Lily is spotted and speckled with the long torso of a typical wiener dog but also with an extraordinarily lengthy and pointed nose that looks out of proportion from the rest of her body. She easily illustrates the expression “She has a face that only a mother could love.” Lily definitely has some bad habits including using any turf inside or out as a place to potty. She is the third of three dogs, adopted into the family because the elderly woman who was her prior owner just couldn’t manage her anymore and my daughter and her husband felt sorry for her. Because of Lily, all three dogs spent much of their day either outdoors or in the inside kennel so that not only would she not add her own special decorations to the carpeting, but that she would also be able to have the companionship of her doggie brother and sister. We believed that they were likely not always fond of the arrangement since their household manners were in check. Besides, those disparaging glances and sarcastic little snarls were telltale signs of two very annoyed little pups.
All kidding aside, with a growing family of small children, my daughter knew that she did not have the time or ability to train Lily to be a better-behaved girl. She and her husband were beginning to assess their options regarding a new home for Lily with someone who could give her the attention she needed. There were the neighbors who expressed an interest in taking her. But, during a holiday visit to our home with the three human kids and the three furry babies along for the ride, a perfect answer came into being. Our oldest grandson, Anthony, met Lily and heard about the family dilemma. The bond was instantaneous! The moment Anthony looked at Lily and knew her plight, his heartstrings were struck, and he immediately asked to take her home. According to his mom, Anthony is “head-over-heals in love with this girl.” He has taken her on a hike and to Starbucks for a Puppucino – I’ve never heard of such a thing, but apparently it is a treat that is the rave of every sophisticated pooch. The point is that in spite of any negative traits she may have and nothing that warrants his love, Anthony is a doting dad with an incredible amount of affection, care, and joyful delight toward this needy little creature. He sees her as beautiful. The fondness does go both ways, but Anthony initiated the relationship and Lily is the blissful beneficiary of Anthony’s compassion, mercy, and kindness.
Anthony’s overtures toward Lily remind me of Someone Else who is even more loving, kind, and caring toward the recipients of his affection. God looks at us, speckled, spotted, unmannerly us, with eyes that take the shape of Valentine hearts that genuinely see us as beautiful and the object of his affection and delight. We do nothing to merit his grace and favor, but he is our doting Dad who initiates the relationship and lavishes his love on us. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” (1 John 4:10a, ESV). This love he has for us brings abundant life and blessing. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV). He patiently waits for us to return his love, and he is always available when we come to him. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV). Needy creatures that we are, we are most definitely the blissful beneficiaries of his relationship with us.
Sitting on Dad’s lap; feeling his caring and protective arms in a loving embrace; enjoying his attention and affection. Yes, this describes Lily in her loving new home, but for God’s children, this is our certain and distinctive reality. There is nothing like the awesome love of the Father!
It has been about a year since we began the “new normal,” living life with COVID-19. No doubt, like me you have been baffled by the range of symptoms and varied effects that can accompany this annoying pandemic. My husband, who is old enough to be considered at higher risk than the general population, characterized his experience as a bad cold. His friend, who is significantly younger, had to be hospitalized and spent time on oxygen in an ICU. I never tested positive, and while I tend to be extremely careful and observe the sanitary measures that help to curb the spread of the virus, I would have assumed I would at least have had a positive reading due to certain exposure.
One of the oddest symptoms of the disease that occurs for some who are infected is the loss of the sense of taste and smell. My daughter-in-law had this experience, and being urged on by her somewhat crazy son, ate an extremely hot pepper. The taste wasn’t there, but the heat surely was – neither a pleasant feeling nor a beneficial experiment for her mouth, her esophagus, or her stomach! The loss of these senses appears to be a temporary condition related to the virus. But sometimes, for other reasons, different senses can be fully or partially lost either from birth or through a traumatic event. People can be devoid of their sight and hearing. A very rare but extremely dangerous condition is the loss of the sense of touch. Those who are born with this disorder can literally die from their inability to feel any kind of stimulus. Thankfully, those who are missing one or more of their senses can usually learn how to compensate for the loss in order to be productive and successful in their personal and professional lives.
