Love Your Neighbor

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NLT

When we moved into our apartment last summer, I wasn’t sure if I would like apartment living. I thought it would be fun to get to know a variety of people, young and old, single and married, working and retired. Maybe there would be some young moms that I could mentor. Hopes and dreams… 

John, is my closest neighbor. I see his door when I open mine. He is single (divorced), lived in my old neighborhood before he moved here 5 years ago. He’s eccentric and persnickety. The day I found him scrubbing stains off the concrete in front of his door indicated that this man likes things neat and tidy. Over the months, I have taken over a plate or two of home-baked goodies in an effort to be neighborly. We had a passing, friendly, relationship.

Until two days ago.

I noticed a piece of paper stuck in the ground in front of our two apartments. He had written it notifying us that he was going to report anyone who did not clean up after their dog. It’s a $100 fine. I immediately knocked on his door to tell him that Rusty, our dog, uses that area and I always pick it up. Mark can’t do it due to his falling on the gravel so I go out later and take care of it. We usually let Rusty out in the late evening before bed or very early morning. I would later pick it up and dispose of it. Other times during the day, I take Rusty for a walk. That wasn’t good enough for him. I had to pick it up immediately regardless of freezing cold or dripping rain. 

The next morning, Mark let him out early and at 7 am the door bell rang and it was John glaring at me and complaining. I couldn’t believe it as Rusty had been outside just 15 minutes before. Later, I dropped a note by his door and asked for a little grace and promised to do my part. Nope. He wrote me a scathing note back. 

Enough of this writing business. I knocked on his door in an attempt to make peace. He would have none of it. There was no grace, only the letter of the law and he had contacted management to report it all. As I look back, I would call his comments harassing and threatening and by this time he was yelling at me that he would put the poop on my door and slammed his in my face, I WAS FURIOUS!

I fumed as I sat down and wrote to the manager about the horrible situation, wondering if we were going to have to move. Would anyone come to my defense? After hitting the send button, I returned to the living room to watch TV with Mark. As I sat there, I knew that I didn’t want this kind of thing to continue and how could I show the love of Jesus to this man. 

I had taken some homemade chocolate chip bars out of the freezer earlier. I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, “Take him some bars.” I got up (before I could argue with Him), and placed a couple on a plate. I couldn’t believe how calm I was feeling because I had been in internal mess a few minutes earlier. I rang his door bell and when he opened it, I just handed him the plate. At that point, he completely backed down. He was sorry, I was sorry. He agreed to compromise and drop the whole thing. I gave him a hug and started crying. We parted in peace.

Later I was scrolling through Pinterest and saw the picture posted above. The dictionary definition: Mercy – compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Judgment – assume the right to judge someone, especially in a critical manner.

I always struggle to remember the difference between grace and mercy. My shorthand version is that with grace, we get more than we deserve. With mercy, we don’t get what we deserve. By the grace of God, I had shown John mercy. I had listened to His leading and a potentially broken relationship was restored. At some point, he may listen to me tell him about Jesus.

Tears dripped down my face as I related it all to Mark. I was so happy that this conflict had been resolved. I could go to bed praising God for His love and guidance.

Yes, mercy triumphed over judgment. 

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A Glimpse

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.

Psalm 91:2 (NLT)

A friend plopped down beside me at choir rehearsal and asked, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” Then she stopped talking and just looked at me. I wasn’t completely in the dark about what is going on her life so I responded to her that we trust God and take it one step at a time.

“But what do you do when it is hard and others are involved?”

Memories flooded my mind as I thought back to the last year. There were times when I cried out, asking God, “Why?” And the words of Job echoed, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.” We don’t know why the trials hit but we do know the source of our strength. God is sovereign and that is enough for me.

As we talked, I reminded her that the only person we can control is ourselves. It doesn’t do any good to try and manipulate the situation, whine or complain, or even stamp our feet. God is in control and we’re never alone in the whirlwind. He promises new mercies every morning, a relief to both of us since we sure can use them up fast.

As the rehearsal progressed, we practiced Bow the Knee. While singing the beautiful melody and lyrics, I noticed that the message of the song captured the heart of our earlier conversation:

There are moments on our journey following the Lord

Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,

As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;

Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;

Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,

In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,

The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;

We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

After rehearsal, I hurried over to my friend and asked her if she, too, had noticed the message of the song.

“Yes, and I didn’t want to catch your eye or I knew I would lose it.” We gave each other a knowing look as we headed out to the parking lot.

