Love Never Fails

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A couple of days ago, Jason and I went to a local store to exchange some Christmas gifts. I figured everyone and his brother would be out doing the same thing or spending money they received for Christmas, but no, the store was quiet.  I was surprised, but what shocked me, even more, was the fact that the store was already pulling down the Christmas decorations and stocking the shelves with Valentine’s Day goods. Seriously? Not even a week after the holidays, they felt it was time to bring in the change. Out with the old, in with the new.

That’s the way life is these days, isn’t it? Things are always changing. Seasons come and go. Styles and trends rise and fall. Relationships wither, and new ones are formed. Weight is gained, and hair is lost. Things change! But not love. Nope! According to the Bible, it never fails. 

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
— I Corinthians 13:8

The word "fail" here means "to cast off; to fall away from; to end." Notice how Paul continued in verse 8. After stating that love never fails, he gave a list of other things that do. Prophesies shall fail. Tongues shall cease. Knowledge shall vanish away. But love remains true. It is unchanging and constant. It doesn’t give up when the going gets tough or run away when it’s not getting its way. It doesn’t end. It never falls apart.

I’ve learned a lot about love this year. Unfortunately, much of what went into my head hasn’t been lived out in my life. How do I know? Because when I examine the spiritual troubles in my life, the trail of clues leads me back to a lack of love. I never suspected that my snappy attitude and bitter remarks could be traced back to a seed of “unlove,” but when I compare my words, actions, and reactions to the principles set up in I Corinthians 13, I see that I don’t measure up. Let me show you what I mean.

1) Love is patient (vs. 4). - Hmm, patient? Sometimes, maybe, but not typically.

2) Love is kind (vs. 4). - A lot of times, yes, but certainly not when I’m tired or hungry or in a bad mood.

3) Love is not proud (vs. 4). - Ahem, well, if wanting to have the last word and insisting everyone do things my way is proud (and it is), then yep, I’ve blown it again.

4) Love doesn’t act ugly (vs. 5) - Oh, can we please stop now? This is horrible!

5) Love is unselfish (vs. 5). - How many times am I so focused on my wants and needs I ignore the needs of others?

6) Love isn’t easily provoked (vs. 5). - I was quoting this phrase to myself this morning when Jason wasn’t helping out as much as I felt he should. Why was I quoting it? Because I realized I was getting upset over nothing.

7) Love thinks no evil (vs. 5). - Gracious! Paul gets right down to the nitty-gritty here. It doesn’t say love doesn’t speak evil; it says it doesn’t even think it. So, all those ugly thoughts I’ve had rolling around in my head over this past year disqualify me from this “love category.”

8) Love rejoices in the truth (vs. 6). - Sometimes I want to hear the truth, but a lot of times, I’d rather hear something that makes me feel good. Right?

9) Love covers all wrongs (vs. 7). - Well, if it said, “Love brings up past wrongs,” I’d be okay, but love does the opposite. So, nope, I’m not quite there yet.

10) Love looks for and believes the best about others (vs. 7). - I’m just going to leave that one alone.

11) Love doesn’t lose hope (vs. 7). - It remains positive and patient, waiting and expecting God’s will to be done.

12) Love endures all things (vs. 7). - All things? Seriously? Even the annoying habits or quirky personalities? Yep, even those.

13) Love never fails (vs. 8).

It’s a tall order. And every time I read through this list of qualifications, I realize I have so far to go. So, this is my goal for the New Year. I want to learn to love the way God wants me to love. I want to become a living picture of this passage. By this time next year, I would like to look back over this list of qualifications and smile. Love doesn’t fail, and I shouldn’t either. By God’s grace, I aim to replace my daily "to-do" list with this “to-be” list. That way, it is a constant reminder of how God wants me to act. Repetition aids learning, so if I make this my daily motto and agenda, hopefully, by the end of next year, I will at least be closer to what God would have me to be.

What are your spiritual goals for the New Year?

I Can't Help It!

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Today’s devotion is out of the blue. It doesn’t revolve around Christmas or the New Year. It has no place within our current series, The Negatives in the Bible. But the idea came to me as I read through my devotions this morning, and I wanted to share it with you.

When we took our trip to the UK back in May, I felt sure the most difficult things for me would be the time difference, the food, and adjusting to the accents. But I was wrong. I actually adapted to those things quickly. (I know, I was shocked too.)  As it turned out, the hardest thing for me was forsaking the years and years of Southern manners I was taught from the time I was old enough to know better.  