What would happen if rather than losing one’s ability to feel as in the sense of touch, one would lose the ability to feel love? It is not hard to consider this as a growing concern in the present circumstances in which we are living. A popular song in the late 1970s was “Love Is in the Air” *by the artist John Paul Young. Though the lyrics refer to romantic love, one could easily testify that love for others in general is not the air or in too many other places either. This is not new nor is it geographically confined, but it seems as if there has been an escalation in discord in the last few years. While we do not know the day or the hour that Christ will return for his people, Jesus had this to say about those times: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13, ESV) As the kids say in the back of the car, “Are we there yet?” Whether we are days, months, years, decades, centuries or millennia away from the Lord’s return, there is no denying that present society in general does not manifest love for others, and love is growing colder by the minute.
Believers, however, have a mandate to love and much hope that we can do so because of our incredibly loving God. In the book of First John, not only are we told that “love is from God” (from 1 John 4:7, ESV), but we also read, “God is love,” (from 1 John 4:16, ESV). Jesus taught, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10, ESV). Jesus also reminded us that the two great commandments are to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. While those who have not placed their faith and trust in the Lord are ignorant regarding these God-given directives, we who are followers of Jesus Christ should not be. Imagine what the world would be like if we would truly love others just as Christ has loved us, including those who do not love in return. The impact could be amazing in both the present and in the eternity that awaits us!
So, cling tightly to God. Pray for those who hold considerably different views and values from you. And love as Jesus loves all people, so much so that he died for each and every one. “‘But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28, ESV).
It is no secret that in this world filled with technology, we living in relative prosperity have become attached AND distracted by said technology. As I am writing in a busy airport terminal, in row after row of passengers I see screens of every type. Viewing cell phones, e-readers, and tablets, very few people are engaged in conversation with each other, though I will say there is a din (travelers likely in momentary discussions over seat assignments, delays, or where to find a good cup of coffee). It is apparent that while we may be sitting within spitting distance of family and friends, let alone people with whom we are unfamiliar, people in general, and particularly this younger generation, are more likely to have Herculean-strength thumbs from tapping a cell phone all day than they are able to engage in meaningful conversation for more than a nanosecond (likely to ask if they can plug into a shared outlet). It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway—what a changed world we live in! Yes, I know that in many ways there are benefits and betterments. But there are also many things we are losing due to the technological advances society has made, especially in the last fifty years.
I have a fond memory of a fourth grade unit we did in school. It was a series of lessons on the telephone. The telephone booklet, which I have saved in a scrapbook of school memorabilia, walked us fourth graders through the mechanics of the telephone including how to dial, the proper way to speak into the receiver, information and emergency calls, and use of a phone book to find both personal and business numbers. Among the pertinent information are several pages on telephone manners. It was definitely something we practiced. With two telephones in the room, each classmate had likely more than one opportunity to participate in a polite exchange. Among the booklet’s phrases are recommendations for passing on a message to another household member, letting the caller know that the intended recipient of the call will soon be available, apologizing for making a call to a wrong number, and kindly responding to someone who has made the wrong-number call. It is also interesting to see that proper phone etiquette includes hanging up the phone gently so as not to cause a banging noise in the caller’s ear.
If you and/or your children were scratching your heads throughout most of the last paragraph, let’s move into the twenty-first century. We, of course, largely communicate through the devices mentioned in the first paragraph. I’m fairly certain that schools do not teach a unit on a proper way to make calls and converse on the cell. Nor is there some sort of tutorial on polite messaging of any kind. We have largely moved away from verbal (deep) conversation on a device, and we especially lack the skills to do so face-to-face. Probably one of the oddest practices is to see people texting each other not only in the same building, but in the same room! Their messages are not only concise, but they can be downright cryptic! “BTW,” “TY,” “RTN,” “K,” and the ever-popular “LOL” are all a part of accepted text conversation. Alexander Graham Bell invented the original telephone in 1876, and he is either gleeful about the advance of his invention, or he is turning somersaults in his grave at the loss of true, heartfelt communication among members of the human race.
