Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Regret...

      "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  If this is God's  description of love then I have regrets.

    These verses are not new to me, but God has brought them to my attention and challenged me with them. If this is His description of love then I have failed miserably at loving. I am not always patient, kind, humble, or selfless. I can at times be easily angered. There have been moments when I have remembered some of the wrongs that have been done to me as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt in the future. I don't always trust. There have been times when I have lost hope in having a healthy relationship with certain family members. I have even given up and chosen not to persevere.

    If this is what God's Word says love looks like, then I need to love this way. This is easier said than done especially when there are people in this world who are difficult to love. I've been asking God for some time how to love a particularly difficult person. Through most of the sixteen years that I have known this person, I have given it my best shot. I can honestly say that anything God has asked me to do to love them, I have done.  There have been times when loving them has been a choice of obedience to God, rather than an emotion I have felt. I have struggled with these questions: What boundaries should I have? What does loving this person look like? What actions do I take or not take?  In recent years I have chosen to keep some distance between us because it's easier and it keeps the peace. There are people in this life who will take your words and twist them to cause problems for you or to make themselves look better. I find that if I give them less words to work with, there is less opportunity for this to happen. I have regularly questioned God as to whether this was the right approach and have not gotten an answer. Perhaps this is why I am looking intently at this description of love in 1 Corinthians. It shows me where I have lacked love with this particular person. I see it in the words,"always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres". I regret that I have not loved them better and that in certain ways I have given up. 

      1 John 4:16 says, " God is love."  If God is love then 1 Corinthians must be a description of Him. I find this encouraging because of the words, "Love never fails".  I know my love has failed but God's love does not. The only way to love the way the Bible describes love is to ask God to change me and to make me like Him. Without Him it is impossible to love this way, especially when it comes to difficult people or as the Bible calls them "enemies". It turns out that Luke has some answers to the questions I've been asking. I never saw them as answers before because I never really thought of this particular person as an enemy. According to the dictionary an enemy is someone who rises up against you or someone who is antagonistic. The Bible has some valuable insights for handling an enemy. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:27-28,31, 35-36

     The solution is to love my enemy because even God, my Heavenly Father, "is kind to ungrateful and evil men". I am to pray for the one who mistreats me and to treat them the way I would like to be treated. This is such an incredibly difficult task but I am told to be like my Heavenly Father, to "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." It's not about boundaries or what to do or not to do with a difficult person. It is all about doing what God tells me to do and He has spelled it out clearly in Luke.

     All I can do is ask God to help me love like He loves. If I follow His directions in these passages of Scripture I won't have any regrets. After all, who wants to live life with regret? I want to love this difficult person in my life in such a way that they cannot help but know who my Father is because that's all they see is Him. We all have enemies. Who are yours? Start loving them today by naming them in prayer and treating them the same way you wish to be treated. I won't lie to you. It may hurt a bit to love them, but in doing so they will know who your Father is. Meeting your Father could very well change their lives forever!

    

    

Monday, February 10, 2014

Order...

      Order is a part of life. We have calendars, daily planners, weekly planners, to-do lists, and grocery lists all because of order. Weddings, funerals, special events, and church services all have order. Order is a way to organize tasks and time. It is a way to prevent chaos from occurring. Order in many ways, is essential to our increasingly busy lives. I am a fan of order.

       Order is important to me. I can't function without it. I need structure. I have to have an efficient plan for my day, this is why I use a planner. There is nothing wrong with this except for when I put more on my list than I am capable of doing, or when I become too tied to it and God has no room to change my plans. I can get so tied to crossing things off of my list in what I think is the best order, that I leave no room for God to order my day.  In my desire to make the best use of my time in cyber schooling the kids, participating in ministries, caring for my family and caring for my home, I can completely miss God's plan for my day. I have a feeling this has happened more often than I realize and it's recently come to my attention because of some unexpected free time.

     My calendar is pretty full until January comes. January tends to be the month that my weekends are free from family events or the kid's activities. Lately I have found myself asking God to order my days, especially the ones in which I don't have a lot going on. The first time I made this request was on a Saturday. I had woke up early to spend time with Him and felt conflicted over what I might want to do later on that day. I had a few different ideas of my own such as visiting with my aunt, thrift shopping, or taking a nap. During my prayer time, I shared my ideas with God and asked Him to help me make the best use of my free time by ordering my day. I didn't end up doing any of those things that were on my mind. I ended up at a prayer vigil for human trafficking. This wasn't a big event, there were only three of us but God was there and I was where He wanted me to be.

     Since then, I have asked Him to order my day a few more times. I guess I was curious to see how different my days would be if I submitted my plans to Him so that He could change them. On the days that I have prayed those prayers I have had some interesting experiences. I've made last minute visits to check on someone He has put on my heart. I was able to help a neighbor shovel her driveway and express my sympathies for the loss of her husband. She even let me give her a hug! I've done less getting things done in order to have more time to prepare my heart for praying at the food pantry. My dad and I made plans to go visit a great aunt I have never met who lives in Kentucky.  This is the adventure of God's order in my life.

