Brokenness to Beauty

Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life


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Love Does

“We can measure success by how many people attend church services on Sunday. Or we can measure success by how many people serve God and others on Monday.”[1]

Recently I’ve been pondering Hebrews 10:24, the verse that resonates with me as I think about the way I believe God wants to use me in his Kingdom work. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV). Whenever I sign a copy of my book, Brokenness to Beauty, I write the reference to this verse behind my signature.

At the end of the day, I want to measure the success of my life’s influence on others by how many people love and serve God and other people on Monday, and every day. Of course, I may never see that in my lifetime, but whatever I do—whether writing, speaking or any interacting with others—I want people, myself included, strengthened and challenged to do what the Scriptures teach: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. We’re all works in progress but we should be advancing in that direction.

There are many rich truths to pull out of this one verse. I don’t want to skip over them but like an archeologist carefully dig them out and lay them on the work table for us to consider. Where to start?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV). Let’s start with a look at the meaning of the original Greek word translated love in English.

You may already know or have guessed this one. This love is the Greek word agape; the love God has demonstrated for us and for the whole world. Mounce[2] describes it as generosity and kindly concern. Strong describes it as affection or benevolence.[3]

Though we can define a word with other words, what does agape love look like in action?

Action is a good way of thinking about agape love because when Jesus said God loved the world, his love wasn’t just about words. God proved his love; he did something. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV, emphasis added).

God loved; God gave. This is the essence of agape love. It gives. As a result of God’s active, agape love, “we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 NIV, emphasis added).

God showed us what his love is, what his generous, giving love is. Therefore, we should be clear that when it comes to loving God and our neighbor, words alone aren’t enough. Agape love is love in action. Agape love is a giving love, even sacrificial giving love. It is not just any action though; agape love is rooted in putting in to practice the Word and will of God.

Jesus was clear on that point when he said, “21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” He went on to explain. “22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23 NIV, emphasis added).

With Jesus’ words in mind, we could say, “Not all those who say they are Christians, come to church, or even do great exploits in Jesus’ name will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who go out and do the will of our Father in heaven: loving God and people and serving them Monday and every day.”

And in order to do the will of God, we need to know the Word of God so we can put it into practice, thus doing the will of God. Then we will love and serve God and others Monday and every day.

How could your actions this week be expressions of agape love, rooted in the Word and will of God?

 

First Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Second Photo by Claire Trafton

Third Photo Crucified with Christ

[1] Dr. Jim Denison, Denison’s Forum https://www.denisonforum.org/columns/cultural-commentary/560-million-lottery-winner-can-remain-anonymous/

[2] William D. Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2006

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers)

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Treasures of Wisdom in a Dollar Store

You never know what you might find in a Dollar store. I stopped in there to buy some small paper plates, plastic forks, and napkins for the Mission Partnership meeting held at church today, and in the checkout line I spied this refrigerator magnet:

 

This must be the California surfer’s version of “When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Lemonade, surfing, however you choose to say it, this is a good philosophy for life. Because we’ll all get lemons, or waves, at some time (or several times) in life.

And we need to know how to deal with them.

Don’t I know it!

Many, many people had encouraged me to share what I had been learning about surfing the waves that came into my life and making lemonade from the lemons on the tree that took root in my life when I was just a young teenager. I’ve had lots of years to learn “best practices” for dealing with difficulties and trials in life.

To share with others about learning to surf life’s waves and make lemonade from life’s lemons is the major reason I wrote Brokenness to Beauty. The subtitle says it all: Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life. It is not easy, this kind of learning. It takes time and effort, persistence and patience but it is terribly important and so worthwhile.

And I’ve written down all these lessons, or at least most of them, in Brokenness to Beauty: Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life.

It’s there for you, sort of like a mini-mentorship.

Or for someone you care about who is struggling, trying to keep their head above life’s waves.

Are you successfully learning to surf the waves coming into your life? How are you doing?

 

Brokenness to Beauty can be purchased at the online stores listed here, as well as other outlets. Click on the store name to purchase the book at Amazon , Barnes and Noble , Kobo Bookstore, and from the publisher, WestBow Press Bookstore.

 

 


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Love is …

Love is …

 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.

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.

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!10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 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.

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

 

Love is … easy, love is hard. Love is … simple, love is profound. Love is … a command, love is a choice.

Jesus said to his disciples, “You must love each another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34 CEV). Jesus means these words for me because I declare I am his disciple, a learner and one who seeks to obey him. If you are his disciple, this command is for you as well.

