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Sunday grace

There is tension in the world and I’m very uncomfortable with it all.

My enneagram number is Nine, categorized as the peacemaker, the one who avoids conflict at all costs, who just wants everyone to get along. If Nine were symbolized as an animal, it would be a golden retriever, wagging its tail and wanting to be friends with everyone.

I’ve distanced myself from the news and social media after days of too much information, dark threatening words, and anger that morphs into hatred. I want everyone to get along.

But that is not the world where I live. It never has been. Conflict existed the day Cain met his brother Able in a field. There were wars and rumors of wars since people groups settled into their own communities and discovered that their neighbors were not like them.

I’ve listened to podcasts and read blog posts about the racial divide. I’ve heard sermons and people of all colors give opinions about the direction we need to go. No one has the answer, though some think they do.

I was a child when I first became aware of integration in my small corner of the world. I remember the first time I saw a black couple sitting in our family’s favorite restaurant. They were dressed in their Sunday best, like we were, and I thought they must have been to church, like us.

I once worked for a company whose staff were mostly white. Phyllis and I were at opposite ends of the building, but we found each other and built a relationship. We met early in the morning and in the break room for coffee, talking about our lives, our children, our faith.

I remember the difference in our hair texture and the contrast of her skin next to mine. It didn’t matter to either of us. We shared a kinship and we were friends.

The one and only son of ours went to college. He roomed with a young man named Michael. He was our son’s best man at his wedding. He stayed at our house and with great delight rode Sweet William’s lawn tractor. He calls me his other mother. Michael is African American.

We used to visit the church where my son and his family attended when they still lived in our city. The first time there, I noticed the diverse races, how they shared in ministry and worship responsibilities. We were welcomed, and I loved the atmosphere of acceptance and the brother/sister-hood of the family of God.

The people who live in the house next door combine four different cultures in their veins. I feel sure they were hand-picked by Jesus to be our neighbors. We’ve adopted each other and they call us Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill. They are a gift to Sweet William and me.

A woman younger than me lives nearby. She was born in another country; she is bi-lingual. She came to the United States, studied for citizenship, and is currently working to complete her college degree. She is a daughter of my heart, and I love spending time with her. When I ask her to pray, she does so in her native language, and I listen for words I recognize.

People I love are different from me.

I’ve checked on my friends during the chaos of demonstrations and riots. I’ve also message people who have police officers in their families. I’m concerned. Society can turn on the winds of public opinion, naming and blaming, dividing rather than healing.

I want to listen to people’s stories, try to understand what it’s like to live as a minority. I’ve checked out books from my library by black authors, reading to see and hear and be sensitive to the pain.

I pray for our president and leaders. They have an unspeakably difficult task. They will never be able to please all the people. There is no simple solution.

When Adam and Eve chose to ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they got what they desired – the knowledge to create good and to destroy viciously. Pandora’s box opened, and they were no longer led by a peaceful and loving spirit. Thy exhaled the breath of God and inhaled something else. We still breathe the same air.

As I walk among my gardens, I see weeds popping up. It is a continual fight to keep them from taking over what I’ve worked so hard to make beautiful. I deal daily with the curse of the fall of man. It is a fight to keep peace and love in the world when sin is always present.

There is One who gives peace in the conflict, One who calms the storm of our inner turmoil. On the night of Jesus’ birth into our world, the angel army proclaimed peace on earth and good will to men. I think the angels knew it was full out war in the heavenlies.

As Christ’s ambassadors, we are called to be peacemakers and to love people. We are called to be comforters and encouragers. This is our battle cry.

Jesus compels us to love our neighbors, to go the extra mile, to show kindness and compassion, to love justice and show mercy.

We need love to invade our hearts, our homes, our city streets, our nation’s capital. This is a costly love emanating from God the Father who sacrificed Himself for the hearts of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. This love is active. It takes risks.

God’s love changes hearts. Jesus is the way of peace. Let us pray to walk with Him, invite others on the journey and breathe in the life-giving breath of His Spirit.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I ventured out in his big red truck yesterday to do a few errands not requiring physical contact, like drive-through banking and a mail drop at the post office. We are careful to wash our hands.

Waiting in the bank lane, an unknown woman waited in the other lane. We made eye contact and then waved. She commented about the crazy world and I agreed. As she drove off, she said, “Stay safe.”

It was a meaningful interaction between strangers, a little thing that connected us in our days of being distant.

We drove to my friend’s house to pick up hand-made safety masks. The masks were bagged and waiting in a box at the end of her drive. She included a container of disinfectant wipes for safety sake. It was thoughtful of her to think of that.

