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The Love of God

I’ve had some rainy afternoons, perfect for reading, during this past week. I found an old favorite of mine at the thrift store in town and I was eager to dive in. Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall has truly surprised me this week. Ideas that I thought so revolutionary and radical—like God is Good, He’s better than you Think by Bill Johnson or Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, were preceded by the wife of U.S Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall in faith. Published in 1961, Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall is a radical exploration of the goodness of God in the midst of human suffering. Early in the book, she writes: “A few years ago there were those who said that the atom could not be split. The atom has been split. Why should we not go forward in the same spirit to explore the spiritual world where lies the answer to a greater riddle—the riddle of the nature of man and his relation to the universe? This spiritual world is a real world. There is terrain there still to be discovered; peaks yet to be scaled; new truth to be mined; in short, the spiritual atom to be split.” (p. 14)

Her earnest and thorough pursuit of God have reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s language in Ephesians 3:8 “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” The truth and beauty in Christ are unfathomable riches—boundless, endless, unsearchable—and yet we will gladly spend our lives plumbing those depths!

Marshall asks the question, in watching Jesus, what did His disciples learn about God? She answers, “Jesus acted as if there was never any question of the Father’s willingness to supply all needs—even such material ones as appeasing hunger. God was concerned about men’s bodies along with their souls: Divine love delighted in dispelling pain, in restoring sanity, in straightening crooked limbs and opening blind eyes, even in banishing premature death. Jesus said that in heaven there was an instant readiness to forgive and great joy over finding the lost.” (p. 32) She goes on to say, “The gospels make it clear that to Jesus the Father is all-loving, is of the essence of love, cannot help loving. Moreover, this love includes the attributes of love known to all of us—good will, unselfishness, consideration, justice, wanting only good things for us, desiring our happiness. It is not a love dependent on our earning it. God is “for us” first, last, and always. By every word and action, by all the force of His personality, Christ sought to tell us that the Father is always nearer, mightier, freer to help us than we can imagine.” (p.33)

“By every word and action, by all the force of His personality, Christ sought to tell us that the Father is always nearer, mightier, freer to help us than we can imagine.”  My friend, let that sink in for a moment. Where do you need God’s nearness? How do you need His help? In studying the words and actions of Christ, we find that God is more than willing to come alongside of us. In listening for His voice in prayer, we discover the goodness God has for us.

As we reflect on the love of God this week, here’s a good word to ponder, memorize, meditate on: “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:9) All His works! How do we enter in to the kind of relationship with God where we experience His tender mercies as our reality? How to Enter In will be next week’s blog.

If you would like to receive this blog in your email every Monday morning, just go to www.MargaretAllen.org/Mondays with Margaret and sign up!

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Host or Guest?

I learned a new word this week and have already put it into practice. The word is XENIA. It is an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, translated as guest-friendship. The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called Zeus Xenios in his role as protector of strangers. We are much more familiar with the negative use of this word, as in Xenophobia, which is a fear or dislike of people from other countries or who are different from us in some way. But I prefer the positive use of the word.

Xenia is a big part of many Biblical stories. In fact, many times that we as modern western readers don’t understand a story, it’s because of xenia elements that are foreign to our culture. The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of this. We secretly wonder if we meet Jesus’ definition of a neighbor. Let’s consider several references to anchor the idea of xenia: 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) In the first century church, hospitality was included in the job description for leaders. Our western culture does not value this Biblical requirement for church leaders today, but what if it did? What if the church, specifically Christians, were where someone could go when they were a stranger in town or needed help? I don’t know if I’ve entertained any angels but I do know that every time I’ve shown kindness to a stranger, I’ve been blessed in some way.

Jesus said, “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; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; in prison, and you came to Me.” In the story the righteous asked, “When did we do these things for you?” And Jesus answered “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40) Truly this is one of the most sobering passages spoken by Jesus.

And going back even further in time, to the very beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith just after the Ten Commandments were given, we read: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) So there it is, the foundation of xenia. We understand what it is like to be a stranger because we each have been a stranger in some context. We understand what it is like to be the new kid at school, starting a job, a stranger in a town. We understand being vulnerable, unsure, lonely, or insecure. We have been a stranger in some Egypt somewhere.

