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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Love in Many Forms

love unsplas renee fisher @reneefisherandco

 Love comes in many forms, and one year long ago it came as an abundance of gifts from a classroom of eager fourth graders. It was my third year as a teacher, and those gifts confirmed that I’d finally struck the right balance between disciplinarian and devoted mentor. After spreading my bounty out across our antique dining room table, I left with my husband for the warmth of Florida’s Gold Coast. We were new to the slightly chilly Houston weather and, not knowing any better, left our heater off. (Mistake!)

A week later, love came in another form, as a dear friend and relative cleaned up what was left of our dining room ceiling, which had collapsed onto that antique table. He then proceeded to mop up the water that had flooded our little house as frozen pipes burst. (Goodbye smashed and soaking teacher gifts!) We faced multiple hours of repair work, but it was all made so much easier because someone else had started the process before we even returned home.

Less than a year later, love came in the form of our first child. We moved to another city before she could crawl. Budgets and schedules had to change. Sleep had to take a back seat. I learned just how much I could give in the name of love. I also learned that God’s loving gifts don’t always look like blessings at first. Sometimes they look like chaos or hard work or a big mess.

Case in point: our first home was a small, dated 3/2 until the broken pipes brought down the ceiling and ruined the carpet and walls. Insurance money—and elbow grease—turned that same house into a newly renovated showcase that sold quickly, even in the middle of a housing crisis. The same friends that helped with the clean-up helped with the packing. The students’ gifts, even after they were ruined, helped give me the confidence I needed to teach my own children later on.

Yep, love comes in many forms, some a little hard to recognize at first. But look closely. You’ll find it. And dig deeply, because somebody needs you to share God’s love with them today!

 

Photo by Renee Fisher @ reneefisherandco vi Unsplash.com

 

A Level Praying Field by Beth Smith

playing field Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com
We’re all a lot more alike than we realize. For example, does your mind ever wander in church? Have you ever found yourself singing a praise song while asking yourself one of these questions?
  • What’s for lunch?
  • When is the game starting?
  • Why don’t we ever sing my favorite song?
  • Did I turn off the curling iron? (female)
  • Will there be doughnuts after the service today? (male)

Admit it! We’ve all had a few of those thoughts. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, said he (or she) wondered what it would be like if frogs jumped out of the baptismal bowl. I must admit I’ve never had that thought.

We also all have our differences. Our society tries to compensate for that. Consider the way kids choose up sides for a game. The best players get chosen first for each team in order to even up the talent. (Almost everyone I know claims to have felt the pain of being the last one chosen. I certainly have.)

We might also think there’s a spiritual playing field—a “Praying Field” run by God. (Maybe we fear we’ll be the last one chosen there as well.) Not true! God’s children are all of equal value in his eyes.

For God so loved the world…that whoever believes…” (John 3:16 NIV). We all receive his love. We are all “whoevers.”

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).  When we come to Him, when we accept his love, we all receive the same forgiveness and mercy.

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). Somehow we fall into two ways of thinking about God’s ability and willingness to forgive us. We consider ourselves either too good to truly need it, or so bad that it couldn’t possibly work.

Listen! Sin is sin. We can’t enter into heaven with a single bit of it. We all need forgiveness. We’re on a level field. God offers all of us the same love and the same forgiveness. God equally desires each of us to be His own. As you go about your day today, I hope you’ll make a point of accepting God’s love and forgiveness and sharing it with those around you as well.

Photo by Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com

You Win the Serve!

 

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I grew up in South Florida, Hollywood to be exact. It was a great place to be a kid. I’ll spare you the long list of delights and simply describe one—paddleball. Paddleball is a bit like racquetball except:

  • The paddle is all wood.
  • The ball is pink and very bouncy.
  • The court is outside, and open except for the front wall.

Good luck finding many paddleball courts, or paddle balls for that matter, now.(I couldn’t even find a photo!) But once upon a time, it was all the rage. There were courts by the schools, courts at public parks and courts by the beach, all of them crowded.

My dad taught me to play paddleball. It was great fun and a great workout. I didn’t realize until recently that it was also a great way for him to instill his positive attitude in me.  As a general rule, my dad did not let me win.

Lesson number one: Life doesn’t always give you what you want.

The rules of paddleball are pretty simple.

  • When your opponent slams the ball off the front wall, hit it before it bounces more than once.
  • Make sure your return sends the ball to the front wall before it hits the ground again.
  • Don’t hit the ball out of bounds. (You’ll lose the point, and you’ll have to go running for it. Remember, no back wall!)

We would play until we were drenched with sweat and out of breath. We’d laugh a lot. I haven’t played in decades, but my imagination can take me back to the court by Hollywood Hills Elementary School in an instant.

Lesson number two: Simple things, done with those you love, are priceless.

My dad is really good with words. He would say silly things as we played like “7- Up, the all family drink” when we were tied 7-7 and “We all need fortitude” when the score was 4-2. But the one I remember best is this: “You win the serve.” In racquetball, whoever loses a game gets to serve first for the next one.  I never once heard my dad say, “You lost.” He always said, “You win the serve.”

Lesson three: A whole lot of life is dependent on how you look at things.

My dad has had his share of hardship. You don’t need to read his list. You’ve got your own list. But he would be the first to tell you that he has lived and is living a life into which the Lord has poured great blessing.

  • He would tell you that sometimes he’s won the game and sometimes he’s won the serve.
  • He would recount the importance of spending time with those you love.
  • He would remind you that you won’t always win, but that will be okay.

My dad is a smart guy. I hope you’ll benefit from some of his wisdom today!

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.