The Condition of My Heart

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:7-11

#DailyBibleReading  #BibleReadingPlan

  • Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins
  • Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire
  • Give to the poor . . . help those in need

Saying that I’m a Christian doesn’t make me a Christian.

Getting baptized doesn’t make me a Christian.

Repenting of my sins, turning to God, and putting my faith in Jesus makes me a Christian. And if I’ve truly turned from my sins and am following God, my behavior will show it. I’ll love others. I’ll care for the poor and needy. Just like Jesus did.

My actions aren’t the measuring stick that God will use to let me into heaven.

But my actions are a litmus test so I can see the true condition of my heart.

 

 

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The Underdogs

In today’s #DailyBibleReading, my Reading Plan emphasized God’s love for the underdog:

But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Jeremiah 7:5-6 (italics added for emphasis)

Blessed are those who are generous because they feed the poor.  Proverbs 22:9

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.  Proverbs 22:16

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. For the LORD is their defender. He will ruin anyone who ruins them. Proverbs 22:22-23

If God’s heart is with the underdogs – the orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor – I need to do a self-check. Where is my heart in terms of those who are suffering or marginalized?  What concrete actions do I need to take to love them like God does?

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

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But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

 

 

Love: The Greatest Thing

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Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. 1 Corinthians 8:2‭-‬3 NLT

In my #BibleReadingPlan I’m currently reading about King David in the Old Testament and Paul’s letters in the New Testament. David and Paul are my favorite mentors in the Bible, along with Mary of Bethany.

  • King David: He was a very flawed man, but still loved God passionately. He was an adulterer. A murderer. A song writer. A lover of many women. Even as king had no problem dancing and singing in the streets to praise God. His kids were screwed up. They killed each other. Raped each other. His heart broke for his children and he wept for them. No matter how many times he stumbled and fell, no matter how dark the valley or cave he was hiding, he always returned to God.

 

  • Paul: He hated Christians and hunted them. He watched as Stephen was stoned to death for believing in Jesus. And then God stopped Paul in his tracks. Quite literally. God opened his eyes and showed him that Jesus was real, and Paul believed. He changed his whole life and committed it completely to following Jesus. He was beaten. He was a letter writer. His life was spent traveling and preaching. He was church planter. A prisoner.  He encouraged and corrected. He was loved by many and hated by many. He was executed after 30 years of serving Jesus. He was a lover of the gospel and lover of the church. His greatest love in life was Jesus.

 

  • Mary of Bethany: Mary was a sister to Martha and Lazarus. Jesus was her friend. She trusted him and loved him. And she understood that spending time with Jesus and loving him were more important than anything else. She wasn’t ashamed to express her love for Jesus – even when others criticized her for it. She sat at Jesus’s feet, which was controversial because that signaled that she was a disciple, a role typically just for males. She washed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. Also, controversial.  She didn’t care what others thought of her, she just wanted to love Jesus. She understood the importance of being with Jesus and expressing her love of him.

What can we learn from these mentors?

  1. To love God
  2. To praise and worship God – no matter who criticizes us for it
  3. To make time with God our #1 priority
  4. To love others
  5. To share God’s love with others

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Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

Togo Travels

I’m writing about my 2016 traveling a little out-of-order.  My November/December trip to the Dominican Republic is here, but back in June of this year I took a trip to Togo, West Africa, with Global Partners in Hope.

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The lovely Keryvonne hotel

Outside of a high school mission trip to Mexico (20+ years ago), my only international travel had been via cruise boat. My only glimpse of international poverty was from the window of a shuttle driving from the port of call dock to the beach. My real exposure to life outside of the United States, especially in a third-world country, had been little to none.

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Togo was a feast for the senses in many ways. Like nothing I had ever experienced. Fresh mango and pineapple. Street vendors lined every street, selling everything from mattresses to tires to goats and stereos. The rush of motorcycles alongside a beautifully dressed woman, balancing a baby on her back and a basket of fruit on her head. Singing. Drums. Ocean waves. Red dirt roads. Laughter. Shy and curious smiles from children walking on the side of the road. A sweet smell like Moroccan oil wafting in the breeze. Prayer mats pointing toward Mecca. Basenji dogs waiting for scraps. Children the size of my own children, smiling up at me and calling me “Maman” and giggling while practicing English phrases.

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Togo is beautiful.

To me, it was breathtakingly beautiful.

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But there is another side to the story. There is breathtaking poverty. And pain. And just like everywhere else, a need for the hope found in Jesus.

Driving downtown through the capital city of Lomé, the streets are filled with young people. Beautiful children and teenagers everywhere. But the troubling reason for this youth and vitality is the fact that the median age in Togo is 19.6. The life expectancy in West Africa is 55. The sad reality is that in a sea of hundreds of faces, I saw very few wrinkled with age. I saw very few backs stooped with years. Very few hands weathered by time.