I love it when I get a glimpse of the puzzle that God is putting togethe. It is going to be a glorious picture.

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Not My Fault

So Joseph sent his brothers off, and as they left, he called after them, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way!” Genesis 45: 24 (NLT)

Remember the kid with the coat of many colors? His name was Joseph and he was the eleventh son, out of twelve, born in his family. When a parent plays favorites with his children, the results are often disastrous. And Joseph was the favored son. The jealousy this created with his older brothers resulted in consequences that broke many hearts; they sold him to a caravan headed to Egypt to get rid of him and then lied to their father that he had been killed.

Joseph had every reason to be frustrated, even vengeful to his brothers. Joseph, the dreamer, badgered his older brothers as they were all growing up and they grew resentful of his ambitious dreams of lording it over them. They certainly couldn’t imagine ever bowing down to him–but they did. A severe famine settled on the land of Israel and the only option was to go to Egypt and buy food for their families. Little did they know that the man in charge was their very own brother, Joseph. But he knew who they were.

Through a variety of strategies, Joseph eventually managed to get his youngest brother to Egypt and at the sight of him, he had to leave the room and weep. I can only imagine that Joseph may have thought he would never again see his youngest brother or family. His brothers had done a terrible thing to him. But what they meant for harm, God meant for good. As a result, the brothers went back to get the rest of the family and bring them to Goshen to endure the rest of the years of famine.

But Joseph’s instruction as they left was intriguing to me. “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way.” He knew his brothers. They were going to have some big questions to answer from their father when they got home. Who was going to shoulder the blame? The finger pointing could have ruined the journey and taken away the joy of seeing their brother again. Joseph had forgiven them. They had to forgive themselves.

We don’t always have to be right. Excuses and blame are so natural — the old sin nature we inherited from Adam and Eve rearing it’s ugly head. Letting go of our sin after receiving forgiveness is the only way to peace and our new life in Christ. God had a much bigger purpose for Joseph and His means may not have been what we would choose. But God’s way is best. The family was reunited and those seventy members of Jacob’s family were protected to fulfill the promise and covenant to Abraham:

I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Genesis 22:17 NLT

During those moments when we feel like we have to defend ourselves and have the last word, let it go. God knows our heart. He will even the score in the end. Our purpose is to love.

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March for Life

My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.


Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV)

The 46th March for Life was this weekend. I watched a time-lapse video of this year’s march in Washington DC and was amazed at the number of people involved, even in the cold.

But 46 years ago, I had a two week old baby girl who was taking up all of my time. The word abortion never crossed my mind and whoever heard of Roe v. Wade? March? I could barely keep up with the day ahead of me. I thought things would never get back to normal. It was not that I didn’t believe in the importance of life, I just never bothered to follow the news about this court case that changed our nation’s direction and mindset on the life of the unborn. I can only think of one friend who ever talked to me about this topic and I didn’t pay much attention to what she said.

However, as the years passed, I realized that I had been neglecting standing up for something that God was sorely displeased over. A Google search indicates that 45.7 million legal induced abortions were reported from 1970 to 2015. How could I turn a blind eye to such a horror? As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

And that was the beginning of my involvement in the pro-life movement. I worked as a counselor at a Crisis Pregnancy Center for a couple of years and then went on to work actively in the political arena for 25 years endeavoring to make changes for good and the protection of the unborn. Looking over the 46 years, there have been some wins but we still have a way to go.

Warren Cole Smith is the Vice-President of Mission Advancement for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview writes: So it is fair to ask: Is the pro-life movement doing the right things? We excel at rallies and fundraising. We have come a long way in caring for women and children in crisis situations. The pregnancy care centers of this country are an army of compassion who in the aggregate care for millions of women and children each year.

However, if we want to make abortion not merely illegal, but unthinkable, we must get better at helping people think and behave in biblical Christian ways, not just in crisis moments, but at all times and in all places. We must do better at storing the linkage between marriage, sex, and child-rearing – which means talking about these issues more directly and more biblically in our pulpits and in our seminaries. These are core Gospel issues, not merely moral or ethical or political issues.

As believers in Jesus, we need to continue to stand for life. It may look different in method but not in theology. It should include all Christians, not just activists. And it must include all areas of life if we are to have any hope of reversing the abortion holocaust.

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Pray for Me?

