The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: March

Invite a couple of acquaintances for coffee (and a February recap)

Hospitality Challenge

March has arrived! I am one day late in posting this because, honestly, this time of year is very, very crazy for me. We have a landscape company and my really busy months are January through April, as we work to get new contracts into the hands of our customers and update and change any systems that didn’t work well last season. With that in mind, I have a confession to make:

I didn’t officially do the G4L Game Night Challenge. I planned to. But before I could get it all in place, we were actually invited to an old friend’s house for a…game night! At that point, life was a bit crazy and our weekends were filling up. And so I made the decision that this would just have to have to suffice for the February challenge.

We got together with two couples, not at my house but at my friend’s house.We hadn’t seen the other two couples–at least to chat about life and enjoy each others’ company– for quite some time. It was actually quite awhile before we even broke out a game, as we sat around talking and catching up.

After awhile, they broke out Twisted Farkle. We had never played any variation of Farkle before so this was all new to us, but we had fun! It made me wonder why we don’t do this type of thing more often. We had a great night re-connecting with old friends.

A few weeks later, our Sunday School class had a special Valentine get-together and we played Bunco, another dice game. This one is especially suited to larger groups. We had a great time as we switched tables and got to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. Games have a way of doing that–far more than movies do. They are great for family and friends alike, as we spend a few relaxed hours together.

Did anyone else host (or attend wink) a game night? I would love to hear your stories.

MARCH CHALLENGE

This month, let’s invite a couple of acquaintances from our church or workplace for coffee (or tea). You can meet at a local coffee house or in your own home. Focus on women (or men if you are a man) who may be single, widowed, or divorced–the ones that rarely get invited anywhere because they aren’t a “couple”.

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: February

Host a game night (and a January recap)

Hospitality Challenge

January is over already! Isn’t that hard to believe? I always think January will drag on forever but it never does. The month was already half way over before I realized that I had never even made plans for the January Challenge. Yes, I am talking about the challenge that I created…

So at that point I realized that I needed to get some plans in place. Here is how it all turned out for me–

First–preparing my home. Well, I started out with great aspirations to get a little more organized. But, alas, it didn’t really happen. Thankfully, my home, with a little tidying, is generally company ready, since I host a Bible Study in my home each week. It’s amazing how much a weekly meeting at your house changes how you keep things cleaned up and organized–at least on the surface! So, while I can’t say I made great strides in this area, I can say that our home is ready for guests.

Second–meeting a couple for dinner. I went out on a limb and called a couple from our church that we don’t know very well. The wife and I had enjoyed talking together at a church camping trip a year or two ago, but other than the tidbits of conversation we would hold in the church foyer occasionally, we had not really talked since then. Her husband owns a business, too, so I knew the men would have plenty to talk about.

I hesitantly picked up the phone and dialed their number. I felt a little bit funny, quite honestly, calling out of the blue like that. I explained the Growing 4 Life Hospitality challenge and then asked her if she and her husband would like to meet us for dinner. She said they would like that and we put set aside Friday night, January 29–only two days before the month’s end. Nothing like cutting it close!

And so this past Friday night found us meeting this couple at our local Ruby Tuesday’s. I know I shouldn’t expect this every time, but the delightful thing about this particular evening was that all four of us hit it off immediately. There were no awkward moments or uncomfortable pauses. We have very different backgrounds and lives, and yet we had so much in common that I think we were all pleasantly surprised. I can definitely say that we left the restaurant that evening with new friends. It was a really rewarding experience for us–and one we would never have had without the Hospitality Challenge pushing me to make that call.

Now it’s your turn. I’d sure love to hear your stories. Do you have any stories about preparing your home for company? Or meeting with a family you desired to know better? Would you share your experiences in the comment section below? Don’t feel that you can only share the good things, but feel free to share your frustrations and challenges, too.

By the way, if you are reading about the challenge for the first time today, you can still join. This is not like the Bible Reading Challenge of last year, where you are hopelessly behind if you start late. The 2016 Growing 4 Life Hospitality Challenge can be joined at any time during the year. Click here for more information.

