The Greatest of These …

Love God, Love Others

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

That was YouVersion’s “verse of the day” on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day 2018. And I thought of these three great characteristics.

Faith. Hope. Love.

So why is love the greatest of the three?

The apostle Paul says that without love, faith is meaningless. If I have faith that can move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. And hope will end one day, when it is realized. But love never ends.

Love encompasses many other characteristics. It covers a multitude of sins. When I truly love, I don’t look for things to complain about, to criticize, to change. I accept, believe in, trust the person I love. And in reverse, knowing my husband’s–and my heavenly Father’s–great love for me, I never want to deliberately cause them hurt.

And it’s because of God’s great and unconditional love that we can have a relationship with Him, one that leads to our internal (and external) change and to the promise of eternity with Him.

Real love is shown on an ongoing basis in how we treat others. In his great definition of love in I Corinthians 13:4-8a, Paul writes:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.”

Shari’s Berries from my Valentine

    Valentine’s Day flowers and Shari’s Berries are lovely and deeply appreciated; but if that’s all the expression of love we give or receive, there’s a long drought between expressions of love! The kind of love Paul speaks of is shown in daily service to others.
    • One of my favorite definitions of love was written by a boy of about six, who said “Love is when you know your name is safe in their mouth.” Wow! I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Don never speaks ill of me. My name is safe in his mouth, and I feel loved!

 

Love is reflected:

  • In my mother’s daily prayers for her children and grandchildren;
  • In my husband’s fixing the leak in our pantry wall, repainting and putting the shelves back on the wall, all without complaint – then helping me reload those shelves.
  • In the faithful prayers of God’s people for comfort and peace for the families of victims of this week’s school shooting in Florida;
  • In prayer and care–calls, food, respite–for those in need in our circles of influence, and for people around the world, hungry for the love and grace of God and His people.
  • By responding kindly to the woman who rudely told me to move my grocery cart in Safeway (at which I’m sorry to say I failed!).
  • In acts of service, in speaking up when someone expresses prejudice, in giving to help those who are ministering in ways I cannot, like the Mercy Ships and other Christians loving our world’s under-served.
  • In listening; in affirming others’ value; in extending grace to others, as grace has been given to me.
  • In telling others of God’s amazing love and desire for relationship with them.

What do you think? Why is love the greatest of these three?

Lord Have Mercy

The line stretched for blocks. Men, women and children stood in the hot African sun, waiting, praying, hoping for their chance to have life-changing surgery, many after years of having been told doctors in this third-world country could not help them. Many of those in line had walked days for one chance at a new life.

Seeing the kinds of health challenges in a poverty-stricken country was eye-opening. Whereas a tumor growing out of the neck or face would, in America, be caught and treated early, in this third-world country it is likely to grow unchecked.

During our church’s missions week, Don and I watched the first segment of a National Geographic documentary on Mercy Ships, showing now in the UK and hopefully coming to the US in a few months. The 450-person crew, including medical personnel and surgeons, are all volunteers. The images we saw were so powerful I didn’t even want to blink while watching.

My heart went out to the male nurse triaging the folks in line. What grace of God must be needed to say to someone, “I’m sorry, we don’t have the kind of doctor you need. We can’t help you here.” Or, “I’m sorry, your child is dying and we can’t help.” And yet, in many of those cases someone from the ship will follow up with the family, giving counsel, sometimes hospice services. Of the 5000 or so we saw in line, about 720 were selected for surgery.

And what joy to say to someone, “We can help you; we can help your child.”

A man with a tumor the size of his head growing out of his chin, could hardly be understood because speaking was so difficult. He shrouded his head in cloths and knew his disfigurement limited his ability to get a job, to have a somewhat normal life. When he first looked into a mirror following a delicate surgery to remove the tumor without sacrificing critical nerve connections, his smile was broad and beautiful. His handsome, dark eyes shone with what looked like hope.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Unable to breastfeed, Haingo was starving to death

Seven-month old Haingo had a severe cleft palate, with a hole in the top of her mouth that didn’t allow her to breastfeed. She was slowly starving to death, her 7-month weight below 7 pounds! When a stranger told Haingo’s mother about Mercy Ships, Viviaby walked two days to get to a place where she could find transportation to the ship. Volunteer nurses immediately started Haingo on a round-the-clock nutrition regimen to help her gain enough weight to safely undergo the surgery. When the little girl finally reached 7.7 pounds, surgeons corrected her cleft lip and palate, giving her the ability to thrive, to eat and drink and learn to speak well. What a beautiful little girl!

