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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Brownies and a Dime (or A Little Bit of Sin) by Beth Smith

Brownies Michelle Tsang via unsplash.comI love this story about “a little bit of sin.” Two teenagers wanted to see the latest movie, one their father was quite sure was inappropriate.

“There’s only a little bad language in it,” they pleaded. “There’s almost no violence, and, while they talk about sex, you never see any on screen.” The father was adamant. The teens were upset. Eyes were rolling. Grumbles were rumbling.

But this was a very creative dad who loved his children and wanted to make a point. He headed to the kitchen to bake a batch of brownies. The house was filled with the tantalizing aroma of the coming chocolate treat. The teens soon made their way to the kitchen, begging for brownies.

“Help yourself!” the father said, “But before you dig in, you should know that I added just a little bit of dog poop to the recipe. There’s not much. You won’t be able to see it. I’m pretty sure you won’t even taste it. It probably won’t hurt you a bit.  So go ahead. Have all you’d like.”[1]

They got the point. That’s the way sin is in our lives. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, it’s still there.

First John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (God) out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Fine! But how about those of us who have really messed up? Some of us have had this thought, “I’ve done so much wrong, really evil stuff. I know I’m beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.” Not true! Those who are forgiven much love him all the more. None of us are beyond His forgiveness. We’re like the lost coin in the parable that Jesus told. Let me recount it for you.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and carefully search until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15: 8-10 NIV).

The lost coin in this scripture was a silver drachma. It was probably only about the size of a dime, but it was worth about a day’s wages. It was worth the search! And we’re worth the search. If we’re feeling lost, either eternally or temporarily, we can be sure that God desires to find us and to help us find him. He searches for us and joyfully receives us.

Next time you see a dime, let it remind you to cry out, “Here am I, Lord. You’ve found me.”

 

Photo by Michelle Tsang via unsplash.com

[1] http://www.snopes.com/glurge/brownies.asp , accessed 6/2/2015 reported that, “Our earliest sighting of this item comes from a August 2001 web site posting, and it has since appeared in at least one gook. However, even in its earliest incarnation the author was not identified, which makes it difficult to determine whether the story is a true account or a work of fiction.”  This author found it uncredited on several websites.

Slow Going

slow sign

Sometimes life just feels, well, sluggish. The goals I thought I would have met by now are still far off in the future. The tasks I expected to cross off my “to do” list long ago are still waiting squarely at the top of the list. Or, worse yet, those “get it done” items have been pushed down to the bottom of my list by all the new urgencies life has handed me. Have you been there? Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t make it easier to make progress? Here are a few thoughts on that matter:

We’re in good company when our progress through life is (at least from our perspective) slow. Take a look at these two verses about Paul, taken from the book of Acts.

  • When two years (two years!) had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24:27).
  • And then, shortly thereafter, in chapter 27, “We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone” (Acts 27:7).

Even Paul found his progress slowed by circumstances beyond his control.

Sometimes what we see as a frustration of our plans is simply the alteration of what we want so that it matches what he wants. Waiting on the Lord can mean a lot of just that—waiting.

Finally, God doesn’t waste a thing. Not Paul’s imprisonments. Not the redirection of the ship on which he sailed and not the changes in “our” plans. I love this verse from 1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” Nothing is wasted, including waiting, or moving at a different pace than we had planned. So, navigate this day with peace, relaxed in the conviction that our Lord is at the helm.

Kindness Counts

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Ah, the frustrations of life! Sometimes it’s the relatively little things that ruffle our feathers. And sometimes it’s our reaction to those little things that makes a difference to those around us.

I was talking with a dear friend of mine not long ago. She had just spent the whole day at a Toyota dealership waiting for them to handle a list of recall items. That sort of task always seems to take more time that we plan, and dealership lobbies are never quite as comfortable as we hope. But what must be done must be done, and our Lord tells us to rejoice in the day that he has made.

My friend waited patiently for hours. The process drew out beyond the end of the day, in fact, and she had to return the following morning. At that point, I fear my good witness would have waned. Not so with my new role model. She cheerfully returned the next day. To her astonishment she was greeted with these words, “Welcome back. You’re nearly famous here, you know. Everyone knows your name, and we were all talking about you yesterday. We wish all our customers would be as patient and kind as you.” (And then they proceeded to take care of an extra repair at no charge.)