It’s the little things that mean a lot.

We were in the neighborhood, so we drove by the house of a couple in our Sunday school class. Sweet William honked the horn a couple of times before they opened the front door. We had a gentle conversation from afar, us in the truck and them on their porch. It was good to see their faces. She texted and said we had made their day.

The little things.

My friend texted early yesterday morning on her way to work, saying she left a package on our porch. Her job is considered essential, and I pray for her.

In the bag were fresh farm eggs, homemade sausage, and a jar of her mango preserves. I was thrilled. After work, she brought me a few needed items from the grocery story and left them on the steps.

It was more than a little thing, and I appreciate her love for us.

Last week, another friend texted that her husband was on his way to deliver a Merry Monday treat. The doorbell and Maisie’s bark alerted us, and two pieces of cinnamon streusel cake awaited us at the front door. Sweet William and I ate it immediately with our coffee.

Our friends inspired me to send my neighbors a small surprise.

While we wait out our confinement, acts of kindness are life giving.

Mid week a young couple set a potted ready-to-bloom amaryllis on the front porch. Her mother remembered how I admired her plant and shared this beautiful flower with me.

The little things and the bigger things are making our lives not only bearable but beautiful. Human contact is vital however we manage it. We need each other.

Jesus told his disciples repeatedly to love one another. It is imperative for humanity. Love shows up in unlimited ways. We are being creative in our reaching out and joining hearts without touching hands.

We shelter at home and we find ways to shelter hearts.

It is necessary to love and be loved. We stay healthier, we are happier, we can endure if we are loved.

God initiates love. He was the first to offer His. His face is recognized most in the world when we love each other in tangible and thoughtful ways.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday in the confines of our homes, streaming church services while we lounge in our pajamas, we remember how much we are loved. Jesus the Passover Lamb was proclaimed in the city streets of Jerusalem. He choose to love us by giving His life completely and fully for us.

It’s a new day, a new opportunity to practice what Jesus preached.

He loved us first. Now it’s our turn.

Sunday grace

It’s about love. That is it. That is all.

Francis Chan said this: “We are here to love. Not much else matters.”

My best intentions are pointless unless they are birthed from love. My sound advice may not be well received unless it is clothed in love. My wise words will be sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless guided by love.

Why do we think we have the answers for other people’s situations, and why do we feel the need to pour it on them like a dose of needed medicine? How can I possibly understand someone else’s journey when I have not walked it or even listened enough to picture where they are?

Wait. Let me examine the mote in my own eye before I try to remove the speck in yours.

Love is patient when frustrations run high and people don’t do what I want.
Love is kind even in difficult circumstances, when others are unkind to me.
Love is not envious of another’s gifts, beauty, talent, possessions or success.
Love is not boastful but remembers that all things come from God’s hand.
Love is not proud of accomplishments but rather humbly serves from a heart of gratitude.
Love does not dishonor others by words or actions.
Love is not self-seeking but wants what is best for the other person.
Love is not easily angered and is therefore self-controlled.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs; it keeps forgiving and forgiving.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth and justice.
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always endures, even when, and especially when, it is hard.
Love does not fail. Love is primary. *

Dear Father in Heaven,
I’m convicted as I write the words about love. I fail often and I falter too much in loving well.

Your kindness leads to repentance. You draw us to Yourself by loving the unlovable.
May my words be kind, always. May I be patient even in my tribulation.

May I offer grace in the abundant way I have been given grace.
May I be quick to forgive and keep no record of offenses.
May Your perfect love touch the deep places of my heart and cast out fear.
May Your mighty power work in me so I can comprehend and acknowledge how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is.
May I come to know this love, though it surpasses knowledge, and be filled with the fullness of God, so that I live according to love’s direction.
I pray this in Jesus’ name, the One who loved us with His life and with His death. *

Amen

* From 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 3

Sunday grace

The stillness of early morning comforts me. The moon is brilliant in its fullness as Christmas morning slowly approaches. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and the fireplace warms away the chill. I sit in my rocker and breathe.

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I didn’t expect last week to be so busy, but it became that way. Sometimes I create my own busy, me with the lists and projects. We shared time and space with ones we hold dear, and the gift of presence was more than refreshing and a thing of beauty.

My thoughts have been frenzied with things still to do and with the pondering of Christmas present and Christmas past. Sweet William and I talked about years before, when our parents were alive, when our son was small, when the grandchildren lived in the house next door.

Memories are sweet. Longings are undeniable.

