Faith Breathes . . . .

 

This morning I woke up in a panic . . .

my chest pounding hard within . . .

that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach . . .  

fear gripping my heart as I struggled to take a breath . . . .

Does that ever happen to you?  Sometimes the source of what causes such a panicky state is identifiable–in my case, it was “seeing” hundreds of golden spiders lowering themselves toward me in a dream.  But such panic can hit without warning and without a cause that is readily apparent . . . what then?  Having had to confront my own personal issues with fear and anger–yes, the two are often related–and having worked with countless others in the Counseling Room, I have learned:

WHEN FEAR (OR ANGER) GRIP THE HEART, FAITH MUST BREATHE DEEPER STILL.

Faith breathes?  It may sound a little crazy, but hear me out.   In the Counseling Room, when talking about dealing with fear or anger as Christians, we look to the Scriptures for guidance.  Many times we talk about how to walk by faith (not just by sight like the rest of the world does) and learn to view tough times as opportunities trust God more.   In Chapter Two of his letter, James concluded,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”* 

Thus, according to James, it is as faith is worked out in our lives that the evidence of genuine faith is revealed.

The Bible also commands that we be a thankful people before our God and King . . . thankful no matter what our circumstance.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18 encourages,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Now, here is where breathing ties in with faith:

One of the best ways of energizing faith, when overwhelmed by on-going problems or facing the unexpected, is to take a deep breath as you mentally stop whatever you are doing.   As you take in that first breath (making it as deep and long as you can), mentally turn to God and give thanks to Him for His love.  Continue on that vein (recalling every wonderful thing you know about God from the Scriptures) with every breath:

Thank You God that you love me–even when I do not feel or deserve it.

Thank You that You are with me–even though I feel totally alone.

Thank You that You have a plan and a purpose for my life–even though I cannot fathom how this fits into what that might be.

Thank You God for being faithful, even when I fail You . . .

Thank You, thank You, thank You–that You are my God of HOPE!

After reading an article on How to Breathe Properly, written by Karen Lee Richards–patient advocate and co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association– I was struck by how our physical breathing and learning to breathe spiritually are similar.  Richards wrote.

“Breathing affects virtually every part of the body.  It oxygenates the body, revitalizing organs, cells and tissues.  Breathing properly:

  • Fuels energy production
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Eliminates toxins
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Improves bowel function
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation

As important as breathing is to our bodies faith, as it is applied with every spiritual breath we take, is every bit as beneficial.  With every spiritual breath we take, faith fuels our spiritual energy.  Faith improves and narrows our spiritual focus as the toxicity of sin is eliminated through repentance.  Also, as faith is lived out, our spiritual immunity is strengthened as we honor Christ in our lives.  Every spiritual breath we take improves . . . yes, even our bowels(!) as it reduces stress, tension and anxiety.

In the article, Richards differentiates between shallow chest breathing (what sufferers of chronic pain do to minimize pain) and slow, deep abdominal breathing. Richards says, “Shallow chest breathing makes people feel tense” and can induce symptoms that include “mental fog, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, feeling numb and more.”  Yet with slow, deep abdominal breathing, ‘feelings of calmness” are the resulting benefit.

Just as how we breathe impacts our bodies and perceptions, faith as it is applied (or not) also affects our bodily functions as well as our minds and hearts. 

In the final chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage believers living in perilous times to run not from difficulty, but to instead run to the One they loved and served.  Paul wrote to remind his fellow believers that our strength is not in ourselves; that our battle strategy is to stand by faith against evil as God works out His perfect plan through us:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devils schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

No matter what your circumstance, you can know and trust that our Sovereign and Good God will provide the strength and wisdom you need to honor Him with your life.  NOW . . . READY . . . SET . . . BREATHE!DSC01298

All to His Glory!

 

*James 2:26

Innocent But Not Naive . . . .

 

As we face the uncertainty of our times. I write to encourage you with the words of Jesus who warned His disciples in Matthew 10:16, 17a:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men . . . .”

The world has not changed!  To make our way in such a world requires that we be innocent–refusing to involve ourselves in sin–but we cannot afford to be naïve.

Twenty years ago, an estimated one million people were brutally murdered over the course of one hundred days in the Rwandan genocide.   I still remember seeing a photograph of the blood-smeared walls of a small church where its entire congregation perished.  The story that accompanied that picture described how the members of a church had gathered together to give support to one another.  As they were meeting, a bloodthirsty mob intent on killing entered the church.  The mob demanded that the congregation identify fellow members who belonged to the Tutsi minority (the principle target of the genocide.)  The church refused to turn them over as one young girl stood up to the mob and challenged them to not go through with what they were intent on doing.  The crowd responded by killing everyone in the church.  Sadly, not all churches stood so boldly. There were other churches during that awful time who turned over their Tutsi brethren to save themselves.

I cannot say whether the love and courage demonstrated by the young girl and her church later impacted any of those who carried out the butchering of innocence that day.   What I can say is that hearing the story and seeing the blood-smeared walls very much impacted and convicted me to evaluate my faith.  Would I have the courage to stand in the love of Christ as that young girl did?  (Would you?)

Too often Christians wrongly confuse naivety with innocence–choosing to insulate themselves from the rest of the world.  Yet God has gifted us with the Scriptures to equip us to deal effectively–even sacrificially–with a sin sick world.  Consider and be blessed by the wisdom of II Timothy 3:16-17,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

To serve God well and to love our neighbors as He would have us do, requires that we invest ourselves into knowing and living out the Scriptures daily.

So how are we to strengthen our faith as we live out our lives in a crumbling world?

