Measuring Faith and Love

“We always have to thank God for you, brothers and sisters.

It’s right to do this because

 your faith is showing remarkable growth

and your love for each other is increasing.”

 2 Thessalonians 1:3

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What do you usually thank God for concerning your spiritual brothers and sisters? What do you look for in them?  Often, we focus on ways they have impacted our own lives.

Paul is noting something special in his spiritual family.  It does not seem to have anything to with himself personally. He notes two specific characteristics(measurements) he sees growing in their lives in regard to their relationships with God and with each other.

  • Their faith is showing remarkable growth;
  • Their love for each otheris growing.

He is talking to them as family….as his brothers and sisters.  And the growth he notes is combined in the same breath. They go together…..faith growingand growth in loving each other.    

How is faithmeasured?  It is deeply personal…an internal thing.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faithisconfidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Paul had been seeing this increasing faithin the lives of his spiritual family.  How does that look in someone’s life?  It is a growing confidence in what we hope for, and growing assurance about what we don’t even see yet.  There will be more confidence as we step into the future…more surety with each step forward….not fear that stops us.  One will not fear for what is ahead…but rather, hope.  There will be a willingness to take the risk, even if other voices are telling us “you can’t.”  You will cling more tightly to His Hand as you move forward, trusting Him more with each step. It’s like trusting your GPS to be guiding you to your destination rather than guessing your own route.  Except that this GPS is perfect.  “God’s Perfect System”

Paul’s other measurement is seeing the lovethat is growing for each other.  Whereas faithis more connected to personal relationship with God,  LOVE is evident in human relationships.   It is very “normal” for there to be challenges when strangers begin to move into relationship.   It is significant for Paul to see noticeable love growing between people who were not in relationship before becoming part of the Family of God.

What would Paul note if he had been watching us?  What areas of growth would he notice about our faith?  What would be the evidence he’d see concerning our love for our spiritual family?

Keep It Simple

“You mortals, the Lord has told you what is good.

This is what the Lord requires from you:

to do what is right,

to love mercy,

and to live humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8   GW

I don’t know about you, but I think I hear a little frustration in this short message to us. We mortals have a lot of issues concerning how to “do life” on this planet, don’t we?   We love to make things so complicated…to try to understand all the details and implications as they will impact our lives.  We are our #1 concern, after all!

I almost chuckle as I read these key points that God gives us through His Prophet Micah.

“You mortals…”   Reminding us of who we really are…finite, tied to this earth, made from “dust”, having a beginning and an end in regard to this earth.  We are not God, though we tend to think that we are when it comes to who’s in control of our lives….

“…the Lord has told you what is good.”    God has told us in so many ways….through His Word, through His Spirit’s presence in our lives,  through nature itself,  and through the words of those who have gone before us, are currently with us. . . people who have experienced God and are much further down the road than we.

Here comes the simple, basic reminder of what we should already know: 

  1. “Do what is right.”  Actions….my actions….whether toward another person, or towards no one at all…  simply making choices, dwelling on thoughts, holding attitudes, or making decisions that perhaps no one at all will know about.  This focuses on the internal thoughts that lead to actions.
  1. “Love Mercy.”    Mercy is not dependent on being deserving, nor earning, nor “rights.” Mercy chooses to do good to another, whether known, seen or deserved.  Mercy is a heart condition.  Mercy holds my hand back from doing what may be deserved…what might be justified in the opinions of others.  Mercy bypasses reason and logic, and     comes from ones very heart in situations we face that, in the natural unfolding of events would result in a natural suffering of another.  Mercy chooses to withhold the “judgement” or natural consequences, and instead offer kindness, forgiveness, softness. 
  2. “Live humbly with your God.”   When we put God in His rightful place in our lives, we can take a step back from putting ourselves in what should be His rightful place in our attitudes, thoughts, and actions.   It’s remembering Who He Is, and who I am.

The perfect “3-Point Sermon”….keeping it simple, open-ended for personal applications, and easy to remember.   These are not points that are focused on the “me.”  It’s all for “the other.”

God knows all too well who He’s dealing with!

 

Something New Coming

“The Lord makes a path through the sea and a road through the strong currents.

Forget what happened in the past, and do not dwell on events from long ago.

I am going to do something new.

It is already happening.

 Don’t you recognize it?

I will clear a way in the desert.

I will make rivers on dry land.”                    

Isaiah 46:16, 18-19

Do you ever feel like you’re floundering in a sea, unable to make headway, fearing that you will be pulled under at any moment? Perhaps you’ve had tragedy, or past trauma that has power in your life which you can’t escape?  God has something wonderful to say about that in this ancient passage.  He has set a Plan in motion for your life. . . He is beginning a change for the future. Watch for it….pay attention.

First, He refers to something He did in the past….

“The Lord makes a path through the sea

and a road through the strong currents.

Forget what happened in the past,

and do not dwell on events from long ago.

 …..does it not sound like the miracle of parting the Red Sea, and the road His People were able to follow through that impossible, deadly situation?   Yet we do not have to only hang onto that!  He is still working…still doing the impossible….now.

In the Sahara Desert, where I have spent much time, I can look as far as the horizon, in all directions and see nothing but the sand.  Traveling through the sand is difficult at best.  The dangers of being lost are very real.  You long to see tracks of any truck that has passed through, but the winds quickly cover tracks.  You long for a path or road to follow, always with the nagging fears of the absence of any water.

In that reality….the harshness of a desert. . . the Promise of God in these verses is truly life-saving.  Not only does He provide a clear way, a road through the vast, unbroken desert in our lives, but He makes a river.   Not just a cup of water, or an underground well.  He promises to make riversthat flow on dry land.  What a picture!   What an impossibility by human effort.

