Choosing Love

A big part of the conversation right now is about two things: moving forward with life with/after the virus and Mother’s Day. There’s a new level to trying to understand what comes next and how we live after the virus, how we interact with each other, how we work, how we shop and how we share this world. There’s also been a big change for many families when it comes to being able to provide for them and what happens when people are out of work. It’s important to have serious conversations like this occasionally, but hopefully we don’t have to have too many of these serious conversations in our lifetimes.

But in truth much of the conversation is something we discuss on a regular basis because transitions and change are a regular part of life and family (blood or chosen) is an important part of our lives. But it’s taken a big crisis to get us all really considering and talking about what we want our future to look like, what the best future looks like for all of us, how we can support each other better, how we can be better prepared, and where God is in all of this. There aren’t easy answers, nor are there any guarantees, but even as people of faith we know that life doesn’t come with guarantees outside of the two that God loves you and will be with you always. Faith doesn’t mean special privileges or get-out-of-stuff-free cards, but it can give us some wisdom about what’s next and how to move forward and how to be in relationship with others.

1 Thessalonians 4:10 says “Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.”

This verse is interesting because you don’t often hear it said that you should love even more. We talk about abundant love or limitless love and the importance of love and being loving, but not loving more. It lines up with the idea of ‘seventy times seven’, which results to a calculable 490, but the sentiment behind the phrase was to indicate a number that didn’t seem realistic. So here we’re being asked to not only choose love, but to choose love in greater abundance and frequency than may seem normal.

Love doesn’t require being physically together or being able to see each other’s mouths. Love doesn’t have a time constraint or quantifiable cost to it. And the rewards for us for loving and the rewards others receive from our love are too many to count. As we work through the rest of this transition and challenge related to the virus, I encourage you to go with love, share love, encourage love, and when in doubt choose love.

Waiting for God

We’re in the last few days of this month and our talk about the topic of patience.  One of the most challenging topics when thinking about patience is waiting for God.  Being how all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-doing God is, it’s hard to understand why He wouldn’t rather resolve things sooner rather than later.  Sure you can talk about the lessons we learn and timing not being right, but the longer things take to happen the more we worry that God didn’t hear us or that His answer is that He’s not going to do anything.  Of course as I was thinking about how the month is ending it reminded me of our patience running out and what happens when we get there.

Sometimes when our patience runs out we act without thinking or do things that we’ve been thinking about for a while but haven’t decided to act on because we aren’t sure they’re the right thing to do.  Sometimes we do the thing that we should have done all along and just didn’t have faith in ourselves to know what was really right, so it took reaching the end of our patience to make it happen.  Other times reaching the end of our patience means we didn’t trust God’s timing and will enough to wait for Him to act.  Knowing the difference and which one is right for your current situation isn’t easy.

As I was thinking about this I read 1 Thessalonians 5:24 which says “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” So what’s the answer?  The answer is to constantly work on your relationship with God so that you’re always ready to hear His guidance in when He’s telling you to act and when to wait.  It may sound simple, but you know it’s not always easy to devote the time and attention to that relationship with everything else going on in your life.  It means not just praying about the patience-related situation, but about other things that you and God are working on.  It means reading passages from the whole Bible, while still returning to the one giving you peace, hope and encouragement right now.  It means attending meetings, seminars and classes and services about more than just your current topic of struggle.  It means reaching out and supporting others who are in need, not just focusing on your situation.  What is God working on with you in your life and are you truly able to receive His leading?

Making Time for Prayer

Lately a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot is prayer.  Prayer is this unique communication tool that can bring all different kinds of people together.  It’s been something done by just about every religion throughout history, from the Israelites and Egyptians on to Christians and Muslims today.  I thought I’d start off by sharing a few thoughts on prayer from others:

“Express to God the deep desires of your heart and your real emotions. Tell God of your trouble, even if you have had a hand in bringing it about. Honest prayer is a mark of intimacy. It is a characteristic of a relationship that is authentic and real.”  Br. David Vryhof

“[Church is] where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.”  Eugene Peterson

“When you pray for anyone, you tend to modify your personal attitude toward them.” Norman Vincent Peale

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Prayer is a gift, an opportunity and a challenge.  It can be done in groups or by ourselves.  Prayer can be vocal and it can be silent.  Prayer can be about praising, reflecting or supplication.  We can pray about ourselves and others.  But perhaps most importantly, like any other tool, it must be used to have any effect.  You can’t put it on a shelf, you can’t take it out once a year, you can’t rely on others to do it.  It’s something you need to be doing on a regular basis if you want to see results or be able to call yourself someone who prays.

This week I encourage you to make time for prayer, for focused and specific prayer.  You can continue doing the “popcorn prayers” and other brief thoughts, but set aside time to really work on your prayer life and establishing that relationship between you and God and you, others and God.

What is Prayer for You?

Last week around the US people gathered for National Day of Prayer. Prayer is an important part of our faith lives, it’s how we primarily communicate with God. We don’t always get the answers through prayer, but the words that we share with God are important and valued by Him. It would be easy to just pass off prayer as mundane and a regular task we have to do, but it’s so much more than that (although it is a task we should be doing regularly). It’s an opportunity to share our lives with God, to share with someone who truly cares about what goes on in our days and the things we’re dealing with and to celebrate the things that we enjoy or that go well.