Haingo, thriving

The new Africa Mercy is the largest civilian hospital ship in the world, including five operating theaters, rooms for recovery and intensive care. Their capacity is 7000 interventions a year–from removing life-threatening tumors to repairing cleft palates.

What we forget in a country of privilege is that hope comes with having options: we can treat, wait and watch, or try different approaches. Hope is also about the possibility of getting help. One patient said her doctor had told her to wait until the big white Mercy Ship came and to go there for the help she needed, which he could not provide.

We were deeply touched by the significant ministry being conducted on Mercy Ships, by the hundreds of volunteers who do everything from scrubbing the decks, to cooking, to surgery and follow-up care.

For more information, stories, and ways to give, go to: https://www.mercyships.org/international/

Lord, have mercy! And may we be a part of that mercy.

 

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will reward them for what they have done.”

Proverbs 19:17

The Wisdom of Worship

According to Mayan legend, the gods who made the earth wanted someone to praise and worship them. So they created people made of clay; but the clay was soft and the clay people couldn’t stand.

So the creator made people of wood. These could stand, but had no minds or souls, and forgot to worship the gods who made them. So the gods sent a great water to wipe them out; and then made people of straw, who became the Mayans.

As Don and I listened to our tour guide at Tulum, a Mayan ruin on the stunning turquoise Caribbean coastline, I was impressed with two thoughts.

First, I was reminded of the truth of Romans 1:20-21: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

It seems every culture has an understanding that there is a God.

And second, the parallels (like the flood, or God’s desire to be worshipped) between ancient tradition and God’s Word remind me that God has always desired to make himself known to his creation.

And He desires our worship. Psalm 9:11 exhorts us to “Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people.”  And Psalm 30:4 says “Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise His holy name.” But he longs for this to be of our own volition, in recognition of who he is and what he has done, and will do, for us.

We praise Him for:

  • Revealing Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, through whom we have eternal life in the future, and meaningful life now.
  • Rescuing us (I’ve been rescued when I lived in the LA ghetto, and probably other times I’m not aware of). “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him” (Exodus 15:2). We can rely on Him.
  • Being great and glorious and above all. (Psalm 150).
  • Loving us–amazing as that is. So many cultures and belief systems focus on currying favor with the gods, whereas the God of the universe, of Creation, came to earth so we could know Him and have a relationship with him. (John 3:16).
  • His grace (Ephesians 1:6) and mercy (I Peter 1:3).
  • His faithfulness in all times (Psalm 40:11).
  • His comfort in times of sorrow, loss, distress (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
  • His guidance: Psalm 16:7 says “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”
I pray I will always remember to praise and worship my Lord, my God, my Redeemer–not because I fear being annihilated, but because He is good and loving and worthy of all my praise.
I’d love to hear what you would add to my partial list of reasons to praise God above.
 

The Wisdom of Leaning

Yes, leaning.

Who are the people we tend to look up to, admire, want to follow? Generally, it’s the strong; the leader; the successful entrepreneur or the woman who always appears put together.

And yet, sometimes the wisest, and strongest, thing we can do is recognize our weakness and lean in–to Jesus, to others–for help, support, guidance.

The apostle Paul recounts asking God several times to heal him of a physical affliction. In II Corinthians 12:9-10 he shares the message he got back. “Each time he (God) said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God’s ways are so opposite of our North American “can-do” mentality, our focus on independence. When something in our lives isn’t working, we try harder, like the little train that could. Only sometimes we can’t. And God doesn’t want us to try apart from Him. I sometimes find it a challenge to step back from my own striving to say “I can’t do this; can’t help this person; can’t change this situation. Only You can, so help me lean into You and allow You to work without my getting in Your way.”

