A Lesson on Brokenness . . . Grace is a Gift!

It happened so quickly!  My husband and I were in a hotel gift shop–killing time really.  While looking at some terra-cotta Christmas ornaments, one I barely touched tumbled to the tile-floor and smashed into pieces.  We looked around for help, surely everyone in the shop heard the crash . . . but no one came.  Dutifully, we looked at each other and started picking up the pieces one-by-one, before making our way to the sales counter.

When I showed the manager the pieces, I must confess that part of me hoped she would forgive the debt owed.  She didn’t.  Instead, she looked at me and the broken pieces and said, “It’s okay Ma’am, I’ll give you a discount . . . that will be $14.” My heart sank as I looked at my husband and said, “I’m sorry, Honey.”  She looked me and asked, “Do you want this?” With tears threatening to spill, I started to say “no”–why would I want such a painful reminder?  However, my husband interjected, “Yes, we will take it–I will put it back together.”  So, she put the pieces into a clear ziploc baggie and we walked out of the shop.

A lesson on brokenness . . . .

A lesson on brokenness . . . .

It was quite a while before either of us spoke.  Inwardly my thoughts seemed to go everywhere at once–embarrassed at breaking the ornament, upset that the store manager was not willing to forgive the debt . . .  I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I struggled inwardly with a growing anger.  Yet, in a flash my anger dissipated as I recognized my sinful and foolish attitude.  Suddenly, these words flew through my mind like an electric banner:

Kathie, you love the idea of grace but you have forgotten that, from start to finish, GRACE IS A GIFT!”  

I felt silly and downright arrogant when I realized what I had done–demanding what can only be received as a gift!  Two passages of Scripture came to mind.  The first was David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.  After being confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David’s prayer reflects the kind of brokenness that pleases God in verse 17,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

The second passage, written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to his friends in Ephesus (chapter 2, verses 4 and 5), boldly declares the wondrous love of God who, in His divine mercy, offers grace to all who repent of their spiritual brokenness:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
it is by grace you have been saved.”

As we continued to walk, I found myself bubbling over with excitement at God’s kindness in extending this lesson to me.  Suddenly, I was grateful that my husband had the broken pieces in his pocket and could hardly wait for him to glue the pieces back together.  This Christmas that very special ornament will be hung on our tree with special care, tagged with a note for all to see: Grace is a Gift from start to finish!

All to His Glory!

 

Last Day of Chemotherapy

Kathie at hisglorysm:

Watching my son Luke go through cancer treatments has been been tough, but on this last day of receiving chemotherapy he drew a picture that made me laugh! I share it with you in the hope that it will make you smile too. Revelation 21:4 tells us that one day God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” So what will replace all that crying and pain?  I look forward to a whole lot of praises to God and laughter that never ever ceases! All to His Glory!

Originally posted on silerquest:

image

I drew a picture to celebrate my last day of chemotherapy. Because words are not enough.

View original

Spiritual Stepping-Stones . . . .

While thinking about spiritual stepping-stones earlier in the week, I remembered some very special stepping-stones off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Named after a legendary giant named Bedruthan, we took our children to see the rocky formations the giant supposedly used as stepping-stones to cross the bay. The view was spectacular as we stood on a cliff several hundred feet above the Bedruthan Steps–imagining the giant crossing the bay toward us against the setting sun.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England

The Bible does not mention stepping-stones, but it does talk about running a spiritual race that God has laid out for us.  One of my favorites is found in Hebrews 12:1,

“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 . . . . “

Sometimes, particularly when we are feeling “stuck” in a situation, it helps to look back to where we have been to get our bearings, before moving forward.  Looking for a practical way to work this “looking back in order to move forward” idea, it struck me that to prayerfully identify meaningful events in our lives as spiritual stepping-stones, could be very helpful.   Not having done this before, I decided to use myself as the proverbial “guinea pig” to test my thinking.

From the start, three key pieces emerged to establish the practical foundation needed to identify each spiritual stepping stone:

  1. The process must begin and end with prayer to be truly effective.  It is God who has established “the race marked out for us,” so it is entirely reasonable to look to Him for the practical insight we need.
  2. For all who are in Christ, the first spiritual stepping stone marks when we embrace Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.
  3. After that, ask God to help you identify: a) meaningful events that have impacted you; b) the Scripture Marker you remember it by and, c) the Spiritual Stepping-Stone that helped you to stand.

