Don’t Believe the Lies

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

I have been vocal in past posts about my thoughts on, and my desire for boundaries when it comes to social media. In my last social media fast, I came to the realizaton that some of my thoughts may have even been extreme. Maybe even unhealthy. My use of social media is personal, and not everyone will go on the same journey, and it is through this perspective that I have developed some different views, and healthier personal usage.

One thing, however, has not changed-my views on that comment section.

We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enough

But it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section. -Sidewalk Prophets

This song, “The Comment Section,” is about the hurtful comments posted in the comment section by individuals behind a screen, and the descriptions throughout it are pretty accurate. What is even more discouraging, is that at times this type of commentary flows into our personal, and face-to-face conversations.

Case in point: I lead a monthly girls group. 3 girls. Supposedly friends working through a self-esteem exercise; but in this past week’s group, spending most of the time poking fun at each other, and spewing hurtful comments about each other’s features, bodies, and minds. “Fat, ugly, dumb.” After more than an hour of this, the life had been sucked out of me. The hurtful back and forth banter disguised as “joking,” wrecked my spirit, and I carried it with me into the weekend. Why is this language among each other acceptable? Why do we poke fun to have fun? Why do we desire to hurt each other? Over time, whether read or heard-these comments leave scars no one can see. Doubts that carry on long after words have been spoken.

With each comment and verbal slur of judgment, we begin to believe all the lies said about us. That interaction in group was only a part of the onslaught of lies Satan threw at me throughout that week. All due to triggers that were reminders of my past. A reminder of an older name that had me believing divorced women truly were not fit to pastor. An email that was a reminder of all the past events that made me feel unworthy and unqualified. The consistent “uglies, fats” and everything else I heard on that day was the last straw.

I refuse to let Satan continue to throw lies at me. I refuse to let the own comment section I allow to scroll in my head define me.

I struggled with what topic to focus on this month. With whether to even do a monthly reading plan. With May holding space for Mother’s Day, themes of parenting or being a mother seemed to fit; however, not everyone fits this description. Yet, this very moment in life-motherhood; it can fill us with so many inadequcies. We have so many doubts about our abilities, and we tend to compare ourselves with so many others. Thinking they have it all right, and we have it all wrong.

But, it’s all lies. We tend to believe so many lies.

This month, we will be defeating those lies. The lies we believe about ourselves (and even others) because of the world’s vision that we all comform to one ideal. The lies that tell us we need to be a certain way, parent a certain way, or anything else a certain way to be approved. Through Scripture and song, we will discover the truth the world often shuts out, if you only read the comment section.

Because here is the truth: God has made us good, pleasing, and perfect, among so many other things. It is time we believe this, instead of all the lies the devil may feed us.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for a copy of the newest 30 day Bible reading plan, with a link to the playlist of each song, so you can also listen to truth all month long!

Love and Marriage…

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14

Love and marriage, love and marriage…that’s the theme song to one of my husband’s sitcom guilty pleasures, and it doesn’t have much to do with this post, except that today’s verse from Colossians 3:14 is a reminder from Paul to “clothe yourselves with love.” It’s also our anniversary. The 16th. And in many of those 16 years, he has been known to wear many a shirt in reference to many movies and sitcoms. Al Bundy references are just one.

16 years of wedded bliss. I sincerely hope no one believes that statement. I sincerely hope anyone embarking on marriage, or any long-term relationship doesn’t assume that any marriage is filled with only bliss.

It may seem that marriage and this verse above would be appropriate at first glance. Perhaps as a stand alone verse. Yes, certainly…because love is the language of those who follow Christ. But this isn’t all Paul is instructing us to do. This verse can’t stand alone. 

And while Paul is writing to the church in Colosse, a church that had become saturated with many false beliefs and thoughts about Christ, warning them to remember who was their true connection to the Father and to His love, these principles don’t just apply to the people we encounter in the church pews. They are paramount to any relationship. Especially the intimacy within a marriage. The love from Christ we receive is to be displayed to others, and definitely towards our spouse.