We’re instructed to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:17 (NIV) God never planned for us to carry our burdens alone. He has promised to guide, instruct, counsel and love us. We have this great resource wholly available to us. But how often do we forget, or neglect, to call on Him for help?

Sometimes wisdom is just leaning into Jesus, trusting His heart even when I can’t see His hand at work. There was a time when I couldn’t see the next step ahead, when I felt devoid of hope, unsure of what to do, in a mire of despondency, confusion and despair. While I trusted God, I had no strength left with which to hold onto Him. But scripture, and truths I’d learned from His Word, assured me that He would not let me go even when I couldn’t hang on even by the tips of my fingers. During that time He gave me a song, to which I clung.  I listened to it every night for at least three weeks before going to sleep. Here are the lyrics, and a link to the song as sung by the Gaither Vocal Band.

 

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,

While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place.

‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try,

For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”

But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise

Where the storms never darken the skies.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

When the long night has ended and the storms come no more,

Let me stand in Thy presence on the bright peaceful shore;

In that land where the tempest never comes, Lord, may I

Dwell with Thee when the storm passes by.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

I want to be wise enough to lean into my Lord and Savior, trusting Him through the storms and joys ahead; and to rejoice as He leads me through this new year. Won’t you join me?

The Wisdom of Words

         Golden apple by krzysiu                    “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

Whoever said “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me” was wrong–way wrong. Sometimes the deepest wounds are those caused by the sharp blade of hurtful words.

When I was around ten years old, a neighbor said I was “pleasantly plump.” Those words, meant well, have never left me. Who wants to be “pleasantly plump?” Words can cower a woman, destroy her spirit.  An abusive husband can tell a woman she’s worthless, never affirm her in her business or homemaking skills, or tell her she is important to him. A husband whose wife degrades him in front of others shows by words and actions that she doesn’t respect him. A child’s parents may tell him he has big ears, is lazy, stupid, uncoordinated.

Words can be either a blessing or a curse. Sometimes I ask God to give me the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. Proverbs 10:19 warns against too many words: “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” (NLT) A tremendous gift given to me after my first husband died was the attentive ear of a dear friend, who spent several hours sitting on the floor while I poured out my heart, talking about Jerry’s last day and his death. Her words were few, but precious. “Mmmmm ….”, “Oh my”, “I’m so sorry.” Sometimes listening in silence is the greatest gift we can give others.

Gossip destroys people and reputations. Lies and flattery hurt by raising false hopes; perverse or crude words bring others (as well as the speaker) down. And angry words destroy. It’s been said that the one thing you can never take back is your words. Once they have left the mouth they are always out there, never to be pulled back in. Thankfully, we can repent, we can ask those we’ve hurt to forgive us; but the damage can never be erased.

Another close friend ministered to me through words. A nurse, she told me how to read Jerry’s vital signs on the monitor and what each meant; how to know when his health was getting critical. So both silence and words can be a tremendous gift to others.

Wise words are a blessing. Proverbs 16:24 says it beautifully: “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (NLT) With our lips we praise God; and with our lips we encourage and influence others.

It was my eighth grade civics class. Our amazing teacher, Mrs. Goolsby, returned the graded tests to each of the students in the class, except me. What could have happened?

“Carol, I’d like you to stay after class for a few minutes.”

Mrs. Goolsby told me, in private, that I had failed the test. I was a reasonably good student, so this didn’t make sense to either of us. She questioned the process I’d used in answering the true/false questions and together, we figured out I had crossed out the right answer rather than crossing out the wrong one and leaving the correct one showing. When she re-graded the test with this criteria I had passed. But her words were kind, her heart discerning to understand what had gone wrong, and I knew she believed in me. Words of honey! And with her words, she influenced me for good.

The bottom line, as Pastor Val said last week, is that our words reveal our hearts.

Do you recall a time when words were either a curse or a blessing to you? How has that impacted your life?

“May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14 (NLT)