In California we walk right past people—at church, in our neighborhood, standing on the corner, shopping next to us. It would be odd to talk to a stranger. But in Idaho, we have had the privilege of being the new kids in town. The number of people we know in Hailey/Ketchum, Idaho can be counted on one hand. I decided to try out my new word, xenia. At the little 4th of July parade in town, I invited people on the street to come to our home afterward for a BBQ. The hilarious thing is that they came! It turns out many people around us feel like strangers. They are grateful for hospitality. Hopefully we have deepened their definition of Christian to include xenia, a kindness toward strangers. Either way, I’m happy to meet new friends!

Check out Romans 12:13 this week. At first glance it tells us to show hospitality, but if we dig deeper, we find it expresses a command to eagerly pursue hospitality. We are called to be a host, not a guest, in almost any conversation or encounter. Pursue xenia this week and see if you are not blessed!

Next week I’ll post my monthly mashup. Be sure to subscribe to my blog and visit www.MargaretAllen.org for resources. Please share your stories of xenia in the comments. Have a beautiful week, everyone!

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Give Me Understanding

Do you ever find yourself returning to a passage of scripture but not knowing why? I am stuck on Psalm 119.  I want to look away, I promise. But God keeps turning my gaze back to this Psalm. So here I am, in the longest chapter of the Bible, almost dead center of The Book. I’m sure He can feel my squirming.  Verse after verse about the word of God, the testimony of God, His precepts, judgments and decrees (eight different Hebrew words are used to refer to God’s Word in this Psalm) A few weeks ago I mentioned how precious His testimonies are and the very reference to His testimonies in this Psalm wrecks me! This week I’ve been struck by the phrase, “give me understanding,” which is repeated six times in Psalm 119. Have we not whispered this prayer as we read the day’s headlines? Haven’t we shaken our head and said this as we consider our friendships or perhaps even our marriages? What are these patterns in our life? What’s our purpose? Why do we struggle to walk out the Christian life in this world? Lord, give us understanding.  Let’s dig deeper.

In Psalm 119:34 we read: “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” It makes sense that we can follow whole heartedly if we only understand. Clarity is curative, right? Lord I so want to understand to be whole toward You. C.S. Lewis said, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” Our hope, delight, and trust are in God. Our head knows this but sometimes our heart has to catch up!

“Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.” (Psalm 119:73) Our identity and purpose flow out of this fact: God made us and fashioned us.  Yes, how desperately we need understanding on this point today. WHO we are is designed; we are not an accident. God made us for His heart. At the most basic level, our identity is literally stamped on every cell in our body. But so much greater than that simple fact, God chose every unique aspect of our existence: our eye-print, lip-print, fingerprint all unique. Our laugh, our gait, our thoughts, family background and experiences are unique. Who doesn’t want greater understanding in the why behind their identity?

“I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.” Here in verse 104 the writer shifts from asking for understanding to stating an impact of clarity received. We hate the false, fake ways that lead us away from real life. When we see the truth, beauty, and goodness in God’s ways, we realize the short-comings of all other options.

In verse 125, the writer states: “I am Your servant; Give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies.” I’ve prayed this one. I’m all in, God. My answer is Yes to You. Help me understand what You are saying right now! I don’t want to be the person who reads story after story of Jesus feeding the 5000, the 4000, taking care of people and not understand He wants to take care of me! Give me understanding that I may know Your testimonies! Jesus healed every.single.person who came to HimGive me understanding when I need healing Lord! We want His testimonies to be our story as well.

“The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; Give me understanding and I shall live.” (verse 144) I’ve questioned this one: are His ways right? It hasn’t always felt right but the older I get the more I see the rightness of God’s ways and the permanence of them. Give me understanding and I shall truly live.

“Let my cry come before You, O Lord; Give me understanding according to Your word.” (verse 169) Give me understanding clearly communicates I have no resources in myself. I’ve exhausted all of my means of problem solving and gathering insight. An understanding remains which can only be revealed. God is hiding things for us not from us! He is waiting on that prayer of Lord, give me understanding!  Dear friends, may you dig into His Word this week and dance in God’s presence! May His understanding and revelation be the highlight of your week. I would love to hear what catches your heart in Psalm 119

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Reader’s Question: Overcoming Difficulty

Here is a question I get from young and old alike: how can we overcome difficulty? Failed marriages and broken relationships. Financial strain and poor health. Disappointment and shame. We will never rub shoulders with someone who hasn’t experienced some kind of pain or struggle in life. Knowing that we each carry burdens and sorrows, the question deserves careful thought.

