You Don’t Love the Church.

I was listening to a podcast of 2 Christian speakers when one of them popped the church question:

“So, what’s your current relationship with the church?” the host asked.

She was met with a quick, emphatic reply, “Oh, I love the church. Absolutely love it.
I haven’t been there in years, but I love it.”

Come again? You love it, yet you haven’t attended for years?
Somehow, I can’t reconcile the first statement with the second.

The conversation above raises two questions in my mind:
1. What does it mean to love the church?
2. Can you love the church without attending it?

 


What does it mean to love the church?

Can I love my husband if I never communicate with him?
Do I love my children if I never serve them?
Do I love my home if I never go there?
Can I love a person or an organization if I never give anything to them?

No, I cannot claim to love these people (or places) if I never give of myself to them in some form.
Love is not words. Love is action. Love is communication, serving, giving, and attending.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
Jesus didn’t just say He loved us. He did something about it. He gave His life to demonstrate His depth of love. Christ’s example teaches us how to love the church.

 

Can you love the church without attending it?

Yes.
But hang with me for a minute…

I have several dear friends who genuinely love the church, but are unable to attend because of severe illness.
One of them hasn’t been to church in years—and unless a miracle occurs, they’ll never be able to attend. Yet they faithfully give of their time to pray for the church members, encourage them with godly counsel, and give from their finances. Though they cannot physically attend, their actions clearly reveal their heart of love for Christ and His church.

Based on the example above (and many others like it), it would be foolish for me to dogmatically state that a person cannot love the church if they never attend. But the example above is not the norm. The great majority of us can travel freely to any public place we so desire—whether it’s church, the grocery store, or a football game.

So yes, I can have a heart of love for the church without attending it, if I’m in such a state that I am unable to attend public venues.
But can I love the church without giving to it? Giving my attendance, energy, communication skills, attention, and resources?
No, I cannot.

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  (1 John 3:18)

Consider the mind-shifting words of Ephesians 5: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Christ loved the church and gave Himself.

Friends, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking we love the church if we never give ourselves to it.
Love is not real if it only talks. True love gives.

If I Could Change One Thing About Myself…

This post is one you might as well have ripped out from my journal…
because it’s something personal God is doing in my life.

Since I’m always encouraged to hear about God’s work in someone’s heart,
I thought I’d share with the prayer that you’ll be spiritually encouraged.

Several months ago, Jonathan and I had a conversation revolving around this question:
“If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change?”

Immediately, I knew the answer. It’s something I’ve thought about for months and struggled with for years.

If I could change one thing about myself, do you know what it would be?
I would have more fear of God.

Now, I realize at first reading, that answer may seem like a bit of a copout. Like, of course, who doesn’t need to increase in their fear of God?

But here’s the deal: I so often struggle with what others think of me.
Peer pressure is not just for teens, y’all.
I think this preoccupation with others’ thoughts is because
I fear people around me more than I fear God.

If I feared God more than I fear others, wouldn’t I be more concerned with what He thinks about me than with what others think?
If I feared God more than I fear others, wouldn’t my main questions be, “Am I pleasing God in this area? Am I doing something He loves or hates?”

Now, the great thing about this desired change is this:
it doesn’t have to stay this way!

In fact, God commands me to fear Him. Check out these words from Scripture:

You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice,
and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
Deuteronomy 13:4

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

But how do you increase your fear of God?

When I asked Jonathan how he thought a person could grow in their fear of God, he pointed out that fearing God looks like obeying Him.
I pondered this briefly before replying, “But I’m already obeying God.”

I mean, go ahead and insert a major laugh line here. I know you’re laughing, so I might as well acknowledge the humor (although it’s slightly painful).

I decided to give my husband the benefit of the doubt.
(I know, I know—I’m so generous.)

I asked God to reveal areas of disobedience in my life. Over the next couple weeks, I encountered several situations in which I was extremely tempted to take a course of disobedience when the Holy Spirit reminded me, “Hey, remember that prayer about wanting to fear God?”
Yeah. That.

Here are two lessons He drilled into my heart during that time:

 

A person who truly fears God obeys
no matter who is around—
because they remember God is always watching.

&

The person who fears God considers
God’s thoughts the only ones that matter. 


