To-Do: With Love

Do you ever conquer your to-do list, but forget to do the things — like scramble eggs for breakfast or host a small group — with love? For love? In love?

After studying I Corinthians 13 this summer, I’ve been face-to-face with convicting encouragement. It doesn’t matter how impressive the day’s work, if it’s not accomplished with love, God considers it profitless.

If I mop all my floors and bake sourdough – but do it with an irritable heart toward another, it profits me zero. If I give my best efforts only when I feel like it, or when it blesses me, then what will this accomplish? If I share my possessions with the needy, but am impatient about it, this counts for nothing. 

If we can exegete Scripture and discuss heady doctrines around the dinner table, but secretly rejoice when someone is humiliated for their sin, the mysteries I understand have not pierced my heart. 

If I check all the “good Christian” boxes, but boast and insist on my own way, trampling others’ feelings and preferences, then how will unbelievers or believers see Christ?

If I become a clanging cymbal in the 20 minutes before guests arrive . . . then I’ve sent a message that it’s not really about the people in my home, it’s about my put-togetherness. 

Others do not feel loved by noisy gongs. I often forget, as Myquillyn Smith said, “Hosting is never about the host, and hospitality is never about the home.” I have been deeply ministered to by imperfect hosts with Christlike, gracious hearts. 

One of my favorite homes belongs to my sister who demonstrates a special gift in hospitality. If you’ve been in her little house, you know. She creates the perfect personalized coffee, iced or hot, but also asks the deep questions to glimpse how my soul is doing. I enjoy both edifying conversation and a landscape of curated art and timeless style. I know both she and her home are a work in progress. I know she sacrificed to prepare for my company, and the dancing candle is only one sign. But, if I drop by without giving her much notice, I still receive a big welcome, a listening ear, and a love that shares all she has been given. 

Yes,  love pursues excellence with all the energy God’s gifted, but the ministry of presence is effective even if there’s food in my drain, junk mail on the counter, or wilting plants on the shelf. Love is the ingredient needed for lasting meaning in our ministry of hospitality and service, and it starts with a willing, abiding heart. 

So do I have to do something perfectly for it to “count?” No, nothing we can do will ever earn Christ’s love. If I’m not in Christ, I gain nothing, I am nothing. God is love, and if we are not in Him, we are a dead branch, unable to produce. But if we are walking in the Spirit, these fruits of love and patience will blossom in our attitudes and actions. Our entire motivation changes.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all. 

2 Corinthians 5:14

When you’re tucked into gospel-love, success and even completion look different. His imperative and invitation is that we abide in love, so it’s not a doing, it’s a being. It’s not really about a to-do list, but being compelled by our love for God to walk in the homely or beautiful works He prepared for us. 

He always desires a heart posture, not a show. When we have guests for dinner, I sometimes go to the lengths of making a garlicky, basil dressing from scratch. After the prayer for our meal, my sweet husband will get up from the table and begin to offer our company the ketchup, BBQ sauce, and bottled dressings. 

To be honest, I’ve wanted to chide him later: “But honey, I had everything on the table that we needed! And the salad was already dressed.” But even more than striving for the aesthetic image, I appreciate the way my husband displays his deep care for people and desire to serve them. And do you know what? A troupe of condiments always makes guests feel more at home. Chick-fil-a sauce never fails to produce a laugh, a symbol of down-to-earth commonality. And, I must admit, the potato wedges taste a lot better with it. 

Whether you’re called to love others with dressing homemade or bottled, let Love compel you to walk for His glory alone. As we strike items from our to-do list, or share our imperfect homes, let’s aim for eternal profit. The Spirit’s kindness, patience, and joy will shine through as we abide in Him. 

Waiting for Tulips (the March gifts)

driving home for the first time

daffodils saying hello

Indian butter chicken

friends who love us enough to clean the showers and every other inch of our moving mess

. . . and haul all our earthly belongings

quilt spread in the backyard grass

first sunburn at a luncheon

waiting for tulips…wondering their color

my sister’s carrot cake with citrus notes

“is anything too small for a child to talk to his father about?” —Anneliese

small prayers answered, as well as big ones

first package on the doorstep, containing a treasure (The Sugar Mouse Cake by Gene Zion)

dressing our new sturdy bookshelf with picture books

cold-brew and premarital counseling

the first grilled chicken of the year

finding an empty cupboard in the kitchen, days into unpacking

meeting the neighbors while bearing spring monster cookies

singing “Safe Am I” to my little one

brave sunshine and a little stroller

shire songs

These Happy Golden Years

baby’s first steps

marco polo conversations with friends from childhood

thrifting finds

1,000 piece puzzle owning our kitchen table

“Home is everything you can walk to.” –Jerry Spinelli

exploring our new home by walking

more thoughts, On Walking from Bethany’s blog

petitioning the God of the impossible, our Defender

–Who never tires of our requests

“How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” Psalm 31:19

The Good about the Bad

The sky hung weighty and pale. Backyard held a foggy hush, but inside the whole household glittered with candlelight and beamed with courage.