Is it easy? No. 

And it encompasses so much more than lovey-dovey words and phrases, or romantic overtures. 

In the verses proceeding number 14, Paul mentions the following: 

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (v. 12-13).

Now…how does this apply to our spouses? To the day to day grind of living with another being day in and day out? Especially those who have a propensity to quote Al Bundy?

First, tenderheart mercy. We display tenderhearted mercy when we choose to not lament and bring up the fact that our spouse did not load the dishwasher again. Or that they threw the socks on the floor, right next to the hamper. We don’t scream, kick, and shove when they snore too loud. We offer them mercy, even though we want to offer them a peace of our mind. We do the dishes, we lean over to pick up the socks, and we reach for the ear plugs, as we gently tap them to roll over. And then we gently remind them we love them.

Next, kindness. Let’s talk about this making fun of each other stuff. You know, if you like to joke…cool. However, have you ever watched the look on your spouse’s face, or listened to the hurt in their voice when you know or felt when it went too far? Saying cruel things about someone’s appearance, intellect, mental health, character, or ability; and then following it up with, “I was only joking,” is still cruel and unkind. The Bible is clear about the ways in which we are to speak to others, in such a way that the words we use should “encourage and build up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Over time these “jokes” hurt more than provide humor. Speak words of kindness, and encouragment. If you wouldn’t want the words spoken to you, or to the children you may have together-don’t say them to your spouse. Speak words you would want to hear.

What about humility? This one be can hard to understand for some, so I am going to simplify it. You are not better than your spouse, and your spouse is not better than you. One supports the other. One helps the other. Selfishness has no place in marriage. Are we, as humans, are prone to it? Of course, we crave our independence. We don’t want to be dependent on another person, or feel we are constantly having too much asked of us, but we were created-man and woman to help each other, encourage each other, and support each other. This requires at times we put our needs to the side to serve our spouse-in sickness and in health…and all that jazz.

Gentleness. Now, let’s go back to tenderhearted mercy for this one. Think back to those dishes, socks, and that snoring. We did the dishes. We picked up the socks. And well, at this point…there is really nothing we can do about the snoring, but get better ear plugs. We really can’t let the chores go. At some point, accountability is OK to address. However, with kind words, and with gentleness. Our natural bend is to stuff all the months of dishwashing and sock grabbing up, and then blow-up with harsh, and mean words. We say a lot of things we do not mean (or maybe we do mean them), and then we have to double down with an apology later. We can address the lack of help with chores, with a gentle conversation about our need for help. Speaking the truth with love is a biblical response that can go a long way in saving two people a ton of hurt in many conversations over a number of years. Trust the one who has slammed many a cabinet and dish in the sink just to get my point across in the past. The slamming rarely does it. The gentleness usually will.

Last, yet certainly not least-forgiveness. Yes, I know. It is hard. It is a long road that is bumpy and filled with potholes. Forgiveness in the institution of mariage is something no one wants to talk about because it sounds a lot like failure. The question someone wants to ask when you talk about forgiveness is: What did you do to need that? Perhaps the question should be: What didn’t we do? There will be SO many things that will occur within this intimate of a relationship that will require little and large acts of forgiveness. Some of the forgiveness journeys will be easy, and some will be much harder. Some will require small acts of patience; and others will requre large acts of compassion and large doses of mercy. Yet, we must remember there are times we have needed the same. Even slights we forgave and forgot. Things we thought we would never forget.

However, because of the capacity that God has given us to love, we were given the ability to endure through those pains we thought we could not get through. Annoying movie-quotes. Long nights in hospitals. Stupid arguments over goodness knows what.

Bound together in perfect harmony through Christ.

For 16 years and beyond.

Do What You Ought

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17

We read a lot about sin when we read our Bibles. We may not even have to be church-going folks to know a lot about sin. Case in point: I didn’t grow up in a church. We went a handful of times. The Christmas candle-lighting church-going kind. I think those regular attenders would have called us “the Christmas and Easter crowd.” Yes, people like us got names. I did, however, know about God. I knew about sin. It was probably one of the most talked about things growing up. All the things we couldn’t and shouldn’t do. Adam and Eve, and that original sin that came through them. I knew of personal sin, the sins we chose, our willful acts against God. I knew that a life of sin sent you to hell.