As with all matters, it is important to look into God’s Word to see what he has to say about communication and connection. First of all, God invites us into the most intimate relationship with him, calling us his children and making himself known as God the Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV). He has opened an avenue of communication with him through prayer. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5b-6, ESV). His desire is that we spend time with him just as Jesus modeled many times. “In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, ESV). It is clear that the Lord also wants us to have fellowship and connection with each other. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
In Ephesians 4 and 5 we find advice to guide us in our communication: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor,” (4:25). “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (4:26). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4). It is apparent that the Bible promotes healthy, loving, encouraging communication to develop and enrich relationships among us. We would be wise to heed the Lord’s direction.
Of course, Jesus did not carry a cell phone in the back pocket of his tunic, but he has always known the future of communication, both to the positive and negative sides of the matter. His desire has always been for us to speak in real and affectionate ways to our heavenly Father and lovingly and truthfully converse with one another. This is the essential art and the true heart of communication.
Eddie and Millie met stateside after Eddie served in the U.S. Army during WWII. As did so many young people in the post-war era, they fell in love and were married in August 1946. They lived modestly, yet happily as they began to build their life together. Millie had resided at home until marriage in her mid-twenties, and she was very close to her mother. When her mom became ill and consequently passed away less than six months into the marriage, Millie became sick as well. Though at first it seemed like she had caught a cold that was just not going away, in time it was discovered that she had contracted tuberculosis, a very serious, often deadly disease. Over the next five years, Millie and Eddie’s lives revolved around lengthy hospital stays, chest x-rays and continuous exams, endless medication, and of course, separation from each other. Eddie remained faithful to Millie, visiting her as often as possible while holding down his full time job. Eventually the tuberculosis was arrested, and Millie was allowed to go home. Forever after she was breathing on only one lung, the other having been collapsed. It was fairly doubtful that the couple would ever have children, but much to their delight, they were able to have their first child, a daughter, in February 1955. A son was born about two and a half years later.
You may have already guessed, but Eddie and Millie were my parents. I’m sharing their story because it vividly highlights love and faithfulness in a marriage, particularly on the part of my dad. From the beginning of their trial all the way through their time together, Dad was attentive to and physically cared for Mom. It is my understanding that when I was a newborn and needed bottles and settling in the middle of the night, it was my dad that would get up and walk the floor with me, even though he had to wake up early to head for work. Mom was the cook and a very good and appreciated one at that, but Dad was the “bottle washer,” doing the dishes every night after dinner and then spear-heading the effort when my brother and I were old enough to pitch in. On Saturdays, he cleaned the house. On vacation days he did the laundry. He ironed our clothes. He provided all the transportation for the family because my mom did not ever drive a car. He took her shopping, to weekly doctor visits, and to gatherings and special events. I never heard him complain about any of it. However, Dad was not always the conveyor of tactful speech. Dad did love Mom’s cooking, for the most part. There were a few things Dad learned to loathe when they were served as a part of rations in the Army. As a result, when Mom offered him some apple pie she had lovingly taken the time to make, Dad said, “Yeah. I’ll take a piece of that junk.” I believe that Mom did not speak to him for a week! Still, there was no doubt that Mom knew she was loved as demonstrated by my father’s actions performed every single day.