Christmas togetherness circled a long table laid with evergreen. The year had been mostly good, aside from an unwelcome medical diagnosis in the midst, and this could have disheartened the season.

But . . . joy and light and great news for all people.

In Psalm 112, the ones who fear the Lord are described as blessed and fearless. Light arises in the darkness for the upright, those who delight in His commandments (vv. 1,4).


For he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be remembered forever.

He will not fear evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is upheld, he will not fear . . . “

Psalm 112:6-8

The reason we’re not cowering in fear of more evil news, tonight or next year, is because:

“…The gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.” ― Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer

Are you clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Be steadfast in heart, trusting the Lord; there’s nothing left to fear.

Think about the shepherds, faced with a reason for terror.

When the sky split, it wasn’t Christmas-pageant, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy imagery. An angel army began shouting in the sky.

I, too, would have been stricken with fright. I think the shepherds anticipated evil reports, judgment, or end-of-the-world pronouncements. Perhaps their sheep scattered.

No wonder the angel declared “do not be afraid” first of all. Their presence necessitated it.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds’ fear of bad tidings was overwhelmed by good news in a manger.

The shepherds had sinful souls destined for wrath, and so do we. It paints the bleak night stage, set for the desperately needed good news/great joy of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection.

Still today we have no need to be afraid because the light arises in the darkness. Sinners are called to hear and know the gospel, which changes everything about everything. We are considered “the righteous” because Jesus bought us. Each medical diagnosis is about glory to God in the highest. And He leaves peace with us, but not the kind the world gives.

Nothing can truly shake the righteous one’s position before God. No terror of the night can steal the peace promised that surpasses all understanding.

It’s why my family doesn’t need to fear evil tidings but can rejoice in the knowledge of our eternal security, the goodness of God’s perfect plan, and the desire for gory to the Prince of Peace, come what may. This is the good about the bad.

Unfiltered Christmas

The eagerness mounted last year as I watched people all over the world bring Christmas to their hearths in golden creams and woodsy sparkle. I couldn’t wait to capture all I had learned about decorating into my first Christmas in a new home.

After Thanksgiving, I sat amidst the Walmart bags and bubblewrap wrapped around my ornaments and nativity set. My collection of childhood ornaments and hand-me-down castaways stared at me, as my vision for coco-bombs and neutral threads met . . . . what I had to work with. How could I make any theme out of mismatched snowmen, a painting of a cardinal, and ornaments chipped from my childhood? My taste in style had changed with the trends, but my decor bin hadn’t.

The feeling of unmet expectation peaked when we pulled out our sparse four-foot tree. What perched cozy and perfect in our apartment, now the most Charlie Brown tree that ever Charlie Browned.

We stood it on a table to keep it from being swallowed in our new space. “It looks like it’s trying to be something it’s not,” my husband pointed out, and then we burst into long laughter. So I made the best of our Christmasy mess and enjoyed it all December.

But I made mental notes for next year.

First, truth be told, I found a much grander tree, and today I decked the thrifted 7.5-footer with strands of red beads. It fills the room with announcement of light and honor brought to our humble ornament-shaped memories.

Secondly, remembering my decorating despair of 2020, I’m choosing to admire the lovely Christmas-card moments on “the ‘Gram,” but also pray a guard of contentment for myself. May I rejoice in my gifts of my own home and my Savior.

Material beauty will never be enough. The best of earth will never meet the deepest longing of our brokenness. We long, like pining Bethlehem, for our Mighty God to do great things for us. And He has.

I see it in the shiny gold letters that spell out the names of Christ, draping our tree. Prince of Peace. Emmanuel. Savior. Mighty God. Wonderful Counselor.

I see it in my little elfish helper, who will fully enjoy his first Christmas if cardboard boxes and people are involved.

