Be Strong

Finishing up another book in our goal to read the New Testament in 2017.  Ephesians 6 takes us to the end & concludes the book with instructions on how to be strong in the Lord.  Armor.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. {vs 11}  We do not fight what we see, but the battle rages on in a behind-the-scenes manner.  And our armor as described in verses 13-20 is our only chance to stand firm.  Be strong in Him for he is Mighty.

Next week…drumroll please…1 Corinthians.

Free Mercy

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8


Sixteen weeks ago we were handed the news that sweet ginger would be fighting the cancer beast.  Fear, unknown, anger, anxiety…just a few of the emotions that pumped through my veins in the days following.  We set the course, we leaned on each other & our friends and we stood as firmly as we could on our faith.  And we prayed.

We look back now with a treasure trove of positives.  Sweet ginger has fought hard & treatment is working.  Cancer is dying {or completely dead!}  For that we are thankful to God.  But 16 weeks ago, I had no idea what all this would look like.  Darkness lingered.  And I know that sometimes even with the greatest of hope, there still comes hurt.  Even with fervent prayers, the answers are not the ones we are requesting.  Sometimes the joy in the morning is many, many mornings away.  And there are times when no amount of faith will change the final earthly story.

There have been songs played these past 16 weeks that I cannot sing…”if that’s what it takes to praise you, then Jesus bring the rain”.  I have been standing with dark, ominous clouds all around, closing in on me & my family.  And I have prayed {unapologetically} to please don’t send anymore rain.  It’s ridiculously easy to sing about your faith & almost request that Jesus send the rain when you’re standing on a sun-filled day with no clouds in view.  But when the rain is so close your bones ache, and when you’ve stood in the middle of flooding rain waters before in your life…it’s just too much to ask for.

Over the past 16 weeks I’ve gotten some stuff right.  But I’ve also gotten a whole lot of stuff wrong.  I’ve been thankful.  And I’ve been oh, so angry.  I’ve quietly praised & loudly complained.  I’ve wrestled, really wrestled with God-on the ground, all out WWF style.  And I’ve praised & celebrated with hands-raised hallelujahs.  And I’ve questioned & whined & even bargained a little.  Because that’s what we do.  Us humans.  If we were able to get this all right, we definitely wouldn’t need the Word.  Or a Savior, for that matter.  Everyone is going to mess up.  Over little things & enormous things.  We do our best & rely on the saving grace of Jesus to fill the gaps of our humanity.  The Bible is filled with stories of people getting this all wrong.  But it’s also filled with the unrelenting chasing of our God towards us, arms open,  handing out abundant & extravagant grace.

I’ve learned a million lessons in the last 4 months.  {most that I would rather have never learned}  And I’m sure you’re thrilled {sarcasm font} to read them all.  But the top lesson has to be the power of mercy.  Throw that stuff around like you’ll never ever run out.  Hand it to every.single.person you ever come in contact with.  Especially those facing hardships that you cannot fathom, understand, imagine.  I have not always been so good at this.  Get off your high horse of judgment, of knowing exactly what is best, of thinking you understand how God uses another person’s story {a.k.a. pride} & get in the business of throwing around mercy.  Mercy says “God is bigger than any mistake you might be making”.  Mercy turns judgment on its head and destroys it.  Mercy eliminates shame.  Someone might not be where you are, or where you think they should be, or doing what you would do, or doing what you think they should be, but it might be exactly where God wants them, as He’s teaching them powerful lessons they need to learn.  There are people going through tremendous things, horrible situations, impossible moments.  They may be sitting in the dark.  Alone.  Give them compassion, grace, softheartedness, kindness.  Give them abundant mercy.  Because they likely won’t find the grace-filled arms of God through critique and judgment about how they’re sitting wrong in the dark, but will see Him clearly through the outpouring of abundant, undeserved, extravagant mercy.

unity muscles

 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.  I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  Jesus says {John 17:21-23}  [emphasis mine]

Unity.  So important that Jesus spent time praying about the unity of those that would follow him.  Even followers to come thousands of years later.  And Paul picks up this important theme & reveals in Ephesians 4 the keys to unity.

First he hits on how we should treat each other.  Humble.  Gentle.  Patient.  Making allowances for each other’s faults.  The enemies of unity are pride, harshness, bitterness, impatience.  Paul reminds us that we must treat each other well in order to unify as one body.

Then he hits on how we should behave.  Don’t steal.  Don’t lie.  Don’t use foul or abusive language.  These things are also enemies of unity.  They are divisive.  But using our hands for good, telling the truth, building up & encouraging each other with our words…these things bring about unity.