We’ve received prayer requests by text and phone in the last several days, these in addition to the names of people we pray for regularly. Those spending this year with one less person at their family gatherings have been on my heart. I feel their pain.

At breakfast on Thursday, the burden of empathy overwhelmed me so that I wept at the table. I reminded myself that I was not meant to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am meant to carry our needs to Jesus who is fully capable of bearing the burden, strong enough to hold each one in His hand. He is the fullness of God’s love come to earth for each of us, offering Himself to any who will receive.

And this is Christmas. Not whether I got the perfect present for everyone. Not whether the cards were mailed in time. Not whether we have an elaborate tree. Not whether my decorations are enough.

Christmas is Jesus. God’s love wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for the world to behold, for the outcast and the kingly. God of all creation loved us so much that He made Himself small, vulnerable, and helpless, so that He would be accessible to all of us who are small, vulnerable, and helpless.

Jesus. He came to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, to carry our sins to the cross, to carry us in our joys and our sorrows. He is Christmas.

O come let us adore Him.

Sunday grace.

baby jesus

 

Sunday grace

December entered with grace, Sweet William and I having been invited to spend a gloomy, rainy afternoon with friends who feel like family. We have history together. We remember the years ago when their children and our grandchildren were young, when we worshiped together at another church, when this important relationship first began.

Their home was warm and inviting. The atmosphere of Christmas had arrived, and I pleasured looking about at her lovely decorations, especially the exquisite Nativity set taking a prominent position in this house.

We ate a simple yet delicious lunch. Dessert was chocolate cake from her grandmother’s recipe. The men moved to the living room to finish watching the basketball game, while she and I remained at the table, sweet tea glasses refilled. We talked as long-time friends will, remembering the past and catching up with the present.

We’ve shared prayer requests, she and I, us wondering at God’s ways, marveling at His answers. She has encouraged me to trust when the way was dark. I’ve confided some deep secrets and struggles, and she does not judge or condemn. We continue to pray for one another and our families, because this is the law of Christ. To love one another.

Whether I finish my Christmas decorations or not, of this I am sure: the people with whom God has graced my life are the true adornment.  I am a wealthy woman because of the friends who choose to love me. And I get to love them back. What joy!

“The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This is grace indeed. That Love came down to be with us, to be in us. The gift of Christmas.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

So much to read and so little time. After all, there are meals to prepare, Maisie to walk, Sweet William to look after, and people to enjoy. And I do love my people.

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But when I can, I like to read a variety of books. With some, I wonder why I bothered when the words become disagreeable and/or plain boring, yet the perfectionist in me commands me to finish. Occasionally, I’ve disregarded that overachiever voice and closed the cover.

My current reading is disturbing. The author writes about surviving church, remaining a believer in spite of those who fill sanctuaries. It’s about Christians who don’t really act like Christians. They are more like legalist; prosecutor, judge and jury; critic; hater of the sin and the sinner too. Sadly, I am convicted by the descriptions. I have been them.

Examining Jesus words and actions, recorded in the Gospels, I see something completely different. He loved the unlovely and touched the untouchable. He did not condemn but called for  disciples. He offered forgiveness to the worst offender. He showed compassion for the masses and the individual. He was merciful and full of grace.

And yet the truth He declared was lightning-bolt startling, like no other. He spoke with the authority of the I Am, asking His followers to take up the cross and walk with Him. He called His friends to an impossibly high standard.

How do I achieve the law of love Jesus commanded? How can I be holy like the Father is holy?

I cannot. Nor can anyone else. And therein lies the lavish gift of grace.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
—   Ephesians 1:4-6 NIV

By trusting Christ to be my Savior and Lord, He calls me holy and blameless.

Holy and Blameless! This is outrageous. Scandalous. Shocking. Is he talking about me?

This beauty in which I am clothed is through Jesus Christ. It is God’s pleasure and will. It is to the praise of His glorious grace. It is freely given in the One He loves.

This is the amazing grace of God. Its extravagance invites me into communion with Christ, Him living through me, loving others in a way I could not on my own. His strength empowers me to be the person I was created to be. Through Him, I will not just call myself a Christian, I will live like one.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

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We take our evening stroll, and the temperature is more bearable than it’s been in days. Still Maisie pants and I look toward the shady places where trees offer respite.

I pass by my neighbors and think of Jesus’ command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Hard stuff sometimes.

It’s easy to love the young couple who has been kind to us, coming to our rescue, inviting us into their lives. They made a place in our hearts soon after their move into the neighborhood. And they loved us freely.

Didn’t Jesus tell me the reward for loving those who love me is small compared to loving those who don’t like me, mistreat me, even despise me? The rubber meets the road right there under the blazing sun.