It’s not that the people of the UK are rude; they merely live by different rules, particularly with the use of “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” Across the pond, such phrases have unspoken rules about them.  They are used only when speaking to royalty or occasionally to the elderly (and I mean VERY old). When answering anyone else, it’s “Yes” or “No.” Do you have any idea how difficult that was? Well, I’ll tell you it was so hard that I failed at it repeatedly. I rehearsed this mandate repeatedly in my head, but as soon as someone asked me a question, my ingrained manners took control of my mouth, and inevitably, a “ma’am” or “sir” ushered its way through my lips, causing me to cringe as soon as I heard it. I couldn’t help it! I wasn’t trying to be uncaring of their ways or disrespectful to the crown. It’s just that Southern manners have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t have to recall the rules; they just happen instinctively. Fortunately, everyone there seemed to understand.

The thought that crossed my mind this morning was this: Why was it so difficult to forsake my manners yet often so easy to forget to be thankful? Shouldn’t gratitude be ingrained in me as well? You would think.  After all, part of those Southern manners included phrases like “please” and “thank you.” Yet, thankfulness and praise don’t flow out of me effortlessly as my manners do. Sometimes, they even seem forced because I don’t feel like being thankful, but I know I should be. Have you ever been there?

Thankfully (pun intended), God has offered a solution—a course in spiritual manners, if you will. It’s called practice. Remember the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Well, it’s true. The more we practice praise and thanksgiving, the more natural it will become. Even during those times when my appreciation seems insincere, something stirs within me and reminds me that God is good even when my circumstances aren’t. I can pout, or I can praise. Pouting only prolongs my agony and bad mood while praise holds the key to free me from the chains of despair.  

I am a Southern girl, and that fact becomes apparent the moment I open my mouth. I am also a Christian, so that, too, should be clear by the words I say and even how I say them. Not only will my praise and testimony inspire others to join in, but it will encourage me to be more thankful and full of praise. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness. Praise produces praise. And Southern manners? Well, they breed a well-meaning redhead who is appreciative of all those who understand that forty years of instruction can’t be unlearned in a few days.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:14

What's on Display? - A Repost

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This time of year, with the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching, you'll find it difficult to find a store that isn't displaying their many wares.  Blinking lights, the latest gadgets, trendy clothing--all clamoring for our attention.  One display draws our eyes toward chocolate delights of every shape and size.  (I have to be very careful to avoid such displays, for my willpower isn't what it used to be.)  Another tempts us to sample the sweet fragrances of the many perfumes and body sprays.  And, of course, most stores have displays of the variety of Christmas decorations that are guaranteed to brighten our homes for the holidays.

Years ago, when I worked retail, I was always in charge of putting together the displays.  My manager was quick to recognize my creative skills, so when it was time to create a display, he pulled me from the registers and put me to work.  I loved it!  I was allowed to use anything in the store.  In fact, the more merchandise I used, the more effective the display would be.  I have fond (and somewhat comical) memories of building life-size scarecrows, ridiculous-looking snowmen, and Christmas displays that were the envy of many other stores.  My goal, no matter the display, was the same--make a statement!  The intention of creating such a display was to cause people to stop and pay attention, to pause in their hurried shopping and take notice of something out of the ordinary.

As I reminisced about the many displays I had created over the years (both in retail and in my nine years as a teacher), I realized that I have neglected the most important display of all--my life.  I am a Christian, which means "Christ-like".  I am a walking advertisement for the love, mercy and grace of God.  But I can't help but wonder, what do I have on display?  When people pass me, do they stop and pay attention?  In this hurried world, do they notice something out of the ordinary?  Is there something about my life that makes the world pause and stare in amazement?  Not because of me or anything I have done, but because there's something about me they just can't figure out.  Because there's an unnatural joy radiating from my smile.  Because there's unconditional love portrayed by my words, actions and attitudes.  Because there's a power that tugs at their hearts every time they are near me.

It's nice to have a display of Christmas lights or funky ornaments, but how much more important is it to have a daily display of the attributes and attitude of God?  Just as my manager entrusted me with the vital task of creating a crowd-stopping display, my Lord has given me the same instructions.  My goal with this display is the same as the ones I created years ago--to make a statement.  And that statement is this:  "I am not what I once was.  I've been redeemed and set right in the eyes of my Heavenly Father.  I am His child, and He loves me with an unconditional love.  He leads me and guides me, protects me and provides for me.  He's my closest Friend and my shelter from all harm.  Life in Him is full of joy and peace, and there's nothing like it in all the world.  Jesus is the name of my Friend and Savior.  Would you like to meet Him?"

Whether we're aware or not, something is always on display in our lives.  The question is, what are we showing the world?

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
— Acts 4:13

I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. This will be my last devotion until after the holidays. Lord willing, I’ll be back at the end of next week with some new devotions. In the meantime. enjoy this time with family and friends as we celebrate the reason for the season.

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