Paul sums it all up in the end:  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 Easier said than done.  Clearly.  Or he wouldn’t need to say it.  And Jesus probably wouldn’t have prayed it.  This is not a moment for shame & regret.  This a moment for change.  And while sometimes I’d like to read these scriptures hoping someone else might absorb them {you know you do it too}, truly the only thing I can change is me.  So.  I pray that my unity muscles {humility, patience, gentleness, support, encouragement} grow and replace the divisive qualities that sometimes are stronger.  And I pray the same for you.

Ephesians :: What’s it all about?

My timing may be a bit off, as we’re already on chapter 3 of 6 in Ephesians today.  But I really wanted to share this resource.

The Bible Project.

Along with several various Bible study tools, they have a fabulous set of videos.  This collection of easy-to-understand flyovers about the books of the Bible is excellent.  Quick & to-the-point, they’re a great place to start when beginning a new book study.

Here is the link to Ephesians. It will take you to The Bible Project’s YouTube.  Enjoy the video & then make sure & head to their website for more resources, videos & information.  Good stuff.


…through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:6 [NET]

I am

Let’s take a quick trip back in time to middle school today.  Rather, not?  That’s my thoughts on it too.  Middle school.  Awkward.  Changes.  Stuck in the middle between little kid and teenager.  Those years are not the friendliest {but provide some great images to laugh at in scrapbooks as the years go by}  There’s a whole lot of trying to figure out who you are in the those years.  Or perhaps better said, trying to figure out where you fit and what you’re worth.

For me, the year is 1988.  I was 13.  Hair was all the rage.  Big, big hair.  I have a huge advantage in this department as I come complete with naturally wavy hair with a texture that can get enormous given the proper product, teasing and spraying.  Lucky me.  I could {and did} spend hours {no really, hours} washing, drying, curling, teasing, curling some more, lightly brushing, more teasing, more curling…sometimes re-washing & beginning again to get it right.  It could drive me absolutely crazy.  {and likely the two males in my household too!}  But in my mind it had to be just so.  Because it wasn’t just hair.  It was “me”.  My identity & worth were all wrapped up in those mall bangs and big hair.  If it wasn’t right, neither was I.

Now, luckily I grew out of that phase & big hair is not quite the thing is was in 1988.  But sadly, I still carry around some of those middle school behaviors.  It might not be hair, but I do put my identity and worth in all kinds of things that are just as silly.  And it all comes back to the questions “Where do I fit?” & “What is my worth?”.  Us humans are a funny bunch that way.  We long for acceptance & a “pack”.  We long to belong.  And we manufacture all kinds of things to determine how well we’re belonging.

I look sometimes to who I know, what I have, what I wear.  Sometimes it’s in accolades, like Instagram followers or Facebook likes.  Sometimes it’s in what I drive or where I vacation.  Sometimes it’s still even hair {only this is highly unlikely and only immediately following a salon visit}  Whatever it is I look for my worth in all kinds of places and in all sorts of things.  Mostly all things that will eventually fail me.  And when I’ve determine who I am and what I’m worth on such shaky things, well…I’m bound to think I’m worth-less from time to time.

Great news!  I am not the sum of my good hair days and Instagram followers!  In fact, because I am In Him, my identity is all laid out and sealed and assured for, well, ever.  In our reading in Ephesians this week, Paul hits on this.  It’s easy to miss.  But here’s how you find your true worth & identity.  As you’re reading, mark every time Paul writes “In Him” or In Christ”.  Then list what Paul says about what we have “In Him”.  You’ll be amazed at what you find.  From there, begin to believe that those things are who you are & what you’re worth.  For.Ever.

Ephesians :: NT in 2017

This week our reading will take us through the Book of Ephesians.  You can find it here.

ephesians

A quick flyover of the Book of Ephesians:

  • Like Galatians, it was written by Paul.
  • It was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome.
  • Ephesians has two main focuses.  The first 3 chapters deal with our position in Christ {our relationship with God – vertical}.  The last 3 chapters deal with our practices on Earth {our relationships with others – horizontal}
  • Main theme ::the community of believers God is building & how they should be living out their calling as His.

And here we go.  Week #2.

 

new morning

We sat at clinic yesterday to get post-chemo counts for the sweet ginger boy.  He said he was feeling pretty good & at this point in the process he’s usually spot on.  But the night before he’d been playing with an ever-so-slight fever of 100.1ºF.  I, of course, was a mess.  Fever is one of the few things that they stress over and over and over again as being important to watch.  So I did what any rational cancer mom would do, I set my alarm for every few hours to get up to check on sweet ginger boy.  He was thrilled {sarcasm font}.