My friend wondered later if she should have used the opportunity to say, “Well, you see, I’m a Christian and…” I think the Holy Spirit would have prompted her to say those words if the time had been right.

The sad truth, of course, is that just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we always exhibit stellar patience. The glad truth, though, is that the people working at that dealership saw a difference. I’ll bet some of them even figured out the source of her pervasive joy and kindness.

Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times…and when necessary, use words.” When was the last time any of us preached silently at a car dealership, or in a long line at a crowded store, or … well, you get the picture.

May we rejoice in each hour that God gives us, and may others see Christ in us every day!

On Thin Ice

frozen lake

Have you ever walked across a frozen pond? As a Floridian-turned-Texan, I haven’t had much opportunity for that experience. The first time I saw such a thing, though, God used it to teach me an important lesson.

I was on one of those “come-see-our-college” visits, mulling over all those things one tries to figure out as high school comes to an end. For example:

  1. Is this the school for me?
  2. What major should I declare?
  3. What kind of job would suit me?
  4. Should my high school sweetheart become a long distance romance?

These questions didn’t excite me. They bothered me, taking away my peace. I wanted all the answers right away. As I sat in a quiet spot thinking and praying (and, sad to say, fretting), I caught sight of a pond half a block away. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but knew that I knew I needed to get a closer look. Fair enough. Every Southerner ought to see outside ice up close once in a while.

I bundled up and walked over to the pond, happy to have seen a real live ice sheet in person. But then another nudge came. “Walk over and step on it.” Now that was just weird. I was a high school senior trying to look like I fit in on a college campus. Crunching my way through the frozen grass to the water’s edge would not look cool. What purpose could that possibly serve? But crunch through I did, and when I stepped on the icy edge, the crystal sheet shattered. As it did, I learned this lesson:

If I try to walk across a thinly iced pond, I will never make it to the other side. Instead, I’ll just end up wet, cold and frustrated. In time, though, ice thickens and hardens and provides safe passage. God’s timing is like that. If I try to make all my decisions too early, to push ahead before the proper time, I only end up cold and frustrated. But once God prepares my path, or “makes the ice hard,” I can walk across on solid ground.

I chose that school, graduated, got a job and married my sweetheart, but that wasn’t the end of big decisions and challenging moments. Those never end, do they? The lesson I learned that day has stayed with me all these years. When life is overwhelming me, sometimes I just need to be patient, to take my needs to the Lord who loves me, and wait on his timing. That’s always a better plan than walking on thin ice.

The Lean

hiking

Michael Jackson could do a number of things I can’t do. At the top of that list are singing, dancing and doing “The Lean.” You know the lean I mean, right? Feet in one place, head in another? I’ve seen other performers defy gravity, but the secret of that move eludes me. (So do photos of that move, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

Sadly, I can be really good at another kind of lean. Case in point: Not long ago, I was on a hike with my husband–great guy, beautiful surroundings, pretty romantic actually. Suddenly I realized my head was not where my feet were. I was hiking with Steve on the outside, but inside I was planning my grocery list. (Sick but true.) Have you done that as well? Have you ever played Go Fish with your kids while mentally planning your next menu? ‘Listened to a troubled friend while wondering when you’re going to get your inbox emptied out? We miss so much when we do that.

I think we become less effective as servants and sharers of the love of Christ when we lean. When my concentration is divided, I’m really saying to myself (and to the people I’m with if they catch on to what’s going on inside my brain) something like, “I have so many important things to do. These people are a bit of an interruption to my agenda. I certainly can’t give them my full attention, because then I might not get all my needs and goals met today.” Or maybe I just haven’t developed the habit of full attention in this world of distraction. Either way, I’m trying to learn to be completely engaged in the moment at hand. It’s a way to love others, to up my gratitude level and to practice contentment.

There’s another kind of lean that’s just as destructive. It sounds something like this:

“Life will be better when…”

“I can’t wait until…”

“If only it was time to…”

My mom calls that “wishing your life away.” And that’s just what it is. If we live with that mindset, we’ll miss the moment—and even hard moments are not meant to be missed. We’re meant to live through them with full reliance on our Lord.

I think both varieties of the lean are part of the Devil’s ploys to keep us looking away from today, and to steal the joy God wants to give us right now.  I’m praying that, from here on, my head and my feet will stay together in the same place!