Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Romans’

The Heart of the Matter

bluebirds heart of the matter

Photo Credit: Elton Harding

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.   Romans 2: 29 NIV

My thoughts turn inward at Christmastime. That may sound strange since this time of year is full of outward events: decorating, shopping, food preparation and party hosting.

My question is this: Does my inner life match my outward activity?

God sees deep within us. I think He has laser vision. What does He see when He looks at my heart?

Thankfully, He doesn’t just coldly diagnosis the heart condition; He possesses the power (and the desire) to clean, stretch, and to fill our hearts so that we are genuinely the same inside and out.

Two Christmas story favorites, A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, focus on the heart. Hear the profound epilogues of Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss:

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.” (A Christmas Carol )

And what happened then…?

Well…in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light

And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

And he…

HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast!

(How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

What is happening in our hearts this Christmas season? It matters the most to God. May we ask the Holy Spirit to give us spiritual heart therapy. He knows exactly what we need so that our hearts will truly laugh.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139: 23, 24 NIV

 

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Competition vs. Intrinsic Value

Photo Credit: H. Kopp Delaney

Photo Credit: H. Kopp Delaney

“Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.” (Ephesians 2:10 CEB)

In this culture of competition we Americans receive messages from all sides that we must be the best, the smartest, or the most good-looking to earn our place on sports teams, college campuses, job sites, and media platforms.

The bar is always set high and we must strive to achieve excellence.

“Work hard.” “Always do your best.” “Go for the gold.” I personally endorse these messages and have passed them on my kids. My second child is now prepping for college admission and competing for scholarships. I want her to contest for these awards.

But we all need something else – something more – to truly live successfully; we need a foundation within our very souls of our great value in the Creator’s eyes.

If we build that truth solidly, then we operate out of a sense of being cherished and indispensable to the world, no matter the outcomes of our cultural competitions.

We can even give that appreciation to one another.

“Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” Jean Vanier

If we don’t lay down these truths in our inner man, our cultural competition will demoralize and, eventually, crush our spirits.   Our Heavenly Father looks at our value and purpose and never relegates anyone to “the bench” to just watch the first string players make history.

Paul the apostle, the great orator, church planter, and author of much of the New Testament, in all his letters to the churches, gives us a glimpse into the existence of many others who also worked to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the longest lists he made acknowledges 27 people by name and mentions numerous others described as “sister”, “brothers” or “church members”. (see Romans 16: 1-16)

These are not “little people” with “little lives” because they are only mentioned once in the Bible. Their stories may not have been told in that format, but they had rich lives. I would love to hear more about Urbanus, Rufus, Trphena, Pryphosa, Persis, Phlegon, Apelles, Ampliatus, Julia, and Olympas.

We Westerners, in this current day and age, may not receive media coverage of our sports prowess, best-selling publication of what we have written, or other acknowledgements from public platforms, but we each matter to God…

…and to many, many others.

Can I Say “Congratulations”?

ImagePhoto Credit: Kristen W Learn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12: 15 (NIV)

I don’t mean to boast, but I am tender-hearted. My friends know I cry easily when they share their pain with me and I am quick to hug or give a comforting touch when sorrow hits. So I have “mourn with those who mourn” pretty well covered. But that is the second half of the Paul’s command to the Romans; the first part is “rejoice with those who rejoice”.

Harder to do – for me, especially when my friend’s joy comes from a source that I am not sharing – like a big pay raise, a house renovation, a new car, a wonderful trip or vacation.   Remember what it feels like when a friend has a baby and you haven’t gotten pregnant yet, a friend marries when your love life is fraught with difficulty or is non-existent or when facebook photos come through of that smiling couple taking a tour of Italian wineries?

We have different blessings and achievements, not cookie cutter lives following a formula for fame and fortune.

“Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s successes.” Oscar Wilde

This “very fine nature” that Mr. Wilde touts is the goal. My study bible text note declares that “identification with others in their joys and in their sorrows is a Christian’s privilege and responsibility”. We are pushed to get out of our own self-centered thinking and connect to another person’s joy.

Taking this high road loosens up our hearts and actually feels good. Others find more freedom to enjoy their successes and blessings. When I “rejoiced” with a friend not too long ago about a cruise her husband wanted to take her on, it freed her up to look forward to it and not feel guilty for her good fortune.

I want my friends to celebrate with me, too, in true mutual friendship.

And I yearn to trust that my Heavenly Father hasn’t forgotten me when I don’t receive the same blessings as others. He is the one who gives bread, not stones, and fish, not snakes.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Matthew 7: 9-11 (NIV)

How Do I Face This?

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8: 28 (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 being far 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! 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.

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 blessed with the gifts of my children. They certainly didn’t come as a result of my faith-filled prayers, spiritual surrender, or organized plans.  God gave them to me, pure and simple, and I am profoundly grateful.

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