Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Gospel of John’

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

I Belong, Don’t I?

mizzy-pacheco

Photo Credit: Mizzy Pacheco, Pacheco Photography

“And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:6 NIV

My childhood in the ‘70s included lots of hippie food, clothes, and activities. That set us apart from our wealthy, conservative, suburban neighbors. The grass on the lawn grew too tall. The hair and beards of the men in the family grew too long. Our cars and houses were simple, and kind of funky and neglected. Although I felt loved by my family, as an adolescent I also felt my “oddness” keenly. I felt like I didn’t belong.

Some of that  sense of “odd one out” traveled with me into adulthood. Surprisingly, I didn’t find too many other flower children out there.

However, over time, I have come to experience a deep sense of belonging. It comes from being loved by God and a part of a worldwide diverse Christian family.

Ironically, I, who am a Gentile, worship a Jewish Savior. Jesus came to his own and chose disciples from among the Jewish people. I cannot remake myself into a Jew. But, I know He wants me, too.

Recently, I found evidence for this claim as I re-read the account of Jesus Clearing the Temple in the gospel of John:

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get out of here. How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”   John 2:14-16 NIV

My NIV Study Bible note on the verses explains: …”The cattle, sheep and doves were for required for sacrifices. Jews who came great distances had to be able to buy sacrificial animals near the temple. The merchants, however, were selling them in the outer courts of the temple itself, the one place where Gentiles could come to pray.”

Jesus purposely and with intensity cleared the temple for the Gentiles to have a place to pray.

This obviously mattered to him.

So he made a place for me – how meaningful for a flower child like me.

“From my mothers womb

You have chosen me

Love has called my name

I’ve been born again, into your family

No Longer Slaves, We Will Not Be Shaken album, Bethel Music, 2015

 

 

A Look Back: Seeing the Past Through God’s Eyes

Photo Credit: Noemi F Creative Commons flickr.com

Photo Credit: Noemi F
Creative Commons flickr.com

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.'”  Revelation 12: 10 (NIV)

I stood on the ornate paving stones, looking around at the brick buildings and the decorative trees. The autumn air was cool and fragrant with those pleasing scents of fallen leaves. My college looked well cared for after 31 years.   The chapel bells began to peel, and the evening hymn rolled out across the deserted campus.

Taking my college bound daughter to check out my alma mater included a walk down my own memory lane. I didn’t expect so many flashbacks – from all my years of life from 18 to 53, but they came fast and furiously. And so many were filled with actions and attitudes that I deeply regretted.

And yet, they didn’t sting. I realized, as I walked the college campus, that I have faced my crimes, my faults, and the harm I did to others. My Christian faith includes confession. My God offers forgiveness, and I take it with humility: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9  (NIV)

Amazingly, joy is the result, because now I can face my past, seeing it with courageous, clear eyes and knowing that God not only forgives, but also puts it right.

But, Beware! “The accuser of the brothers” doesn’t like us making peace with our pasts. Satan blames us and wants to bring up the wrong and keep us accusing ourselves and living with our heavy burdens.  He gnashes his teeth at our free gift of being set free from the charges against us and will do anything to try to strip it away, even after we have received it.

We have the choice to hear the voice of our Shepherd:

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” John 10:3-5 (NIV)

If it is necessary to re-visit our past, let’s do it armed with the truth and with humility and with steady faith in our forgiving God who gave us complete acquittal through Jesus Christ.

What is Your Crisis? Carried on Eagles’ Wings

Photo Credit: Toni Blay

Photo Credit: Toni Blay

 

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4 (NIV)

As I sang the beautiful song in church this week, I saw myself standing on a mountaintop as all below burned and crumbled away, with smoke, and waves of steam rising up, as if it were the end of the world. I lifted my arms in praise to God. I lifted my face. I trusted that He is good, no matter the bad news I had received of a friend’s cancer diagnosis. As I stood there, in my minds eye, an eagle soared up to me, swept me onto its back and flew with me above the disaster.

In real life, we are not removed from the world and its troubles, yet somehow God carries us through, without us being destroyed. Jesus himself prayed this: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

When our own family crisis hit back in December, I felt as if I were free falling.

I used to have a recurring dream as a girl about a huge tiger chasing me. In my dream world, I ran desperately away from the danger across an open plain until, suddenly, I arrived at a cliff and helpless to stop my momentum, I tumbled off. Cold, wind whistled past my face as I fell endlessly down into empty space. Each time, I woke up before hitting the ground – but I never was saved.

During this recent trouble in my family, I felt a physical presence holding me up during the worst moments, like an eagle with wings.

Numerous times in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories of Middle Earth, eagles come to the rescue of the human characters. The final time is perhaps the most dramatic – Frodo and Sam resign themselves to death as they stand alone upon crumbling Mount Doom:

“And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death. Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire.” (The Return of the King)

Each person was given an eagle to ride. Gandalf swooped down on Gwaihir and the two other eagles came to carry Frodo and Sam.

Illustration: Alan Lee

Illustration: Alan Lee

No matter what we face – or how our situations develop, God sees us with his “keen far-seeing eyes” and rescues us individually. Not only does His presence become tangible, others are with us, too. Support systems get activated when we look around to see who is there for us.

What is your experience of God’s eagle wings?

 

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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