So are you ready for the next challenge? Here we go…

FEBRUARY CHALLENGE

Now that you have your home ready to go, it’s time to open up your home and practice hospitality. This month the challenge is to invite two or more singles (don’t forget the singles, they are often overlooked!), couples, or families into your home for a game night. Winter is a great time to play games, so this seems to be a great place to start in our desire to become more hospitable.

You can make this as simple or elaborate as you want to. Just remember to keep the focus off of yourself and your home and keep it on your guests and making them feel welcome. Personally, I will probably just serve a few munchies and iced tea and keep it very casual. But you may want to serve dinner or buy some pizza. It’s totally up to you!

NOW, I know that some of you may have a spouse who does not like to play games. If this is the case, then why not ask them if they will do this for you just once OR, if they won’t budge, then think of a different activity that you can do that evening, such as having couples bring their wedding albums or childhood photos. Think outside the box a little. I’d like to add here that I do not recommend any movies or TV for your activity. This discourages conversation and when your company leaves you won’t know much more about them than when they first arrived.

If you are in need of some game ideas, I have listed a few of our family favorites below (FYI: these are NOT affiliate links and I receive zero compensation if you click on these)–

For smaller groups–

Qwirkle–This is a fun game of colorful tiles that need to be lined up in rows according to color or shape. It’s very easy to learn and lots of fun to play.

Play Nine–We have spent hours playing this as a family. It’s a fun card game that you play for nine rounds. Just make sure you sit beside someone nice for this game, as your neighbor can make or break the game for you ;)

Rummikub–This is a new game to our family, but it’s been around for awhile. It has tiles with colored numbers on them and you lay them out on the table, similar to Qwirkle, but not quite the same. It’s a fun game, if you like this kind of thing.

Rook–My first memory of this game is with my aunts and uncles when I was around twelve. I have such fond memories of everyone sitting around a table, laughing and forgetting the rest of life for just a few moments as we played. The deck of cards says that only six people can play, but I think we can play with more if you buy an extra deck of cards. It’s an easy, inexpensive, and enjoyable card game. This can be played as individuals or in teams.

For larger groups–

What?–I just bought this one at Christmas and we had lots of fun playing it over the holiday season. It is extremely easy to play and actually helps you to get to know one another a bit. I highly recommend this one.

CatchPhrase–This is a wonderful game for big groups and we play it regularly if we have a crowd at our house. The game is actually a small electronic box that you pass, so no table is needed. It’s easy, fun, and is always played with a lot of laughter!

Scattergories–We have enjoyed this game since the kids were little. It’s an old game, but still a good one. As long as you can write, you can play this game.

Balderdash–This is a fun game of creative thinking. Coming up with definitions of unknown words and plots of unheard of movies (plus a few other categories) and then trying to guess which is the right one is what this game is about.

For families with children–

Cranium Family Fun–Oh, we love this game! If you have kids coming to your party, this one is well worth the money. I am not sure how many can play it, but it is really fun for both adults and kids.

Charades–No link is needed for this one. Simply write some things to act out on pieces of paper, throw them in a paper bag, and make your own game up. Everyone can play and have fun with this one, no matter what age.

Do you have any other game suggestions? I always love hearing about new games–especially ones for a larger group, as it is rather hard to find fun and clean games for adults.

 

So are you ready for this new challenge? Ready…Set…

GO!

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: January

Make plans to meet someone for dinner & prepare your home

Hospitality Challenge

The Growing4Life Hospitality Challenge officially begins today! I will present a new challenge on the first Monday of each month during this coming year. I hope you will read these challenge posts, even if you have decided not to participate, because I do think you will find some helpful ideas and tips.

There are actually two parts to this first challenge.

But, first, let me share a passage of the book *Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch—

I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory.

So, this idea of hospitality isn’t just a nice idea. It is going to cost us something. Are you ready to obey, anyway? I truly believe that our hearts will rejoice as we obey the Lord in this area.

So here we go!