How can we overcome difficulty? I think of a time in David’s life that roiled in pain and trouble: returning home after several days away, he discovered his city burned and all the women and children carried away. (See 1 Samuel 30:4) “Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep.” Have we ever cried until we couldn’t cry anymore? If this wasn’t bad enough, the people then talked of stoning David because of the tragic loss of their homes and families. Everything David knew and cared about was gone-his house burned down and his wives and children kidnapped and then his own people wanted to kill him! How did David overcome this tragedy? “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (v.6)

He strengthened himself in the Lord. David got with God. In the middle of confusion, weeping, and pain, David turned his broken heart toward God. He reminded himself of the goodness of God. He remembered all the times that God provided for him and protected him. He fed his heart with hope in God. David then asked God a very direct question: should I pursue this troop? God answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.” (v.8) David trusted that he heard God right and he went after his enemies and recovered all that had been stolen.

Do we have difficulty in our life? Are there broken relationships and discarded dreams? Are the struggles of daily life sometimes too much to bear? We must strengthen ourselves in the Lord, dear friend! How do we do that? Just like David, we remember the testimony. “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart! Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” (Psalm 119:2,24) Do we see it? Blessing rests in keeping His testimonies. The testimonies of God are a delight and our counselor. Remembering all the good things God has said and done throughout our lifetime as well as throughout history will strengthen our heart in the day of trouble.  Our hopefulness anchors in the God stories we share and remember. They will be our delight and they will give us strength to follow what God says.

Do we have a testimony of God’s goodness in our lives? If not, take someone else’s! That’s right, take someone else’s God-story as our own, because if He did it for them, He will do it for us. Let the testimonies in scripture become delightful counselors. Relive those God encounters—remembering who God has been and what He has spoken —and we will be strengthened in the Lord. God alone has the encouragement, strength, and direction we need to overcome our difficulty.

*A personal side note to this: Psalm 119 WRECKED me this week. I cried my way through this psalm as God opened my eyes to His wonderful truths hidden in these verses. This psalm is an alphabetic acrostic divided into 22 stanzas with eight couplets in each stanza. All the couplets in the first stanza begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph; the couplets in the second begin with the second letter, beth; and so on to the end of the poem. This appears to be an expansion of David’s Psalm 19:7-11. Wow, God’s Word never gets old. I hope you get wrecked by His love this week!

For more good stuff, check out my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassionanywhere books are sold. Keep those questions coming and feel free to share my blog with anyone who might need an encouraging word!

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Growing with God

Do you remember planting seeds for science class in elementary school? The classroom window was lined with hopeful little pots, waiting for green life to spring forth. There was always that smug girl whose plant shot up first and remained the biggest plant in the window. Then there was me, the girl with knee socks slumped around the ankles, pulling her little green stalk out of the dirt to see exactly what was going on under that soil!

Growth is almost always a subtle, hidden process. A tree’s growth is registered in its rings. The actual growing or adding of woody fiber happens quickly over a few months. The rest of the year is a slow solidification process of the green timber. Our spiritual life can feel the same way. God will bring bursts of revelation and insight or conviction and tenderness of heart.  Big decisions leap forward and new directions and habits forge ahead. God is so close we can almost feel His smile on us. But He also brings seasons where we must press in.  Weeks or months feel quiet and uneventful. We are solidifying our relationship with Him. To enjoy God’s presence is one thing; to be established in Him and manifesting His goodness daily, is another. Fruit ripens slowly with subtlety. It takes time to grow into His representation here on earth

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil.1:6) I’m glad the Apostle Paul was so sure. I have to fight the compulsion to pull it all up from the roots, impatient to see what’s going on in the soil of my heart. Am I becoming more like Christ? Why does it seem so hard to change? These are the questions rumbling around in my head, but I remind myself a squash only requires months to grow while an oak tree needs years. Which do I want to be? I can take the fast and easy route which has an appearance of spiritual growth, or I can settle into the steady and certain process with Christ directing my steps.

What does spiritual growth look like for you in this season? Are you being called into greater levels of obedience and listening? My friend, be encouraged: God will finish what He has started in you. The Bible says it this way: “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) He’s got you! Partner with Him in every way that you know to do and then trust that He’s got you.

Many times, we strive and worry. We get into our flesh and work at religion. God will perfect what He started in you. He will confirm His work in you, strengthen it and establish you as His representation here on earth. Keep soaking up those nutrients in scripture, prayer, and God-encounters. Follow and obey Him. Let your roots go deep into Christ as His love blooms into new life. 

*This blog was originally published in August 2020. After spending the last few days with a beautiful group of college kids at Kaleo PCB, I felt it was relevant to share again.

