Cloaked in Love

My sister sent this reflection to me this morning.
Her words made me sit down, pause, and linger.
It was just what I needed — maybe you need it, too.

He will quiet you with his love.
Zephaniah 3:17

The 5 day old snowfall of 6” is still clinging to the trees and bushes. It was a wet heavy snow which stuck to everything it touched. Usually the wind or the sun that follows a snowfall shortens the life of the accumulated flakes on the branches. Not so this time. Though the trees on higher ground have lost their coating, the trees and bushes in the valleys and in more protected areas are still clothed in snow, defining every branch with white outlines. Beautiful art in the middle of a colorless and gray December. The clouds turn the woods into a black and white photo. The silence of a snow-cloaked woods is complete and extremely peaceful. It beckons to us to come away from the noise of our living, to soak up the calm, the stillness, the lack of activity and movement. Listening to the quietness is a balm to our souls.

In our daily living, we experience highs and lows, mountain tops and valleys. When we are in the valleys, our God protects us and clothes us with his love. Every nuance of us is defined with his beautiful touch. He silences the noise and provides a quiet place for us to heal, to re-energize. 

This is 2020 – need I say more? 

We have spent 10 months of this stormy year in the valley. We have searched for the quiet amid the chaos, the healing in the middle of a relentless illness, the renewal of energy as we face long days at long distances from each other. We need connectivity, touch, relationship, acceptance, love. Yet, in an unexpected way, the valley has protected us, for this is where God reaches us. This is where he covers us with his love.

Eventually, the snow will melt or fall to the ground; the black and white beauty will dissolve into a grayness, exposing the branches to the next storm. Eventually, our stormy year will recede and fade into the background, a gray shadow in our memories. But I know that with the next inevitable storm, God will meet us there in the stillness and clothe us with his protective love again.

*Guest post by Robin Masters

Above All, Love

“Above all,
love one another deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8*

Today I’ll wrap up the “One Another” series
with the granddaddy of them all.
Love one another.

Above all.
Most important of all.
Before all things in order of importance.

Deeply.
Intensely, fervently, without ceasing.
It means to be “stretched out”, straining with unceasing activity which requires a degree of intensity and perseverance. The same word is used to describe Jesus praying in Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood.

Love covers over a multitude of sins.

“Our love needs to be the kind that covers each others sins. In other words the focus is on the effect of love that enables fellowship in spite of sins. Isn’t that remarkable? Peter is saying that bona fide, authentic love and fellowship is based, in part, on the covering of many sins. This is not sweeping things under the rug. It’s not endorsing keeping skeletons in the closet. It’s not renouncing church discipline. It’s saying at least this — probably more: When we’ve done all the confrontation — when we’ve done all the argumentation and exhortation — we cover it. Whatever side we are on we cover it; we give it up; we bury it as a cause of murmuring.” (John Piper)


Throw the cloak of love over everything.
Devotion
Honor
Harmony
Acceptance
Greetings
Encouragement
Bearing with others
Agreement
Service
Bearing burdens
Kindness and compassion
Spurring on
Hospitality

Lord, help us, Your children, to love one another deeply. Amen.

*Part fifteen in a series on “The One Anothers”

Offer Hospitality

Offer hospitality to one another
without grumbling.
1 Peter 4:9*

I was not allowed to grumble when I was a kid. During the summer, my mom made me pay her ten cents every time I complained about it being too hot. My income was limited, so I kept my mouth shut.

My own parenting technique with grumbly children was less subtle. “Hey kids, do you know what happened to the Israelites when they complained? The earth opened up and swallowed them.” (Dubious looks from four sets of skeptical eyes.) “Yep. It’s right there in Numbers 16:32. See for yourself. The ground opened up. The grumblers got swallowed.”

Not my best parenting moment.

This is the only “one another” that warns against grumbling. Why is that?

Not everybody is a hostess with the mostess. PB and I have been in homes where no one offered to take our coats (so we tossed them in a corner), we weren’t asked to come in and sit down (so we stood around awkwardly), nothing was offered to eat or drink (although cookies sat on a plate all evening). Sometimes people just don’t know how to be hospitable.

The problem is, we tend to get hospitality confused with entertaining. When entertaining, we assume our house has to be perfect, our food has to be gourmet, and our conversation has to be riveting. That’s stressful. Hospitality is opening up our homes, our hearts, and our lives, just as we are, and making others feel welcome and comfortable enough to put their feet up on the coffee table.

The Greek word for hospitality is
philoxenos
which actually means
love (philos)
for strangers (xenos).
Yes, strangers.