His fever never spiked & actually by morning was back to normal.  Clinic revealed that his counts are awesome.  Everything seems to be progressing exactly as it’s supposed to.  What we have been praying for.

and yet…

Anxiety can creep into the strangest moments.  Waiting in the waiting room at the pediatric oncology clinic yesterday was a new patient.  About sweet ginger’s age.  Full head of hair, meaning she was just starting the process.  Her mom stood at the counter, trying to hold back tears while listening to the instructions for filling out all the necessary new patient paperwork.  In a flash I remembered all of it.  The fear.  The unknown.  The anxiety.  The absolute panic about schedules & routines & “normal” life being uprooted for this, this cancer.  And as we waited to go back to the cabana {yes, they call the rooms cabanas} I began to process how all that unknown had now become known &routine.  And I got…MAD.

Mad at cancer.  Mad at all the havoc it wreaks.  Every where it goes it brings chaos, fear, anxiety and tears.  Mad that it attacks children & babies.  Mad that it hits without reason.  Mad that it isn’t always “treatable”.  Mad that just as we’re thankfully finishing, others are just beginning on the cancer road.  Mad at all cancer represents.  Cancer just plain sucks!

But to sit too long in the swamp of my personal pity party is not good for anyone.  True.Story.  So this morning as the sun rises on the horizon, over the line of trees in our back acres, I remember that it’s a new day.  And while cancer is still here this morning, my Strength is too.  

 

Freedom!

Galatians 5 is chalk full of excellent stuff.  Freedom is the nail that Paul is hitting on the head in this particular part of the letter.  He’s already told the Galatians that they’ve lost their way.  They’ve traded in grace for works & he’s determined to set them straight.  {And I could use a little straight-setting on this very subject from time-to-time myself, so I’ll try to pay attention to Paul}

click picture for *FREE* printable

Grace is such a tough concept.  Our society is not necessarily built on grace.  Our economy is not really established on grace.  Our world, for right or wrong, tends to operate on an A+B=C mentality.  For example, put in the time+hard work=advancement at work.  Or eat right+exercise=weight loss.  Or pay attention in class+study=pass with good grades.  Or even help out at home+have a good attitude=happy parents who give you a phone.  Perhaps these are over-simplified, but I think they’re pretty accurate.  We tend to believe that if we do something + do something else we will get what we’re striving for.  A+B=C

And the converse we believe to also be true.  If I don’t do something and I don’t do something else then I will not achieve what I had wished for.  For example don’t study+don’t pay attention in class=failing the class.  Or eat like it’s December+sit on the couch & watch hours of netflix=gain weight.  This is the way we are conditioned from a very early age & it is reinforced at every turn.

But grace.  Grace throws this all to the curb.  Grace says you can fill A & B with anything you like in the A+B=C equation & the answer will always, always, always be C.  Grace covers up the A&B with the blood of Christ & results in C exclusively.

In Galatians 5, Paul talks about circumcision.  Circumcision was an outward thing that the Jews did to show that they were Jewish & adhering to the Law.  Basically, Jews were not Jews if they weren’t circumcised.  It was a requirement of the Law.  And whoever it was that Paul felt was causing the Galatians to quit running so well {vs7} was telling them that faith in Christ was not enough.  In addition, they also needed to follow the Law {be circumcised}.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.  {vs 4}  How very often do I try to make myself right before God by the things I do?  Likely too often to count.  How often do I try to plug the right A & B in the equation to make sure that C {God’s favor & salvation} is the answer?  I ignore that A & B are grace provided by Jesus & I have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with those.  This is freedom!  Real freedom.  I am not a slave to the A & B.  The exhausting attempts to be perfect or to ensure that A & B are exactly what God is looking for are not necessary.  I can stop {we can stop} trying so darn hard. We are free!

Before we get too excited that math does not apply in God’s economy & therefore my behavior is irrelevant, Paul addresses this also.  But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.  Instead use your freedom to serve one another in love. {vs 13}  It’s like he is reading my mind.  If no matter what I do, I always {as a believer of Jesus} get grace, then why wouldn’t I do whatever I please?  I think that answer is simply because if I understand the significance & sacrifice of grace I wouldn’t ever want to live however I feel {dabbling in all kinds of sinful activities that oppose God’s will}.  And lest I don’t know what those are, Paul lays them out in verses 19-21.  The list is extensive.  And I certainly have at times plugged some of those activities into the A&B of my life’s equation.  But because of forgiveness, the grace of God remains the same and salvation & God’s favor remain my answer.  Hallelujah!

Will I ever fully get it?  I hope so.  But I must admit there are times when I strive for God’s favor, when I try to earn my salvation when I am a slave to my behavior.  Every day, though, I can try to remember that grace is God’s gift, unearned.  And the world’s equation is not relevant in the economy of God.