My choice to love was made when I chose to follow Jesus. Same for you. We chose to obey his words, his commands. And he commands us to love each other.

This love is not just human love for friends. This love is well beyond and above that love. This is the “as I have loved you” love of Jesus; God’s love.*

“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13 CEB).

“As I have loved you.” Now that’s a thought we can chew on for some time.

As I move toward the final stages of writing prior to publishing the Bible Study for my book, Brokenness to Beauty: Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life, I’ve crafted a page of etiquette for Bible study group behavior.

Sounds funny, a page on etiquette, but these reminders are needed. The points simply remind us of how we should act with one another. It dawned on me that these points of etiquette are actually ways we can love one another in a small group setting. Or anywhere, anytime.

I want to share with you some of the easy ways to love one another, excerpted from my Bible study group etiquette page:

“Value each person in your little community of the Bible study group. Give each other the respect due each one. Commit to:

  1. Show up. Someone said that 90% of any task is just showing up. Be at the group meetings (barring an emergency). And when there, be present. “Be Here Now,” attentive and engaged in the moment. This is for your own benefit as well as the benefit of the others. You never know what God may speak to you through another person, or what God may impress on another through you. Sometimes you just being there is all the encouragement someone else needs (Hebrews 10:24–25).

 

  1. Do your work. The week before you meet, do the work for the upcoming lesson in preparation for the group time. The more effort you put into the study, the more you will get out of it. Solomon said, “The soul (appetite) of the lazy person craves and gets nothing [for lethargy overcomes ambition], but the soul (appetite) of the diligent [who works willingly] is rich and abundantly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4 AMP).

 

  1. Be generous and share the discussion time. Be short-winded so others may also participate in the discussions (1 Peter 5:5–7).

 

  1. Be a better listener than a talker. Bible study discussions are not the place for giving advice or counseling. You are not meeting together to solve anyone’s problems but to learn what God has to say in his Word. “Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving] (James 1:19 AMP).

 

  1. Be trustworthy as you listen. What is shared in the group discussions stays a secret with the group. These things are not to be told to anyone else. “He who goes about as a gossip reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy and faithful keeps a matter hidden” (Proverbs 11:13 AMP).

 

  1. Be a Berean Christian. When questions come up, don’t default to traditional, current, or even “common sense” ideas, but search the Scriptures like the Bereans did to find out what God has to say about the issue. He does have a word to say about it. And unlike the words of men, God’s Word “endures forever” (Acts 17:10–12; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:22–25).

 

These are some easy, simple, yet thoughtful ways we can love one another in any group setting, and these few guidelines will serve as our standard of etiquette for this Bible study group.”

Though the above points are designed for a small group setting, they are applicable in most life situations. I’ll let you make the leap to apply these principles, rooted in God’s Word, to your everyday life, at home, at work, at school, at church, and everywhere. I’m working on it too.

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35 CSB, emphasis added).

 

Daily Verses

 

How can I move from my limited, human brotherly love to Jesus’ love, to love as he has loved us? A song just reminded me of the only way– “I’ve Been Crucified with Christ,” (by Robin Mark) quoting Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 CSB, emphasis added)

Listen to the song here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoZWRfXdh4w

I want to cooperate with Christ and let him live his life through me. That’s the only way to love others as he loved us.

Love is … all of the above, and so much more. In Christ we can do this.

 

The Bible Study for Brokenness to Beauty has yet to be published; hopefully, by autumn it will be available. However, the book Brokenness to Beauty: Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life may be purchased now at Amazon books. Click here to go to Amazon.

*Agape love: “Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13. https://www.gotquestions.org/agape-love.html 

Scriptures are taken from https://www.biblegateway.com


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Living Like You’re Dead

I’ve had a blog post rattling around in my mind for several days, yet unwritten. Then I read Bills’ post this afternoon. It is so true and powerful, I had to share it with you. Bill always teaches and challenges me. I hope you will feel the same way after you read this post, take to heart what he says, and implement what is needed to rise to the challenge of God’s Word spoken by our brother Bill.

Unshakable Hope

The title of this blog might seem like an oxymoron, but I hope to convince you otherwise.

I have come close to death several times even before ALS entered my life 21 years ago. With each brush with death, the more I am able to identify with death and eternity and live my life accordingly.

You might think that viewing my life as having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel would be a depressing way to live, but I’ve discovered just the opposite; it’s a very liberating way to live, at least, from a Christian point of view. I think it’s also the viewpoint that Christ intended us to have.