  1. Faith steadfastly refuses to doubt God’s goodness as it remembers . . . “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . . “  (John 3:16)
  2. A steadfast faith gives thanks to God for the miracle of redemption . . . “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (I John 4:10)
  3. A maturing faith depends on God’s Spirit and His Word to provide godly wisdom . . . “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  (James 1:5)
  4. A strengthened faith refuses to bow down to fear . . . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”  Psalm 23:4
Shepherd with lamb in Negev riverbed

Sent out “like sheep among wolves . . .”

All to His Glory!

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

We live in a frightening world where the thought of turning on the news can fill us with dread.  I was stunned last week as I watched and  listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.  As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:  “Father forgive them . . . for they know not what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind--“an eye for an eye”that’s biblical, right?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  (verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice;

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. 
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  
(Verses 17,19-20)

 As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ has loved us.  Over the years I have listened to many a testimony given by people who came to Christ after serving on the side of evil in World War Two.  I trust that there are such people caught up in the ugliness of sin, who need our prayers today.  Join me in praying for repentant hearts to overtake the evil that appears so rampant.  Also, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

There’s No Place Like Home . . . .

Call it what you will–

Utopia . . .

Heaven on Earth . . .

Paradise . . . .

There is a longing in the human heart to regain what was lost at the Fall when sin entered the world.  Humanly, we go to great efforts to construct our own version of “home”, but it can never last apart from being reconciled to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I have had to break this news to many a struggling Client (and have reminded myself when dismayed by the attitudes and/or actions of myself and/or others): “This is not heaven!”  

In the final hours before His arrest, Jesus talked to His disciples about HOME in John 14:1-3.  Knowing He would soon be leaving them and the world He had dwelled in for thirty-three years, Jesus encouraged them with these words:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
My Father’s house has many rooms;
if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

It is our hope of heaven that gives us peace in trying times . . .

In Christ we look forward to what, one day, will be our Forever Home

Truly . . . there’s no place like HOME!

But what about now?  How are we to respond to the pain and suffering of those we love brought on by disease?  What are we to do when men blatantly commit unspeakable acts that overwhelm our human sensibilities? It is scary to face the realities of pain and heartache in this world; to think about evil and the end times,  Yet the Bible speaks of such things to encourage and strengthen God’s people.  I found comfort in the words of Jesus that in previous days have made me uncomfortable.  Jesus sought to enlarge the vision of His disciples’ thinking about HOME in Matthew 24:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (verses 7-14)

There's no place like HOME!

There’s no place like HOME!

The Apostle Paul underscored the temporariness of our earthly bodies by referring to them as “tents.”  In II Corinthians 5, verses 1 and 5, Paul ministered to the hearts and minds of his fellow-servants of Jesus Christ with these words about our Forever Home:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. . . . God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit.

No matter what you are facing or may face in the future, hold fast to the faithful provision given us by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Truly, there’s no place like HOME! 

All to His Glory!

 

To Feel God’s Pleasure . . . .

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire–the true story about Scotsman Eric Liddell.  Born in China to missionary parents, Liddell became famous as a runner and rugby player across Great Britain in the 1920’s.  Chariots of Fire focuses on Liddell’s journey to the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.  What made Liddell famous around the world, was when he refused to run the 100 meter race he had trained for because of a conflict with his religious convictions–the heats were scheduled to be run on a Sunday.  Eric ended up winning an Olympic gold medal when he ran the 400 meter race and a bronze medal for the 200 meter race instead.  One of the lines in the film that stands out in my mind, is Eric’s response to his sister Jenny when she expressed concern that he was investing too much of his time running.  Eric, looking tenderly into his sister’s face, reassured her as he said, “Jenny, Jenny . . . I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”   

Being confident in knowing that God has a plan and purpose for our lives is what compels us as Christians to move forward in challenging times.  I believe that, “to feel God’s pleasure . . .” is more illusive but ties in with our desire to honor God.

We feel God’s pleasure when we use the gifts and abilities He has given us to love our neighbor and to glorify Him. 

Speaking from experience, God has gifted me with the ability to help people dig into the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  In the Counseling Room, I feel God’s pleasure when working with a Client who is in a whole lot of trouble and thinks God has abandoned them.  Many times when I listen to their stories my heart breaks for them.   Over time, I have learned that while empathy is nice, what they need is the strength and perspective the Scriptures offer.  There is nothing more powerful than God speaking truth and hope into the lives of hurting people.  I especially feel His pleasure when He leads us to two, three and sometimes four passages of Scripture–glorious fare for the hungry soul!

There are other instances when I have recently felt God’s pleasure.  One that especially stands out to me has been in witnessing the next generation take on responsibilities serving in my Church.  This summer several young men who have grown up in our church have blessed the musical aspects of worship with their humble leadership. To witness the Spirit of God working in their lives has given me hope for the future.

We feel God’s pleasure when we are broken yet choose to give Him thanks.
His pleasure becomes ours when we are awed by all He has made . . . 
when we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Ephesians 1:9-10 provides a much broader picture of the working out of God’s pleasure across His universe:

With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect
when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16

After the Olympics Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary.  Throughout his life I trust that he felt God’s pleasure many times as he married, had children and served the Chinese people with the Good News of Christ.  His wife and children left China when the Japanese were taking over in WWII.  Eric chose to remain and was ultimately interred by the Japanese in a detainee camp with 1,800 men, women and children in 1943.  There he continued to honor Christ by serving others until he died of a brain tumor in 1945 at age 43.

Liddell was a man after God’s heart, who lived out his life like he ran his races: with patient dedication he honored Christ at every turn.  When he fell, Eric got up and ran harder to follow the path God laid out for him until he finished his race.

To trust God more than our instincts or the opinions of others, moves us in the direction of feeling God’s pleasure as we walk/run in obedience to His Spirit and His Word. 

So what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory! 

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!