The Prayers of the Saints . . . .

 
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints,
ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” 
Revelation 8:4
When I last visited my dad, his once six-foot-four frame was bent and crumbled in his bed from the effects of aging and pneumonia.  Many of you prayed for Dad so I thought you would appreciate this update–the prayers of the saints do touch God’s heart!

So grateful for time with my dad!

My dad is still alive!  When I had to leave him eight months ago I did not expect to see him alive again.  Though very frail, he was dressed and sitting in his wheelchair watching the television when my sister-in-law and I walked into his room last week.  When he saw me, Dad grabbed my hands as he looked into my face repeating softly, “You’re beautiful . . . you’re just so beautiful!”  With tears in my eyes and a grateful heart all I could say was, “Oh Daddy, I love you too!”  We visited until it was time for him to go to lunch, knowing that he would probably need to sleep the rest of the afternoon.  When we left he gladly joined his seatmates as we promised to visit again the following day.

Later that night, my brother received a phone call informing him that Dad was being transported to the hospital emergency room.  Fearing a repeat of the last time Dad was rushed to the hospital, we prayed for Dad as we wondered . . . what was going to happen this time?  The emergency waiting room was overflowing when we arrived; we were told that we would have to wait to be called back to see Dad.  When we were finally called back, instead of seeing him terrified and confused as he struggled to breathe, Dad’s eyes and words met us with marked irritation, “I have been here for an hour and have yet to see a doctor . . . what the heck am I doing here?!!”  My brother and I resisted the temptation to laugh, both of us relieved that this definitely would not be a repeat of what happened before!

We ended up sitting all night with Dad, waiting for the results of tests that would help determine what his doctors thought was the best treatment plan for Dad.  The odd thing about it was that he was more awake and talkative than I had seen him be in over a year!  Several times, worried that he needed to rest, I closed my eyes with the hope that he would follow my example.  When I opened my eyes to see if he was asleep, I was startled to see his eyes staring into my face!  It was as if he was intent on drinking in all that he saw to be savored at some later date.  In the end Dad was released to go home at about four in the morning; but because he is wheelchair bound we had to wait until eight to arrange transportation to return him to his apartment.  A special bus finally arrived to return him to his apartment.  As he was being raised in his wheelchair on the bus’s elevator I was gifted with this most precious sight:

My eighty-seven year old father with his arms raised in victory like Rocky!
 Having endured an “all-nighter” in the confines of a local emergency room . . .
he was happily escaping to return to the place he has come to call “home”. . . .

As he continued to wave and the bus took off, I felt as if we had somehow switched places, as I remembered the day I climbed on the school bus to attend my first day of kindergarten.  Back then it was me, waving happily at the start of a new adventure.  I did not have a camera to take his picture, but it will remain etched in my mind so clearly that I know I will never forget Dad’s joy-filled victory.

It ended up being a wonderful week of blessing for me and my family.  When I left it was a teary but joyful goodbye as I entrusted my dad and family to God’s loving care.

Thank you for your kind prayers, they mean more than you can ever know!

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ
and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 
II Corinthians 2:14

All to His Glory!

 

True Freedom

What do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

On a recent trip, my husband and I saw numerous signs along highways and on large and small businesses proclaiming this simple message: Freedom Is Not Free.”  As a military family (my husband and brother are retired Air Force and my dad served as a Marine in the Korean War) it was touching to see so many reminders not to take freedom for granted. 

Since returning home, I have continued to think and pray about the costliness of freedom.   It has been disheartening to watch the nightly news reports of political upheaval around the globe–lives shattered by the greed, hatred and arrogance of others–but I have come to see an ironic twist: 

While it is true that freedom is not free,
it is also true that freedom cannot be bought, legislated or bartered for.
Diplomacy is not the answer to securing True Freedom. 

Manmade freedom on this earth will remain costly and will continue to be (at best) tenuous because of sinful hearts.  We find affirmation of this in the wisdom of Scripture:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 
James 4:1-3

By nature, our motives are impure because of the sinful war that wages within our hearts–so a manmade freedom can never last.  Yet we find hope in the words of Christ Jesus:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31,32
 
 “I am the way, the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
John 14:6

As I have thought and prayed about the costliness of freedom I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. True Freedom is a God-thing.  God sent His Son to be a living sacrifice–holy and pleasing to Himself–to free us from sins bondage so that we may worship Him into Eternity.
  2. True Freedom is an impossibility apart from Christ.  Man’s arrogance in parting himself from God as his Creator resulted in the twentieth-century being recorded as the bloodiest of all time.
  3. True Freedom has no room for fear or doubt.  We cannot retain True Freedom when fear or doubt rule our hearts.
  4. True Freedom has little to do with our circumstances and everything to do with faith in the Gospel of Christ.  
  5. True Freedom is manifested when we love God above all (surrendering ourselves to His Sovereign Goodness) and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters around the globe

Did you know that over one-hundred million followers of Christ suffer persecution and even death?  Watch this and be blessed by their example:

Now . . . what do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1

All to His Glory!