In the days leading up to Christmas every year, Mary and I always watch “It’saWonderfulLife” and the 1951 version (the best version) of “AChristmasCarol.” After…

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God’s Delights, Our Delights

I feel good when I’m creating something with my hands. There is an interesting phenomenon I became aware of one day several years ago while working on a project. I don’t remember what I was working on or even when or where this realization first came to me. But it was an actual physical sensation of pleasure radiating from inside me. An “inner smile” is the best way I can describe it. It comes unexpectedly when I stop to take a break from working on the item or when I finish a project. And when I sense that inner smile, it makes me smile on the outside too.

It has come at times when I’ve written a piece that has come together through struggle (as most of my writing comes). But when I found the words that were “right,” that resonated in my soul, there was that smile coming from the inside.

More often, though, I’ve sensed that inner smile of pleasure when I’ve been caught up in the creative process using my hands. It has come while creating a mosaic, adhering pieces of broken or cut glass into designs on a substrate. Or like the other day, when I was gluing a paper dust cover onto the back of an old 30″X 40″ frame I had refinished. This frame now holds a large filet crochet piece I crocheted over the course of several years, and a couple of moves across the country (from California to Georgia to West Virginia, a long time ago).

This inner smile I experience, this pleasure at doing something creative, not only causes me to smile outwardly but makes me think of the pleasure of God, that is, the pleasure God takes in his children when we are being and doing what is right and good, in love, reverence, and trust in him.

I started looking for just a few Scriptures that speak to what brings God pleasure and found these (this is not an exhaustive list, of course):

I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. (1 Chronicles 29:17 ESV, emphasis added)

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NASB, emphasis added)

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,

nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,

11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,

    in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:10-11 ESV, emphasis added)

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV, emphasis added)

At that very time (Jesus) rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” (Luke 10:21 NASB, emphasis added)

Doesn’t it make you smile inside, and out, to read some of the things that bring joy, delight, and pleasure to our God? Think of it, we don’t have to be superheroes or wildly gorgeous or do some great feat of strength or daring to please him (sounds like what the world goes after, doesn’t it?). We don’t even have to be “wise and intelligent” in this world to bring joy to our Father. Maybe a sigh of relief is more accurate as a response to what God values and seeks in his children. Because I’m sure not any of those things.

To bring joy to our heavenly Father we only need be like little children in our simplicity and humility, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And loving and treating others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 22:37–39; 7:12). “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,” Jesus said (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two commands of God are the Bible in a nutshell (Romans 13:8–10).

And since God has given us everything we need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:3), we can do this, we can make God smile. He’s given us his Spirit to live in us; “Christ in [us] the hope of glory.”

I’m working on cooperating with God. And learning. It’s my life goal to bring a smile to my Father’s face.

We don’t have to be rich, or good-looking, or famous, or smart, or … anything except actively loving God by “abiding in him,” which is obeying his word, and loving one another (John 14:15; 15:10, 12).

So our response to our gracious and merciful God should include these elements (again, this is not an exhaustive list):

Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Jesus, in Luke 10:20 ESV, emphasis added)

Your words were found and I ate them,

And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;

For I have been called by Your name,

O Lord God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16 NASB, emphasis added)

In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. (1 Chronicles 29:17 ESV, emphasis added)

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2 HCSB, emphasis added)

Trust in the Lord and do what is good …

4 Take delight in the Lord,

and He will give you your heart’s desires.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in Him, and He will act,

6 making your righteousness shine like the dawn,

your justice like the noonday. (Psalm 37:3-6 HCSB)

As I said, this is not an exhaustive list. You can add to it Scriptures that come to mind about what God values and delights in. Consider setting a goal for your Scripture reading in 2018 to look for these sorts of verses that clearly state what gives God joy and pleasure. And make being and doing those things your life goal. I guarantee that will give you an “inner smile” of pleasure.

May your New Year be filled with God’s delight in you!


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A ‘Christmas’ song I never thought I’d hear-a reblogged post

Today I am reposting an article by Dr. Jim Denison, from his blog Denison Forum. The subtitle is “How we can respond to the secularity of the season.” This is such a pertinent topic, and the article so well written, I wanted to share it with you.

We need to be reminded that though we believers in Jesus want to proclaim that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and would like to rip Christmas out of the hands of the secular world, that isn’t exactly the Spirit of Jesus, in any season. A lot more could be said about the history of the time we call Christmas; about what Scriptures teach us about how we are to live in relation to God and men, at all times of the year; and how we, ourselves, actually celebrate Christmas. But I won’t in this post.

