Love is . . . a Labor – 2 Samuel 24:21-24

We’re celebrating Dad’s birthday today.

I’m engaged in a labor of love, and I knew before I started that it would mean a lot of discomfort on my part. Since my vintage stand mixer retired itself because of its own age-related issues, I’m mixing the batter manually, taking lots of breaks to stretch the arthritic joints in my neck and low back.

I plod through the handwritten recipe. It has been more than a decade since I baked something from scratch. Well, except for a couple pans of cinnamon rolls which I’m not proud of.

Mom made this cake for many of Dad’s birthdays, likely as many as half, before she stopped baking. Her banana cake recipe was his favorite, and he especially appreciated the extra walnut bits she folded into the batter.

In the book of 2nd Samuel there’s a story about the king of Israel wanting a man’s threshing floor in order to build an altar to the Lord. However, the man, Araunah, tried to give it to him free of charge.

“Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.”

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

2 Samuel 24:21-24

Dad didn’t expect, or even request, a home-baked birthday cake today. I chose to make him one because I love him. I’m thankful God blessed me with an earthly father who held me in his arms as a newborn and played silly games with me as a child. Who worked extra jobs to provide us a good home, struggled through his frustration in parenting a teen, and mourned his loss as he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.

Yes, he labored and suffered for me because of love. And today I’m working through my pain to bake him a cake.

Kathy Sheldon Davis

May your Christmas be filled with joy and gratitude for the sacrificial gift that our Father in heaven gave to us when he sent Jesus, his dearly loved Son. Merry Christmas!

How I Manage Myself on Social Media – Ephesians 5:15-17

I can handle it. I’m going to check my feed for five minutes because I need a break and I want to catch up on the news. And maybe see what’s going on with my friends . . .

photo by andre-mouton .unsplash

Yeah, you guessed it. I was still scrolling through photos and stories two hours later, proving I’m not in control as much as I thought.

My story isn’t new and neither are the excuses. You don’t need to hear all the details about my painful joints and the amount of time I spend lying down. I’ve learned to be productive, managing my daily tasks as I rest, and I’m delighted I can get so much done. But after work I check my feeds on Facebook and Twitter and too often there I go again, sliding into the void . . .

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV

There are so many opinions on the dangers of social media, my little brain can’t process it all. What concerns me, though, is how easily I’m drawn in – and kept there – by the distractions. Dare I use a stronger word and say seductions?

A few days ago my husband and I watched interviews of former executives and designers of the most popular social media platforms. It was alarming. At the end we asked ourselves what they were going to do to fix the problems they helped create.

But what they do is not my business. Instead, I should be concerned about how I’m managing me.

Where to start? I acknowledge that I’m a sheep. I follow other sheep because that’s what sheep do. No matter how convinced I am that I’m choosing my own path, I have to admit that my default is to take the easiest way without thinking things through or asking God for guidance.

Sheep can be startled by a loud noise and take off running away from safety instead of towards it, all because it seems like a smart move at the time. Yup, that’s me.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Here’s what Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd, said:

“. . . The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

John 10:3-5 ESV

How can I be sure it’s his voice I’m hearing in my head? For me, the answer lies in practicing. I start by asking for his help. I read the Bible to see how people in the past communicated with God and I talk to him like they did.

Immersing my mind in his words helps me detect faulty thinking that may crop up. I love those times when I recognize something seems off and I can say wait, that’s not right. God doesn’t talk like that.

Of course I make mistakes, that’s okay. He’s patient, and he knows I am a sheep. When I say or do something silly I shine my flashlight of faith on it and confess my error. And when I’m unsure of the direction I should take? That’s when I exercise my faith and say, “Correct me if I’m wrong, Lord. I really want to do your will.”

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:21 ESV

There’s a free 30-day Bible study course in progress now from Bible Gateway. It can help you get started on recognizing God’s voice. Though it started a couple weeks ago it’s not too late to join – I did and quickly caught up. I enjoyed the overview of the Bible its given me so far, and it covers a lot of ground in a short time.

After shopping around the internet for a photo to go along with this post, I darkened the screen, set my phone down, and pushed it out of my reach. I looked up and asked God how did I do? This time I was able to resist giving social media two hours of my attention. Instead I redirected my thoughts to the One I love most, and I trust that with practice I’ll do even better.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

From Judgment to Grace – Changing a Family Story – Romans 14:4

I know we’re not supposed to judge, but I do it all the time. It’s so easy, especially when the person in mind is someone I’ve never met and who died in 1925. Years ago I heard things about him that made it clear his poor choices affected his family for generations after him. He was clearly guilty.

He was my great-grandfather, Robert Stowe, a married father of four who worked as an insurance salesman and music teacher in Elkhart, Indiana. His failing was that his addiction to alcohol ate up their resources and caused his family to live in poverty. His daughter remembered how the wind blew up through cracks in the floor. His wife took their children to church and taught them good values, but Robert’s was only a sad, depressing story.

That was the narrative I believed all my life, until a few months ago.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:4 ESV

My Robert Stowe story changed shortly before my mother died, when she gave me more details about his life. She told me about his love for his children, how he taught music at their school, singing with Beneta, my grandmother, in his rich tenor voice.

His wife was musical too, singing soprano and playing her guitar. In their poverty they enjoyed making music. I hadn’t known they shared good times together. Instead I based my opinion of him on a repeated story, that single story, which in my mind marked him for life.

I felt no affection for Robert Stowe, however, until Mom told me about how his church held the belief that when it came to drinking alcohol you were doomed. Even if you believed in Jesus as your Savior, struggling with drink was equal to moral failure. You were labeled “backslidden” and no longer welcome in God’s presence—or theirs.

Robert Stowe would repent and get sober, attend church with his family for a time, then backslide again. Can you imagine how hard it would be to face your friends again and again, and have them reject you because of your struggles? And how heartbreaking it would be for a little girl to think her daddy wouldn’t go to heaven?

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:7-9 ESV

Robert Stowe practiced a righteous life, humbling himself to admit his struggle with staying sober. He failed miserably, but the 1 John 3 scripture doesn’t say there’s a limit to how many falls we can experience. It does mention practicing, though.

I have three photos of my great-grandfather. In all of them he appears stern. Maybe he was hard on himself, a perfectionist that could never measure up. I can’t find any clues about his childhood or what happened to him. What I do know is that my heart changed. I understand him a little better now, and I have compassion for him.

I also know the graciousness of God and the truth that we all need a Savior. None of us come to God with a perfect record. And none of us are better people, or worse sinners, than another. God’s grace is enough.

Now I can easily imagine my great-grandfather performing the most requested song by his daughter’s classmates, Nita Juanita, and singing it with her name, “Nita” Beneta. If they share the love of laughter and the sparkle I’ve seen in his daughter’s blue eyes, it’s not a reach to imagine them enjoying a playful moment in heaven—free not only from his addictions, but from others’ judgments as well.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Kathy Sheldon Davis