 
 
 
 
 

The Beauty and Blessing of Christian Discipline

 
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 
Hebrews 12:1b-3

It was such a small thing . . . I am not even sure why it so strongly got my attention . . . it just DID.  I was watching the television “reality” program, Nineteen Kids and Counting– documenting the daily activities of a Christian family of nineteen children.  In the clip the youngest Duggar, four-year-old Josie, had refused to share a ball with her siblings.  When her mother (Michelle Duggar) realized what was happening, she stooped down to look Josie in the eye as she gently but firmly said, “Josie . . .the world does not revolve around Josie!”  Appearing slightly embarrassed, little Josie handed the ball over to her mother as the timer was set to mark when it would be her turn to play with the ball again.  I was awestruck by the beauty and blessing of Christian discipline played out so sweetly!

I wonder if that little exchange between parent and child has stayed with me because it was such a sharp contrast to what I see around me–children who are out-of-control, who disrespect their parents and all other authority.  Sadly, we live in an increasingly godless culture where children are taught that the world DOES revolve around them.  Many parents, having abdicated their responsibility of teaching “right from wrong,” prefer instead to be “friends” with their kids.  The outcome?  With Christ out of the picture and no responsible adult in charge: such things as discipline, respect for authority, love for God and love for neighbor have become foreign concepts.  The fruit of raising such overindulged, undisciplined children?  All too often they become joyless, angry and unproductive adults.

I thought about this two days ago when the latest school shooting was being reported on the news.  We continue to be stunned by such events as they take place in just about any setting across the US.  Looking for reasons as to why they happen “experts” point to such things as abuse in childhood, parental divorce, mental illnessthe influence of violent movies and video gamesease of access to guns as reasons for our cultural toxicity.  Although such factors may indeed have some merit, I wonder if the problem goes far deeper . . . if perhaps it is a reflection of the spiritual darkness that has become so pervasive in the minds and hearts of people?  Thinking back to little Josie and her mom, it would seem that in separating ourselves from God and rejecting Christ, the wisdom needed to raise secure, healthy children through loving discipline has been lost.

After much training, ready to run the race!

After much training, ready to run the race!

The Bible likens discipline to preparing to run a race.  Several months ago our grandson Jack agreed to start running with his mom–our oldest daughter Kara.  For months they trained. Knowing not to push too hard, Kara sought to help Jack build his endurance.  There were discouraging times, but they kept to a disciplined plan and finally were ready to enter Jack’s first 5-K run.  The morning of the run, a large crowd showed up to compete.  Kara and Jack ran the course and it ended up with Jack taking second place in his category of runners.  He was one proud, happy guy and his mama was quite pleased also!

As I think about the blessing of loving discipline being worked out in Josie’s and Jack’s lives–two very different examples–I have come to value Christian discipline as truly unique.  Remembering that the root word in discipline is disciple,  we can learn much about meaningful discipline by studying Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith as He disciplined His disciples–preparing them for what was ahead.

  1. Although Jesus got frustrated with His disciples spiritual denseness, it was love that motivated how He taught and challenged their minds and hearts.
  2. Jesus knew His time to prepare them for what was coming was limited–there was no time to waste.  
  3. Jesus’ focus was never solely on changing the outward behavior of His disciples; His words penetrated their minds and hearts to bless them with an eternal perspective.
The reward for finishing well . . . confidence to face the next challenge!

The reward for staying the course? Confidence to face the next challenge!

Having walked with Christ for over half of my life, I have come to appreciate the connection between love and discipline as the two essential parts of Christian discipline.  When we talk about this in the Counseling Room I demonstrate the unique strength of Christian discipline by bringing my fingers together (representing love on one hand and discipline on the other) to form a uniform mesh of strength.  It is the resulting strength of combining love with discipline that builds solid character in the heart of the receiver. 

