Love Muscles by Beth Smith (my mom!)

john arano unsplas weight training

At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote that we should desire the highest and best gifts from God.  And he said the best gift is love. This love is not some mushy, worked up, pretend or temporary love. It’s real. And if you know Jesus as your Savior, you already have it! I know that’s true because Romans 5:5 (NIV) tells us, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” It’s poured in. It’s there. All we have to do is use it, exercise it. Here are five areas where we can exercise God’s love – five love muscles we need to use. They come from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.

  • Love is patient. How can we exercise this love muscle? We could stop being in such a hurry all of the time, maybe stop and listen to someone else’s ideas for a change, or be willing to be uncomfortable in a situation and still keep a good attitude. (Grocery store check-out lines are a place where I need to practice patience.)
  • Love is kind. Kindness is a lost art in our modern world. Simply being nice makes such a difference! What exercises can we do here? Pick up someone else’s mess. Help fix dinner. Turn off the computer or the TV to listen to our mate, our children or our friends. (Just pushing the mute button doesn’t count.)
  • Love is not jealous or self-seeking. Jesus said we should lose sight of ourselves and our own interests. That’s so hard to do, especially in tough times. Do it anyway! Call someone. Send an encouraging email. Help. Give. If, everyday, we would think, “Who can we bless today?” our bent toward self-centeredness would be cured.
  • Love is not boastful or proud. Love is humble. Jesus is our great example of humility. He went from the throne of heaven to a manger and then to a cross. What can we do? Serve others. Look to give instead of to get. This should be especially true in our homes. Sometimes that’s the hardest place to exercise humility.
  • Love keeps no records of wrongs. Love forgives. We need to remember how many times God has forgiven us, and then go and do the same to others. What should we do when we are offended? Just drop it. Let it go.

Exercising love isn’t always easy, but we do it by keeping our eyes on Christ. We can be patient, kind, encouraging, humble and forgiving. The more we exercise these muscles, the stronger they’ll become. When we don’t want to exercise those love muscles, we can still do it for Jesus’ sake. That will be the best muscle building exercise ever!

I’d love to hear your comments here.

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Boxing Day

box and dog Erda Estremera Unsplash

December 26th is known in many parts of the world as Boxing Day. Why?

  • Because it’s the day we haul all our now-empty gift boxes away? Nope.
  • Because it’s the day we’re allowed to slug those who irk us? Absolutely not.
  • Because it’s a day to give to those less fortunate? Bingo!

Also known as St. Stephen’s Day, and tied to a rather varied list of international traditions, December 26th is supposed to be a day to bless those with less (without expecting anything in return.)

And so, it’s also a perfect day for me to give you the highlights of my pastor’s recent sermon about the Good Samaritan. (Thanks, Matt!)

• The Good Samaritan made the sacrifice of stopping. He gave up his plans.
• That same man, undervalued in the land where he was traveling, didn’t let his position influence his willingness to help.
• He basically opened his wallet, lavishly offering his possessions to whatever extent they might be needed.

Jesus asks us to love totally and completely at all times, sharing that love with all people in all situations, in the same way that we love ourselves. He is the ultimate Good Samaritan, and we are asked to follow him.

But can we do it? No, no way. Unless…unless we’ve asked him to take control of our lives. Then Christ, working in us, can provide lavish love to others—even those who hate or misuse us—regardless of the cost.

Boxing Day is here. And the New Year is coming. So it’s time. It’s time to ask the Lord to empower us with a new and mighty measure of love, generosity, compassion and understanding. May the True Good Samaritan change your life today!

Photo by Erda Estremera via Unsplash.com

The Snapping Duck

ducks annie spratt unsplash.comNick is a pro at feeding goats at petting zoos. Flat hand. Bravery. Gentle goats. No problem. Ducks are a different deal, as he discovered, and he can demonstrate the proper feeding technique now—throw the food. And if you ask him what happens when you do it the wrong way, he will stick out his index finger and say “Hurt you!” He wasn’t really injured and recovered quickly. The whole thing got me to thinking, though.

Nick learned—the hard way—that he can’t treat all animals the same way, even when he’s trying to be kind to them. Don’t we need to learn the same lesson when it comes to how we treat other people? Most parents would be quick to tell us how they have to take each child’s needs and characteristics into consideration as they relate to them each day. Surely adults aren’t any different.

But we live in a rushed society, and one-size-fits-all is faster. Today I’m trying to internalize the lesson I learned from the ducks and the goats, and from Nick. Look before you leap—or feed, or speak or…Take time to look people in the eye and listen to their voices and to assess who they are and what they need. Then respond, sometimes slowly. Some people need advice. Others need a listening ear, or silent companionship, or a true promise of prayer coverage, or a simple meal…But we don’t all need the same thing.

And a corollary lesson for me: Sometimes, if I get it wrong, perhaps by moving too fast or making an assumption too quickly, I’ll get snapped at. That duck was just doing what it thought it needed to do to eat, to survive if I stretch this analogy a bit. And so, when the response I receive isn’t the response I expect or think I deserve, well, maybe I can learn to take that in stride as I slow down and try to see the “snapper’s” point of view.