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In West Africa, the complexities and burden of poverty and health issues are just as breathtaking as the beauty. High infant and maternal mortality rates. Lack of clean drinking water. Lack of basic health care and health education. Lack of medical care providers.

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The thing I learned most in Togo was how little I know or understand about the complexity of world poverty. And for me, how it is much easier to sit home and lament about poverty and discuss philosophical theories on how to solve it, than to actually do anything. To just discuss politics and injustice, rather than get my hands dirty. To ponder solving world crisis from my air-conditioned living room.

But Jesus didn’t call us to solve the world’s poverty. He didn’t ask me to take on the world. Jesus called me to feed the hungry and care for the sick. Jesus called me to love others. Jesus called me to help the widows and orphans.

In visiting Togo with Global Partners in Hope, I see quite clearly that no, we are not going to solve poverty in West Africa. No, we are not going to save every sick child or hemorrhaging mother.

But we can make a difference.  Through the work of Global Partners in Hope and similar organizations we can provide sustainable health care and clean water wells to serve thousands of people. We will help widows and orphans. We can share the Gospel with those who have never heard it. We can improve the infant and maternal morality rates. We can show Jesus’ love in a real, meaningful way.

Ask me about my trip to Togo and I will tell you I loved it. It is a beautiful country. And through the work Global Partners in Hope is doing, I know I can leave a small footprint of good in the red dirt roads. But even more so, I now know that Togo changed me…for the better.

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Submission and Respect

When I started getting more serious about my spiritual walk over four years ago I was very focused on my career.  It took almost all my energy just to get done with my daily to-do list.  And though I hate to admit it, my husband and children were often another item on the list that needed to be tended to and maintained.  And reading the Bible was something I did if I had the time and energy at the end of the day.

Through a Bible study I felt a whisper: my priorities were all wrong and my identity was in the wrong place.  I was putting my worth in my professional accomplishments.  I needed to put God first.  Then my husband (and I needed to respect him, something I am TERRIBLE at).  Then loving my children and demonstrated to them how to live a godly life.  I’ll be really honest, the thing I was most concerned with demonstrating to my children was how to be a hard-working, driven, successful woman.  Demonstrating to them how to submit to God’s will wasn’t on my radar.  And demonstrating respect to my husband didn’t cross my mind.

Now, almost five years later, I still have the same struggle.  Today I read in Romans 7.  Most of the time, I feel like this chapter sums up my spiritual life.  I want to do good,but I don’t.  I don’t want to sin, but I do.  

So what is the answer?

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5 NIV

The answer is where I set my mind.  The more time I spend reading the Bible, studying, praying, memorizing verses . . . the more my actions change.  The more I submit to God.  The more I respect my husband.  The more I love my children.

I can’t change on my own.  But the more time I spend with God the more my life is transformed.

Loving the Poor

September 29 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Zechariah 10-12
  • Psalm 126
  • Luke 14

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14 NIV

OBSERVATION

When Jesus was on earth he wasn’t hanging out with the top 1%.  He was spending time with the poor, the sick, the criminals, and outcasts.  These are the people he came to reach and to serve.

And how about me?  Who do I hang out with?  99% of the time I am spending time with people in my socioeconomic group.  Our houses are similar.  We might differ on politics, religion and background, but for the most part we are pretty similar.

Do I hang out with the poor?  No.  And the occasional “service project” at the food pantry or homeless shelter doesn’t count.  Have I ever sat down with someone who is truly poor with my intention being to make a friend?  No.  Do I put myself in situations to go deep with someone who is really down and out, with my sole purpose being to love them?  No again.  Do I view the homeless man sitting on the park bench as my equal?  Sadly, no.  I might feel compelled to give him a few dollars or buy him lunch, but I’ve never had the desire to really get to know him.  To learn from him.  To love him as a brother.

Jesus did.

Jesus considers me and that homeless man equals.

Jesus has asked me to love that man.  To reach out to him.  To invite him to a banquet.

ACTION

This is a hard one to pick an action for, though the opportunities are great.  Honestly it is a little scary for me.  When I see a homeless person on the street my first reaction is to move away, mainly out of fear.  Or to serve behind the scenes, without really getting to know the people I’m serving.

But from this verse, I think Jesus is asking for more than just surface level service.  He is telling me to treat the poor as a peer and to include them.

One action we are taking this evening is to attend the Compassion Experience with my children, to open our eyes and start a dialog about how people live around the world.

PRAYER

Lord, please open my eyes to the sick and poor around me.  Show me who you want me to connect with and how.  Please take away any fear that stands in my way.  Fill me with your love for the sick, poor and hurting and help me to connect with them in a real way.