God is a God of love in both word and deed. He definitively expresses his love with words. Even when his people turned their backs on him, he continued to communicate his love. In a time when the Israelites were exiled and were also living far apart from God in their hearts, God spoke to them through his prophet Jeremiah: “‘At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’” (Jeremiah 31:1-3, ESV). And Jesus told his disciples, “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16: 27, ESV). God spoke the above words to Jeremiah the prophet to share with his people, and Jesus spoke the words from John to his followers. Now we have them in written form in the Bible so we know the love that God has for us.
It is also very clear that God is a God of love as evidenced by action. So many times in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the declaration of his love is accompanied by the word “faithfulness.” One need only look in the Psalms to see this pair of descriptive words often. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10, ESV). “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5, ESV). “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15, ESV). God’s love was wrapped up with faithfulness as shown by his deeds. He always afforded his presence, provision, and protection to his people. Of course, his greatest act of love and faithfulness was when he sent his Son, Jesus, to take our sins to the cross to save us and grant us eternal life. The key Scripture of the Christian faith expresses this act of love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
God desires that just as he does, we would show our love for others by what we say and by what we do. We see encouragement for grace-filled speech in the Proverbs: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, ESV). The right words at the right time can be a tremendous blessing to the one who listens to them. We also find these words in the Book of Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV). Words are powerful, whether they are helpful or hurtful, and God expects us to choose to show love through words that build up and encourage. But, we can’t just say, “I love you,” without accompanying actions. We find in 1 John 3:16-18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” If we are to truly follow the Lord’s will for us, we must learn how to speak in a way that is appropriate for a person of faith, and we must pair those words with actions that show a deep love for those around us.
I am truly thankful for the legacy and example my dad left me as to what it means to really love another.
Though his words were perhaps careless at times, I can forgive him (and I know my mom did too) because as the old cliché states, “Actions speak louder than words.” Still, it is my desire to honor the Lord by following his example to love in both word and deed. His Word demands nothing less!
Though the winters in our area can feature wide-ranging temperatures and nary a flake until the spring, the snow has seemed particularly scarce this year. So when we happened to have a decent snowfall over the weekend, I was drawn to the window to watch the white fluff dance in the air. Enough snow had already fallen to leave significant amounts on the ground, which also meant that there was a sizeable accumulation on those areas that would have to be shoveled away, especially since we were having company later that day. I was admiring the pretty snow-covered evergreens that were in my view and at the same time praying for our family to arrive safely, remaining aware of the possible hazard the roads had become. As all of these thoughts swirled in my head like the flurries outside, a question suddenly popped into my mind: “How could something that can cause heartache be so incredibly beautiful?” When there is snow, accidents can be numerous, in the mountains within hours of us, avalanches occur, and people literally get lost in blowing snow and are overcome with hypothermia due to frigid temperatures. Yet, there is no denying that there is something picturesque and lovely about fresh falling snow. The beauty of this winter wonder shines through.
An hour or so later, there was quite another scene to view. Our local television stations were carrying the memorial service of a fallen hero, a deputy who had lost his life in the line of duty protecting others in an investigation that had turned into a detrimental attack. Though other officers were injured, the swift action of this deputy saved lives, including that of a civilian. At thirty-four years of age, he left behind a wife and two young children, his parents, brothers and sisters, other family and friends, and his fellow officers. As I continued watching the emotional testimonies of representatives of local law enforcement, his family and the pastor along with the ceremonial protocol, my mind formed a new question, “Where is the beauty in this, Lord?” The Lord allowed a swift answer: this deputy was a believer, and the beauty was the testimony and legacy he had left for his wife, his children and all who had the blessing of attending and viewing his memorial. Wonderful, personal stories were shared about his fun and quirky personality, his determination, devotion, and commitment to his chosen profession, and his thriving, vibrant and constant love for and trust in his God. We joined thousands of people who lined his procession route in the bitter weather holding signs and waving flags to affirm his heroism and honor his bravery. Though certainly there was, is, and will be heartache for those whom he loved and who loved him, Jesus is using his loss to reach out and touch others with the truth of the Gospel. The beauty of a life well lived shines through.