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Does your spiritual life need nurturing? Get my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion anywhere books are sold. Sign up for the blog at www.MargaretAllen.org at the bottom of Mondays with Margaret. 

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Inspired by Meekness

I want to brag on someone today and it’s not to exalt them but to instruct us. Recently I heard an inspiring talk from my friends Jeremy and Debora Anderson. A little bit of context might help: they are campus ministers at UC Santa Cruz and they oversee all the Chi Alpha campus ministers in Cali, Az, Nevada and Hawaii. They also send teams into Asia Pacific and the Middle East. Many of you will recognize their name from the foreword in my book. Debora had a dream that I wrote a book called Gracious Living. She was so impacted by this dream that she had canvas bags made with Gracious Living printed on them and gave them to me as a gift. Her prophetic dream focused my journey of writing and was the reason I titled my book, Gracious Living.

Hearing Jeremy and Debora speak; shoot, just being around them brought something to life inside my heart and mind. I became more sensitive to what the Holy Spirit was saying. Psalm 19:12 spoke to me: “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.” This resonated for me and it led me to James 1:21-25 “therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” When my eyes fell upon the word “meekness” I stopped. Receive with meekness the implanted word. Jeremy and Debora are my living examples of meekness. Right in front of my eyes, they live and love from a pure heart. They don’t spend energy protecting and defending. They just give and trust that God will protect them and fill them. They don’t try to argue anyone into the Kingdom of God; they simply bring an experience with God’s holy presence that is winsome and inspiring. Jeremy and Debora are parenting the next generation of college students to love Jesus and to follow Him. They mentor grads on how to run their business with joy and humble hearts; they instruct young couples to walk out their marriages with service and gratitude. Just being around their precious family brings peace!

I realize you can read this and think well what a nice couple, I’m happy for them but I guess I’m wanting to stir up something more than that. Let me ask the questions I’ve asked myself after time with them: Can people come to us for prayer? Do they? Are we leading people to Christ through our words and lifestyle– or are we simply ‘nice’ folks? Do we carry the power and anointing of a holy life? What I find striking is that the meekest couple I know has the most impact on the Kingdom and on me personally. When I heard them speak, they didn’t talk about sin at all but I was convicted of sin. When I’m around them, I just want to be a better person—more of who God made me to be. 

Matthew 11:12 contains a fascinating verse that sums up what I’m observing in Jeremy and Debora: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize].” Students at UC Santa Cruz are seizing the Kingdom of God, pursuing Christ as a precious prize because Jeremy and Debora are representing Him well. And I want to do the same!

Who’s inspiring you lately? If you are looking for something significant to give toward, please consider investing in Jeremy and Debora’s ministry at UC Santa Cruz and beyond. Learn more about them at www.WCXA.com

Remember to go to www.MargaretAllen.org for free resources and to sign up for the blog. Just scroll to the bottom of Mondays with Margaret to get this blog in your email every Monday. Have a great week everyone!

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One Year

2 Cor 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves”

In our ever-changing world consistency is surprisingly unique. Pop icons discuss in detail the way they brew their tea or fold their clothes. Why do we read that stuff?  In our fluid way of life perhaps we long for some hard-core consistency. Think about it a moment, what’s one of the hardest things you’ve done recently? Isn’t it just showing up? Doesn’t it involve staying under something, being consistent, doing hard things day after day? People around us may not even realize we are working to be consistent in our marriage, job, health, and habits.

Most of my life I’ve just kept my head down and done my work. I don’t complain much when I’m in a tough spot and I don’t celebrate much when I have a breakthrough. But I’ve realized there is a vulnerability in being honest and inviting others to collaborate when the road is just too hard alone. If you’re like me, talking with others about what you’re learning helps you to process it all. So, I would like to share about a milestone in my life this week.

One year. I am celebrating one year of publishing a weekly blog and one year since my book came out. If you haven’t read through my book with a friend, I hope you will invest in your inner world and get Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. As many of you know, I agonize over writing. But time and time again I feel God show up as I show up! In the past year, the words would flow some weeks, but other times I felt I had absolutely nothing to say. And those were the hard times to dig deep and search out, well, what has God shown me recently? Consistency in writing built some muscle for me as an author. It helped me hone my voice and lean in to God. Consistently showing up forced me to battle procrastination, fear, and shame.