I now attend church regularly. I pastor in a church. Because, well…it is just like God to take someone from the “Christmas and Sunday crowd,” and use them to minister to others. I also am still tempted by Satan to sin. I may at times know what to do, and be tempted to not do it.

And just like myself, you are not immune.

I know what you may be thinking: I don’t sin. I read my Bible. I attend Bible study. I go to church every Sunday and I serve. So that isn’t me.

But you do struggle with the “what I know to do, but what I do anyways.” We all do. Even the Bible reading, Bible studying, Sunday going, preacher type. Because we are human. And we all have a propensity and a bend towards sin.

Look at Paul. Paul for goodness sake. He speaks to what we all encounter in our daily walk in holy living:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:15-20, MSG

We sometimes decide to act in one way, but lack the self-control to simply do it. We don’t want to do that thing we said we were trying not to do, but we slip and do it again.

So yes…you have sinned. Maybe unintentionally. But you have done one thing when you should have done something else. Need some examples? Here’s some relatable ones for you in case you are stuck on robbery, murder or adultery. 

How about pure lack of self-control when it comes to maybe your speech? The Bible is clear about unwholesome talk, and it doesn’t just mean a few choice curse words. It means ill words about a believer, or anyone that God would desire that we speak of in love. We sin each time we choose to use words to tear down, instead of words to encourage or build up. We sin each time we go to our neighbor to speak ill words about a person, instead of words that are positive, edifying, and meant to glorify. We sin each time we gossip and repeat stories that we didn’t hear directly from the person about whom we are speaking. The Bible tells we ought not speak these hurtful things, and what we should do instead.

How about how we deal with our conflicts? The word is clear we should not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26), however, in conflict is anger our go to response? If it is, how is our behavior? Riddled with sharp words, and flailing arms. Or perhaps we never even have a conversation with the person at all, maybe we have it with everyone but. Conflict that is handled without sin at the center is handled like Jesus indicated in Matthew 18:15-20. Yet, we often do the opposite of what we know we ought.

Even yesterday…on Easter, my gracious. I had to pray through most of the service that God would rid me of the focus on anything else besides Him. Because I was just distracted. And maybe others didn’t see it, but I did…the screen turning off, the movement of people. My mind wandered to the number of things all around me that were overwhelming, and likely a tactic to take focus away from the purpose-Jesus’ victory over death.

And those simple, worldly things keep us focused on the world. Which is where Satan wants us.

And I know when I am distracted and the focus is taken off Him, other things set in. Anxiety breeds thoughts that lead directly where the devil wants me. In my own head. In my pride. On my self. Exactly where self-control flees, and sin can creep in. And if I don’t have a handle on it, I can forget what I ought, and do what I know I shouldn’t.

We all can get here. No matter how many Bible verses you read. Bible study or Sunday morning serves you attend. The devil is ready for you to shift focus, so he can grab your self-control and move you right into some sin.

Stand on guard. Keep your focus on Him, and what you ought to do. And if you shift, turn off course; no matter how small the curve-repent. And do what you ought again. And again. And again.

Think On and Do These Things

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Thoughts. Our thoughts become our voice, and often our patterns of behavior. What we think about ourself and even others, can be outwardly reflected in the way we respond with or without love.

The verses above are often referenced at times as a prescription for anxiety, as they can be; they are also a prescription for the stance we must take against those things that we may encounter or consume that are not trustworthy, honorable or worthy of praise.

Garbage in, garbage out.