So the outworking of fear for God looks like…

  • a wife who speaks respectfully to her husband
    because she’s more interested in following the command of God than attempting to change her spouse.
  • an employee who chooses the path of servanthood for his employer and coworkers
    because he prioritizes God’s values over the values of the world.
  • a friend who extends humble love in spite of her friends’ rejection
    because she desires to love fully as Christ did.
  • a parent who lovingly, consistently disciples her children in God’s Word (even though her friends are teaching their children popular but unbiblical truths) because she cares more about what God thinks about her than what her friends think.
  • a teen who shows kindness to people outside his friend group
    because he’s genuinely thinking about others more than himself.

On a personal level, this is what will happen when I fear God:

  • when I’m tempted to give up on the whole patience thing with my child during a frustrating math lesson,
    I’ll repent and trust God to provide me with the love only He can give.
  • when I’m envying another woman’s schedule, talents, personality, or possessions,
    I’ll repent and trust God to provide everything I need.
  • when I’m filled with a complaining heart because of the weather, people’s problems, and the repetition of my daily jobs,
    I’ll repent, thank God for all He’s given me, and ask Him to make me truly grateful for all His amazing gifts.

I want to live for the eyes of Him
who has given me unending love through Jesus.
I want to become a woman who fears the Lord.

 

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
Psalm 96:4

 


 

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Nothing is Wasted

Several months ago, my family watched a children’s movie together. As the final credits scrolled across the screen, my husband and I did what we typically do after movies: we dissected, critiqued, and discussed improvements that should have been made. 

This particular movie must have had an inexperienced director because there were several wasted scenes at the end of the movie. Certain details and characters never came to a resolution and seemed to be inserted without purpose—adding confusion to the overall plot instead of clarity. No big deal. I chalk it up to poor editing and maybe a low budget, then finish my popcorn in peace. It’s just a movie, after all.

 

But what about real life?

Do you realize that God never orchestrates your life in the same way this director organized his movie? God is so powerful that He is able to use everything—absolutely everything—in your life to fulfill His overall plan of transforming you to mirror Jesus.

 

Nothing Wasted

There is nothing wasted in your life. There are no scenes without purpose; nothing God cannot use. That’s why Paul confidently states this truth in Romans 8: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

God is able to take all the things that happen in your life and use them to make you like Jesus.

Let’s make this nice and practical, shall we?

When was the last time you had a difficult conversation with someone?
When did you hear bad news?
When did someone hurt you with their words or actions?
When have struggled with your health? Your finances?

Nothing is wasted. God can use every one of those hard things to make you like His Son.

 

But How?

Simply living life doesn’t make you more like Christ; it’s what happens in your heart that changes you.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44) It’s only when we allow God to work in our hearts through the hard things that we become more like Jesus.

So process things with the Lord.
Tell Him about the difficult words you just heard.
Tell Him about the way you felt.
Tell Him how your child was hurt.
Tell Him all that’s going on in your heart.

And then surrender.
Surrender your pride.
Surrender your own way.
Surrender the thought that “nobody understands” and let it be enough that Jesus does.

Let it be enough that Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through because He, as the greatest director of all time, planned it out before the beginning of time. He allows these difficulties in your life to help you run to Him, see His perfect glory, and be changed to mirror His Son. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

There is rest in this truth. When you believe that nothing is wasted, but that God is able to use all things to change you to be like Jesus, there is rest and peace. Instead of feeling pressure to work out all the details, you can experience peace that only comes when you leave all the details with the One Who planned them.

This is God, our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever. (Psalm 48:14)
Trust Him. He never wastes a thing.

3 Questions I Ask Before Pressing “Publish”

Today marks 7 years of blogging here at Brown Sugar Toast. 7 YEARS!

In commemoration of this event, I’m going to share 3 questions I ask before pressing publish. I want you to know what my goals are for the writing in this space, rather than it seeming like a random assortment of posts. Whether I write about heart issues, books, goals, or anything else, here are 3 things I want to be true of each post that is published.

1. Is it true?

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

This desire for truth spreads in two directions:

A) I want my words to be a truthful reflection of the words and character of God. If there is anything that contradicts Scripture, I don’t want to think it, much less publish it on the internet.