To help you get started in this process here are five Scripture Markers and the resulting Spiritual Stepping- Stones that have guided me to where I am today.  This is a very personal process so your list will look very different from mine–that is the whole point!  So don’t get caught up on what I have listed:

  1. Asked God to take over my life; to save me from myself.  
    1. Scripture Marker: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..”  (John 3:3, 5)  
    2. Spiritual Stepping-Stone: Jesus became my resting place as well as my primary source of strength each and every day.
  2. When overwhelmed by the possibility of losing our third born, God quieted my heart with the assurance that His purpose (no matter what happened) was for our family’s good.  
    1. Scripture Marker: Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)  
    2. Spiritual Stepping Stone: I found great comfort in God’s goal for me: “to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  I embraced His goal as my own.
  3. When faced with the challenges of being a single mom (back when my husband had to be away much of the time) the Shepherd blessed me with this verse one Sunday morning:
    1. Scripture Marker:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40:11)  
    2. Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I was greatly comforted by the assurance that my Shepherd was watching over me.j
  4. On 9/11/2001 I struggled all day trying to get my spiritual bearings as I watched the tragedy unfold.  I begged God for help that entire day, but it seemed as if Heaven was silent.  Late that night after finally turning off the TV, I went up to go to bed.  As I pulled back the covers to get into bed,  these thoughts ran through my head like an electronic billboard: “Hate what is evil: cling to what is good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”  
    1. It was not until several days later that I found the Scripture Marker: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. “ (Romans 12:9)
    2. Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I slept peacefully that night despite the grief experienced that awful day.  Since that time, I have learned to major on loving others, while leaning on the Lord to face- off evil in the world.
  5. When frightened because of personal health concerns I found myself gripped by fear as I contemplated my future. 
    1. Scripture Marker: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength . . . .”  (Isaiah 30:15)  
    2. Spiritual Stepping-Stone: God’s answer calmed my fears as I learned to stop running and intentionally trust Him more. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  I was surprised by how the process came together once I got started.  If a Scripture Marker does not come to you right away, ask God to help you identify one that is meaningful to you.  (You need the Scripture Marker to provide your Spiritual Stepping-Stone to stand on.)  Whether you are facing a difficult situation, have an important decision to make or are at a relatively quiet place in your life, I encourage you to take time to do this for yourself.  Being able to view the Spiritual- Stepping-Stones of your life cannot help but strengthen you to finish the race God has marked out for you!

All to His Glory!

Simple Questions . . . .

Are you looking to encourage someone in their faith right now?  Sometimes it is more helpful to ask simple questions that encourage a thoughtful response, than it is to offer pat answers.  That is how Jesus ministered to countless people from every imaginable background–He asked questions to start a conversation, to respond to those questioning His authority or to help individuals think more broadly.*  Here are a few examples:

  • He opened up a conversation with the socially rejected Samaritan woman at the well with, “Will you give me drink?” before delivering insights on the necessity of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.(John 4:7b-26)
  • Speaking to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)
  • When He saw a great crowd coming toward Him, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” before feeding the five thousand. (John 6:5b)
  • In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”  (Verses 15, 16)  

All were ordinary questions that led to powerful, one-on-one shepherding opportunities.   What is amazing is that those same questions continue to challenge hearts and minds in a multitude of ways.  It is at the feet of Jesus that we learn that,

A thoughtfully crafted question can make far greater mileage toward helping others than a pat answer.  

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Be you a caring friend, a neighbor or a family member, to ask simple questions can be an important part of building courage and character in others.  Well put questions not only provide helpful information and understanding for the listener, but often can help the one in need to examine their heart.

But what about when we are the ones asking God questions?  Do our questions impact how God responds to us?  ABSOLUTELY!  Personal experience has taught me,

  • When we ask God, “Why?” because we doubt His goodness, very often His response is to ask another rather disconcerting question:  “Will you trust Me in this?”   
  • During those times when He calls us to forgive, but we are fearful (or just plain resistant) and ask Him, “What if it happens again?”  We may feel stonewalled when things get quiet, or be tempted to think He has not heard us or does not care as that same disconcerting question hangs in the air--”Will you trust Me in this?”

Several years ago I found myself in turmoil over God’s call to trust Him after experiencing deep hurt.  For weeks I begged for answers to my, “Why did you allow this to happen?” I dug my heels into the ground when called to forgive as I demanded, “What if it happens again?”  The silence from the Throne was deafening . . . .