First, let’s talk about our thoughts. Let’s simplify this as it applies to Paul’s instructions and our character. Our thoughts and perspectives about particular situations, especially as they apply to others. Because this verse can certainly apply here. When we encounter a person with whom we share a difference of opinion, or even someone with whom we don’t connect, don’t understand, or maybe we even have some sort of conflict with them personally, or with something they may be doing-we do a couple things. We form thoughts and opinions about their character, their actions, and their intentions. We often believe based on our thoughts, our own perspectives, our own version of events that said person may be driven by malice. May be aloof. Not like us. We have our own thoughts about their intended motives because we don’t truly support their mission. For whatever reason we have decided they should not be successful, and we look for anything but admirable qualities to prove it. And if you look for those qualities you will find them, even in the smallest, most ridiculous of things.

What would happen if we did what Paul asked us to do? If we changed those negative, fault-seeking thoughts and began to look for good? Intentionally? In people? And in situations that made us feel frustration? What if we looked for the truth about a person instead of believing whatever so and so told us about them? If we focused on the admirable accomplishments of others, and applauding them instead of sitting in our envy and jealousy tearing down those who dare to brave and step out into boldness for God? What if we talked more about things that were worthy of praise, and less about things that tear others down? Would our thoughts be fixed on Christ, and less on the flaws of others?

Next, Paul is not only speaking of our speech or the way we see people here-he tells us to put what he says into practice. Remember, I mentioned garbage in, garbage out. So that means whatever you take in, your output will be the same. So if you take in good, your actions will be good. If you practice kindness, your actions will be kind; and if you practice deception, then your actions will be the same-deceitful.

If we are filling our minds with junk. If we are consistently surrounding by the influences of evil desires, and things that turn us away from a pure and holy God, eventually our actions will begin to look like the thing that is filling our minds. This is why Paul warned us where to fix our thoughts-on what honors Him. Those things that are going to reflect Christ within you and keep you focused on Him.

The One that provides peace and can be a light to someone who will see it shining in you.

Known by Your Fruit

The Fruit of the Spirit’s not a coconut
The Fruit of the Spirit’s not a coconut
If you want to be a coconut
You might as well hear it:
You can’t be a fruit of the Spirit

Cause the fruit is
Love, joy, peace, patience
Kindness, goodness, faithfulness
Gentleness and self-control
Love, joy, peace, patience
Kindness, goodness, faithfulness
Gentleness and self-control

This is how my kids, and probably any other kid who has grown up attending church camp has learned how to memorize the fruits of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22. Not a coconut. Not a banana. Not a cherry. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Say them as fast as you can. With no room for breathing.

Don’t worry. I can’t do that either. I actually usually have to look them up. Or my kids remind me they are not a coconut…and proceed to sing me that song. But, you know…however they remember is alright by me.

Coconuts. Bananas. Cherries. Fruits. Yes. Sweet like kindness. Gentleness. Patience. Until they rot, and then we don’t think of them in quite the same way. And I can guarantee we have encountered some rotten fruit.

In our fruit drawers at home, we can usually detect the rotten culprits right away. They are the lemons or the oranges that are a tad bit green. They are slightly moldy, growing an unsightly fungus that we must remove before we taint any others. Before that fungus spreads. 

But what we don’t often see. What often do is pick up a perfectly good fruit, bite into and find it rotten on the inside. Pretty stinkin’ disgusting. The fruit looked good. What happened? Well as settings go, our fridge environment wasn’t quite right. And if we kept that pretty green apple around that moldy lemon for longer than we intended, well…the inside became rotten, while the outside still looked good.

It can be that that way with us at times. We can hang out with fruit that may not be spirit-filled. We may look really good on the outside. But on the inside-we aren’t filled with those things he intended. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The gunk that has been left to linger around us-the coconuts, the bananas, the moldy lemons and oranges…they start to rub off on us. Not on the outside, maybe. But they start to impact our hearts. And the goodness, it isn’t so ripe anymore. God takes a look on the inside, and he starts to see parts that are not a reflection of ripe fruit.

Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 7:15-20, and it can be a pretty harsh, yet very honest and truthful teaching when thinking about our witness and our character as believers:

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistle? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”

In other words here, Jesus is letting his disciples know, as believers who are filled with his Spirit we cannot profess to know him, to be filled with his love, and show hatred to our neighbor. We cannot profess to be filled with kindness, and then become irate when something is demanded of us. We cannot profess to be filled with joy, and grumble through our days. We cannot claim to be an apple tree, and produce coconuts.

You will be known by your fruit. May it be sweet, and not one to be turned away from, or thrown out because it has grown rotten, and is in danger of infecting the others. May it be the ripest fruit. Known for love, kindness, patience. Known by all as an example of Christ.

The Path of Integrity

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall. Proverbs 10:9

What exactly is integrity? We often throw that word around. Use it to describe people who do or even don’t possess it.

A person said to have integrity is someone described as having a moral compass that does not waver. They aren’t one way here, and one way there. They are honest in all dealings, speech, and they are the same in every place they go. Not shape shifters.

Evidence of shape shifting came to mind to me earlier in one of the places I don’t particularly care to be. Airports. I enjoy flying. Well, let me rephrase this: I enjoy being on the plane. Book in my lap. Taking a nap. As it seems everyone else does, too. You know…enjoying your ride in the “friendly skies” as the slogan goes.

But something happens once those feet hit the ground, I suppose. We become a little less friendly. I didn’t complain about my less than friendly experience waiting in line at the Starbucks kiosk, because the complaining would not have changed the experience. I simply told my family that I was going to walk in the way that showed the world something different on this trip instead.

I said “excuse me.” “Thank you.” “Have a great day.” “Go ahead of me.” Things that just seem less commonplace these days in all our rushing along our paths.

Seems so simple. Such an easy thing to do. But if I were to have to answer the question are you the same in the pulpit as you are at home? Are you the same at work as you are at the airport? Are you the same on Sunday and on Friday? I want the answer to be yes. I want all my paths to be straight. I want to be considered a person of integrity.

There are a number of ways in which we can veer off the path of honesty and integrity and walk onto one that is crooked and intended to cause destruction. We will talk about some of those in later posts. One easy way is in our simple acts of unkindness. The simple ways in which we treat the people we meet on a daily basis, while professing to honor Christ. While professing to be a loving people, yet planting our feet in the ground and walking into places with unfriendliness. If someone were to pass by you in the checkout line on a Monday, what would they see? Would they see you smiling and saying “thank you” to the cashier, or grumbling because she bagged your groceries incorrectly.

Integrity. It’s in the big things, and the small things. And even the small things determine if our paths grow crooked and destructive.

Today, don’t just make it a mission to remain friendly while your in the “skies,” or in the pews. Make it a mission every time you have your feet planted on the ground, and every time you have people who could very well be watching you.

April Bible Reading Plan: How is Your Character?

Jesus.

I wanted this month’s plan to be about Jesus, because that’s what Easter is really all about. Not candy. Not baskets. Not bunnies. Jesus. And his sacrifice for our salvation. 

And all things do point back to him. As they have in so many discussions I have had about character recently, and the way we choose to live. The choices we make. Both the wise and unwise. 

I have thought about how to appropriately study Jesus this month. Most will study his miracles. His death. His resurrection. And those are all so important, as they pave the way for someone to seek salvation. Yet, with that salvation comes something. A new way of life. A new way of life that many may not quite understand. Know how to walk, or to be ready for. 

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,  throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT

The making new means a change occurs instantly. Yes. Sin is wiped clean. But new habits begin to form. Those old desires are beginning to shed because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. A shift in character should develop. And we start to look different, have a desire to make different choices. Our journey with Jesus begins as he develops our Christ-like character. 

Some of the development takes a little longer. It’s harder to shed. But it’s necessary if we want to reflect his light. 

If our intended goal is to be like him, we develop a different character. A character that reflects his. We “walk it like we talk it,” as they say. So this month’s reading plan is focused on just that-walking in that character-Christian character.

Let’s start.

Because this is where many believe the journey begins. With the way you look. And that belief goes WAY back to Jesse and his boys. 