In 1 Timothy 4:14 the Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, a young pastor in training, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you.” Then, in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul instructs him to “fan into flame the spiritual gift with in.” Do not neglect it and fan it into flame–these two exhortations indicate our natural tendency is to neglect or rest passively with our gifts either from fear, shame, resistance, or just laziness. Is it possible that where we encounter the greatest resistance could be our area of greatest giftedness? Paul tells Timothy, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:15) 

Rather than just keeping my head down and doing my work, never complaining and also never really celebrating, I want to meditate on these things with you. I want to celebrate showing up consistently for a year while also confessing it was hard! But I made it, and I’m a better writer because of it and hopefully more dependent on the Spirit of God than ever before. Where do you struggle with consistency?

We all are working toward something in the coming year. What are the hard choices we need to make right now to land where we want to be next year or five years from now? Consistency really matters in the small things of life and it builds the road that leads us into the big things. Self-discipline, honesty, thoughtfulness- done over a long period of time, pay off. Clearly, we are merely earthen containers; it is the extraordinary greatness of God that fills us up.

Have a great week everyone! Go to www.MargaretAllen.org for free resources and to sign up to get this blog in your email every Monday. 

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Monthly Mashup #4

Welcome to my monthly mashup! These are some of the things I’ve enjoyed or pondered this month:

An app/TV show I’m enjoying: The Chosen. Maybe I’m late to the party, but I am obsessed with this show! “The Chosen is the first-ever multi-season TV show about the life of Jesus. Created outside of the Hollywood system, The Chosen allows us to see Him through the eyes of those who knew Him.” Very simply, download The Chosen app onto your phone and play it on your TV. I think you can also subscribe to The ChosenYouTube channel. There is nothing smarmy about this show – it is absolute fire and you will love it! Watch your response to Jesus grow in affection and discover insightful conversations with everyone viewing the show. Already a fan? Post in the comments your favorite episode!

Goals I’m pursuing: building playfulness in my life, along with better overall strength and agility.  Why do we as grownups forget how to play? Several simple additions to our yard have introduced a fun way to move through my day. We have a rope swing right out the front door and a contest within our family to see who can swing out and land the furthest away. I run at it at least three times a day! We also have aspens laid out horizontally to form a balance beam maze. Whenever I need a break from the computer, I just run on the balance beams. Yes, I have completely wiped out and bruised more than my pride but I am seeing my balance improve. All of us probably have a park nearby, a beautiful hike, a beach, or someplace that we can run and play. When life feels too serious, try skipping!

Makeup and Skincare products I really like: I use two products that land on opposite ends of the price spectrum. I love everything e.l.f. cosmetics makes. When my daughter first started working for e.l.f. she brought all kinds of products home to try out. I couldn’t get over the quality and simplicity of design—sponges, brushes, primers, brow pencils, all fun and affordable. I really like e.l.f. and I seem to get something new every time I run by the store. Not in stores, and on the pricey side of skin care is a company called Saranghae.  www.lovesaranghae.com Saranghae is a skincare company that “simplifies the complicated world of Korean beauty.” The complete 5-step routine feels pretty darn fantastic. (These are not paid endorsements, by the way.)

A quote I’m living right now: “Where the deer bound, where the trout rise, where your horse stops to slather a drink from icy water while the sun is warm on the back of your neck, where every breath you draw is exhilaration – that is where the Aspens grow…” (From Peattie’s Natural Histories)

Next week marks one year of blogging and a year since my book, Gracious Living was published. Let’s celebrate the milestone together next week as we talk about the power of Consistency and doing hard things. Blessings to you and have a wonderful week! 

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The Kindness of Strangers

Our family visited a small church last month. We chatted with the couple sitting in front of us and then an amazing thing happened: they invited all five of us over for dinner! She made a beautiful ham; I brought a sweet potato casserole and we had a fantastic time. Laughing I told them, “This has never happened in California! We’ve gone to a church for years and never been invited to anyone’s home!”

When Jeff and Jodi invited us over, it reminded me of a fun story that I share in my book about a Peloton delivery and God’s honor- “as a delivery team was setting up our bike, I asked if they wanted something to drink—water or because it was a chilly morning, hot tea. One of the young men perked up and said, “I’d love a cup of tea.” He had just moved to the coast from Arizona and was cold all the time in our Northern Cal weather.  When I went into the kitchen to make his tea, I reached for a mug but distinctly felt I should give him one off the top shelf. I grabbed it and made the tea. The mug had printed on it, ‘God will always give me the victory’. I turned it so the words faced him, and said, “This is a true word for you today, my friend, God will always give you the victory. I don’t know what you’re going through, but you’re going to come out on the right side of it.”