This idea was demonstrated for me when I was about seven years old. An elderly gentleman showed up at our door one night during a snowstorm. His car had gone into the ditch out in front of our house and he had trudged his way up our driveway in a blizzard. I watched as my mother helped him into the living room and tenderly took off his wet shoes and socks. She warmed up some supper for our unexpected guest and made up a bed on the couch. It was a bit unsettling going to bed that night, knowing that a stranger was sleeping in the house. I don’t remember him leaving the next morning or getting his car pulled out of the ditch or ever hearing from him again.

 Mostly what sticks in my memory is how my mother made an old man feel welcome and comfortable in our home during a snowstorm.

Hospitality is a test for godliness because those who are selfish do not like strangers (especially needy ones) to intrude upon their private lives. They prefer their own friends who share their lifestyle. Only the humble have the necessary resources to give of themselves to those who could never give of themselves in return.” (Erwin W. Lutzer)

There are strangers all around us: in our neighborhoods, at the post office and grocery store, even in the next pew. We are called to push ourselves outside our friendly (cliquey?) circles and show some love to people we don’t know very well.

And do it without grumbling, or you know what might happen…

Dear Lord, it seems impossibly hard right now to extend hospitality to friends, let alone strangers. Yet not one of Your commands include the words “unless there is a pandemic”. Show us how to display welcoming love to people even under these strange conditions. Especially under these strange conditions. We need the Holy Spirit’s creative power to be at work in us, giving us energy to look beyond ourselves. Forgive our grumbling and remind us we are here on earth because of Your kind hospitality. Help us, Your children, to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

*Part fourteen in a series on “The One Anothers”.

Spur

And let us consider how we may spur one another on
toward love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:24*

“What’s God been teaching you this week?”

Every Thursday afternoon, Donna would come over to my house while the little ones were napping. She would sit down on the couch, look me right in the eye and ask me that question. Every week. And she expected an answer.

Donna was a mentor and friend who taught me how to mature as a follower of Jesus. We studied the Bible together, we prayed together, we served in the local church together. And we had a ton of fun. She spurred me on toward love and good deeds.

According to this verse, we are supposed to give some serious thought as to how we can light a fire under each other. The word “spur” is a strong word that can mean:

  • to stimulate
  • to sharpen
  • to stir up
  • to jab in order to get a response

The original Greek word is “paroxusmos” and it can mean two different things, depending on the context. On the positive side, it means to rouse someone to action by encouragement. On the negative side, it means to be irritating.

I admit that from time to time, I need a little jab. When I get lazy or complacent or bored, a loving kick in the pants can get me back in gear. However, constant poking can create a sore spot. Maybe that’s why we are to carefully consider how to best go about this.

There are two things this verse doesn’t say that are worth noting. First, this is a directive to every believer — we all can and should encourage each other to press on, to run with endurance, to keep the faith. It doesn’t say, “Meet together so the pastor can stir you up to love and good deeds.”

Second, it doesn’t say “consider how to love each other and do good deeds.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but this is different: “Consider how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds.” How can we nudge each other toward growth and loving service? How can we stir up one another to stay faithful and enthusiastic? It can be as easy as asking, “What’s God been teaching you this week?”

In other words, let’s be positively irritating.

Lord, when I start to become dull and cold, send someone to sharpen me and fire me up. Thank You for people who inspire me and make me want to be a better person, a stronger believer and a more intentional servant. Help me to be on the watch for brothers and sisters in Christ who need a friendly nudge. Show me how to do that without being annoying. Help us, Your children, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

*Part thirteen in a series on “The One Anothers”.

Be Kind and Compassionate

Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving each other,

just as in Christ
God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32*

If I had to pick a verse that was foundational to our family, this would be it. Our four kids learned this verse backward and forward. I even made up a melody so we could sing it. Even though they all have grown up and have children of their own, I’d be willing to bet the farm that each one could recite this verse still today. Here’s why:

When our kids were little and there was a tussle brewing between two of them, I would have them stand on opposite ends of the living room and make both of them recite a version of Ephesians 4:32 while looking at each other. 

“We will be kind and compassionate to each other,
forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave us.”

There was usually some rolling of the eyes and resistance, but I held firm. After the verse was quoted, I instructed them to take one large step toward each other and say it again. This would be repeated until the two squabblers were nose to nose. Then I would direct them to end in a hug. It is very hard for two children to stand nose to nose without breaking into giggles. I knew it was an effective method when I overheard one say, “We’d better quit arguing or mom will make us do that thing.”

Kindness has to be taught.
Compassion needs to be nurtured.
Forgiveness must be practiced.

And I’m not just talking about children.
Believe you me,
there are some adults I’d like to invite into my living room
for the very same treatment.