I’ve prayed to love this week, even this very day. It isn’t always easy because I can’t manufacture the feeling. I know love is supposed to be an action word, but a little emotion to accompany would be nice.

Of course, loving God comes first. How can I love my neighbor if I’m not fully committed to loving God? Because love comes from God and God is love. Without His invasion into my heart, my life, my entire being, I can’t expect to get it right.

I perceive this loving business is primary. Opportunities abound. People are everywhere. Some are lovable. Some are not.

Dear Father,
Infuse me with Your love. Plant me deep in it, like the trees, rooted and established, being able to grasp how wide, how long, how high, and how deep the love of Christ is, the love He freely gives to me. I want to know this love that surpasses knowledge. Fill me to the measure of all the fullness of God. And then teach me to love my neighbor as myself.  (Ephesians 3:16-19 and Mark 12:31)

It’s a tall order, a mountain-size request for me to love like that. But my God specializes in the miraculous.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.    — Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV

Sunday grace.

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All about love

I’m listening to Adele on a DVD from my public library’s collection.  Believe it or not it’s my first time to hear Adele.  I know! Where have I been?

She takes my thoughts to Valentine’s Day with all the songs about love.  Unrequited love.  Disappointed love.  Love gone wrong.  Love that came and then went.  Makes one wonder, is there really a love that lasts?

While there are couples who have stayed together to celebrate 50, 60, even 70 years of marriage, how many have gone by the wayside?  Too many.

In a perfect world, we would all love with a pure love, without expectations, simply loving for the sake of love.  And wouldn’t the world be a better place?

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment – and there were so many the Jewish people were concerned with following – there were only two He mentioned.

The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.

Everything else hinges on these two commands.  Love God.  Love others.

What if we asked God for the power, the ability to do that?  What if everything we did was first measured by “what would love do?”  What if this kind of love changed our hearts and made us different in every way?

Jesus beautifully did exactly that.  He loved God perfectly, and He loved others perfectly.  And the world killed Him for it.

But the power of love is greater than death.  He proved it to us.  He lives and loves still.

While I am in my lenten season of being present in the moment, I hope I can focus on loving better.

Loving like Jesus is a high calling, more than celebrating Valentine’s Day or the wedding anniversary each year.  It’s not something I can do naturally because I’m too self centered.  It will require a heart transplant.

His heart in me.  It’s the only way to love.  The only way to really live.

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You are loved

Day 28 of 40 days to Resurrection day

Today’s suggestion:  

Remind yourself that you are greatly loved. Also remind someone else.

love crossThere is this curious Hebrew word in Scripture.  It shows up in the Psalms often.  Selah.  There are different arguments as to it’s meaning.  Some give it the definition of “pause and think about it”.

In our busy lives filled with so much activity, the pauses come infrequently.  We drop into bed at night exhausted wondering if we ever did pause for a few moments.

Scripture instructs us to meditate, to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time on certain things.  One of the important truths worth meditating on is how very much God loves you and me.

How often do you think about it, that  God loves you, I mean really, really loves you?  Sometimes we question it, don’t we, when things get complicated, when we are disappointed by some event, when life takes a dark turn, when grief knocks at our doors?

Often we tend to wonder if we are good enough for God’s love, if we are doing enough for Him, as if our behavior and accomplishments somehow affect the depth of His love.

Let me make this perfectly clear.  What we do does not increase or decrease the love of God.  We can never do enough to make Him love us more, and we can never sin so much that He will love us less.

This is hard for us comprehend because our love is often based on a person’s performance and how someone relates to us.

God’s love is a fact.  Nothing changes it.  His essence is love.  He demonstrates it constantly in the air we breathe, in the beauty of the earth, in the birth of a baby, even in the flawed love of people around us.

He has given us life and everything about it.  Gifts come from His hand every second of every day. Perhaps we just take them for granted because they are so common.  We forget the Lover of our souls.

His greatest gift is His love to a fallen world of humans who are unloving, mean, hateful, self-centered, puffed with pride, rebellious against His laws, and idolaters of any and everything.

Yet, He loved us.  He loves us still.

If you need some assurance, look to God’s love letter to the world and to you personally.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you.

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 

But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again.  

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.

Don’t you ever forget it – you are loved!  And nothing, no nothing, will ever change that fact.  He stretched His arms out wide on Calvary just to prove it.  He welcomes you into His heart.

Believe it and meditate on it.  Share it with someone else.  The world needs to know.

How deep the Father's Love for us

Selah