This was on display as my husband and I were preparing for my second ordination meeting a week or so ago. As we sat waiting, a couple came out ahead of us. He had this idea to play “guess who is the pastor” between the two. The man or woman of the couple. It was clearly the man. He looked like he had been through the ringer, and I knew that look. I knew exactly what that “look” felt like. The look of defeat. Then came this question: “Which one of us do you think they think is the ordination candidate?” My response was easy. He had on a tie. I was not under dressed. But my tattoos were showing, and come on…I am a woman. “You. They think it is you. You are a well dressed man. I am a woman.”

Appearances mean something. And we ALL judge them. We judge clothing. We judge whether someone is good or bad based on the markings they have on their skin. We judge another’s abilities based on their appearance. Stature. Build. Looks. We are fortunate that God does not do this.

I was reminded of this again recently when the story of David’s anointing was mentioned. in 1 Samuel 16. God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse, father of 8 sons, to anoint the next King. God warns Samuel not to be deceived by stature, build, or outward appearance: Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7, NLT

Samuel arrives and Jesse’s seven sons are parading around the house, trying to impress Samuel; doing all they can to prove they are most certainly the chosen. There is one missing. The runt. Out serving in the fields. The one chosen by God to be anointed king.

God chose the smallest of the litter to be the one. The one who was forgotten, who Jesse didn’t even mention, but who had a heart after God, and was serving. He chose that one.

And that is what He sees. He does not see your size, and goodness knows there are many times I have felt like nothing but a runt of a woman, with a twang of a voice, misunderstood, and unworthy because of it. Seen for the markings on my skin, and not for my abilities, but knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God sees beyond any of these things to the gifts I use to serve Him.

That is what we look for in others as well. Beyond the clothes. Beyond the pitch or tone we don’t quite like. Beyond the tattoos we just don’t quite get, or we would never get. Not your thing? Ok. But is Jesus? Does he have your heart? Does he have theirs? Then that is what matters. The only that matters to God, and what should matter to us, too.

Promises of God: A Family

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5

When we go to work, we likely build connections with others during our day to day interactions. This is the place where we spend a lot of our time. At least 8 hours of our day, more than likely 5 days a week. We may spend more time with our co-workers than the family we have at home. We may even crave this connection and time away from the demands of parenting. We share big moments, trials, triumphs. These people become like our family.

But what happens if you don’t have that? If you, on a daily basis, don’t have this family-like connection with others in your workplace?

Prior to COVID, my day to day role as a mental health professional placed me in a local school setting throughout the year. This was my “placement” and my assignment for the entire school year, or longer if I desired. I spent each day in the buildings I was placed with the staff and students. I become part of their daily lives. I was connected. Part of each individual school family, even if my name badge indicated I worked for an outside agency. I had a work family.

It has been 2 years since COVID shut down schools for the better part of over a year. These days I shuffle back and forth between 5 different spaces during the week. Some on the same day. Most days I appear as a random face who is popping into a building for a couple hours a day, once a week. I don’t know most of the people. Don’t even know their names. Certain they don’t know mine either. My work family now consists of people across phone lines in another region most days, and I feel disconnected from the many places in which I spend my day. Like I don’t belong. Like I am still searching for my family.

The second scenario is how many of us go through life. Feeling distant from others. Shuffling from place to place, trying to find a spot where we belong. A place that makes us feel like we are connected. Loved. Wanted. A family.

But to all who believed in him and accepted him, he gave the right to be called, children of God. John 1:12

When we seek God, repent, and accept His grace, we become part of His family. We are no longer disconnected because we are now connected with our Father. And with that connection comes all the perks of being part of a family. We have someone to comfort us in times of sorrow, to share in our joy. And we become united with other brothers and sisters within His church. Working together to fulfill one mission. We no longer have to feel as if we don’t belong, or are just wandering from place to place. We have finally found a home. A family. With Him.

If you are still wandering from place to place today, desperately looking for a connection. A family, some place to call home-why not call on God? He promises to adopt you as His own, and He doesn’t care what company is listed on your name badge. He desires that you be part of His family. He has a place waiting just for you.

