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. 

When Praying feels like Watering Dead Roses

Only a hopeless optimist — who is also an amateur gardener — would water a rose bush for as long as I have. I believe it was dead even before I pulled it from its terracotta pot and planted it, much too late. Still, I persist in watering the wilted blooms alongside the snapdragons, in a flailing aspiration that the muted green will revive into pink blossoms again.

I don’t recommend this kind of false gardening hope, but as I stared at the faded remains of roses, I thought of the unfaded faith I desire to apply to my prayers. Sometimes my pleas to God feel too cliché to reach beyond our ceiling. They feel like tired words, as I request a glorious outcome from the same old verbiage. They feel like I’m watering a rose that can never come back to life.

But God. He is mercy. He hears our weakly worded prayers, and His spirit utters groanings too deep for words on our behalf.

When my prayers feel about as useful as watering dead roses, He is listening, inviting mustard-seed faith. Speak to Him in confidence and trust, for nothing is harder for God than something else. NOTHING. There are no levels of impossibility for Him. He can make dry bones come alive.

A few pages ago in my prayer notebook, Roe V. Wade stood at the top of my list for prayers for our country. Completely surprised at God answering like He did, now I wish I would have pushed into deeper prayer for the fight for life in the womb. Why didn’t I ask with greater expectancy, knowing God could indeed choose to work in this way against the odds? My praise and excitement would be more personal now if I had labored more in prayer with hope and trust. The prayers never felt like frontline work, but prayer is always battling where it matters most.

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18

When all around appears wilted, and you have only the strength to utter a few overfamiliar sentences to God, remember WHO you’re sending them to. He moves mountains for His children. His graciousness is always on display. His Sovereignty holding all things as we:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

How Beautiful is Church Camp

Our church camp almost didn’t happen this year … because it’s getting difficult to reserve entire campgrounds in our state.

Thankfully, camp still occurred in all its glory, even if we were prevented from certain traditions. First, there were no water sports due to some kind of weird algae bloom that could make you sick and allegedly made a dog die from drinking it. So we had to miss the usual staples of camp life like boating, swimming, tubing. Second, the state issued a fire ban so no open campfires allowed. Third, we set up camp in a new-to-us place. We had finally outgrown our beloved Huckleberry Campground where I personally have enjoyed each of my church camps for the last 10 years in a row.

However, the core of everything I love about this annual camping trip stayed true despite missing iconic water sports, campfire, and Huckleberry. It’s like that one time when someone stole the church trailer with the piano, cushions, chairs, pulpit, and sound equipment. We were still a church. Or when we had to watch the sermon virtually since our building was closed up because of covid. Still the Bride of Christ. So of course, a simple location change wouldn’t stop us from packing up our cars and coolers with bright attitudes to be together!

And it was a wonderful weekend.

I grow more impressed with the immeasurable means of grace in that God gifted us each other. Without a church family, a person could literally have no one to trust, no one to turn to. But I have layers and layers of saints who have proved they would drop everything if I needed anything. There are local churches all over the world who would pick up where one left off in ministering to a sheep like me. It’s overwhelming and humbling.

My top three highlights of camp this year were 1) sharing the tangible joys with my little family, 2) the baptisms, and 3) the spiritual gifts in action.

It was such an honor to introduce a small flannel-clad boy to a weekend of outdoor fellowship. Judah approved of it, and heartily participated in everything he could, which was mostly just making people’s days with his bear hugs.

Pine trees infused the air with the fresh woodsiness. Corn hole brought out our competition. The claps of dramatic thunder begged the question, “How did YOU sleep last night?” Without our Sunday best, but a sunburn instead, observing each other’s realness and coffee habits is easy. We talked about goldfish, about weddings, about the gospel and about this new corner of the lake. We were relaxed and had nowhere to be except dinner and worship.

Now, the baptisms. How good is God to give us a tangible picture of a new spiritual life? To see an outward representation of Christ’s rescue from sin?

It’s inevitable that I’ll cry. As someone in my family coined it, “Life and death will make me cry.” About ten testimonies ranged from someone saved by grace out of a generationally godly family to first generation Christians, to trusting at a young age to tasting what the world has to offer first — all a clear picture of sinful hearts washed with the blood of Christ. We all rejoiced deeply in each public announcement of faith in the Savior. What struck me listening to the testimonies was the inclusion of fervent prayers for these ones gone astray, and the evidence of plenty of seed planting by an older brother here, a sister there, a pastor, a friend, an acquaintance. God chooses to use us in Gospel work, as seen in the many familiar names brought up in the testimonies, but He brings the increase.

