Sunday

Who Is Your "Least of These"?

Sometimes it’s easy to love the “least of these.” Other times, not so much. It’s easy to love little children until they whine, tantrum, or disobey. And the poor until they act ungrateful or entitled. Many of us are willing to care for the sick—until someone throws up on us. And we welcome the lonely until they get clingy and demanding.

Nevertheless, God calls us to serve those who appear to bring nothing to the table. Matthew 25:40 tells us, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine has done it unto me.”

In light of this command, we should ask ourselves, “Who is “the least of these” God is calling me to love and serve?

Maybe it’s a family member, co-worker, neighbor, or church member. Or it could be a young mom, college student, or struggling teen. Or a lonely friend, grieving widow, or elderly acquaintance.

“Least of these” can be one-time opportunities to do a kind deed, meet a need, or speak an encouraging word, or they can be longer-term commitments to get involved in someone’s life. Regardless, we should always be ministering to at least one of the least of these.

The litmus test is that our commitment is a sacrificial relationship that appears to be lopsided—we’re giving and they’re receiving.

I’d like to share five reasons to love and serve “the least of these.”

1. God blesses us when we share generously.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). Whether it’s time, talent, or treasure, God always manages to bless us more than we bless others.

2. God will get the glory for our kind deeds.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16).

3. When we were young believers, others patiently helped us grow.

Now we can pay it forward. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” Rom. 15:1).

4. Jesus promises eternal reward for those who selflessly serve others.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” (Mat. 25:34-35).

5. It makes God happy.

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16). Who doesn’t want to make God happy?

I’ve been a believer for more than 30 years. Sometimes I’ve been self-focused, and other times I’ve been other-focused. It hasn’t taken me long to discover that self-focus is self-limiting. Ministering to others, however, especially when it’s challenging and sacrificial, grows our faith, expands our hearts, and draws others closer to God.

Some of the needy people I’ve befriended purely out of obedience to God’s promptings have become my dearest friends. While the relationships may have started out lopsided, as they grew in spiritual maturity, they have loved me loyally and unselfishly.

Some of the sick people I’ve ministered to have taught me priceless lessons about contentment, courage, and faith. More than once I’ve visited someone intending to encourage them and realized instead that they had encouraged me.

Some of the spiritually immature people I’ve discipled have challenged me think through what I believe and be able to defend it. They’ve inspired me with their fledgling faith and reminded me of my responsibility to set a good example.

I always learn something about myself and the Lord when I minister to the least of these. Probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that, in God’s eyes, I, too, am the least of these. He loves me when I’m unlovely, comforts me when I am sick, and visits me when I am in a prison of my own making. In every way, he loves me the way he calls me to love others.

So I ask you again, who is “the least of these” whom God is calling you to love and serve? If you don’t have someone, pray and ask God to show you who around you most needs your love and care.


Last weekend I had the privilege of ministering with the amazing women of Good Shepherd UMC Parish in Brookville, PA. Here are a few scenes from our time together.

A beautiful morning ushered in a beautiful day.

A shy friend greeted us in the nearby apple orchard.



The first hat in "A Hat for All Seasons, Serving God in Every Stage of Life" is a safari hat. Can you guess why?

"Stepping Out, How Our Footwear Impacts our Faith"
God calls men AND women to wear this shoe as we walk the faith walk.

"Clean Out That Closet" challenged us to leave bitterness and unforgiveness at the foot of the cross.
The amazing planning committee that made everything flow smoothly.




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Wednesday

How Do I Love Thee?*


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 




I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, 




when feeling out of sight 




For the ends of being and ideal grace.





I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, 





by sun and candle-light. 




I love thee freely, as men strive for right. 




I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. 




I love thee with the passion put to use 




In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.




I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints. 




I love thee with the breath,




Smiles, tears, of all my life; 



and, if God choose, 

I shall but love thee better after death.



O Father, I can never earn your love, and I certainly don't deserve it, yet you freely bestow it upon me. I disappoint you, and sometimes I break your heart, but you never stop loving me.  You surround me with your beauty, fill my life with good things, and use me in your service. Your love brings me comfort. Your promises bring me peace. Your presence brings me joy.

I love you. 

I love you. 

I love you.

*How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 - 1861. In the public domain.



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Sunday

Going Home, Part V, How I Hope to Be Remembered

I never met my grandfather, but I’ve always loved him. 

When I was young, I’d look at pictures of him and imagine what it would be like to have a grandfather. I’d listen to Mom’s stories of Sunday afternoons at Crescent Park riding the carousel and special daddy/daughter dates. I dreamed of a tenderhearted man who would listen to whatever was on my heart and always feed me ice cream. 

Because my grandfather died before I was born, all I have of him are a few photographs and my dreams. Last month, when I visited my hometown, I stopped by the place I always associate with my grandfather—an old stone wall on Silver Creek. 

