Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘contentment’

No burden of bitterness

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Photo Credit: Rhino Neal

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31 NIV

 I jumped back as if stung; the words on the page had leapt, too. Not mine, but my grandmother’s. Why had I opened her journal? Entering her bedroom was innocent enough – checking on whether she was ready to go to the church service. An open door and an empty room don’t excuse reading another’s personal diary! But, the damage was done. I had opened the worn leather cover and read the first page that opened to my touch.

What had I read? Her personal and anguished thoughts about moving away from her family and familiar Philadelphia environs. It must have been an old journal because my grandmother had lived for many years in the Chesapeake Bay area in this unique house by the water, designed by her husband to boat to and from. She had always seemed serene, busy, and connected to church and community in the Northern Neck of Virginia during these retirement years.

So what did it mean? It was another evidence of my grandmother’s faith and maturity – that she didn’t become bitter and isolated, even when her initial feelings about uprooting from Pennsylvania were so intensely painful.

I do not endorse or excuse my own actions to violate her privacy. I am ashamed that I never confessed to her what I had done, and now it is too late because she has gone to glory. This “story” came to mind recently because so often we don’t know what another person has had to overcome – so often the cheerful person we know has already moved far beyond hurt and pain, having won their personal battle with resentment.

I would like emulate my grandmother, carrying no burden of bitterness with me as I move forward in life. The Bible describes bitterness as something that can take root and grow– that, too, is something I pray to avoid.

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12: 15

Lord, please remove any small or large bitter roots in our hearts. May we follow Paul’s exhortation to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger”.  In its place, please grow kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Amen

 

 

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Getting Free and Clear

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Peter wrote us a list comprised of mostly “inside out” problems. Clearly, he took to heart Jesus’ teaching on cleaning the inside of the cup.   I imagine Peter listening intently as Jesus confronted the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV)

This truth in Peter’s first epistle has come to us English speakers as a call to “get rid of” these inner sins. (“to rid oneself” is to relieve or free oneself of something unpleasant or undesirable). In ancient times, Norsemen and Germans used the word “to rid” to describe clearing land.

So what do I need to clear out of my personal territory?

I am most struck by envy because I struggle mightily with that invisible ugliness in my heart. Each week, I avert my eyes from the magazines displayed along the grocery check out line- not because they horrify me. On the contrary, I am irresistibly drawn into the world of the beautiful, the famous, and the rich. I wish my life were more like theirs.

“Envy is nothing more than a hostile form of self-pity.” Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups, Inc.

Other cannot see my envy – unless they look closely and notice its secondary effects. According to Proverbs, its cancerous corrosion actually makes us less healthy: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

The antidote is “a heart at peace” or, put another way, “godliness with contentment”, as Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy.

“Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have.” I Timothy 6:6 (CEB)

To sum up, it is not enough to do good works, look great on the outside, and paste on a smile to mask our malicious, envious thoughts. Keeping silence and hiding our insides makes us very effective hypocrites, not true disciples.

Let’s obey Peter and get rid of it all, clearing our lives to make room for all the lovely stuff that God has ready to grow in us.

 

More Grinch Lessons for Our Hearts this Christmas

Dr. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas over fifty years ago. When it was first published, he was quoted as saying,

“I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

This classic children’s story dives deep. Here are some “pearls” I found to enrich your Christmas season:

Grinch Christmas Lesson #1: We are all “grinch-ish”

As the story opens, the Grinch stands at his cave opening, peering down on the Whos as they prepare to celebrate Christmas down in Whoville with extravagant noise, gifts, food, and singing. grinch bluebirds Like the Grinch, our human hearts are naturally tight and small – self-focused, unforgiving or unconcerned. People are just hard to love. In contrast, God our Father is tender-hearted and expresses that through the effort he made to come down to us through the birth of his Son at Christmas.  Let’s take an honest look at our own grinchy hearts as the first step in reaching out to God who has the power to soften and enlarge.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NKJ