What HOPE He gives us in our desert experiences of life!

~Janet

Good News

My beautiful young language tutor was helping me during my first visit to the refugee camps.  Suddenly, the busy room emptied.

Leaning in, she whispered, “Are you Christian?”

I nodded hesitantly.

“You know Jesus?”

Another nod.

Eyes sparkling, she whispered, “Tell me!”

As the Story of Jesus unfolded, there were many tears.     Why?

“Your words bring God so near.   We only know Him as far, far above us.”

Taking her hand, I prayed, “God, please come near to Aisha.”

One year later, she told me, “Every day we (family) pray that prayer.  We like this very much.

Surprise

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The young soldier came through the gate with books in hand.  He enjoyed the quiet, early evening hours in our schools listening lab to work on his already fluent English.

Stopping to greet me, we began to chat.  I have read the Injil (New Testament) five times.  It is very interesting to me,he said.  Curious, I asked him, What story have you found most surprising?”   It took only a moment for him to respond, The story of Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.   Anyone who has the power to do that.!”  

Power had infiltrated the evening air.

Come Closer…

toa-heftiba-270811-unsplashI leaned over his little sleepy form to kiss him good-bye.  My time in the desert was coming to an end, but his would continue for another week.  For the first time, my child’s children were meeting the S** refugees who have become so much a part of our family’s life.

He stirred, and opened his eyes.  “Won’t you come under my blankie, Omi?”  How could I resist?  Rubbing his back, his big dark eyes soon closed, and it seemed that he had fallen asleep.  I quietly began to move off of the simple mat, only to find that his little fingers had entwined into my scarf.

“Won’t you come close, Omi?” he whispered as he pulled me near. “Closer….closer…”

Each time I would move, thinking he had fallen asleep, he would whisper, “closer….closer…”

The sweetness of that one little word…that invitation…that request…brought tears to my eyes.   How precious to be asked by this dearly-loved little one to be near…to be close.   I love to be close to him.  But his whispered invitation made it all the more precious.

God, is this what you long to hear on the lips of your children?  On my lips?  In my whispers in the night?  In the darkness?  When I’m not even fully awake or consciously intentional?  That kind of spontaneity from my heart?

Me versus We

toa-heftiba-399392The four-year-old little Saharawi girl had just opened her gift from the American visitors:  a pretty baby doll wearing a blue dress.  With a squeal, she immediately darted out of the tent as fast as her little legs could take her, waving her new doll overhead.  “Look what WE got!!!!   Look what WE got!”  she announced to all her little neighborhood friends.  They came from every neighboring tent, all excited to touch and hold this treasure from a far-away land.

There was no fighting, no possessiveness.

There was only joy.

Joy to be shared by all.

A Governor

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He led the largest camp with quiet strength, wisdom and vision.  The previously struggling camp was transforming into a vibrant, productive community.  He worked tirelessly toward his goal:  If they can learn to thrive in hardship, they will flourish when they are back in their homeland of Western Sahara.

Often weary and overwhelmed, he would journey alone to the sand dunes and peer into the star-studded heavens.  There in the vast quietness, he would pour out his heart to The Creator. Perspective returned. Clarity.  Purpose.  Comfort. And he would return to his camp, ready to face another day.

Winter Warmth

dmitry-sovyak-454068-unsplashCharcoal embers glow in the blackened fire pot.  Wrapped in thick blankets and jackets, the circle of friends huddle close on an old worn rug, sharing the warmth this cold desert night.  Their hands cup the little glasses of hot, sweet tea with its added milk and spices. Sweet comfort.  It’s hardly enough to stave off the cold of the desert, but the gentle conversation, chuckles, and stories create a cushion of warmth among friends this dark winter’s night.  A million stars sparkle overhead…a vast umbrella arching above the sea of tents.

These refugees find warmth in one another.

Shepherds First?

“Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem.

They were taking turns watching their flock during the night.

An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them.

The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified.

The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you,

a message that will fill everyone with joy.

Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city.”Luke 2:8-11

In the West, we don’t really “get” the shepherd concept.  Shepherds are not in our frame of reference or experience.  But in the Middle East and North Africa, “shepherding” is

the ancient foundational occupation, and woven within the fiber of much of the Bible.

So, what is it about shepherdsthat God would bring them into the Story of Christmas as the first ones to be told by the angels that Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One, had been born?  In human logic, it is confounding.  But it wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that God chose shepherds to be part of His Plan.  (Abraham, Moses, David,…)

Shepherding is a 24-hour, thankless job, dealing with truly “dumb” sheep that need a lot of care and attention.  Shepherds know the sky…using the stars to keep their sense of direction when far from home in open fields with their flocks for months at a time.  Sleeping with “one eye open” for any preying animal or thief.  It’s a lonely life.  They were some of “the least of these” in society.  They were not people of influence.

But they knew what it meant to “lay down one’s life for the sheep.”

So that night, as the world slept in their houses under sheltering roofs, something was going on in the Heavens that had never happened before nor since.  A Plan that had been in the making since (and before) Creation was dramatically unfolding, as the world slept.

The stars were pinpointing it.  The angels were announcing it.  God had put Himself into the smallest, most vulnerable human form to come to the earth so that mankind could have a glimpse of Him in a way we could begin to understand and know Him.

Perhaps the shepherds were the only ones attuned enough to hear.  Paying attention enough to see.  Humble enough to listen.  The Shepherd of all shepherds had come to a stable used to shelter sheep and other animals.  Perhaps shepherds were the only ones courageous enough to walk through the night and step into a dirty, smelly stable.  Whatever the reason, on that night of all nights, the shepherds were first to come and see….to come and worship the Good Shepherd when He arrived on this dark earth.

And I wonder . . . what would I have done?