Sixty-five years ago, as a birthday surprise, my grandfather walked my mother down to this spot not far from their home. He wanted to do something to commemorate her special day. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a handful of tiny white stones. He uncovered the mysterious bucket he’d carried with them and took out a trowel. 


While she looked on curiously, he scooped soft cement from the bucket and ladled it in between the stones on top of the wall. He smoothed the edges, blending them into the surrounding concrete. Then, one by one, he gently placed the little white stones just so

My mom, fascinated by his handiwork, watched her initials form under his careful hand. After he pressed the last stone into its soft setting, he stood back to admire his work. 

“There you go, Lillie,” he said, waving his hand with a proud flourish. “Happy birthday.” He wrapped her in his arms and hugged her tightly. “No matter how many birthdays you have, I hope you’ll always remember this one here with me.” 


I loved to hear my mother tell this story. Oftentimes, walking home from the corner store, I’d leave the sidewalk and trek across the grass to that magical spot on the wall. Because my first and middle initials are the same as my mother’s, I’d sometimes pretend that they were my initials, and that my grandfather had placed them there for me. I longed for a similarly permanent tribute to my existence. 



This longing to be immortalized is common to mankind. We yearn for proof that the world is different because we’ve been in it.

The apostle Paul felt this desire as he wrote to the Corinthian church. He acknowledged he’d never have a statue dedicated in his honor or a highway named after him. Instead, he reminded his beloved converts that they were his memorial. 

“You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3). 

Paul’s words remind me that the greatest tribute I can leave behind is a life well-lived for the cause of Christ. The best treasure I can acquire isn’t gold and silver or accolades and accomplishments. My highest goal can and should be the privilege of impacting the world for Jesus. 

Lord, lift my eyes from temporary man made stones to the tablets of human hearts. May the people I touch be changed for your glory and their good.

What about you? Do you wonder sometimes if your life is making a difference? How do you hope to be remembered after you die? I invite you to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you missed the other posts in the Going Home series, here are the links:

"There's Something Magical about Going Home"

"Going Home, Part II, Family"

"Going Home, Part III, Food"

"Going Home, Part IV, Faith" 




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Wednesday

Going Home, Part IV, Faith

Faith caught me when I didn’t expect it, and I’ve been a happy captive ever since.

As I look back at the path of my faith journey, I can clearly see the imprint of my first footsteps in a little town on Narragansett Bay. 

When I was six, I memorized my first Bible verse—John 3:16. I’d been attending Vacation Bible School with a friend at a little Primitive Methodist church in North Providence, Rhode Island. One day the teacher promised a prize for everyone who could say the verse the following day. I went home, learned the unfamiliar words, and recited them perfectly the next morning. 

I don’t remember the prize, but years later, when I came to faith in Christ, I discovered that I already knew one of the most life-changing truths of Scripture: 

"For 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.” 

When I was eight, I was old enough to walk to church with my Portuguese godmother, Madrinha. Madrinha had a Texas-size heart in a Rhode Island-size body. The ultimate hostess, she always had cookies and soda in a jelly glass for me whenever I’d visit. But not on Sunday mornings. 

“If you want to take communion,” she’d say, reminding me of the Catholic guidelines, “you can’t eat or drink for an hour before.” 

I loved my Madrinha, and the chance to go anywhere with her was a treat, even without cookies. 

Although I didn’t come to faith until years later, attending church with Madrinha was a valuable part of my spiritual upbringing. Later, when many of my teenage friends questioned God’s existence, I never doubted. Madrinha’s example of reverence and respect for the things of God taught me never to treat matters of faith lightly. 


My mom and Catherine (L-R) Aren't they cute?
On my recent trip back home, I had the pleasure of attending church with Catherine, a family friend. I never tire of hearing her story. 

As a confused and struggling young woman, she sought answers in the Bible. The more she read, the more she realized how her sin separated her from God. Scripture taught her that God loved her with an everlasting love—so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on a cross and pay the punishment for her sin. 

She learned that instead of trusting in her good works to earn a place in heaven, she needed to trust in what Christ had already done for her. One day, all alone in her home, she surrendered her life to God. 

Excited to share her newfound faith, Catherine opened her home to others who were interested in studying the Bible. From those studies sprang a vibrant, evangelical ministry that continues to this day. As I sang and worshiped alongside her, I marveled at how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. 


Everywhere I looked in Rhode Island I saw glimpses of God. I saw his creative genius in the pink blush of the ocean at sunrise. I saw his timeliness and order in the ebb and flow of the tides. I saw his bountiful provision in the family members who extended gracious hospitality. I saw his boundless love as I experienced his gifts of laughter, love, and relationships. 

James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the father of lights.” 

My trip to Rhode Island reminded me that God is always at work, wherever we are. From the Sandhills of South Carolina to the seashores of Rhode Island, he eagerly reveals himself to those who seek him. From the tiniest grandchild bowing her head in thanks over breakfast to the family matriarch seeking wisdom for her future, God’s ears are attentive to our prayers. And to every soul who struggles under life’s load, he calls, 

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:28-30). 