Grinch Christmas Lesson #2: Circumstances don’t need to steal our joy

The Grinch crafts a plan to “stop Christmas from coming” by stealing all the gifts, food, and decorations of the Whos he hates. He sneaks into the town after all the “Whos were asnooze in their beds” and strips the town bare of everything – all the toys, food, and decorations. grinch #3 bluebirds Thankfully, the Grinch made a great mistake in thinking he could kill the spirit of the Whos by taking it all away. How did the Whos react when they woke up on Christmas Day and beheld their plundered homes and wasted town square? They came out and held hands and sang together. Sometimes we, like the Whos, lack possessions or money, or perhaps are suffering emotional loss at Christmas, and we choose to still sing. On the other hand, if we are experiencing abundance and have an overflow for others this year, we have the opportunity to be generous and grateful. Whatever our circumstances, we have the high calling of singing praise to God who loves us and will be close to us – no matter what.

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
 his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another;
 they tell of your mighty acts…They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” Psalm 145 NIV

Grinch Christmas Lesson # 3: God has the power to change the heart

This is the probably the most well known story moment. The Grinch hears the Whos singing after he has robbed them and his heart grows “three sizes that day”. God can tenderize human hearts like no other force. If we think back to the times that we had a true “Grinch heart moment”, it was simultaneously painful and pleasurable; it was not only miraculous, it was evidence of the power of God. He can do it again, if our hearts need it today. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

Grinch Christmas Lesson #4: We must connect to others for strength

The Whos clasped hands and sang in their circle on Christmas morning: “It came without packages, boxes, or bags”. We also need to hold someone’s hand – God’s hand first and foremost, but also trusted family members or friends. This time of year our losses sting more sharply; loved ones are not with us this year or maybe our families are not all we hoped they would be.

“By yourself you’re unprotected; with a friend you can face the worst.
 Can you round up a third? 
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” Ecclesiastes 4: 12 (MSG)

Grinch Christmas Lesson #5: God wants to speak to us at Christmastime

The Grinch was right about one thing, all the “NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” can be intolerable. It can also prevent us from receiving his messages to us. The Grinch retreated to his isolated cave as a way to avoid people, but later he went to the Summit of Mt. Crumpit and there heard the singing.  God was able to touch his heart. grinch #4 bluebirds We need some respite from the busy, pushy crowds, and all the events and goals of Christmastime.  We need a quiet place to hear God.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,…” Matthew 24: 22, 23 NIV

Grinch Christmas Lesson #6: Even a “lost cause” can be saved

We often “write someone off” as being too messed up to change (or perhaps we discount our own lives as being worthy of saving). We can all think of someone who is “Grinchy”. Old resentments and hurts we have suffered at the hands of others become painful at Christmastime. grinch 2 bluebirds But this time of year is also an opportunity for forgiving, releasing resentment, and giving second chances. Warmth of kindness can draw someone from his cave. In the story, “Cindy Lou Who who was no more than two” exerts a sweet influence on the Grinch that helped stretch his shriveled heart. Sometimes we are like Cindy Lou Who to others, so let’s keep praying and hoping for ourselves and others.

“That brought him (the prodigal son) to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.” Luke 15: 17-20 NIV

Merry Christmas from me…. and the Grinch!

Am I Lovely? – Part 2

Photo Credit: Girish Suryawanshi

Photo Credit: Girish Suryawanshi

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles, and the wearing of gold jewelry, or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (I Peter 3:3-4 NIV)

I apologize profusely to my readers, but I am still wrestling with the concept of my own beauty even at my “over the hill” age. I am saddened and ashamed that I didn’t come to peace with it when I still had my raven black hair and smooth skin.

So today, I return to this timeless treasure from the Lord about what he values: not the hair, not the jewelry, and definitely not the clothes, though a careful reading of these verses indicate this is not a ban on those fun and creative ways to adorn ourselves.

God sees me and considers of greatest worth to be… my inner self.

Ah ha! So what is my inner self?  And is it beautiful?

