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. 

Life after Tomb

“Even the icebent daffodils and crushed violets, the trampled crocuses and the battered hyacinths glittered like jewels in the muddy farmyards. Thomas caught his breath. He had never seen anything so beautiful. He passed the cemetery. The gravestones, too, twinkled in their shining gowns of ice. And the church bell began to ring.”

Lori Walburg

This paragraph from The Legend of the Easter Egg, shows a glimpse of Thomas, a boy who spends the week before Resurrection Sunday at a friend’s home because his sister is very sick. While there, he grasps the beauty of new life — eternal life. He learns death is no final separator for those who belong to Christ.

Our little church in Kansas overlooked the town’s cemetery. I would play with the other children outside after Sunday and Wednesday services, the charming trees towering over the tombstones a familiar sight. I saw the flowers come and go, the beaming American flags posted on Memorial Day, and a list of fallen veterans etched in a memorial stone.

We weren’t allowed to play in the cemetery, but we still knew the shapes and some of the stories of the ornate graves, and could sense the history. It stood a constant reminder of the realness and certainty of death. There were names from the 1800s, little graves for babies, and even fresh graves of a few from our own congregation.

It didn’t really bring fear, just an impression. A respect that it was appointed for man once to die.

Once I asked my dad where he’d like to be buried one day. I personally thought under the shade of a sturdy tree would be nice. He said, “Doesn’t matter where they’ll bury me. I’ll be gone.”

I pondered this, and I agreed. I, too, would be gone, in a place better than anything conjured up on earth.

“It is better to go to a house of mourning 

Than to go to a house of feasting,

Because that is the end of every man,

And the living takes it to heart.”

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is important to remember death, because in its bitter sting, we know what it is to truly live a born-again life. We know the opposite of death. We taste victory, because we were buried with Him and raised to walk in newness of life.

Over and over Scripture declares to know Him equals life, in the fullest, sweetest, deepest way.

This weekend I’m looking forward to the choir declaring life, my husband’s sermon, my new dress, cinnamon rolls, and hearing the bells ringing, “Hallelujah.” Like little Thomas in the story, I still have questions, but they are resting in the hands of a Risen Savior.

Death is a reality and certainty, but it is no master of the saints. It is the wages of sin for sinners, but it is no victor over God’s people.

He conquered death, and He defined eternal life right in John 17:3.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

The next time you see a cemetery, be it shining in gowns of ice, stones faded from all the sun, under trees or a forest of flagpoles, remember to acknowledge death in the light of Christ’s own death, burial, resurrection.

Enjoy this poem my friend Madelyn shared with me–

“Gain after loss,
Strength after weakness,
Crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter,
Hope after fears,
Home after wandering,
Praise after tears.

Sheaves after sowing,
Sun after rain,
Sight after mystery,
Peace after pain;
Joy after sorrow,
Calm after blast,
Rest after weariness,
Sweet at last.

Near after distant,
Gleam after gloom,
Love after loneliness,
Life after tomb;
After long agony,
Rapture of bliss—
Right was the pathway leading to this.”

-Frances Havergal

Turn Up the Sound Doctrine

I recently introduced my husband to my favorite book, The Hiding Place, and we haven’t been able to stop talking about it since we listened to it together on our holiday road trip. 

What I love about the Ten Boom family is their lack of fuss. They simply read God’s Word and sought to apply it even while their home country decayed in the WWII German occupation. They intimately knew God’s voice and leaned on Him for courage. 

The Ten Booms knew they held no value to the Nazis. They weren’t young, rich, or cutting edge, just one wrong move away from prison or worse. They fixed watches for a living and loved the disabled people, the strays, the beggars, the homeless, anyone who knocked with need. In aligning their view of other image-bearers with God’s, some of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for their diligent obedience to the Lord. 

Wanting Ears Tickled

For all the things that will be hard next year, there is something that will be all too perfectly easy for us. It will be easy to skate around the Bible instead of studying it. Even silencing it by listening to the believer’s three worst enemies instead. 

1) The Deceiver subtly seeks to feed us lies, or even half-truths, suggesting we question God’s goodness like Eve did. He’ll try to make us ashamed of both Christ and the words of His mouth.

2) The World blasts anything that will sell for its own fat profit and cleverly hide the true price tag.

3) Our Flesh will crave the things the world offers because of its raging appetite.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” 

2 Timothy 4:3

It’s easy to accumulate teachers who tickle or scratch our ears because we don’t even have to leave our couches to hear and read them. 

The Worthiest Voice

But God’s Word equals the brightest light and the source of sound doctrine. Our God is sufficient for our needs, and He speaks the raw truth. Our ears need it in an enormous amount so we can discern everything else we hear. 

I’ve seen the slow fade in my life. By giving my time, attention, and priority, I twist up the volume of other platforms. Perhaps of gifted writers who weave things that sound good, are mostly true in some contexts, and who emphasize the trending mantras. I have to be wary, lest I’m desensitized to deceptions cloaked in lovely prose. Humans are good at convoluting truth, one catchy phrase at a time.

Am I tuning into any influencers/teachers/writers/celebrities/church leaders who speak into my own fleshly desires? Who are easy to look at and promise enlightenment, but serve sickly-sweet flattery and feel-good stuff? I never want to stay informed of the culture at the cost of opening my heart to deception.   

Can we endure sound doctrine? The Piercing Lamp, volume turned up?  

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word

Just to rest upon His promise,

Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

‘Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus, –Louisa M. R. Stead

We would do well to follow in the footsteps of the simple Hollanders from The Hiding Place, just obeying what “saith the Lord” in daily tasks and stewarding opportunities for sacrifice with courage. Sound doctrine was their light in the hellish concentration camp. Sound doctrine spoke louder about their value than the guards who called them only by their prison numbers. Sound doctrine gave strong promises of God’s care and kindness in the absence of their basic human rights. 

In war-torn hunger, Jesus still proved the Bread of Life. While they had threadbare blankets in the cramped barracks, His Word is called a fire. When Corrie and her siblings were weak, His Word is known as a hammer. Their earthly bodies shriveled, but God’s Word stood as a mirror to their precious souls. They were defenseless, but the Nazis could not take away the Sword of the Spirit. 

It’s so sweet just to take Him at His Word.

As we venture into 2022 — be it easy or hard times — take up this Light. This Mirror. This Sword. Let’s delight in rather than wander from His commandments. Refresh ourselves with the accuracy of God’s own account of Himself. Turn up the sound doctrine so we can see our path.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet

And a light to my path.”

Psalm 119:105

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