JANUARY CHALLENGE

PART 1

Think of a Christian single person, a couple, or a family at your church that you would like to get to know better. If you are not attending a **church regularly right now then move to your other circles–perhaps work or school. Can you think of someone?

Now, call them up and arrange to get together for dinner. Or if funds are tight, then just arrange a time for dessert and coffee. But get a date on the calendar for the month of January.

PART 2

Before I share part 2, I want to tell you a little story. Years ago, we served under a pastor who would just pop in on people without calling them. One evening, as I sat in my family room surrounded by laundry on every surface, the doorbell rang. My dishes weren’t done. My husband wasn’t home. And things were really crazy. Keep in mind that I was homeschooling our four kids at the time. I was not prepared for company. As I opened the door, I saw my smiling pastor standing there. Now, to his credit, he stepped his way through the laundry, took a seat, and enjoyed a visit with the kids and me and never once did I feel judged. But, I still felt soooo uncomfortable. The whole time. It was awful. I kept furtively glancing at my messy house and just wanted to melt into the floor. My house was not normally in such a terrible state, but, of course, the one evening I had let it go was the evening the pastor chose to call.

All these years later, I realize that I learned a little something from that visit. And now I try to generally have my house in order at all times. Oh, it still gets the best of me sometimes– especially during the holidays (anyone else ready to get back to their routine??) but, as a rule, I try to tidy up first thing in the morning. Of course, this is so much easier now that I only have one child at home. I fully empathize with you moms. Especially if you home school. That felt like a losing battle.

So why am I telling you all this? Because, while I don’t believe a spotless house is necessary to entertain, I do believe that you need to feel like your house is ready to entertain. One of my readers mentioned that she would like to do the challenge, after she completes a few home projects and gets it ready.  I got to thinking about that– perhaps we could all use a month to prepare our homes. Especially if we haven’t entertained in a very long time.

So here is Part 2 of the challenge–

Prepare your home for company.

You have all month to do this. For some of us, our home is already in pretty decent shape. We keep things neat and tidy, for the most part, and this challenge will be easy for us. BUT, for others of us, clutter and busyness have overtaken our lives and we have neglected our homes.

This is the month to change that. Let’s do a basic house cleaning and clutter removal, so that we can entertain guests with confidence. Here are the basic things to do to prepare for guests–

Clear clutter off surfaces
Dust furniture
Wipe down counters
Vacuum
Mop floors
Tidy bathrooms

If you would like to do more or are looking for some resources in this area of cleaning, you may find these helpful–

http://www.flylady.net/d/zones/

I first became acquainted with Flylady when I was homeschooling. She breaks caring for our homes into manageable zones. I think you will find this website very helpful. (disclaimer: I am not sure if she is a believer or what her beliefs are. I did notice that she condones an unbiblical form of meditation, so be very careful if you choose to follow her “spiritual” advice.)

http://christianhomekeeper.org/be-clutter-free/

Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep our homes clutter free. This author had some other good posts, as well, about this area of keeping our homes, so take a little time to look around the blog.

http://www.imperfecthomemaker.com/2013/07/how-to-declutter.html

Another article on de-cluttering. This article gives seven easy steps!

My Home Routines

I am going to try to use this helpful app during this year. It makes caring for our homes more manageable and can even be used in conjunction with Flylady. Here’s a helpful web page to show you how–

http://www.homeroutines.com/resources/choose-a-housework-expert/flylady/using-homeroutines-to-follow-flylady/

Again, let’s remember– our homes don’t need to be perfect. There are no spotchecks and no one cares if you didn’t dust the light fixture or missed that cobweb in the corner of the family room ceiling. But, we can do our best to do a basic de-clutter and clean-up of our homes.

I will touch base at the end of the month to hear how it went! I can’t wait to hear your stories about this first challenge.

Okay, so…are you ready?? Here we go!

 

*To go along with this challenge, I am reading the book The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors by Alexander Strauch. If you’d like to read along, you can find the book here on Amazon.

