get tangled in trees, big sisters boss around little brothers, people suffer from unrequited love, grudges are held, and a security blanket often seems like a good idea. Charles Schulz portrays the kind of world in which we live: one where we’re more likely to lose than win.

Almost certainly, the embittered Snoopy fretted about Poochie’s visit all through the Christmas holiday right into the new year and he probably spoiled another week or more reliving their unsatisfactory meeting. Although we don’t see it, I’m sure Snoopy still has that stick and continues to bears a grudge against the little girl who chose an English Sheepdog over him!

Snoopy is just an imaginary character, living in a comic strip, but he’s not much different from us. Granted, we may not keep a stick we fetched as a puppy but we often keep other mementos of heartbreak and disappointment, use social media to stay connected with the people who hurt us, or make ourselves miserable by replaying an offense in our minds or revisiting it in our conversations. Intentionally holding onto our grievances is like rubbing salt into our own wounds!

Being hurt by people, even people we love and trust, is part of life, but dwelling on what happened in the past can only rob us of today’s joy. If we ever want to experience the abundant life promised by Jesus, if we want to be filled with His joy, if we ever hope to enjoy His peace that surpasses understanding, we must love others in the same way He loved us. We have to let go of the stick and forgive!

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. [John 15:10-12 (NLT)]

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