There are many verses throughout the Bible that talk about prayer, one is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

This Bible passage is interesting because it sandwiches prayer between two very positive instructions: being joyful and being thankful. Are you joyful and thankful about what goes on in your life? Yes, circumstances can be challenging and can be depressing sometimes, but prayer is a great opportunity for us to really analyze and work through the details of the circumstance, which allows us to move beyond the possibly negative emotions and first reactions to the circumstance and see how God could be working in and through it and what we might learn from it.

So how do you view prayer? Do you see it as a chore? Maybe you’re just frustrated because you’re expecting something specific in return instead of seeing it as a great opportunity to share with someone who won’t look at us in judgment and interrupt our telling of the story, and find some quiet time and peace in a turbulent world. What are you thankful for about prayers?

Quiet Victories

This month we’ve talked about the importance of making time to be quiet and the value in doing so. As we finish out this month I wanted to share one last thought on being quiet. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says:

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands…”

The Bible makes lots of recommendations in it on how to live a life that is reflective of being a Christian. While it may be hard to understand and apply everything in the Bible to today’s life and our culture which seems very different from that of Bible times, this verse is one that has stood the test of time. It encourages us to do 3 important things: 1-live a quiet life, 2-mind our own business, and 3-work. So what do these 3 things teach us?

First, while Jesus did many showy things during His time on earth, and there is a place and time for making a (grand) stand, the majority of our lives should be lived simply and quietly, and in a way that doesn’t negatively impact those around us. Second, gossip has no place in our lives. Yes, we can learn from each other and the lessons others have experienced to avoid making the same mistakes and failures, but there’s no reason to talk about why other people are divorcing, what’s ‘wrong’ with them or their kids, or pass judgment on things that you have no knowledge of. Third, hard work is good for you! Maybe you don’t work a physical labor job but the point is that you should be doing work to improve yourself, your life and the world you live in.

If you look at the lives of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela their goal was not to be on the main stage in front of the world. They were interested in doing what they could do to help the world even if it didn’t seem like they were doing much. If that meant quiet sacrifice so be it. If that meant hard work so be it. If that meant a national stage with world-press of the atrocities they’re fighting, so be it.

So this week I encourage you to what God has called you to do, even if it’s just to make a difference in small, quiet ways.

An Encouragement for Freedom

This month we’re talking about families, and I know as well as you do that family can be some of the most challenging, constricting, limiting, frustrating experiences! So today I want to share 7 encouraging verses to reflect on this week. check out the passages, talk them over with your family, share them with friends and spend some time working with God on releasing yourself from all that entangles you and discover the freedom God wants for you.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” 1 Timothy 2:1

What verses encourage you?

Overflowing Love

Ah the Monday after Valentine’s Day, I’m sure you or someone you know is sighing their relief that all the love stuff and talk will go away for another year.  But if I could be honest with you, that wouldn’t be my wish.  This weekend in my devotional I shared about how love is something so much more than a feeling to be recognized once a year.  As we’ve been talking about this month love is powerful, it’s not something that can be avoided and it takes work!  If you know anything about work you know that it’s not done typically in a matter of minutes but it’s necessary to be given consistent effort and attention over a typically longer period of time.

Love, like work, isn’t easy, that’s not part of love’s definition.  But I have found that love is easier when I’m willing to embrace it for all it is and all it can be.  My partner and I, just like you and any relationship you’re in or will get in had to make a tough choice when we got together and continue to make that tough choice every day: to love enough to overcome the challenges and problems and be the best supporter and helper we can be for the other person.  It’s not about being perfect, it’s about loving him enough to be willing to work through the tough stuff and remember the good stuff and the reasons why we spend out lives together.

What I’ve learned is that love, when shared, when focused on, and when embraced doesn’t go away or become a chore, it grows.  The challenges are worth it because the love gets bigger and better with each day, each hug, each conversation, each dream, and each walk.  We’ve decided not to let the things that could separate or divide us keep us apart.  Instead we’ve chosen to love each other more and spread that love through the world.  What will your choice be this week?

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”  1 Thessalonians 3:12

Let’s Encourage

Being together and being part of a community is about more than just being around other people, it’s about the quality of interactions too.  Talk with many leaders and you’ll discover that there’s an epidemic that is being fought against, and has been for quite some time: an epidemic of negative.  There’s lots of bad stuff in the world, so much that you can pretty much go anywhere and find examples of decay, damage or disease.  But it’s about more than slapping on a fresh coat of paint or finding a cure for AIDS or other “incurables”.  It’s about supporting each other emotionally and mentally.

When Jesus was on earth doing His ministry there are countless examples of how He took care of people physically: from healing illnesses to feeding people.  But Jesus also took the time to care for people emotionally.  What He knew that we sometimes ignore is that some of our physical illnesses and handicaps are just as much mental and emotional as they are physical.

A key part of who we are is how we feel about ourselves and the world around us, as well as the mental and emotional feedback we get from the people in our lives.  When they treat us like dirt we tend to see the world through dirty eyes. How people treat us definitely colors our opinions and the choices we make.

Throughout the Bible though God’s wisdom and command was not to spread the evil in the world or share rumors or lies, but to encourage one another.  God didn’t say this so we would all have absolutely huge egos or think that no one else is valuable but ourselves, but because he knows that we all need reassurance that we do have value, we’re not alone and someone else knows we’re there.

Who will you choose to encourage and support this week?

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11