Awkward Peace

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My pastor’s sermons nearly always leave me mulling over at least one sound bite, a short phrase that requires thought and provokes action. Here’s a recent quote of his:

“At some point, friends, we’ve got to be a little awkward,”

Doing the right thing can look a little goofy—and feel a little goofy—particularly when it comes to making peace and building relationships.

The deepest and best friendships can require an uncomfortable degree of transparency. On occasion, after I open up about my thoughts and prayers, or even just try to be funny, I spend hours wondering if the friend to whom I bared my soul thinks I’m, well, goofy. All that second-guessing is a waste of time! Worse yet, it tends to make me want to re-construct those little personal walls that can keep me from the true fellowship and friendship I need (and that the Bible tells us we’re never to forsake.) Furthermore, a little awkwardness on my part may make new friends and old feel more comfortable about opening their true and imperfect selves to me.

Then there’s that whole sticky area of peacekeeping. The Bible doesn’t seem to make allowances for awkwardness in that department at all.

  • We’re told to honor others above ourselves, so humble pie is okay with God.
  • We’re warned about grumbling against one another, so a healthy dose of tongue biting may be part of a godly lifestyle.
  • The gospel of peace is even part of the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6, essential equipment as we stand against the devil’s wily ways.

The phrase “blessed are the peacemakers” conjures up an image of a smiling faces graciously parting two warring factions, like hall monitors at a schoolyard. That’s certainly one element of peacemaking, but there’s another, far less heroic, element to peacemaking. It’s a nitty gritty, personal challenge:

We are supposed to make as much peace as possible with everyone around us. And do we? Do I? Do you?

I hope you’ll stop right now and ask God to show you any peacelessness (not a word, but it ought to be) in your life. And then, by his grace and in his strength, go and make peace, even if you must eat humble pie or bite your tongue or endure awkwardness. Our Savior asks this of us, and that’s all we need to know.

Been there? Done that? I hope you’ll tell me your story here.

 

Photo by rawpixel via Unsplash.com

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Wiser Words than Mine

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I keep a list of quotes that strike me as challenging and true. When the list lengthens, it’s time for me to share them with you. Here are my favorites from the past few months, credited wherever possible.

Often the work of the Lord itself may tempt us away from communion with Him. A full schedule of preaching, counseling, and travel can erode the strength of the mightiest servant of the Lord. Public prayer will never make up for closet communion.”

“The Christian should never worry about tomorrow or give sparingly because of a possible future need. Only the present moment is ours to serve the Lord and tomorrow may never come.“–Both by George Muller in The Autobiography of George Muller. Whitaker House, 1985, p. 46 and 207.

“God’s plan isn’t something he just threw together.” –Paul Washer in a sermon entitled “Walking with God” available on sermonaudio.com.

“Sin is a process. You arrive there on a journey of small decisions gone wrong…Satan’s goal through sin isn’t to draw you to himself, but to draw you away from God…Christianity is not about avoiding sin, it’s about chasing after Jesus.” –Matt Werner in a sermon at Bannockburn Baptist Church.

“God’s faithfulness in the past needs to motivate our worship in the future.”–Ty VanHorn in a sermon at NorthWest Bible Church

“Following Jesus is more than just agreeing with the tenets of the gospel, it is living and experiencing God living in you.”

“God calls all of us to be Jesus where we’re at.”

“What you worry about most is what you trust God with least.”

Got a favorite quote you’d like to share with me?

 

 

 

 

Love Muscles by Beth Smith (my mom!)

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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.

The Best Things in Life…

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The best things in life are almost never the ones we plan. Maybe that’s because then we can’t even be tempted to take the credit. I’ve been looking through an old journal lately. It’s filled with descriptions of the bumps and surprises of life. If I look closely between the lines, I can see God’s hand in both the ups and the downs.

•           August, 2015: Steve and I headed to Colorado for a mountain retreat. (And to attend the Palisade Peach Festival!) Somehow, Steve’s backpack was left behind on the kitchen floor, its absence discovered far too late for us to go back and retrieve it before our flight. But our discussions were better, our rest deeper, because the stack of papers and the work they represented were replaced by an open ended freedom made possible only by our having forgotten that bag. 

•           During that same trip, I discovered that Elizabeth was sick and at home alone. My mother’s heart yearned to go and care for her. My loving husband made it happen. She recovered quickly. Steve experienced an unexpected but much needed silent retreat and spent hours praying and meditating on God’s plans for our family for the following several years.

•           As we travel, we often wind up at an odd but charming little hotel or “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant because of an inner leading to stop. How we delight in those surprises!

I seem so much better at letting go of my control habit when we are on the road. Perhaps that’s because, away from home, I finally come to terms with how little is within my influence anyway. And when I relinquish control, I become much more consistent in my prayer for God to guide me, a prayer I believe he delights to answer.

Where are you on the control continuum? We can’t be on vacation all the time, but we can travel with a great degree of abandonment on this road of life. Do I mean that all preparation and organization should be thrown to the wind? Heavens, no! But there is a place in my heart where I need to be reminded every day that my loving Lord has things well in hand. My greatest responsibility and desire is to seek his plan each day and to turn my worry into trust and all my anxious moments into times of praise.

Join me! Hand over the reins. I think you will find that adventure awaits.

Click here to comment and to join in the conversation!

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Love in Many Forms

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 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

 

From on High

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Name a Christian denomination, and chances are I’ve attended services there. Most of my years, though, have been spent in ever more casual worship services. Simple buildings. Small worship bands. Blue jeans acceptable for pastor and congregant alike. I began to wonder, in my never-ending struggle with unfounded judgement, why people bother with the expenses associated with what I refer to as “high church.”

Let me stop here and define my terms. Wikipedia describes high church’s hallmarks as “elaborate music, altarpieces, clergy vestments and an emphasis on sacraments.” I’m not referring to theology and doctrine here. I’m writing, in essence, about the outside appearances only.  

 On Christmas Eve this year, the Holy Spirit took me to task. Steve and I attended a service at a nearby Lutheran Church. Lyle Lovett was going to be the soloist. I didn’t know who he was, but the name sounded familiar, and I was curious to see what it would be like to attend a service that would be, yes, high church.

 And I learned my lesson.

 Organ, orchestra and choir? My heart soared and tears fell as I worshipped with all my heart. (Ask my husband, I’m not particularly prone to emotion. This wasn’t some drummed-up-by-the-atmosphere experience. It was me being drawn to worship by the music.) Bear in mind that, if you read much of the Old Testament, you can’t get away from the fact that music, sometimes elaborate music, is a big deal in the Bible.

 A processional entrance let by a shining metal cross? What a great reminder that Christmas isn’t just about the manger birth! It’s also about death and resurrection—first that of our Lord and later our own. We didn’t take communion, but that would have fit in quite well. 

A pastor in white robes? No, that wasn’t what I was used to, but it eliminated one more distraction. Admit it, haven’t you ever found yourself thinking just a little bit about the attire of the choir? (Oh, Susie’s blouse is beautiful. Sharon’s skirt is a little short…)

The building was huge, not particularly simple, and created with acoustics in mind. (See previous comment about music in the Bible.) And it was packed. Had we arrived 2 minutes later, we would have had to stand the whole time. So, was the building too big? We were at the third of five services, and most certainly not at the most popular time slot. Maybe sometimes big is good.

So, have you, like me, found yourself drifting toward that most ungodly stance of, “I know the best way to do church” from time to time? If so, join me now in rejecting all such notions. We serve a loving God who loves our worship. That much we know for sure. And that is enough!

 

(Photo from pixabay)