Father God, I know from experience how much it hurts a parent’s heart to see her children being unkind to each other. I’m sorry for grieving Your heart in the same way. Sometimes I need help being nice. Help me to grow up and stop being childish. Teach me to be quick to forgive and slow to judge. Remind me again of what it cost Your Son to purchase my forgiveness and give me strength to live in light of that truth. Help us, Your children, to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.

*Part twelve in a series on “The One Anothers”

Bear Burdens

Bear one another’s burdens,
and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2*

We’re all carrying heavy loads.
God does not intend for us to bear them alone.
We’re supposed to help each other carry them.

But this can go wrong in several ways.

1. Sometimes we do the opposite.
Instead of coming alongside and lightening the load of a brother or sister, we pile on more weight. We view their difficulty as a result of their sin and cast blame. We judge their hearts without stopping to try to understand their situation. We tell them they just need to give their burdens to Jesus, getting us off the hook from entering into their messiness.

2. Sometimes we don’t know.
We get pretty good at carrying our burdens — so good, in fact, that nobody is aware of the weight we’re under. We don’t want to “bother” people with our issues. We are private about the things that weigh us down, and besides, we don’t want to be perceived as weak and needy. After a while, those hidden burdens begin to define us and we get comfortable hauling all that excess baggage. We’re not even aware that our prickly, surly exterior is because we’re shouldering our desperate, encumbered interior alone.

3. Sometimes we take over.
We can swing toward the other extreme by trying to fix people. In an effort to “help”, we can singlehandedly take on someone as our “project” and put them wholly on our backs. But we’re supposed to carry one another’s burdens, not carry one another. The burnout that follows is a result of going beyond the intended role of supporter and encourager. We don’t make very good saviors.

4. Sometimes we miss the point.
Helping someone else through a difficult season may seem overwhelming if we’re barely managing our own load. This is meant to be reciprocal. We carry each other’s burdens. Taking our eyes off our own troubles for a bit can be a relief, as long we are open enough to let others give us a lift. Together we can take the things that weigh us down to the One who said,
“Come to me all who are weary and burdened…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

It’s a simple command to obey.
Look for a brother or a sister with a burden,
and help them with it.
It doesn’t have to be complicated.
It doesn’t take a committee or a program.
Just look for a burden to bear and offer a hand.

Dear Jesus, thank You for carrying my burden of sin to the cross. Thank You that I can come to You with any earthly burden that comes my way. Thank You for brothers and sisters who stand ready to give me a lift when I am weighed down. Help me not to be greedy with my troubles, but to learn to share them with my friends. Help us to bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so, make good on Your good law.

*Part eleven in a series on “The One Anothers”

Serve

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
Galatians 5:13*

One summer, when I was in college, I was a waitress at a Holiday Inn restaurant. It was my first real job that wasn’t located in a cornfield. I learned some really interesting things in that kitchen from the cook and other wait staff. I also learned that serving people was a lot different than pulling tassels.

The word “serve” in this passage is the Greek word for slave (douleou). After going to great lengths to explain to the believers in Galatia that they were no longer enslaved by sin or by the law, Paul put a spin on the whole idea that might have given the Galatians whiplash.

  1. Christ set you free from slavery to sin and the law.
  2. Use your freedom to enter into slavery, serving each other.

It was a radical idea then.
It still is.

I have opportunities all the day long to make a choice:
I can indulge in serving myself.
I can humbly serve others.

The direction I choose has dramatic results:
Serving myself leads to isolation, pride and dissatisfaction.
Serving others leads to connection, humility, and deep joy.

Good waitresses know that service with a smile might result in a good tip.
Here are some good tips to help us be better servants of each other. Watch for opportunities to say:

  • Is there anything I can do for you today?
  • Can I take your kids to the park for an hour?
  • Do you need any help with that ministry?
  • Would you like the last cookie?
  • How can I pray for you this week?
  • Why don’t you let me take care of that for you?
  • What can I do to make your job easier?
  • Do you need a volunteer who is adept at technology to help with the recording of worship services and getting it out on the Facebook page and church homepage?

Let your imagination run wild.
Then run with your wild ideas.

Dear God, I am naturally self-centered. I need the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to ignite in me a passion to serve my brothers and sisters from a heart of love. Give me wild and creative ideas and then push me to follow through with them. Jesus, You said You didn’t come to be served but to serve. Me, too. I want to be like You. Grant me eyes to see others’ needs and the wherewithal to meet them. Help us, Your children, to serve one another humbly, in love.

*Part ten in a series on “The One Anothers”

Agree

You can’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Of all days to consider this verse —
but it’s next on my list.
So, here goes.

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
1 Cor. 1:10*

Today is Election Day in the United States. Hence the irony.
Agreement? No divisions? Perfectly united?
Maybe not as citizens of the USA, but what about as citizens of Heaven?