B) I want to be honest about the Lord’s work in my heart. Another word for honesty is transparency. I believe people are most helped when they see a striving out of struggle, not when they see someone who pretends to be perfect. My intention in sharing personal struggles is to be a living testimony of God’s active grace in the life of an imperfect sinner.

 

2. Does it exalt Christ as the true Hero?

Christ is always the Hero, whether or not my writing reveals that truth. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

While I want to be honest about the Lord’s work in my heart, I never want to set myself up as the hero of the story. This is a heart issue; not a stylistic one. As a result, this question keeps me on my knees as I ask the Lord to fulfill this desire in my heart and let it overflow in my words.

 

3. Is it gracious?

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24)

Nothing stings quite like speech that’s lacking in the grace department. I want my words to minister grace to those who read them. As a result, I try to be careful not to publish something immediately after writing it. The nice thing about writing words is that you can take time to pray over them and only publish what you actually want to say. Of course, such a thing is easier said than done. But this is my goal.

 

 

A person can write (or talk) about absolutely anything and be truthful, gracious, and exalt Christ as the true Hero. The questions above are goals for my writing in this space, but ultimately, I want these traits to be found in every word that comes out of my mouth. Gracious, that scares me to even write that out! We need the Lord’s help in this area, don’t we?

This prayer has been a favorite of mine since high school. Pray it with me?

“Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14

May the Lord help us to guard our hearts and tongues today.

9 Perfect Gifts for Your Valentine {Spouse}

I told my husband I was writing a post about perfect gifts for your valentine.
His response?
“I better go read that post!”

But no, actually.
Because the items below are not things I want, but rather things we already own and greatly enjoy. These are tried and true favorites we use during home date nights, road trips, and day to day. So if you’re looking for a gift that won’t get stuck on a shelf for a few years until it’s eventually sold in a yard sale, I suggest one of our favorites below…

click on the picture or description for the link!

 

  1. Conversation Cards – we use these on road trips, date nights, and just bought a pack for our recently married friends. We’ve talked about things we wouldn’t normally think to bring up like, “Name a marriage you admire and why.” Solid.

2. Handheld Massager – this is a great little tool because it doesn’t make your hand cramp when you use it to give massages. Give this to your spouse along with a certificate for a massage and make their day! (one minute if you’re feeling stingy. ten minutes if you’re not.)

3. My Favorite Marriage Book – Jonathan and I have read several marriage books together, but this is by far my favorite. We give this away at almost every wedding we attend. Here’s a list of some other marriage books we’ve read. And a marriage book review by my husband—the one time he guest-posted on Brown Sugar Toast! His rates were too high for me to have him on regularly.

4. Lovely smelling candle – a friend gave us this candle a couple years ago and since I’m a terrible candle hoarder, we still have it. I light it approximately once every other month because I love it so. At this rate, I’ll still have it in 2028. But it smells so goooooood!

5. Mini Skillet – we just gave one of these away too, along with a recipe for this mini skillet cookie. Does this seem out of place on this list? Maybe. But I’ll explain. This little guy makes a perfectly-sized skillet cookie to enjoy (with ice cream, obvs) during our home date nights.

6. A favorite game – two of our favorites for date nights are Boggle and Guess Who.
But I feel like Twister would also be an excellent option. Ahem.

            

 

7. Matching pizza shirts – because obviously, we need these to have a quality marriage. (Proof we actually own/wear them.)

I also appreciated these donut/coffee & bacon/egg options. But in the end, I went with the pizza shirts because we both definitely love pizza.

 

8. Electric Blanket – this blanket was a recent purchase due to both of us having frozen feet at night. We are fans. Major fans. The best thing is when you turn it on about ten minutes before you get in bed and then are surprised with delicious warmth. Ahhhh.

9. Date Night Certificate – Plan a date your spouse would enjoy! Go learn something new together (go to a shooting range, take a cooking class, try ice skating like we attempted last week) or pick an activity you think they’d love.
If you don’t think your spouse would enjoy a night out, plan a special night at home. Jonathan and I do this all the time (here’s how we make it happen).

 

And that’s it! 9 of our favorite things!
What are some of yours? Tell me what to add to my list!

 

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