You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.
Matthew 21:22 (NLT)

What do you say when someone asks you to pray for them? I was challenged that if I say I will pray, then I better do it. It’s easy to say you will, walk away, and forget it. I now stop and pray right that moment to make sure I keep my word and then as the Spirit brings it to mind, to pray again.

I had a special request this fall to pray daily for my son-in-law after he was let go from his job. He asked me to pray in the afternoon because that was the lowest part of the day for him. So I set an alarm on my phone for 3:00 PM, knowing that being consistent was the hardest part of keeping this promise. So no matter where I was, that alarm would ring and I would pray.

Because I had no specifics on a daily basis, I learned to listen for God’s leading and have faith about what to pray for. One day, I felt led to pray for strength and courage, later finding out how needed that was. As the weeks passed, I was reminded how Daniel prayed and waited. It was as if no one heard his request. However, the angel showed up three weeks later and told Daniel he had heard him but was busy in the unseen world. God’s timing is not always ours, but He always does what is best for us.

I’m happy to report that he got a call with a job offer two weeks ago and will start the first of January. And would you believe? He received the call at 3:00 PM. When he told me, the tears popped into my eyes. God had blessed him with a new job but He had also blessed me for being a tiny part of it.

Let’s start 2019 by being a praying people. There is so much pain, anguish, heartache, anger, bitterness, and division in our world. Let’s see if we can make a difference by being faithful to pray — for family, friends, church and our nation.

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Word for the Year

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 (NLT)

*My granddaughter, Kate, always asks me what my word is and then creates something for Christmas. This is her latest.

My word for the year 2018 has been faith. Little did I know, as the year began, how important faith would be for the journey ahead. We have endured and encountered a few challenges along the way: Mark’s myriad of health issues, the sale of our house after a year’s wait, packing, selling, and storing our household goods, moving twice and finally settling into an apartment. My son-in-law was without a job for four months. Close friends have suffered from severe health issues. And I have assumed the role of caregiver. Without my faith in God, it would have been impossible to get up every day.

One of the ways that I have received strength and courage has been that early morning discipline of rising early, reading the Bible and praying. Our church offered the challenge to read through the Bible this year with the YouVersion app and I joined in. I journal as both a way to pray and get my thoughts on paper so that I don’t worry over them. A devotional may be added to the mix for variety and encouragement. 

As I have thought and prayed about what my word would be this year, I took the quiz posted by DaySpring resulting in the word peace. Perfect! After a year of upheaval, peace would be welcome. I’m hopeful that our new setting and lifestyle will give me time to encourage others in meaningful ways, even as I care for Mark. This is not what I thought my life would be, but it is the life God has given me to walk…one step at a time…with the peace that only He can give.


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December

Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!

2 Corinthians 9:15 (NLT)

December. It’s usually my favorite month of the year. I love “dressing’ the house with decorations and lights, making cookies, wrapping presents, entertaining family and friends, lighting the Advent wreath, singing the Messiah.  I don’t send out Christmas cards anymore but I did for many years.

But this year is different, more sober less frivolity. Moving to an apartment cut way down on my decorating. I saved only my favorite things. But as I look around the rooms, I see different eras of my lie represented. Nativity figures chosen in times of travel, needlepoint items made by my mother, a Christmas picture frame filled with my grandgirlies, a bell made by my mother so many years ago. I had to buy a new tree because the movers destroyed my old one. But, it’s up and decorated with ornaments of meaning and memory.

I’ve been listening to my playlist of Christmas songs on iTunes. Each one wraps itself around my heart and I remember playing it again and again over the years. I listen to an early morning talk show (I mean really early) which is hosted by four people: a man about my age, a woman in her later 40’s and two women who are millennials. They have been playing the top 100 Christmas carols, a chunk at a time. What is amazing to me is the number of songs that are totally unfamiliar to the millennials. I wonder what legacy they will leave to their grandchildren with the music produced in this day and age?

But, the greater feelings of wistfulness come from so many of my friends who are ill either at home or in the hospital. Mark broke his foot this week. A family member needs a job. The past merriment of parties, concerts, and  caroling aren’t carved out on my calendar this year. I decided it was time to change that picture and have invited my small group over for a Christmas gathering. Everyone brings something to eat that reminds them of Christmas. We will have a very eclectic meal but the fellowship will be warm and sweet. I need this for nourishment for my soul.