**If you are not in a solid, biblical church, then I would like to suggest you find one. It is so very important for both you and your family to be in fellowship with a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Face Value

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I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. It was so unexpected. I was with a fellow Christian that I had known for a long time. We were different ages and in different circles but ended up working together fairly frequently. I had always assumed that we had the same respect and admiration for each other and that our occasional disagreements and debates were viewed as a healthy part of a relationship.

But, on that particular day, I found out that I was quite wrong.

This person did not have the same feelings toward me as I had towards them. In fact, that conversation showed me that they viewed me as a particularly irritating part of their life. There was no confession and no closure. Just a statement that needed no further elaboration. I didn’t really know them well enough to follow up the conversation any further and so I walked away that day with a shocking and hurtful realization:

People can act like they like you when they really don’t.

For many years after that, I found myself just assuming that most people did not like me. I assumed that I was irritating and that most people did not enjoy my company. Even if someone was really nice to me and I thought I had found a friend, I would hear a voice in the back of my head saying: They don’t really like you. They are only pretending. Just like _________.

It would take a long time for me to trust someone and believe that they actually did enjoy my company. After all, a fellow Christian had pretended to be my friend and it had never been true.

Isn’t it amazing how one conversation can change your life?

By my very nature, I am quite outgoing and outspoken (I can almost hear the “amens” even as I write this from those of you who know me!) It is so hard for me to just sit in a room quietly without speaking. I suppose my parents knew they had a problem on their hands when, as a young child, I spoke my unfiltered thoughts about the fat lady walking towards us on the street.

I’ve had a lifetime of trying to curtail my mouth. To learn to think before I speak. To honor God with the right tone, looks, and body language.

And I do think I have made progress, in large part due to God’s amazing grace and the Holy Spirit working in my life. I am not the same person I was. But I do still mess up sometimes. I still–quite unintentionally–make enemies. And I still worry about that. Especially when people are so good at covering their true feelings.

But, recently, I believe that God has been teaching me to take people at “Face Value”. I cannot know anything about a person that they do not choose to share with me. I cannot be responsible for their grudges and unforgiving hearts if they do not choose to come to me with their issues. If someone treats me like they like me, then I should assume that they do. If they are pretending, that is not my concern. That is between them and God. I can’t spend my time worrying about it and I can’t make assumptions that may not be true.

And since that first conversation, I have learned a few things. First, sometimes people are just really shy. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me. It just means they don’t know me. And, second, I’ve learned that moods often determine how people interact with me. Some people just aren’t friendly if they have had a rough day. It doesn’t mean that they have some deep, abiding hatred of me.

Instead of focusing on the reactions and thoughts of others (which are completely outside my control), my concern is to treat people with love and kindness. If there is a truth that needs communicated, then it is to be covered with prayer and spoken with much thought and tremendous grace. If I do these things, then I must let the rest up to God.

It’s been a long journey that I am still on, but I keep learning that I need to get the focus off of me and my feelings and keep it where it belongs– on God and His Word.

If someone doesn’t like me because of my stand for God, then I am okay with that. If they don’t like me because I’ve sinned against them, then, unless they tell me, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. If they do confront me, it is my job to be humble and willing to receive the criticism with an open mind.

Relationships can be so tough. We can make assumptions and we have expectations. When we are disappointed or devastated in a relationship, it can really make a difference in how we treat others for the rest of our lives. But God’s Word shows us how to have healthy relationships. And the first step is almost always putting aside our own desires and thinking of what’s best for the other person. (Philippians 2:2-3). It’s painful. It’s so hard. But it works.

 

Practicing Joy When It’s Hard

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Sometimes the world around us seems so hopeless. We watch the news on TV, we age and our bodies grow weaker, and we hear so many stories of brokenness and tragedy. We come face to face over and over again with the hard reality that we live in a fallen world in a body headed for death.

These tough truths also come to light in the books of the Old Testament Prophets. These men of God predict the sword, famine, and pestilence on God’s chosen people. They have turned their hearts to idols and God has decided enough is enough. How would it have felt to be in Israel during that time? What would it have been like to live with the knowledge that the wrath of God was coming?