I’ll simply say, Jesus said we are the light in the darkness of the world. We are to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, while we take every opportunity to do good in this world, to those in the family of faith and those outside the family of faith.

I hope you’ll consider what Jim Denison has to say in his excellent article below.

A ‘Christmas Song’ I Thought I’d Never Hear: How we can respond to the secularity of the season

It was a strange weekend in the news.

Astronauts on the International Space Station made headlines after making pizza in space. Back on earth, the Pontiac Superdome survived implosion due to a wiring error. The first and only full supermoon of 2017 was last night. And college football fans are still debating the decision to include Alabama rather than Ohio State in this year’s tournament.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about an event over the weekend that drew no news coverage whatsoever. My wife and I were watching one of the plethora of Christmas specials on television when a musical group presented a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The now-famous lyrics begin:

Imagine there is no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people living for today.

I never imagined that I would hear “Imagine” performed as a Christmas song. But that’s how secular the holidays have become.

According to Gallup, 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only 51 percent describe the holiday as “strongly religious” for them. One in four American adults say December 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day. Only 49 percent of those who celebrate Christmas believe that the Virgin birth is historically accurate.

How should we respond to the escalating secularity of this season?

Using a pagan ship to witness to Caesar

Acts 28 tells the famous story of Paul’s voyage to Rome. As I was reading the narrative yesterday, I noticed this irony: the apostle was carried to Rome on “a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead” (v. 11). These “twin gods” were Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus. They were believed to be deities that protected sailors at sea.

Such idolatry was anathema to the Jewish people. Saul the Pharisee would likely have refused to sail on a vessel dedicated to pagan gods. But Paul the apostle knew that he had a higher purpose. God had called him to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings” (Acts 9:15). Before his shipwreck at Malta, God said to him, “You must stand trial before Caesar” (Acts 27:24).

Now the Lord had provided a way for Paul to fulfill his call. And the apostle was willing to use the things of the world to accomplish the things of God.

This was Paul’s pattern throughout his ministry. In Athens, he used the pagan altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17:23) to introduce the one true God. After he was rejected at the synagogue in Ephesus, he “withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9).

Through this “secular” strategy, the apostle reached far more people than if he had limited his ministry to the “sacred” synagogue. As a result, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (v. 10).

Lost people don’t know they are lost

How would Paul approach the secularization of Christmas in our day? I believe he would offer this reminder: most lost people don’t know they are lost. They may be as religious as the Romans who dedicated their ship to false gods. Or they may not be religious at all.

Either way, they are deceived: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Here we learn that most secular people who ignore Jesus at Christmas don’t know better. They don’t intend to insult our Lord or his followers. They celebrate the secular traditions of the season with no real knowledge of its spiritual significance.

I know because I was one of them.

Growing up, my family never attended religious services at Christmas or any other season of the year. We never gave a moment’s thought to Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

But that didn’t mean we intended to insult those who did. I wasn’t antagonistic to the gospel—I was oblivious to it. I heard the truth about Jesus only after two men knocked on my apartment door when I was fifteen years old and invited me to ride their bus to their church. Prior to that invitation, I was lost but didn’t know it.

If Christians had responded to my secular Christmas observances by treating me as their enemy, they would have pushed me further from Jesus rather than drawing me closer to him. Instead, members of that church reached out to me with loving compassion. They understood my lack of spiritual knowledge and taught me what I needed to know.

I will quite literally be grateful to them forever.

How can we reach people who are where I was? One way is to use secular holidays to teach spiritual truth.

For instance, Martin Luther was the first to add lights to Christmas trees; he did so to point to Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Holly wreaths with their sharp, pointed leaves were chosen to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross; their small red berries symbolize his drops of blood. Evergreen wreaths likewise signify eternal life in him.

Nearly every Christmas tradition can be used to share timeless truth. If our Lord could use a ship dedicated to pagan gods to bring the gospel to Rome, he can use this secular season to bring Christ to our culture.

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.


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Thanks-living

Unshakable Hope

Even though I cannot eat (by mouth) anymore, I still love the Thanksgiving Holiday. (I no longer have to worry about that gluttony thing).

Over my 21 year journey with this horrible disease called ALS, I’ve become a more grateful person. I also seem to notice ingratitude in myself and in others more than I did before ALS entered my life.

Through my observations, I’ve concluded that ungratefulness and unhappiness go hand-in-hand. Think about it, have you ever known a happy ingrate? Yeah, neither have I.

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The Bible doesn’t tell us to be happy, which leads me to believe that not even God could teach happiness. However, the Bible repeatedly tell us to be thankful:

“...let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…

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