Finally, I enjoyed the extra goodness of the Lord to grant us spiritual gifts and hearts that long to serve one another. Not only did He save us from hell, make us His cherished bride, but He also equipped us uniquely so we could bless each other and thus bring glory to Him.

At camp I noticed we were served by someone sharing their special green avocado creamy sauce for taco night. A young man with a ton of energy willing to bring up the tube from the bottom of the slip n’ slide hill over and over. Hands that played guitar chords, emptied trash, held babies, acted as the hospitable camp hosts, provided a listening ear and mercy. On Sunday we were taught from the Word.

Those gifts in action are all for His glory wafting up like the campfire smoke we didn’t have because, remember–fire ban.

God didn’t have to give us each other to help in suffering or to laugh about slip n’ slide wipeouts. To serve each other hamburgers with caramelized onions, to share truth with, to worship Him on a wooded mountainside or in the suburbs back at home base. Isn’t His Body beautiful?

I can hear it. “But there isn’t a perfect church! She’s clearly wearing rose-colored glasses.”

It’s true. There is no perfect church. Of course, I have a little loyal partiality toward my family, but I still work to give grace for the failures I see and even for the ones I can’t see. Because there is masterpiece work going on. A bride is getting prepared for the marriage of the Lamb.

And gratefully, there aren’t any rose-colored glasses needed to appreciate God’s beautiful goodness in giving us the broken and beautiful Body of Christ. His plan is good. Even in hard, ugly times we can acknowledge His design is lovely, and He’s building His church, even though that won’t make the headlines. Whatever imperfections are now, we look toward the day of endless, perfect, better-than-church-camp worship. Even the righteous acts of the saints at camp are helping clothe us for that day.

“Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and His bride has prepared herself.

 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean;

for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’”

And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 19:7-9

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.

Parking Lot Prelude

I’ve been uniquely positioned to see a new angle of behind-the-scenes church since I’ve become a mom. Whether it’s catching most of the sermon from the foyer speakers, inhaling the shared meal before the baby wakes up, or catching conversations over the diaper changing table in the nursery, church looks a bit different in this season. I’ve appreciated the new observations I’ve made. 

Sunday morning I sat in our car, fitting in a baby feeding before the service started. My husband was greeting at the door, but I had a chance to observe the happening parking lot.

There’s something special about seeing car after car turn into this holy slab of cement. The day washed in sunshine, smiles appeared bright.

I noticed a newlywed couple, dressed in Sunday best, but returning a post hole digger to someone else’s vehicle before heading into the building. 

There also was a darling collection of six young siblings tumbling out of the van, waving to their friends as they patiently waited for their parents. Their pink dresses, blue plaids, and grins melted my heart. “Behold, children are a gift from the Lord.” What a testimony their smiles were to the joy of the Lord! 

A few spaces down, my sister and her husband emerged from their car, with laughter and coffees. They whipped out baby and baby stroller in practiced teamwork style, also eager to worship.

As more people filed toward the front doors, I also noted a new haircut, a young believer in the faith, and a proud, new grandma. The high school seniors had arrived early to pass out their grad party invitations.

Each sister and brother in Christ — young and old — spoke some aspect of God’s truth to me. I need them all.

They are individuals carrying unique spiritual gifts into the church foyer. Members of Christ’s body, and if they are suffering, we all are; if they are rejoicing, we all are, and somehow we can visit both places at once in our Oneness with Christ. The Man of Sorrows and yet, the Dayspring from on High.

What a gift to be physically together. The sun and spring blossoms beckoned praise. I reached for my Bible to read a little, and my eyes fell on this passage:

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For He is our God,

    and we are the people of His pasture,

    and the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you hear His voice,

 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.”

Psalm 95:6-8

Since I was peering through my vehicle’s tinted windows, and not through rose-colored glasses, I knew this was as an imperfect sheep gathering as any. We desperately need God to soften our prone-to-be-hard hearts to worship Him and genuinely care for one another. We also need each other to call one another to worship and bow down.

My heart swelled as I prepared to set up my own little sheep’s stroller and enter the gates with thanksgiving. I determined to encourage anyone I could and also be encouraged.

The behind-the-scenes of the parking lot gave me a small prelude of thankfulness as I prepared to worship with this gift of grace we call the local church.