Well, what do you think happened next? He just stared at me for an awkward ten seconds. I thought uh-oh I’ve stepped in it now! “But he let out a big sigh and said that he’d just moved to Cali after finishing a career in sports. He was trying to get his life together with a fresh start. He was wondering, even that morning, if God knew where he was.  We talked openly for a few minutes, and then I prayed a blessing over his life and plans.” (Gracious Living, p. 185)

Honoring the person in front of you doesn’t take hours or a Ph.D. It requires listening to God’s direction and caring about people.

We sat behind Jeff and Jodi this week at church and watched them graciously reach out to a visitor nearby. Seeing their warmth, humility, and generosity has caused some self-reflection over here: have I given in to shyness or self-centeredness? Are my heart and mind positioned to share the love of God and “entertain angels” as the Bible puts it? Have I missed out on ministry opportunities because I was rigidly committed to my own schedule? Didn’t Jesus say, “I was a stranger and you invited me in”? (Matthew 25:35)

These are the questions I’m pondering over here. How about you, my friend? Do you have God-encounters to share this week? If you are looking for inspiration, check out my book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. Find it on my website www.MargaretAllen.org or anywhere books are sold.

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Extravagant

“He brought me to His banqueting table, And His banner over me was love.” Song of Songs 2:4

We just bought a home in Idaho and I’ve been gathering household items to bring since there aren’t many big stores in that area. Not knowing what the former owner would leave, I bought some cute Target towels to bring with me, just in case. But I did browse the high-end stuff at Bloomingdale’s at Valley Fair just to dream. Abyss towels felt out of this world but they cost some crazy amount like $100 a towel. I took a picture of them, that’s all.

When we moved into the house, we discovered the former owner had outfitted each bedroom with lovely bedding and the bathroom with, you guessed it, Abyss towels. I wanted to cry.

You wouldn’t believe that towels could be the catalyst for a spiritual experience, but stay with me. Do you sometimes get the impression that God, yes God Almighty, actually gets a kick out of blessing you? It’s almost like you could look across the room and catch Him just smiling at you, waiting for that look of delight and wonder.

One quiet morning in the new house I was sitting with my Bible and coffee and just gazing out the window. Normally, the hundreds of aspens in my view would merely blend into a dull kind of gray, but in the quiet of this particular morning, each tree seemed to stand out individually. I held the beauty of them. A black and white magpie darted through the trees.  Geese honked overhead as they divebombed the river. The silvery light cascaded through the cottony flowers of the aspens. The entire scene took my breath away, and in the moment, I actually felt loved. Again, it was as if I could look across the room and catch Him watching me, seeing if I found delight in His gifts. Both of these moments—the towels and the morning view of aspens– felt extravagant.

It’s interesting that the definition of extravagant reflects a negative perspective: “exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate,” “lacking in moderation, balance and restraint,” and “over the top.”  But sometimes “over the top” is wonderful. Sometimes we pray that God would connect with us in an unrestrained way. We scour the old stories for new sprouts of truth and life. We look for His face in common events.

And that’s what happened for me that beautiful silver morning when the first song on my Sonos playlist was a Casting Crowns song, “Your Love is Extravagant.” The harmonies are spectacular but the lyrics just wrecked me: “Your love is extravagant, Your friendship, it is intimate. Spread wide in the arms of Christ, is the love that covers sin. No greater love have I ever known than You considered me a friend.”  The fact that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners is extravagant, over the top, love. How He made us to relish beauty and to connect with nature in a spiritual and sensuous way totally lacks moderation. The way God inspires people we don’t even know to give gifts we couldn’t give ourselves, truly exceeds reason. 

God gives good gifts to us: beauty when our hearts ache for inspiration, nature moving in a complex system with cohesion releasing peace to our tech weary eyes. He offers avenues of protection, channels of provision, streams in a desert. Recklessly, He throws reason aside and loves unconditionally. Like a lottery winner we can’t believe our good fortune that God, yes God, Almighty loves us, extravagantly. 

Have you recognized the love of God in your life recently? This week, scan the landscape for ways that God is smiling at you. Steal moments from a busy world to gaze upon beauty, walk in nature, be still, and be at peace. Let Him love you!

Do you know someone who could use some inspiration in life right now? Share this blog or gift my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. Go to www.MargaretAllen.org for “Mondays with Margaret” and other resources.