Yet, I can still remember the day everything changed . . . the moment when I let go of my demanding “whys” and “what ifs” and instead asked the simple question, “HOW” was I to trust again?  The answer was delivered to me so quickly when I opened my Bible, that it took my breath away! Here is what I read,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

 That day I learned that the attitude of the heart very much determines God’s answer to us.  Indeed, simple questions asked in the love and humility of Christ Jesus, can open up fresh insights that are not of this world.

All to His Glory!

* Check out 135 Questions Jesus Asked for an interesting list of His questions.

Prayer + “The Ripple Effect” = An Ocean Of God’s Love

I have to admit that I find myself cringing whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I guess all we can do is pray.”  I cringe, not because I am judging that person–God knows I have thought and said the same thing many times in the past.  No, I cringe because I have learned, in my thirty-plus years of walking with Christ and after twenty years of Counseling, that prayer must be our first priority and should never be left as a last resort.  When we are more about “doing”–and therefore make prayer secondary–we miss out on participating in the mysterious and wondrous workings of God.  The simple wisdom and counsel of Isaiah 55:6 says it all,

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.

Seek the Lord NOW through prayer; call upon Him NOW!  When we seek God with prayers large and small, we become part of what I like to refer to as “the ripple effect.”  Ordinarily, the term “ripple effect” refers to when a stone is thrown into a still pond . . . after the ‘plunk’ comes the myriad of ripples that move across the otherwise still water.  Merriam-Webster.com defines it this way,

The Ripple Effect

Ripple effect: “a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.” 

In Christian circles, the term is used to describe when God works in an individual’s life . . . and how the resulting “ripples” from that action impacts the lives of many othersHowever, when God works in response to our prayers, there is nothing “unintentional” or random when it comes to the “ripple effect.”  One of the blessings of serving a God who is both Sovereign and Good, is in knowing that He is as much at work in the smallest ripple, as He is in the larger things.

Even though it has been thirty-four years, I still remember how profoundly impacted I was by the “ripple effect” when, at twenty-five weeks gestation, I was hospitalized due to complications with my pregnancy.  Back then, we were attending a wonderful church where we had met Christ a few years before.  Each Sunday my husband gave an update so people knew our specific prayer needs.  During the weeks prior to our sons birth, an interesting pattern emerged.  When things were looking bad, the fervency of people’s prayers never failed to carry us through.   However, when we did better and people eased up on praying, we seemed to go downhill.  When our pastor visited me in the hospital, he commented on how God was using our situation to teach our congregation about the importance of being steadfast in prayer.

As the days passed and Luke was born nine weeks premature, it continued to boggle my mind when I thought about God using our three-pound little boy (such a tiny little “pebble”) to ripple blessing to several hundred people who were faithful to pray.  Luke’s birth opened the door to a world of machines and buzzers, bright lights and busy doctors and nurses tending tiny babies in the hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Since our home was over an hour away, I was encouraged to stay in the hospital as long as they had a bed available. The nurses were especially kind and helpful, but that first week was rough.  All week, Luke’s nurses expressed concerns about his blood gas levels.  He had already received one blood transfusion of what they referred to as packed cells; yet by day seven, he was paler and seemed to be losing ground.

Realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed, my husband took me home for a few hours that evening.  I will never forget the night sky that greeted me when I went out to our backyard to pray.  I can only describe it as “expansive” as the darkness surrounded me and a myriad of stars shone down.  I prayed . . . confessing my fear of losing Luke.  I reflected on what my pastor said about God using Luke to encourage steadfastness in prayer in our church.  I was comforted as I recognized that, if God chose to take Luke back, his short life had accomplished what God intended.  With that realization, I surrendered Luke back to God.  As I did, a peace settled over me that freed me to trust Him no matter what happened.

When I returned to the hospital, Luke was asleep in his isolette and had a lovely rosy glow–the doctors had agreed to a second transfusion.  From that point he became a “grower” and several weeks later we were able to take him home at four pounds, two ounces.

The “ripple effect” of the prayers of so many and our learning to pray has continued to bless our family to this very day.  James 1:2-5 became a special lifeline during that time that has carried us though many a trial since:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

As I write this, our family is being carried by the prayers of countless people as Luke undergoes chemotherapy.  This time though, the ripples of the past have combined with the countless prayers being offered for Luke, his wife Shannon and our family resulting in a whole ocean of God’s love.

Wherever you are . . . whatever you may be facing . . . my prayer is that your faith in Christ will deepen and buoy you in the ocean of His love and tender mercies.  He is so very worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

 

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–”Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2

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