The church in Corinth was a hot mess.
Among the issues Paul needed to address were:

  • quarrels about who the best pastor was and people dividing into factions — Team Paul, Team Apollos and Team Peter.
  • an incestuous relationship in the church.
  • men in the church engaging with prostitutes.
  • ugly, public cases of believers suing each other.
  • disputes about sex, marriage, divorce and celibacy.
  • spiritual pride and arrogance.
  • chaotic, out-of-control worship services.
  • worship of idols and demons.
  • people hogging the wine and getting drunk at communion.
  • error-filled teaching that denied the resurrection of Jesus.

Are you feeling better about your church now?

As believers, we don’t have to agree on who to vote for or what policy is best for our country. It’s okay if we think differently on issues or affairs of state. We can agree to disagree on non-essentials. But let’s agree to agree on the essentials of our faith. Here’s a refresher on what those are:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
**universal

Dear God, I confess that I think my opinion is right and that those who don’t agree with me are wrong. Please forgive me for contributing to division and discord. The kind of love You require is counter-cultural and extremely demanding, yet You provide the strength to pull it off. Create within Your people a desire to live in agreement and unity, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the sake of His Bride, the church. Help us, Your children, to agree with one another.

*Part nine in a series on “The One Anothers”

Bear With

“Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2*

Bear with me, now.

There are just some people we need to put up with.

I am one of those people.

Maybe you are, too.

We have quirks and idiosyncrasies and annoying mannerisms.
We have personality differences and unique temperament traits.
We have style preferences and particular tastes.

We don’t need to be forgiven for these, for they are not sins.
We need to be tolerated. Humbly. Gently. Patiently. Lovingly.

PB and I play a game called “Assume the Best”. We play this game when we are driving somewhere together in the car. If the vehicle in front of us is putt-putting along well below the speed limit and PB starts to get agitated, I say, “Maybe she has a big container full of soup in her back seat and she is going slow so it doesn’t spill.” Or, “Maybe he’s coming back from the vet’s office after putting his dog down and he’s going slow because he can’t bear to arrive at an empty house.” (The more dramatic, the better.)

If a car behind us comes zooming past well above the speed limit, and I can sense PB bristling in the driver’s seat, I say, “Maybe his pregnant wife is having contractions in the back seat and he’s trying to get to the hospital before the baby comes.” Or, “Maybe she is racing to catch a flight to see her elderly father who just woke up from being in a ten year coma and is the only one in the family who knows the combination to the safe full of grandma’s jewels.” (That could be over-doing it.)

We’re trying to learn how to make allowances
for the quirks and foibles of others.

We’re practicing patience
without harboring inward anger or resentment.

We’re training ourselves
to react to our brothers and sisters in Christ
with a Spirit-empowered love.

Dear Lord, thanks for putting up with us. You’ve made us all so uniquely different, but sometimes that makes it hard for us to understand each other. Help us to appreciate each other and assume the best in each other. Help us, Your children, to bear with one another in love.

*Part eight in a series on “The One Anothers”

Encourage

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11*

How do we encourage each other?
By building each other up.
How do we build each other up?
By encouraging each other.

This is a 2-for-1 verse.
It also works in reverse.

How do we discourage each other?
By tearing each other down.
How do we tear each other down?
By discouraging each other.

I’ve seen a lot of slumped shoulders and downcast faces lately. Maybe it’s the pandemic/election/tension/isolation wearing us down. It’s daunting to think about a winter filled with more of the same.

So, how do we rise above it?
We build each other up.
What are our building materials?
Words.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Eph. 4:29

Wholesome words. Helpful words. Beneficial words.
It’s not that hard. Here are a few to get you started.

  • You look really nice today.
  • I’m praying for you in this challenging season.
  • You are so patient with your 2 year old — good job, momma.
  • All your hard work isn’t going unnoticed.
  • Keep going! You’re doing great things!
  • Your insights helped me understand that better — thanks.
  • I’ve seen a lot of growth in you this year.
  • The way you use your gifts has been such a blessing to me.
  • I feel so lifted up after talking with you.
  • We are in this together. You can count on me.
  • Share with me what God has been teaching you lately.
  • I left a pan of fresh cinnamon rolls on your porch.

In case you’re wondering how often we need to do this:
“Encourage one another daily…” (Heb. 3:13)
“and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

The capital “D” Day of Christ’s return is drawing near!
Now, that’s an encouraging word!

Jesus, forgive me for tearing down others by speaking unkind, discouraging words. Help me to be a dispenser of positive, helpful and beneficial words to everyone I meet. Give me the desire to receive Your encouragement daily by reading Your Word and staying in fellowship. You created us to need each other. Help us, Your children, to encourage one another.

*Part seven in a series on “The One Anothers”