No matter where you are in life–young or old, married or single, rich or struggling financially–if you are a Christian then it is important to appreciate and apply the beauty and blessings of Christian discipline in your relationships.  True Christian discipline seeks to honor Christ as it is:

  1. Motivated by love, Christian discipline seeks to challenge (and in the long-run strengthen) the mind and heart of the receiver.
  2. It does not waste time but uses it wisely and prayerfully because it is precious.
  3. Its focus is never just about changing behavior, true Christian discipline seeks to penetrate the mind and heart of the receiver for eternity with the love of Jesus.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by Him.
 For the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
    and chastises every son whom He receives . . .
He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”
Hebrews 12:5, 6 & 10 

All to His Glory!

 

 

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

When she walked into the Counseling Room yesterday, I could see the discouragement and disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders.  Knowing how far she has come in recent months, I ached for her.  Angie has been a pleasure to work with–a living, breathing miracle of God!

From our first Session, after listening to her story I told her, “Perspective is everything . . . you need to draw closer to God.”  I introduced Journey Notes Praise Journaling to help her but, still reeling from a recent divorce and a lifetime of hurt and rejection, the suggestion of journaling held no appeal for her.   Angie tried to resist but in the end she agreed to try–it was a last resort:

“I am so not a writer . . .
 I believe in God . . .
that Jesus was who He said He was but . . .
God never has had much to say to me.”

Even so, she started to write.  It was awkward . . . coming up with three praises to God “was like pulling teeth.”  The first week she wrote one entry and reported, “I’m not sure if I am doing it right, my writing goes all over the place . . . it makes no sense.” 

Still, she continued to write . . .
one more week,
then the next . . .
and has kept it up until now. 

In the weeks between “then” and “now” a light dawned in her mind and heart that became visible in her eyes as the tension left her face.  Angie discovered that God has much to say to her . . . HOPE was rekindled and LIFE burned brightly in her countenance.  The evidence of God’s faithfulness became a reality for all to see:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” 
Psalm 40:2

As a result, Angie came to love doing her Journey Notes; the coffee-splattered pages of her notebook began to fill with the miracle of a conversation between her and her Maker.  As she interfaced with God through her Journey Notes, Angie started to look at herself and at “life” from God’s point of view–rightly concluding, “Perspective is everything!”

Yesterday, Angie reported she had had a “rough week.”  She talked about how seeing her ex-husband twice during the week had brought back old memories of his abuse.   Angie mentioned a broad shelf of books she read over twenty years while trying to save their marriage.  But, despite her efforts, her husband continually made it plain that he did not love her and did everything he could to get her to leave.   In desperation she finally did leave, but always with the hope that they would get the help they needed to save their marriage.  Instead, he filed the papers to obtain a divorce and it was a done deal.  Angie admitted that it was hard to see, that even now, he took no responsibility for the demise of their marriage– placing the blame fully on her. The question that pounded in her mind and heart: “Why didn’t God save our marriage?!!!” 

Isn’t it interesting how, when we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and disappointments, 
our initial response is often to blame God–I have done it and I trust you have too? 

The problem we have when we begin to doubt God’s goodness, is that we close ourselves off to the One who knows us and can best help us.  When we do that, our perceptions darken and we lose hope.  Isaiah 30:15-18 offers a prescription to address our tendency to run from God:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength . . .” as it also encourages us to turn back to Him:

 ” . . . the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

To help Angie stop being run by her feelings, we opened the One Book that has carried and changed her these many months– Ephesians 5:21-33 says in part,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body,
of which He is the Savior. 
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .  
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies . . . 
each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I reminded her . . . “Perspective is everything!”  As we reflected on all Angie saw and felt during the previous week, we began to see God’s faithfulness emerge from where the darkness sought to overtake her.  We thanked God for His mercy and love in providing for her needs and for His plan and purposes for her life.  To help Angie avoid another hard fall we talked about the following:

  1. Her husband has no power to “make” her carry the blame she felt heaped upon her; better to give it to God with thanksgiving and in faith.
  2. Rather than fall into the trap of doubting God’s goodness, resolve to run to Him–assuming the best of God as Creator and King.
  3. It takes two to make a marriage and two to break it apart.  It is right to mourn the demise of her marriage–to continue to pray for conviction and repentance on both sides; for healing and eventual reconciliation for their entire family.
  4. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said divorce was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts.    I encouraged Angie to give thanks to God for His mercy in bringing her out of an abusive marriage; for protecting and watching over her as He has faithfully done.
  5. Continue interfacing with God through the Journey Notes process to help stay on track.  (Angie admitted that in the previous week she avoided reading her Bible and suffered the consequences of it–No Peace!)