I dug deeper and uncovered the nugget that “inner self” is not the equivalent of personality; so “gentle and quiet” are not synonyms for our common modern day words “follower”, “introverted” and “not talkative”. (I am none of these)

Instead, these lovely words mean a heart at rest.

Stasi Eldredge gives the most lyrical description of a woman with a restful heart in her book Captivating: “A woman in her glory, a woman of beauty, is a woman who is not striving to become beautiful or worthy or enough. She knows in her quiet center where God dwells that he finds her beautiful, has deemed her worthy, and in him, she is enough. In fact, the only thing getting in the way of our being fully captivating, and enjoyed is our striving. “ (p. 134-135)

So, today, I have washed my hair, and put on a pretty scarf, and lotioned my face prior to applying make up, but I also have put my face up to be figuratively kissed by my Heavenly Father who told me this morning: “I love you just as you are – you don’t have to do a thing.”

“Beauty flows from a heart at rest.”

(Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

“The Lord is With You, Mighty Warrior” – Calling us out

might warrior bluebird

Photo Credit: Irene Nobrega

“The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’

 ‘Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’

The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’

‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family

The Lord answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.’” Judges 6: 12-16

God has put within us gifts and callings that we cannot see ourselves because we are not yet aware of them, or we have discounted them due to failures and negative feedback from others.

We need eyes to see and ears to hear when God shows us a vision of our purpose and speaks to us of our value as He did to Gideon. He called him “mighty warrior” when Gideon was hiding in the winepress doing the best he could to keep food for his family protected from oppressors.

In his mercy, God often gives us other people who “see” us better than we see ourselves.   In The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien weaves this theme into his story when Gandalf draws out the inner gifts and life purpose of Bilbo the Hobbit. All his life. Bilbo has seen himself as a simple hobbit in the Shire, living a safe and complacent life.  All of a sudden, Gandalf shows up and thrusts him into an adventure where Bilbo is needed for skills he didn’t know he possessed.  Throughout the story, Bilbo saves the day.

On the other hand, we are like Gandalf and the angel of the Lord because we possess the discernment to both envision and call out the unique purposes of our friends and loved ones. My cousin, Jennefer did this for me recently when she encouraged me to blog. I had disqualified myself as a writer many years ago, wrongly interpreting the average grades on college creative writing papers to mean I wasn’t a writer.

I pray that God will speak to us, we will hear our calling, and in turn offer to others the inspiration they need.

Am I Truly Grateful?

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I Timothy 6: 6-8 New International Version

When I was a new mom I had the privilege of babysitting my friend Molly’s five young kids.  They lived in a two-story with lots of space, comfy sofas and fun toys.  I left my controlled first-child environment every month to enter her world of mud pies, kids running over to neighbors, and boys up trees.  It freaked me out, but it was good training for my uptight first years of parenting.

One of my most memorable nanny visits included serving the kids their dinner and then putting them all the bed.  No complaints and no whining erupted during the consumption of the healthy stew of rice, meat and veggies.

Then John, the six-year-old, piped up: “Hey, I think we should have ice cream for dessert!”  I yielded to the chorus of eager voices and pulled the half-gallon container from the freezer and opened it.  My heart fell!  In the corner of the carton was a small leftover lump of ice cream.  “Oh no”, I thought, “they will be so disappointed.”

All heads were bent intently over the open container and four-year-old Ben looked up at me and exclaimed: “Yay! There’s enough for each of us to have a spoonful!”  A rush of hands sought the cutlery drawer and passed spoons out.  In a daze, I held the carton steady as they dove in and came up with beaming smiles, smacking their lips with gusto on their small morsel of sweetness.

Photo Credit: Cascadian Farms

Photo Credit: Cascadian Farms

Seventeen years later I am still telling this heartwarming story to others and to my own heart.  Contentment with what I am given by God is a great benefit.  “Great gain” says the Scripture in the Bible.

What do we gain by godliness and contentment mixed together?  Where do I begin? Enjoyment of what we have, calm hearts, peaceful relationships with others are just a sample of the realities.

What inspires you to live life with contentmenl?

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