My present Bible reading is nearing the end of the Gospel of Matthew. It is always hard for me to read the end of each of the Gospels. They show the ugly side of man and the heartache that accompanied the arrest, trial, contemptible treatment, and crucifixion of Jesus. My heart wants to cry out, “Where is the beauty, Lord?” But, his response is swift and sure: “My child, you are the beauty that has come from the heartache I endured on the cross. For it is in my death and resurrection that you have eternal life. You will be with me forever, you and all who trust in me for salvation.” His scars will always be there to remind us of the anguish he endured for us, but the beauty of his selfless act of love and grace will forever shine through!
“On that day the Lord their God will save them as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty,” (Zechariah 9:16-17, ESV).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We want to thank Deputy Micah Flick and his family for the incredible service he provided to our community. He is a hero whom we will continue to hold in our hearts. We are praying for his family and for those with whom he served.
We’ve had the privilege of being vendors at local military exchanges. It is a great way for us to get the word out about Godstruck Ministries and our products, and it allows us to connect with military members and retirees. As a retired military family, we have a special spot in our heart for our service members. One of our objectives is to bless them with words of encouragement and thanks, candy and small gifts for their kids. They are to the man/woman polite and grateful for our presence at the exchange facilities. I am floored that as we thank them for their selfless service to protect and defend our country, our citizens and our way of life, they are often thanking us in return for our meager support.
At one particular military post, we were occupying a space in the huge foyer just outside the entrance to the main shopping area. For some reason, no matter the weather, every day at about 2:00 – 3:00 it gets very cold inside. I wear layers, drink hot tea and try to stay mobile. As I was folding my arms and stamping around a bit, out of the corner of my eye I saw a stroller loaded with plush blankets cradling an occupant coming towards our table. Sergeant Dad was carefully guiding the stroller around the row of vendor kiosks and tables followed by his teenage sons. Partly to engage them in conversation, partly because my nose felt like an icicle, as they approached I commented that I would have loved to have had those blankets wrapped around me. I came to the stroller expecting to see the face of perhaps a 2 or 3 year old enjoying the blanket cocoon. However as I peered inside, it was not a toddler occupying the cozy seat, it was a 13 or 14 year old girl! She was babbling and had a small smile on her lips, little neck control and a look in her big blue eyes that conveyed a lack of understanding of common conversation. Her daddy looked down on her affectionately and did some babbling of his own. “Ba ba ba, yeah, that’s my girl,” he cooed lovingly. I’m sure by this time I had a tear in my eye as I listened to his story. He had been in the military, had left, but then came back in “for her.” Her medical expenses must have been huge, and being in the Army guaranteed that he could cover her health needs. His service was the sacrifice he made for his darling girl. She loved him back through her smile and the innocent look in those big blue eyes, her only way to respond. It must have touched her daddy’s heart, and my heart was aching for them both as I bid them good-bye. There was something sacred in the love I saw passed from father to child.
There is a love that is even more sacred and beautiful than the father/daughter relationship I witnessed at the Exchange that day. The heavenly Father looks down with compassion on His children. He wraps us up in the soft, cozy blanket of His love, guides us carefully through life, and provides all our needs. God’s Word says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1. His Son was the sacrifice He made for us. His love is abundant, and there is nothing we can do for Him to love us more.
Take time to show your gratefulness for this amazing love. You can speak words of thanks to Him, but it is also important to remember the Bible teaches that to love Him back is to obey His Word. In John Chapter 14 Jesus said, 15“If you love me you will obey what I command,” 21“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me,” and 23“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” As one of Jesus’ closest friends, the apostle John was surely overwhelmed by the love of the Father. Having written the above quotes in the book named for him, John reiterates this truth in his New Testament letters. 1 John 5:3 states, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,” Obeying God’s Word shows our appreciation for all that He has done and continues to do for us. It is the loving response that touches the Father’s heart.