Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

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

 

 

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Chicken Before the Egg: Thoughts on Faith

bluebirdschicken

Photo credit: Julie Weatherbee

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

My grandmother had faith in Jesus Christ. She walked it out by her acts of kindness, her faithful church attendance, her daily devotional reading of the Bible, and her teaching – mostly through the songs she sang us at bedtime (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.)

My mother followed in her footsteps, after wandering a while in the fog of Eastern religions during her hippie phase. Mom has faith in Jesus Christ and his love for her.

I do, too.

Today I am reflecting, with gratitude, on how my faith is in God’s faithfulness. The chicken comes first, then the egg, so to speak. His faithful love that is enduring leads to my faith and trust in that love.

Recently, I was served at a restaurant by a young waitress with a tattoo of a Bible verse reference on her forearm: I John 4:19. This is the classic chicken before the egg truth: “We love because he first loved us.”

I pray my children and grandchildren will experience faith – the precious commodity of knowing personally the unending goodness and love of God that “continues through all generations”.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11: 6

 

Easter truth: Strong and Loving

bluebirds - Easter

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. Psalm 62:11, 12 NIV

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen” is one part of The Nicene Creed that flows from my lips when I attend a liturgical church service. I can claim an understanding of the strength of God with his special creative levels of “super power”, but David, writing in his 62nd psalm, pushes me past that truth to a deeper, and more important, foundation: “…that you, O Lord, are loving.”

“Loving: committed to his people’s salvation and blessedness,” writes my Bible commentator in the text note. This powerful God uses his great strength to come through for us, to help us, to strengthen us for what we must do, and to provide the salvation that we truly need.

What a wonderful combination of qualities! Often strong people are out for themselves: their personal achievements, their own wins, their acquisition of wealth and education. But our God is out for our good.

Do we believe that?

“For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven….For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;…” (The Nicene Creed)

For you, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Broken Hearts and Infertility

bluebirds - infertility

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34: 17, 18 (NIV)

I was twenty-six years old when I got married. My plan for kids was to work full-time for exactly two years then start a family.

Having trouble conceiving was nowhere in my frame of reference, so I was emotionally blind-sided when it happened. Add to that living far away from friends and family when we began going to specialists and taking tests.

The result of all the anxious medical effort was “undefined infertility” and no guarantee if or when we could have a baby.

My yearning for a child burned like fire. How could I feel that horrible? No one ever told me about this desperate pain! For months, I followed my inner city pastor’s wife down the aisle of the church to the prayer altar after services. She always passed my pew with streaks of tears down her face. If she – a church leader- wore her heart on her sleeve, so could I.

My inner world was one quivering cry of doubt and despair. I had no trust in the outcome. I held onto one tiny scrap of faith that God was good and wasn’t punishing me.

There is no way around any mountain of suffering. Honestly, even now, my trust in God is mostly based on what He has already done, not what He will do, but He still acts on my behalf even with that “little faith”.

Now that is a good God – one who doesn’t hold back mercy or help until we are wise, strong or filled with faith.  He leans in when we are in despair and breathes life into our lungs.

Years later, I did become pregnant and we had a beautiful baby boy. Two lovely girls followed. “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” Psalm 113:9. I am overwhelmingly blessed with the gifts of my children, but they didn’t come as a reward for my faith-filled prayers, spiritual surrender, or organized plans. God just gave them to me, and I am profoundly grateful.

I don’t know why I was spared more years of infertility heartbreak.  I pray diligently for those women I know who are walking through disappointment in this area – for strength, for hope, and for their heart’s desire.

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.

God Did It!

Photo Credit:  Angus MacRae

Photo Credit:
Angus MacRae

Your ways, God, are holy.

    What god is as great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;

    you display your power among the peoples. 

Psalm 77:13-14 (NIV)

At our church women’s conference, I eagerly reached into the basket to choose the necklace that carried the profound word that would strengthen me in this hard year.  Each one was unique, our pastor’s wife had informed us. When I turned the ivory square over in my palm, “Servant” was spelled out in calligraphy. My heart sank. “Servant” to me meant more housework and more of the needs of others to consider above my own.

I was so disappointed.

Later that year, I accompanied the youth mission team to Mexico as a Spanish interpreter and as the “mom” for the group. As I prepared my heart for the trip, the Scriptures that kept popping up were all about Jesus the servant and humble friend.

Especially poignant was my personal devotional reading on the Sunday we were to be commissioned before leaving:

“But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place,’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14: 10 NIV

I decided to wear my servant necklace daily as a reminder.

After the trip was over, on the airplane ride home, I obeyed a prompting of the Holy Spirit to find a private moment speak to our flight attendant, Kaley, and give her a special Scripture God had brought to mind which I had written on an airline napkin.

We stood together in the back of the plane. I gave her the napkin and explained why I had thought of her. She began crying and poured out her story in a few precious, uninterrupted moments. Then I returned to my seat satisfied with the outcome of the encounter.

As we prepared for our touchdown in Atlanta, Kaley came down the aisle and stopped at our row. Leaning over close, she said,

“I am convinced you are an angel. I saw your necklace and knew something was different about you. When I was telling you my story, my migraine went away completely. I was planning to go to the hospital when we arrived. My headache was so bad and my meds weren’t working. But it’s completely gone!”

What I love most is that it required so little effort on my part.

I had never witnessed a physical healing, or knowingly participated in one before. I had no clue that she had a debilitating headache. I didn’t touch her or even pray for her. I simply obeyed that inner nudge from the Holy Spirit to write down a Scripture on a napkin and find a private moment in which to give it to her.

God did it. He healed Kaley.

The gift was clearly for this young woman,, but it encouraged my faith,too. She came back to tell me what had occurred when she could have just praised God that she was healed.

God is powerful, but he uses us.

It’s such simple teamwork.

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.

 

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