Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Spirituality’

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

 

 

Do I Enjoy My Gifts?

Photo Credit: Hannah M. Covert

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! 
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house;
 you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; 
in your light we see light.” Psalm 36:7-9 NIV

So I speak a second language, with some gaps and imperfections, but enough to truly make friends. That is why I learned Spanish. The youth group at my church needed another adult to go to Mexico on the mission trip – a mother, a person who spoke some Spanish. So I went this month and now I am back and I am happy beyond measuring, overflowing with the goodness of God to open up another opportunity to go and make friends in a Spanish-speaking country.

Dylan, another leader on the trip who knows German from his missionary years in Austria, gave me the compliment of saying I expressed “Genießen” (Ge•nee•sen) a German word that means that I really really enjoyed every piece and every moment of the trip, which I did – every sweaty, tiring, stretching minute, and each fascinating person, interesting place, and real touch of the Holy Spirit.

What delights we are given every day. So small sometimes. So precious nonetheless.

My friend Carol recently wrote about her enjoyment of her surroundings: “Watching the rain roll in before supper time while sitting out in the screened-in sun room, the sound of the wind in the leaves, and soft little thunder that quickly passed over reminded me to just witness how everything shifts and changes moment by moment. Noticing these small parts of life instead of rushing around brings more ease and I feel like just being alive and awake is a treasure; nothing fancy -just paying attention with soft eyes of loving my life, as it is, in all its wonderful imperfections.”

God is called the Father of Lights in the epistle to James: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 NIV

Savor the gifts.

Have I Had Enough to Drink?

Photo Credit: Toni Frissell

Photo Credit: Toni Frissell

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord,
 they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’” Psalm 92:13-15 (NIV)

Salt water is fun to swim in. I love oceans and grew up visiting my father’s family who lived by the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. Every summer, we dove under frigid waves and fought the entangling seaweed as we waded back out to the rocky beach.

But this salt-saturated ocean is not the living water that we need so desperately to maintain life.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We need fresh drinking water.   In contrast to my ocean visits, my mother brought me every summer to a spring-fed lake in the wilds of Pennsylvania where her mother had a cottage. This body of water was more like living water, fresh, cold, pure, and such a joy to swim in. I was streamlined and fast, with no resistance.

Our Christian living is designed to be like swimming in water, and filled with refreshing water that is fresh, drinkable – coursing down our throats, brightening our eyes and tingling down our limbs.

The voice that invites us to drink of His love and presence is not one of tyrannical authority. Jesus speaks because he cares for us and knows we are made of water and need it to fulfill our life purpose. The plan is always live near the source of Life, continually drinking, and then becoming life to others.

Jesus said: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38 (NIV)

We are also compared in Scripture to trees and plants whose leaves open and glow and whose flowers open, the buds bursting forth. Our stems stand upright, not bowed down as if with a weight. Jesus repudiated the Pharisees of his day, telling them they were laying heavy burdens on their followers, causing them to walk with difficulty or to give up, saying “this is too hard for me.”

Christian life is not rule following; it is not trying endlessly to be good, and then hiding from others because it is impossible to do.

When I feel thirsty or over-burdened, I know where to go. Jesus is the well that has tapped into purified ground water that is good for washing our minds, cleansing our sins, and strengthening us for service that is the opposite of heavy and full of self effort.

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation7: 17 (NIV)

Give me lots to drink!

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

“He shielded and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.  The Lord alone led him;” Deuteronomy 32:10-11 NIV

Are you familiar with P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book, “Are You My Mother?”:  The newly hatched bird emerges to an empty nest and begins a prolonged search for his mother, asking extremely unlikely candidates, “Are you my mother?”, until his own mom returns to his nest with a worm and his heart is filled with a rush of recognition and affection.

I want to point out the parallel between mother love and God’s heart for us.  He is like a mother in his protective, compassionate, and intense emotionally-connected nature. When his protective nature is described using the analogy of a mother eagle who “stirs up its nest” and pushes the fledglings out to fly, we are not shown a God who leaves and flies away as the babies tumble earthward. Instead, in this Scripture, the mother eagle spreads her wings and carries the young eagles on them.  Our motherly instinct is to allow our kids to grow and be stretched, but we do not leave them.  Our hearts, our prayers, and our help remain entirely present for them.

When my son married, my mom’s heart expanded to include his new wife and stretched, with acute pain, to accept his independence, yet at the same time, I am intensely connected to his well-being, and that of his new family.

In addition, we, as moms, feel for our kids when they have physical or emotional pain: injuries, sickness, heartbreaks, or disappointments, God feels for us as well. “Jesus wept” (John 11:23), often used as an example of the shortest verse in the Bible, represents the loving sympathy of God for those two sisters who lost their beloved brother Lazarus.

Our Heavenly Father is depicted as a mother who wants to gather us up under his wings like a mother hen (Matthew 23:37).  The Lord is “compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8 NIV)  This truth is echoed in Psalm 145, and 86. We can trust this warm, protective love of God and “like a weaned child” can rest upon his breast in trust and contentment. (Psalm 131:2 NIV)  Let’s open our hearts to be mothered by God.

God, Can You Rescue Me?

Photo Credit: Moe Adel

Photo Credit: Moe Adel

“Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distress.  He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains.  Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” Psalm 107: 10-16 (NIV)

My worst nightmare – literally – occurred years ago when my first child was newborn.  Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation or the anxiety of caring for my first baby, but whatever the cause, I dreamt I was trapped in a clothes dryer, tossed and rolled about in a hot, dark, confined space.  Dizzy, disoriented, and hopelessly unable to find the door to get out, time stopped and I suffered on and on.  The nightmare would not yield and relentlessly tossed me in dark confusion until I finally woke up.

Much earlier in my life, as a young adult, I experimented with a lifestyle forbidden by my Christian morals.  My sense of freely making choices quickly dissipated as I found I couldn’t extricate myself from what I was doing by my own self will.  I was trapped and disoriented; “addicted” in my own fashion.  For the first time, I understood how we become trapped and need more than ourselves to be rescued.  In verse sixteen of Psalm 107, the psalmist calls attention to the distress of the prisoners who need God to “break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron”.

We have many types of prisons: “besetting sins”, situations that hold us fast, and addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous frames this entrapment in the first step of its twelve step program:”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go.  Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name.” Jeremiah 50:33 NIV

We need the strong arm of Almighty God to bring us out and break us free from those addictions and sins that hold us fast.  As we turn to God in trust we become like those captives mentioned in Psalm 107 who “cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distress.” (verse 13).  The moment we cry out, he hears us and mounts his rescue operation.

Hitting bottom causes us to look up and call out.  AA’s second step: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” shows that hope that God is strong enough to free us and the third step voices our cry out to God: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

“Rescue us, Lord, and rescue those we love, who are in any kind of bondage for you desire us to be free.”
Alcoholics Anonymous website: http://www.aa.org

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