Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Ephesians’

Me and the Grinch

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15: 9-12 NIV

I relate to the Grinch. Every Christmas season I re-read his story, published in 1957 by literary genius Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). This year I was captivated by the original black and white illustration of the Grinch standing at the mouth of his cave, frowning down at Who-ville:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town.

grinch bluebirds

To me the Grinch’s cave, with its high vantage point,  isolation, and snowy environment, actually looks inviting. Sometimes, at Christmastime especially, I want to stay hidden away, protected from people – people who can hurt, disappoint or drain me.

I believe that the sanctuary of our personal cave serves as a place of re-setting and re-charging. We receive great benefit from times of solitude.

The Grinch, well, he took it too far, staying far away and hardening his heart.

It’s certain that warmth and light and love exist down in “Who-ville”, but there’s such a risk involved in leaving one’s Grinchy lair. If we are to be brave and venture out of its protection, we need a constant lifeline connecting us to the love of God.

His love has the power to keep us safe when we come out into the open to interact with others.

“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.” Ephesians 4: 17b-19 NIV

grinch - bluebirds 2014

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

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

 

 

He Broke the Mold When He Made Us

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

God broke the mold when He made me.

And He did the same with you!

What is so very difficult is to appreciate how He made us because we often de-value ourselves.

“Borrow Somebody’s Dreams” Photo Credit: Stefano Corso

I love birds, flowers, and nature. Weeds attack each spring, pushing up, uninvited, through the seams in my driveway. I can’t bear to spray them with chemicals, so I plunk down on my behind and painstakingly pull each interloper out one by one. My neighbor passed by and looked at me like I was crazy. Why not use his favorite brand of weed-killer? I just couldn’t do it.  His property is so well-manicured and I value and admire that.

But I have to be me.

I cry easily. If a friend confides in me about a problem, tears start leaking from my eyes. I hug and I pray and make phone calls later on to check in. My husband is a professional counselor and he doesn’t emote when faced with the crises of others; he is practical, level-headed, and unshakeable. I admire and respect what he offers.

But I have to be me.

I am a grandmother now and my precious granddaughter comes over each week. Last time, after we splashed in the little baby pool together, I fed her strawberries from the tiny patch growing by my back door.  Her other grandmother preserved all her children’s lovely clothes pressed and treasured between sheets of tissue paper. I enjoy the photos of special family events in which our granddaughter is dressed in heirloom garments. I admire that and am grateful.

But I have to be me.

When we look in the mirror, do we see our unique gifts and personality?

If we can’t appreciate them, let’s imagine our Heavenly Father standing behind us with His hand upon our shoulder, repeating these words from David’s psalm: “I created your inmost being; I knit you together in your mother’s womb… You are fearfully and wonderfully made because my works are wonderful.”  (Psalm 139, verses 13 and 14 re-phrased)

Be your wonderful self today.

A Willing and Able Helper

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler
Creative Commons License

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 118:7 NIV

As I stood at the front of my church sanctuary last month soaking in the wonderful worship song, I felt the pressure of a hand against my back. It stayed gently and warmly present during the song. Strange to say, when I finally turned around, there was no one there.

That encounter carried a special significance for me: I was struggling with a problem that Sunday, and the previous week my counselor had described my own parental help to my teenage daughter as a gently, supportive hand upon her back.

God was reminding me that He is my helper.   “People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” Isaiah 30: 19

My goal as I write this post is to keep it very simple:

God wants to help us.

He can.

He will.

Let’s ask Him.

Let’s receive it.

Of course, the manner in which His assistance comes varies with the way we hear Him and with the form of our present need.

If we are …

Confused – He gives wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Tired out/Weak – He gives strength

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:29

Hateful/resentful – He gives tender heartedness

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Troubled/Grieving – He gives solace

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

Self-loathing – he gives forgiveness

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Fearful – he gives peace of mind

“So we say with confidence,’“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6

Let’s believe and receive the help from the best Source of all!

My prayer today for you and for me: “May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.” Psalm 20:2

Am I worn out?

Photo Credit: Bo Insogno

Photo Credit: Bo Insogno

I pray you may know….”his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20

When I asked Jesus to “come into my heart” at age fifteen, I opened up to the Holy Spirit who came in His powerful presence; He entered my life and began to transform me.

But somewhere along the line, I succumbed to my own perfectionistic tendencies and the influence of other Christians, and began trying to be good.

After many years of living from this paradigm, I was intensely “weary and heavy laden” from my own efforts. (see Matthew 11:28-30) I was dried up, tired, powerless, and guilty for not doing or being enough.

To top it off, I was attending a church with others who lived the same way, but weren’t ready to admit it and, therefore, could offer no answers for my spiritual malaise.

Long story short, my family’s journey led us to a different place of worship where believers had rediscovered the power of the Holy Spirit.

We humans, especially middle-class Americans, tend toward an independent spirit; but that spirit lies to us subtly, whispering: “You can do it all on your own. If you are having trouble, just try harder!”

But I cannot just “gut it out”. Neither can you.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians chapter 5, that many of us memorized as children in church, comes as a by-product of the dynamic working of a powerful God – not the outcome of our self-effort. “Power” shows up all over the Scripture; my favorite Bible translation (NIV) contains 135 references of the word in the New Testament.

I am definitely not making the claim that finding a new church is a magic answer for all who are spiritually heavy-laden.

The only two requirements to receive power are humility and willingness.

You are the only source of power, Lord.”

“I open my heart to the power of the Holy Spirit today to change me and bless others.”

Let ‘s pray this and see what happens:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. “ Ephesians 3:16

Who Do We Imitate?

Photo Credit: Anna Toss

Photo Credit: Anna Toss

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1, 2 New International Version

“Imitate: verb (used with object) 1. to follow or endeavor to follow as a model or example.” (www.dictionary.com)

Conducting oneself like another person means following his or her behavior, reproducing the same actions, not just having the same intentions.  “Do what I say, not what I do” remains a substandard motivator.  We need to see someone doing the worthy acts to effectively mirror them.

My maternal grandmother is one of the most admirable human models I have to imitate.   She lived to be a hundred and one years old and recently died peacefully in her sleep free of disease or pain.  This end is one I would certainly choose if I were in control of the nature of my death.  Needless to say, that power does not reside in me, but much is left to me about how I choose to live.

When my grandmother moved away to retire near the Chesapeake Bay, she regularly invited us to stay for extended visits and showed her delight in our arrival by having clean sheets on the beds and vases of fresh-cut flowers lovingly arranged in a vase on the bedside table.  This is my routine now.

She spoke with kindness and had an established habit of writing encouraging notes as well as saying to our faces what she liked about us.   This is my custom now.

Church membership and attendance stayed a priority all her life, even with all the imperfections inherent in a religious community of people.  I try to practice that, too.

When my grandmother made these choices who was she imitating?  Her mother? Another relative?  A friend?

I would like to think that if we keep tracing a worthy behavior back to its root, we will end up looking right into the face of God.  “Imitate God”, Paul exhorts the Ephesians.  Do what God did.  Love. Forgive. Encourage.

In my Read- through-the-bible plan I am almost to the New Testament, and I look forward to taking a deeper look at what Jesus said and did in the gospel accounts.  I remember that He was kind to his mother, and he took time for children.  He looked past the sinful behaviors of others to befriend them.

Which flesh and blood person do you resemble?

How do you imitate God?

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