What says Christmas to you? I encourage you to be pro-active with those who are in your circle. Check in on them. Send a text or email or note of encouragement. We all need hope and what better season then now. The baby Jesus was born and hope was unfurled.

Be of good cheer.

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God Has It

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.

1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)

Images of candidates crisscrossing this nation fill the television screen and social media. I am thankful to be an American citizen with all of its rights and privileges, but some thoughts in a recent sermon reminded me that I am also a citizen in the Kingdom of God. Dual citizenship occurred when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Jesus wanted his disciples to understand their earthly responsibilities to the Kingdom of heaven so rather than writing up a book of rules, He told stories using simple everyday situations and items to make His point. He suggested that the best way to get results is to work behind the scenes, quietly making changes.

His example in Matthew 13:33 illustrates the point; “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” As a baker, I know that though you can’t see the yeast mixed in with everything else, the results of its addition are unmistakable.

I want to make a difference as a Kingdom citizen but it is reassuring to know that I don’t have to be the center of attention. My contribution may be minor and seem unremarkable but the miracle comes from God’s multiplication factor. He is the one who makes the difference, I am just one of the ingredients.

The election is Tuesday and as Kingdom citizens we don’t have to worry about a thing. We DO need to be responsible and vote but the outcome is up to God.

 

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My Story

You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

Psalm 139:16 (NLT)

We have been studying Lisa Harper’s recently released Bible study, Job: A Story of Unlike Joy, in our women’s groupLittle did I know how apropos it would be! I was a bit nervous because many of the women had never heard of Lisa and who wants to study Job? But God. He knew the hearts of those that would attend and the hurting places in each of us that needed healing.

As part of the daily assignment, I have been reading Psalm 139. When I think of that Psalm, the verses about the forming of life in the mother’s womb immediately come to mind from my days of working in the pro-life community. But as I read it each day, different parts stand out as the Spirit highlights them in my life.

The last few months have not been the easiest. I don’t know why I think I should get a pass from pain and problems — no one does. But in those difficulties, God has become very real and precious. It’s encouraging to know that He knew what these days would look like before I was born and each step that I have walked has prepared me for today. It was not a surprise to Him.

Job didn’t deserve the suffering and heartache he endured. But in the end, “when God is all you have, God is all you need.” God elevated him and trusted him because He knew how the story would end. Satan may have thought he could get Job to turn away from God, but God knew that Job would remain faithful.

Whatever your story, God will redeem it for good because God is good all the time. Trust Him.

 

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Simplify

But I am trusting you, O Lord,

    saying, “You are my God!”

My future is in your hands.

Psalm 31:14-15 (NLT)

The last two months have been at times challenging, exhausting, enlightening, discouraging, and now transforming. Moving is never easy but this particular move had twists and turns that I never expected.

The plan had been to downsize to make life a little easier. I thought that meant a smaller house — maybe a townhouse because I didn’t want to take care of a yard. But God had other plans and we are now proud apartment dwellers. I’ve never lived in an apartment and I had my doubts and qualms about the size, noise, and neighbors — to name a few. When we signed up for this place, a small storage room was available adjacent to our front door which was perfect for those things that you only need occasionally. I snapped it up. 

After living in a house with a garage and lots of storage space, this move required getting rid of about 90% of our stuff…some of the stuff collected over a lifetime. Making decisions is usually not a difficult task for me but when you consider a household of possessions, what stays, what is given away, and what goes becomes overwhelming. 

Three days before the move, I received a call that the storage room was no longer available. Nor was the garage that had been promised as an alternative. It was the straw that nearly broke me. My lack of control over the situation brought me to tears. Mark got on the phone and found a small storage unit at the local Public Storage. My nightmare of never ending boxes in each room and patio was now put to rest. With the help of friends from church, we survived the move. 

I think God has an interesting sense of timing. He provided a garage three weeks after the move, #7. I didn’t realize how much that garage meant to me as a sign of stability and normalcy until it was no longer available. But God wanted me to trust Him with my needs. He has brought me through this journey of releasing so that I am able to pick up new things. And in the end, He provided an unexpected blessing in that garage. Do you know how many boxes are left? About 12 and half of them are Christmas. That is all.

After a couple of months of living with much less, I’ve experienced great freedom and relief. It could be that at this stage of life, the goal of acquiring and accumulating has run its course. Just open a magazine and you will find an article on simplifying. I think I’m going to like it.

I’m not sure what He has in mind for this next season but I’m ready for something new. I’m trusting Him to show me the way.

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