I see it in how our Charlie Brown tree from the apartment days (now gracing the back room) reminds me unmet expectations are a mercy because they can set our eyes on God’s wondrous light. Each seasonal disappointment, shattered ornament, or sickness gives another reason to joyfully worship a perfect God who meets all our true needs.

I wish you an unfiltered, real Christmas where real truths, like “veiled in flesh the Godhead see . . . born to give them second birth” are the brightest theme of this season.

“Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
  Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
  Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
  Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
  Jesus our Immanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
  Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
  Ris’n with healing in His wings:
Mild He lays His glory by,
  Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
  Born to give them second birth.”
“Hark the Harold Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley

Do Not Fret About Evildoers

“Fret not because of evildoers.”

As I’ve studied Psalm 37 with my sisters in Christ this summer, I’ve quoted the above verse often. Opportunity upon opportunity for anger and worry rolls my way, but the truth always wins out.  

This is a summer where one headline can make your heart heavy for hours. Friends of mine are facing a clear and present danger as they seek to escape from evildoers. We’re surrounded with those who are prompt to call good evil and evil good. From Olympic platforms to the offices in D.C., the wicked are spreading themselves out like luxuriant trees in their native soil.

This earthly soil is the wicked’s turf . . . for now.

Can I draw your attention to Psalm 37 for the encouragement carrying me today? There’s nothing better than a soul-watering reminder from the One in charge. God won’t leave His throne for one moment of break or flee the scene when “the wicked have drawn their sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct” (Ps. 37:14).

The wrongdoers are quite busy prospering. They’ve plotted and eagerly carry out violent schemes. Teeth gnashing, they gather in envy-worthy abundance, borrowing without paying back, spying, and certainly seeking to kill.

Their future?

Though they appear to have the strength of a Redwood, their roots are like a dandelion. They’re making themselves at home in the earth’s soil, reaching their roots in all directions, but the LORD laughs at them.

He sees the day coming when they’ll be no more. Cursed. Cut off. Broken bows. Perishing. They’ll vanish like the smoke from wildfires finally snuffed out. They’ll wither like autumn grass, fade like the herbs, shrivel like a neglected garden. The Lord loves justice and giving us visuals for it.

Not only will God one day destroy wickedness, but He is protecting the righteous with unending promises. He is One who gives the desires of our heart and honors our trust in Him. As sure as the noonday, right judgment will be seen.  Our King sustains us. He knows our days, each of them. Establishes our steps and delights in our way when we keep His. He holds our hand so we won’t be hurled headlong. He’ll never forsake His godly, but preserves and exults us a gift of inheritance. He is our saving refuge.

Psalm 37 also addresses the righteous in this war-torn world.  We are described in this way:

“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart…”

We’re not to be busy taking up revenge, but dwelling in the ground we’ve been given. Our role is to boldly utter wisdom and speak justice amidst the chaos. This won’t be easy, but He sustains us.

Instead of fretting, we cultivate faithfulness. May we be faithful in prayer, in cleaning the kitchen, in worshiping God through the ordinary, in sharing our faith with unbelievers. The passage calls us to do good, delight in the Lord, and commit our way to Him as we keep His way. Cease from anger – vengeance is the Lord’s.

Our friends close enough to hear the gnashing of the wicked’s teeth hold these same promises. We can rest that He won’t forsake His righteous saints who are in danger, nor their children. Our descendants do not need to beg for bread. They will have nothing to be ashamed of in this time of evil. We are inheritors, holding the hand of a Kingly Helper and Helping King, who won’t allow our steps to slip.

Can we forsake wrath against those who desperately need the righteous robes we wear? Can we wait patiently as God unfolds His Sovereign plan, responding graciously to others? Can we trust and wait when we wish we were the ones prospering? Can we wait in meekness for the Lord to bestow our grace-purchased inheritance? Will we speak the words of wisdom and justice we have from hiding God’s law in our hearts? In God’s strength, yes.

As we picture the blameless man, the upright and the afflicted in the line of the enemy’s fire, may we stand boldly for them and uphold them with faithful prayer.

And let’s not forget:

The wicked seem to have the center stage. But God’s eyes are on His people, delighting in our way, and we delight in Him. One day soon we’ll look for the evildoers, and they’ll be no more. We won’t find them in all our searching.

The evildoer and the righteous couldn’t have a more perfect diamond-cut contrast in Psalm 37.

So fret not. Wait patiently and rest in the Lord, because we know that the little of the righteous is much better than the wicked’s temporal abundance. Today we carry on with God’s law in our hearts, deliverance in our futures, and strength in time of trouble.