     His order isn't always neat and tidy. Many times it looks like an interruption and perhaps it is. His order is an interruption of my order. His order is better and mine is boring. There is a difference between being organized and being married to your to-do list. There is nothing wrong with making lists and making plans, but they need to be submitted to God. They need to be subject to the changes He will certainly make. In God's order He sees the big picture. He knows that it's more important that I hug my grieving neighbor than finish mopping my floor. He knows that timing is everything. Sure, I could finish mopping and then go knock on her door to express my sympathies but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be the same because I would have missed shoveling her driveway. Shoveling her driveway is a way to be His hands. God's order is fulfilling.The things that He places in front of me to do aren't just one more chore to do. They are often opportunities to love others. They are opportunities that I don't want to miss.

      I know that I have already missed so many of them because I have often chosen my own order over His. I can get caught up in being concerned that if I leave things on my list unfinished they will pile up. They very well might. However, if I really think about it most of the things on my list are temporal things. Most of the things God interrupts me with are eternal. The laundry, the dishes, the mopping, and the vacuuming, will always be there. The people God wants me to talk to, spend time with, pray for, or visit will not. My list of things to do can be completed any time. God's order for my day is all about perfect timing. He knows when the person He is sending me to visit needs to be visited. He knows when it's time for a two hour phone conversation with someone who needs a listening ear.  Those opportunities will not always be there, but the opportunity to do laundry will be there for as long as I live!

    I want to be intentional in asking God to order my days. I want my plans to be interrupted with His plans and I want to be interruptible. What about you?  Are you a planner?  How would your day look different if you asked God to order your day? Would you get more or less accomplished? Would those accomplishments have temporal or eternal value? Would your day be predictable or adventurous? Would you be stressful or stress- free?  Would interruptions no longer be seen as interruptions, but recognized as opportunities?   Perhaps the plans we make should always be written in pencil so that they can easily be erased by the hand of God and rewritten with His own pen.

   

Monday, February 3, 2014

King...

    His kind had a reputation for being dangerous. I had seen the stories on the news. I doubted... no I feared getting him would be a grave mistake. No one listened. They brought him into their home anyway. Now I had a decision to make. Should I let fear rule me or befriend the beast? I chose the latter.

    Four years ago my cousin decided to get a pit bull. I was very concerned about this because my Grandma was living with her at the time and pit bulls have a reputation for being dangerous. I was afraid a dog that size would knock Grammy over or hurt the children. I was concerned about bringing my own children to visit my Grandmother with that dog in the house. They insisted that they would raise this puppy to be different and they got him anyway.

    If I wanted to visit my Grandmother I needed to get to know this dog and so did my kids. I swear the dog must have known from the start that I wasn't sure about him. He followed me everywhere I went. I think I may have been the only one he didn't pee on! Not only did it seem he was out to capture my heart, he had decided to prove me wrong. The one person I was most concerned about him hurting was Grammy because of her health and her age. Funny, Grammy was the one person that he always obeyed!

     King has grown quite large in recent years but he doesn't seem to realize it. We see eye to eye when he stands on his hind legs. He seems to think that he can still fit his whole body on my lap. He has to try at least once whenever I visit. Once he realizes it's not working, he puts his front legs across my lap and lays his head on my chest. We have become great friends which has nearly given my two uncles and my dad a heart attack on more than one occasion. It turns out they have some of the same fears I once did. I hope he'll win them over too someday, but I must say that it's fun to see their facial expressions when King and I play together!

    I share all of this because I misjudged King in the beginning. I had preconceived ideas and fears concerning him. I would have missed out on so much joy if I had let those concerns and fears rule me. It has me wondering...how many times do we do this with the people we meet in life? How many times do we decide not to bother with someone because they look differently than we do, smell differently than we do, or think differently than we do?  Maybe we avoid certain people because they look grumpy and unapproachable. Perhaps, they have a reputation of being difficult or judgmental. These are all judgments we might make from the outside looking in. The inside of that person might be different. Even if the inside of the person isn't any different, we need to see past it and love them because God created them.

     We miss out on so much when all of our friends look the same, act the same, and think the same. Variety is important. Some of the people God has used the most to impact my life don't look or act anything like me. They come from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, and social statuses. My life is richer for having them in it and I wouldn't be who God is making me to be without them. God uses our differences to sharpen us, to challenge us, and to grow us.

    Before King I had never met a pit bull. I thought I knew what the breed was all about but I was wrong. I was comfortable with many other breeds of  dogs because they were familiar to me. Isn't that the way it is with human relationships? We get comfortable with what we know and what is familiar to us. It's our fear of the unknown, the different, or the new that keeps us from looking past first impressions and doing life together. We miss out on so much when we live in the comfortable. Even Jesus enjoyed fellowship with a variety of people. He spent time with fishermen, tax collectors, and the Samaritan woman. Shouldn't we do the same?