Could it be a little like right now? Oh, I know we aren’t Israel. And I know that the wrath of God fell hard on them in a way that will probably not be repeated until the Tribulation. But don’t you sometimes wonder how long the wrath of God will tarry for a nation that kills its babies at a rate of 2000+ per day? Or a nation that has declared God to be null and void and prefers to give credit to the ludicrous and illogical theory of evolution? How long can a nation last that lives like there are no moral absolutes? What can we expect when we turn our back on God’s chosen people, Israel? (Genesis 12:3)

I don’t tend to get dragged down too often by the state of this nation, but every once in awhile it just hits me. This is not the same nation it was. It is changing so fast it sometimes feels like it’s hard to catch your breath. And in the back of my mind is always this question: what will it mean for the faithful? What is ahead for us in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards anyone who follows the Jesus of the Bible?

This week, while I was thinking a bit about this, the Lord brought to mind my dear friend, Bea. It’s not often that you are good friends with someone who is 35 years older than you are, but we are a glorious exception. God has blessed our family tremendously by knowing her. She has functioned for many years as my kids’ third grandmother and as a source of godly wisdom for me.

I decided that I would ask her her thoughts on finding joy when things are looking dark. She has a lot she could be discouraged about. Her health is starting to fail and life is very different than it was even ten years ago. Looking to the future doesn’t bring much hope, as her body will probably continue to grow weaker. And yet when I stop in she always has a genuine smile on her face. A smile that comes from her heart. I asked her how she finds joy in the midst of discouraging days.

She had some great thoughts and I know that you will benefit from them as much as me. As always, her practical wisdom is so helpful. When I asked her how she fosters joy in her life, she gave the following thoughts–

1. Count Your Blessings.

She went on to share just how good God has been to her through the years. She prayed for her husband’s salvation for 32 long years and God answered that prayer. And now this husband treats her like a princess, loving on her in a way that wasn’t possible in their busy, younger days. She enjoys the more relaxed, living-in-the-moment that they are able to do now. And she looks for even small improvements in her health or other situations. She says there are always plenty of blessings to be remembered.

2. Talk to God a Lot.

She elaborated here and told me she talks to Him all the time. She asks for strength to get through the day. And to help her find a lost earring. She talks to Him about her feelings of discouragement. And she prays for others. Instead of just (or perhaps along with) one designated prayer time for the day, she keeps a running conversation going with God all day.

3. Choose to be thankful.

This kind of goes with the first one, but it is a bit more intentional. She thanks God for her good days. And for the healing that is taking place despite her aging body. She thanks God for the blessings that are in her life. Even the smallest blessing is worthy of gratitude.

4. Press on through the discouragement.

When I asked if she had anything more, she added this final thing. And perhaps this may be the most important of all. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing in the service God has for us, no matter what the task. Bea’s tasks have changed considerably over the years and she now finds herself in a place where she can’t do that much physically. But she can still pray and she can still encourage others. She can still cook and do some things around the house. And she can still love her husband and her family. When we are tempted to stop walking in our difficult places, our focus turns inward and we withdraw from life if we aren’t careful. We often end up in a fog of depression and misery, oftentimes curled up in a ball in our beds or zoned out in front of the TV. Self pity doesn’t make things better. It makes things much worse.

Instead we need to keep pressing on through the pain and the discouragement, remembering the future that is in store for us if we are saved and always prepared, with hope, for the return of our Lord and Savior. Isn’t it just wonderful to contemplate a life without pain and without sorrow? It seems almost beyond the realm of our comprehension. But that is what we have been promised if we are God’s! This life is not the whole picture. It’s just a tiny part of the whole.

I guess you can tell how much I love my dear friend. She has been such an inspiration and godly example for me. And not only has she been a great role model, but she has always been willing to share her struggles and her heart with me. Ladies like this are rare and I consider it a great privilege to have her in my life. I want to keep learning from her as long as possible and continue mining the treasure of her 80+ years of experience.