So, back to the Bible we go again: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” So many ways to do that! May God bless your efforts today.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt via unsplash.com.

The Ring’s the Thing

The RIng ad 2018Okay, true confessions here: I resist change. I prefer to think of myself as someone who is usually content with the present circumstances. That’s a good thing, right? But, yes, “slow to embrace change” certainly describes me as well. I was the last of my family to get a cell phone, the last of just about anyone I know to upgrade to a smart phone, and still don’t really know how to use hashtags…

And for Christmas, our kids gave Steve and me The Ring. Nope, not the kind for your finger, but the kind for your front door, a newfangled doorbell. They were so excited about it. We travel. We hang out in our backyard. This would be the perfect way for us to keep track of all visits to our front porch by friend and stranger alike.

We delayed. The instructions said, “5 minute installation.” Sure, that’s what they all say.

Then came that moment when we realized that pretty soon one of our kids was going to ask, “How’s The Ring working out?” We were going to look, well, resistant to change!

And so, we installed it. Actually, it only took a few minutes over the promised five. But it was a little difficult to figure out how our newly installed gadget actually worked. After all, this was something NEW! So, leaving our frustration behind, we took a walk. On the way back, our phones told us we had missed a visit from Nick. (Video included.) A quick call, and we were off to see our sweet grandson and family.

Ding! Ding! Ding! One could say that as the doorbell rang, the lightbulb went off. That gadget is not about catching the latest Amazon delivery right away (although it has helped us do that too.) It’s about never missing an opportunity to engage with the other people in our lives. And engaging with others is a big part of what life is meant to be.

So here are my challenges to you today:

Are you embracing change as God puts it in your path? Just do it!

And are you looking for ways to engage with the people he has put in your life? They need you, and chances are you need them too!

Secret Shopper

IMG_1062 - Copy kitchen table

It was only a table, well, two tables actually, and their matching chairs. The kitchen set was worn out by two childhoods’ worth of homework and supper, birthday parties and art projects. At the dining room table, family dinners once melted into lingering conversations, multiple generations swapping stories and sharing laughter.

Those tables don’t fit in our new home. Their replacements, chosen through long pleasant hours of shopping with Steve, are truly lovely. After months of navigating a garage clogged with cast-offs, I knew the Salvation Army truck was sorely overdue. But I still cried. My tears were happy and sad and unexpected. They surprised me, because I didn’t know that sticks of wood could mean so much.

I walked outside and headed two doors down, where Nick saw me right away. He waved and said, “Hi, Nana!” His mom, having already seen the truck, asked how I was feeling about parting with my longtime belongings. Love. Compassion. Understanding. They comforted me. Soon I was almost as good as new.

Someone around you is holding back tears today. You can’t see their emotion. You don’t know their struggle. Chances are that person is hiding it all rather well. ‘Could be over something as simple as a table or something far more serious. Often the people who need our love, our compassion, and our understanding are the ones we least suspect. So, the only answer is to offer it to everyone. A tall order? Yes, but one I believe pleases our Lord.   

Black Tea

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, but especially to my husband, who never complains as I write about our lives on a public platform. (Thank you, my love!) Before I relate the story below, let me applaud the way he takes my teasing—and this blog—with humor and grace. Even after four plus decades (we were very young when we met) of friendship, we miscommunicate on occasion. Here’s one of our latest faux pas.

 

Elizabeth had flown from California to Texas to celebrate Christmas. The two hour time change was wearing on her a bit, as was a bout with a cold and the fatigue of a busy week. Having never been a coffee drinker, she asked me to add a caffeinated tea to my Christmas grocery list. I had a looonggg list, and managed to come home with a trunkful of culinary delights, including many flavors of delicious tea, but not her caffeinated request.

The next day was baking day, and we discovered a few needed items were missing. My loving husband offered to make the run to Kroger, so I added black tea to the list, sure that he would enjoy choosing a delicious flavor for our much loved child.

Oops.

Steve came home with everything on the shopping list, proud of himself for discovering that Lipton makes huge boxes of plain black tea bags that average about a nickel a serving. Yeah, that wasn’t what I had in mind. I was expecting something with pumpkin or spice or at least bergamot.

The most gracious thing I could have done, of course, would have been to drop the subject altogether. (Too much to hope for, my friends.) Instead, I teased him a bit about his frugal but boring choice. I chuckled and went on with my baking, having cited the wise writers of Driver’s Ed in a Box who taught me years ago that, when there is miscommunication, the fault generally lies with she who speaks, not he who listens, as nobody wants to misunderstand on purpose. There was no harm done. Son-in-law Jake brought home wonderful tea soon thereafter. I now have a lot of plain black tea in my pantry at home.

What does this story have to do with living as the Lord would have us to? Simply this. We need to get along. To cut each other slack. To take the blame ourselves. To swallow pride. To put up with inconvenience. To encourage one another. Petty grievances, and the discord they can create, are as old as the hills. Cain and Abel. (Okay, that’s a little extreme.) Euodia and Syntyche (Check out their story here in Philippians 4.)

Peace on earth? It really does begin with you and me. And now is as good a time as any to get started!