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His Love Letter

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. 1 John 3:16, MSG

We are ending our monthly exploration of the ways in which God expresses true love, and the ways in which He desires we go out and love on others. That we have learned it is far more than receiving gifts, flowers, sweet nothings whispered to us, and seeking this love from a person. That it is a sacrifice we offer, even when we often don’t feel like it; to those we don’t often like.

Speaking of those we don’t like, I recently had a conversation with my husband. It was after I had kept something that was hurting me to myself for a while. I was disappointed by a relationship. By someone I thought was close. Wouldn’t leave. Was there for me one day, and gone without any explanation the next. It hurt me. It left me wondering what I did wrong. Left me doubting myself. My worth. And I remember in this conversation fighting back tears, though it didn’t take long for them to flow, asking him, “What is it about me? Why are others just so mean to me? I know I do things that are annoying, and I know I have made grave mistakes, but why do I get treated like such dirt?”

This is the human experience of love at times. Or the worldly love we have come to know. The kind we just toss away when it disappoints or we find a shinier, better version. We cut off, or we speak hurtful words. Love should not hurt. Yes, we sacrifice; and sometimes we do things we don’t really want to do for the ones we love; but we don’t hurt those we love. We sacrifice our feelings for them. We put aside our agendas for them. We are willing to leave them better than we found them, even if we have to leave them. If we don’t do these things-we don’t have love. And yes, love disappears. It can even disappear from the person who freely gave it you, leaving them wondering if they are worthy.

I heard this song recently, and I am sharing it as I believe it concludes this month’s exploration; and moves into the next month appropriately. While in love, we may desire letters. Well-crafted words that express feelings of affection; which most of the time we don’t likely receive.

But, we have one. We have a love letter. It’s from God, and I imagine the love letter I would receive back from Him would sound much like it does in this song, especially on those days when I cry out like the artist does to Him-trying to make others proud, seeking approval, coming up empty, feeling worthless, and wanting to just give up. Proving that I need Him more and more.

My desire for you today is that you do love like He loves you. Not in the ways others have disappointed you. That you leave others better than you found them, not the way they left you. All these things are written in your love letter. He will show you how. Just read it when you feel like giving up.

I do not own the rights to this music or video.

We Give Because He Gave All

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 1 John 3:17

I have the opportunity each month to mentor a few teen girls. While it is part of my role as a mental health provider to also provide some form of group counseling, the challenges of COVID means that the organization for which I work has had to be creative with how we provide this service over the course of the pandemic. As a result, many group counseling sessions take place outdoors or in the local community; at local parks or nature trails.

It was during one of these park activities that the discussion of homelessness came up. There was a homeless man walking along the edge of the street close to the complex where two of the girls lived. They talked about how they had given him money in the past, and one of the girls asked why he couldn’t just get a job. I told them why some of the population may not work, why I don’t give out money, but will stop and provide a drive thru meal, asking them if there was something left we could give that day. With excitement, they all noted we had an extra hot chocolate, and some left over snacks. “Let’s stop on the way back and give them to him!”

And so we did. I made it clear it didn’t matter whether he accepted what we gave, but that we gave what we had in abundance, cheerfully.

Jesus was clear many times throughout his ministry about giving, especially to those in need. In fact, he mentions in Matthew 25:35-40 how giving to the “least of these,” is like giving to Jesus himself:

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

We are called to give as Jesus gave, and He gave it all. We are called to love as Jesus loved. And he loved enough to die so we could have life. If we profess to love Jesus, we must be willing to give to others as a testament of that love. Not just to those we like. Not just to those that look like us. Not just to those in our inner circle, or those that believe what we believe.

To the hungry. To the thirsty. To the stranger. To the naked. To the sick. To the prisoner. As if they were Jesus.

We give in this way to the “least,” remembering we were once the “least,” and he gave to us first. We give because he loves, and we want others to know this love.

We don’t question who deserves it, we just give.