Are you facing an unexpected challenge that you never expected to face?  Whatever it is, large or small, God is worthy of your trust.  Truly . . . Perspective is Everything!

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 
II Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

The Mysterous Balm of Praise: Not Meant To Be A “Quick Fix”

I still remember the wonderful relief experienced when, as a child, I had a bad cold and Vicks Vapo-Rub was rubbed onto my chest.  I remember how the strong aroma of the menthol seemed to flood my plugged sinuses and filled my lungs to provide almost instant relief.  Looking back, I can see how those instances were a balm that not only soothed my symptoms but communicated love and caring to me in an otherwise stress-filled home.  I cherish those memories.

In my Christian walk I have found that giving thanks to God for His love and mercy when in difficulty, helps clear my senses like a spiritual balm.  I know personally how overwhelming the darkness of depression and anxiety can be; I also know that offering praises large and small to God can serve to lighten my perceptions and fill me with a quiet balm of hope and peace even when nothing else has changed.

How praise works as a balm to a wounded soul remains a mystery to me; what I do know that God is consistently faithful to meet us at our point of need when we seek Him out. 

Journey Notes Praise Journaling was developed to help Clients discover this spiritual balm for themselves.  For twenty years, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in turning simple praises into a balm that penetrates deeply into the hearts of all who seek Him.  It is nothing short of a miracle . . . but it is not a “quick fix”.  To offer up praises to God as a formula to get what we want, rather than in a spirit of humility and in faith is to court disappointment because of our impure motives.  Even so, God will remain faithful as the wisdom Psalm 73 attests:

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before You.
~~~~~~~~
Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Verses 21-26)

How does one move from impure motives to a heart strengthened by the mysterious balm of praise?

  1. It begins with a personal decision to trust in God more and ourselves less.
  2. Next, we surrender the bitterness and pain that would otherwise consume us to Him.
  3. Finally, we give thanks to Him for our freedom, for loving us even when we fail Him:

“Thank You God for loving me . . . for saving me from myself through the bloody and painful sacrifice of your Son.  Help me Lord to forgive as I have been forgiven . . . that I may honor you with by singing Your praises.  Thank You Lord for being the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . “

Do you feel your senses beginning to clear as you breathe in the very breath of heaven?  Give thanks that when God works it is not a “quick fix” but has eternal consequences . . . PRAISE HIM! 

All to His Glory!

“Love…Electricity…Maybe Some Magic Too.”

Eliana and her grammie.

Eliana and her grammie.

“What is the world made of?”  I am not sure who asked the question, but I can absolutely picture the thoughtful look on my granddaughter Eliana’s face as her answer floated through the air: one . . . ingredient . . . at a time,

“Love…
Electricity…
Maybe some magic too.” 

Some people might say that Ellie’s five-year-old view of the world is sweet but naïve–given the ugliness of daily world events.  However, Ellie is most certainly aware of sin in the world–she has three older brothers to contend with each day and, just this week, was quite relieved to hear that her mommy was not going to be taken to fight in Ukraine.  (Not that she does not care about the people in Ukraine (she does) but, for right now, Ellie knows she still needs her mommy to take care of her.)

Actually, Ellie’s answer is full of wisdom and closer to the truth about the world and how it is made than many may think.  With regard to love, Scripture tells us:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .”  (John 3:16)

Electricity?

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you:
      God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”  (I John 1:5)

And magic?  Look around, beyond the ugliness sinful man creates, to the backdrop that enfolds us:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

What I like about Ellie’s response is that it is so full of HOPE!  I confess that there are times when I give way to despair when I hear about the rotten things people do.  Were it not for the love . . electricity. . . and magical reality of God’s Sovereign Goodness, this world would be a much darker place. 

This morning I was thinking about Easter approaching and playing around with Ellie’s list of ingredients in my head.  I thought about God’s mysterious will being worked out through the sacrifice of His only Son; how love came down to seek and save the lost.  (Luke 19:10)  I thought about Ellie’s formula, interjecting mystery alongside of the magic, and realized that Christ’s coming as the fulfillment of His Father’s will, was the ultimate magical mystery tour of all time!  It was then that I was struck by how love, electricity and the magical mysterious will of God have continued to dramatically move in the hearts of men, women and children throughout history.   My mind started to race as I thought about Hebrews 12:1-3–where the Cross of Christ stands as the dramatic fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation for all who would trust in His Son.

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame,
  and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 
Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

 “Love . . . electricity . . . maybe some magic too”?  Yep, Ellie Honey, throw some mystery into the equation and that about sums it up!  Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!