I hope this post has inspired you to find joy in the hard places! But I also hope it has inspired any of you who are women to find a godly woman whom you can talk to and learn from. One who is willing to be open and honest and who has years of experience and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls we tend to make as wives and mothers.

And, as I write this, I find myself encouraged that perhaps it’s not so hopeless, after all. Sure, the world isn’t going anywhere great, but we can’t quit. We ordinary women can make a difference by building into the lives of others and sharing the things we have learned from God’s Word. Oh, we probably won’t change the world, but we can help the people that God places in front of us. And, according to Titus 2:3-5, perhaps that is what we are supposed to be focused on, anyway.

Middle-Aged Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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If anyone would have told me how hard this time of my life would be I don’t think I would have believed them. I was not prepared for the changes and the emotions that would encompass this time. Kids leave our homes to start their own adventures, our bodies do crazy things to us, and life is filled with doubts, regrets, and disappointment as we reflect on past choices or wonder about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Life-changing events during middle-age– college, ill or elderly parents, weddings, grandchildren, kids moving away–often come at us quickly and unrelentingly, bringing ever-constant change. All of this can be very hard on a marriage. And it can be pretty ugly.

My husband and I used to wonder how couples could stay together for 25 or 30 years and then divorce when the kids left the house. But now that we are here, it makes a lot more sense. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this time of life for both husband and wife. If you go into it without a solid base of devotion to God and friendship with each other, it will prove extra challenging and sometimes impossible. Some marriages survive it and some don’t.

Today my husband, Eric, and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we said our vows and drove off in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (anyone remember those?) but, in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I’d like to tell you that with age, marriage has grown easy and that we are coasting in to the finish line. But that would be a lie.We both married sinners and so we continue to strive to work together. Some times are easier and some times are harder. These past couple of years would probably fit under “harder” for us.

This is why I am so thankful that I married a guy who has continued to be my best friend through all of the ups and downs. Let me assure you–our story is no fairytale. There have been serious struggles. But through it all, God has shown Himself so faithful.

Since it is our anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on why my husband and I are still such good friends even in the midst of this all. I think one of the main reasons is that he isn’t too proud to say he is sorry. I also love that he is willing to work at our marriage and will plan romantic things or read books just for me, even though his heart isn’t in them. I am glad he hates discord and won’t let more than an hour go by without talking if we are in a disagreement. And I am thankful for a husband who desires to please God with his life and who desires to obey His Word.

I am not sure why God led me to this man, but I am certainly glad He did. And I’m glad that God has walked with us every step of the way–through the dark times and through the good times.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. There are many times that we are so frustrated with each other we could scream. My husband isn’t even close to perfect, so don’t go comparing your husband to mine. No, instead, think right now of the good things your husband brings to your marriage. Unless you are married to a complete loser, you know there are some. The same thing goes for you men– remember the good things about your wives. Oh, how important it is at any stage of marriage to always remember why we fell in love!

And just a brief side note here: If you are a mom still in the middle of laundry and soccer games and homework and diapers, I want to encourage you to keep working at your marriage. Don’t let the kids steal your heart. Always remember that you have a man who still needs you. Because some day, all too soon, you will find yourself with only him. Make sure he is not a stranger.

Some of you have been reading this blog for a while now and you have been walking with me through this new stage of life. Many of you have been there and have offered encouragement. Or you are there and can relate to what I write. Thank you for that.

The good news is that I think I am starting to see some of the benefits to this upcoming stage of  marriage. We are able to go out for dinner without finding a babysitter. We can sit and talk uninterrupted. There is a whole lot less chaos and stress in our home. And, of course, we have a little more extra money with only one teenager in our house instead of four! And, so, I think once things settle down here, we will become used to our new normal and we will find ourselves even more deeply in love.

Until then, I would just like to say Happy 27th Anniversary to my wonderful husband. He reads this blog faithfully to support me (another thing I appreciate!) so I know he will see this. I love you, Eric, and if I could choose, I’d marry you all over again.