What about you? As you look back at the faith steps you took on the road to a relationship with Jesus, which milestones stand out? Who did God use to guide and influence you? What experience are you most thankful for? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below and bless us all. 

And if you're not sure you have a relationship with God, click here to learn more.

Finally, if you'd like to hear more of my story, click here for a video testimonial. 

If you missed the other posts in this series, here are the links:
"There's Something Magical about Going Home"

"Going Home, Part II, Family"

"Going Home, Part III, Food"








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Sunday

Going Home, Part III, Food

Food is very important to my family. 

Because we had three newcomers (my son-in-law and two grands) to initiate into the food fold during our recent trip to Rhode Island, we planned our itinerary around unique local delicacies.

Portuguese sweet bread (masa sovada) from Cornerstone Bakery awaited us at the homestead. Buttered to the edges and toasted under the broiler, it is manna with a Portuguese twist. 

“How can this taste so good?” my son-in-law wondered aloud. Eggs, butter, and a pound of sugar might have something to do with it, Son. 

The thought of malasadas, fluffy circles of fried dough coated with sugar, lured me from my bed early Sunday morning. Now that the first generation of Portuguese immigrant women has passed on, few are willing to go through the process of mixing the dough, letting it rise twice, then forming it into flat rounds ready to fry. Corner bakeries have taken their place, but only on Sunday mornings. 
Photo credit: Cassandra at www.frillyfabulous.wordpress.com

“Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” the baker said when I called to inquire, “so you’d better get here early.” 

The memory of watching my grandmother drop perfectly formed ovals into a steaming pan of oil, then pass them to me for sugaring propelled me out of the house early that Sunday morning. A block from the bakery, the smell of golden deliciousness drew me in like the siren’s song. I paused, inhaled deeply, and held my breath, eyes closed in delight. Gloriously content to stand and savor, I stood there until an angry growl from my empty stomach propelled me the rest of the way to the bakery. 

“The only advertisement you need is that smell,” I said to the dark-eyed girl behind the counter. She smiled, then blinked twice when I placed my order. 

“Twelve?” she repeated, certain she’d heard wrong. 

“Twelve,” I said. “It’s been a long time.” 

Del’s frozen lemonade, Maple Walnut ice cream, and the Newport Creamery’s legendary Awful Awful (a milkshake so named because it’s “Awful Big and Awful Good,”) guided the week's itinerary. 

My mom and her cousin shared a New England Clam Boil, fishing out little neck clams and dunking them into melted butter. My daughter bravely swallowed a bite of the rubbery shellfish. We passed a basket of Quito’s clam cakes around the table, and the coffee lovers among us licked over-filled cones of Rhode Island Lighthouse Coffee ice cream. Long walks around the bay helped counteract our dietary indescretions. 

For me, the greatest joy came not from eating the delicacies I’ve loved since childhood, but from sharing them. The ritual of food is risky. Would I have loved my new son-in-law even if he turned up his nose at my favorite ice cream? Absolutely. Did I love him more as we shared a grin and a nod over cones piled high with sweet deliciousness? You bet. 


One of my favorite snapshot is this one of my granddaughter. Smiling broadly, she holds a malasada in one hand and a piece of sweet bread in the other. That’s my girl. You may not look Portuguese, little one, but you are. 

God could have created us without taste buds. Without taste, eating would be utilitarian—a necessary obligation to keep us alive. Instead, he created us with the ability to taste, and savor, and delight. 

Then, to make it even sweeter, he placed us in families. Together we can share not only the necessary parts of cooking and eating, but also the relational parts. Around the table, against the backdrop of good food, we laugh, and talk, and share. We tempt each other with delicacies, squabble over who gets the last bite of something good, and compare likes and dislikes. Food is the magic elixir that soothes grumpy toddlers and hard working men. 


Sometimes, opportunities to gather around the table with distant family and close kin make me a little homesick for heaven. One day, we’ll gather at a feast that will put our simple meals to shame (Rev. 19). Family members from generations gone by will take their places around the table, we’ll join hands, and our Father will pronounce the blessing. 

“For the loved ones gathered here and for the food we are about to receive, we are grateful.” 

I’m looking forward to that celebration. I suspect you are, too. In the meantime, may we enjoy many happy meals around our family tables. 

Would you like to chime in? What’s your family’s favorite food? Do you have a special traditional meal that you’ve shared from one generation to another? Leave a comment below and share your story. If you’re reading by email, click here to visit Hungry for God online, scroll to the bottom of the post, and leave a comment there. 

If you missed the earlier blog posts in the Going Home series, click HERE to read “There’s Something Magical about Going Home,” or click HERE for “Going Home, Part II – Family.”

And if you'd like a recipe for Malasadas, Portuguese doughnuts, click here to visit Cassandra at FrillyFabulous.



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