To Move Beyond Brokenness . . . .

We had worked together for months in the Counseling Room.  Many tears were shed along the way, but new vistas gained as spiritual insights helped to steady her course.  Then one day she walked into my office the color of ash.   I could see the hurt and anger in her countenance as tears brimmed full.  What do you do when faced with shattered dreams and the light of hope has suddenly been snuffed out?  Be they your own broken dreams or someone else’s, the need is the same: a listening ear, that human connectedness of a hug or embrace, along with the words, “I’m sorry . . . .” 

It is often said that, “Time heals all wounds.”  While that may be true in part, it certainly is not true when it comes to ministering to the broken heart.  Just as a broken bone needs to be set aright, wisdom and intentional care are needed to straighten and strengthen the broken mind and heart.  In the Counseling Room I have ministered to many people crippled emotionally and spiritually by the still raw evidence of wounds left untended for years . . . even decades.  I know of no better resource than the wisdom contained in the Scriptures that, when rightly applied, can open up light and hope to the broken mind and heart.

Hebrews 3:13 warns Believers to guard against allowing sin to harden our hearts by letting it fester for even one more day:

“”But encourage one another daily . . . that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”
so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

True encouragement seeks not merely to placate or build up someone’s ego; authentic encouragement speaks to straighten and strengthen what has been broken.  

In my last post, I wrote about the Heartstrings Illustrationa very practical tool that helps identify the primary influence(s) we rely on to make decisions.  As I watched listened that day to my Client, I understood the pain she was in . . . but I also understood the danger of beginning to doubt the only One we can truly trust.  To help stop the emotional and spiritual “bleeding” of a heart so broken and raw, I took her to John 21. It’s one of those special places in Scripture that I enjoy because it is so personal.  It begins very early in the morning, with Peter and a few of the other disciples returning from a disappointing fishing trip. I asked her to begin reading to me–I ask all of my Clients to read aloud to me so that was nothing new.  As she read about how Jesus was waiting on the shore for them and what happened, I noticed her voice returned to a more regular tone.  Occasionally, she stopped reading as we marveled at how simply, but powerfully Jesus ministered to the hearts of those men–providing a miraculous catch of fish while already having prepared a meal that was waiting for them on the beach.  We then were touched when Jesus took a walk with Peter (the disciple who denied knowing Jesus three times after He was arrested.) In the conversation that took place between them, Jesus challenged and commissioned Peter to, “Feed My sheep.” The part that I hoped would most encourage and challenge my Client came in the final section, when Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself
and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

The text goes on to explain:

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
Then He said to him, “Follow me!”

(verses 18 and 19)

Stunned by the thought (I actually picture Peter blubbering to himself and extremely uncomfortable) Peter noticed another disciple, John, was near to them.  Peter asked Jesus the question many of us ask in such situations, “What about him?” Jesus’ response, simple and direct, serves as a needful reminder to us as to who is God, and who is decidedly NOT God:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?
You must follow Me.”

(Verse 22)

The room was quiet a few moments as we reflected on the text. It was then that I recognized a melding of wisdom and hope as color returned to my Client’s cheeks. Using the Heartstring Illustration to gain insight into what had just happened, she said,

“When I walked in here I was totally fixated on the pain of my situation–I had lost all hope.
In fact, I was angry at God for allowing my life to fall apart.
After reading Jesus’ answer to Peter, I was struck by my foolishness.
I knew immediately how off-course I truly was.
Nothing has changed . . . I still have no idea of the direction my life is going to take.
Even so, I am at peace, with God back in His rightful place in my heart.”

Time does not heal all wounds.   But as we entrust ourselves to God (refusing the temptation to doubt in His Goodness) and rely on the Scriptures and His Spirit to work in our hearts and minds, we discover the wondrous grace of His Peace.  To move beyond brokenness is not something we can ever attain in our own strength, it is only possible as we rely on Him as our resting place.

All to His Glory!

Taking Ownership of OUR PROBLEM . . . .

It is such a little thing, I am not sure how many people even notice it when they walk into my office: “Tears Welcome Here.” Three simple words, cross-stitched and framed on my desk, greet every Client who walks into the Counseling Room.  TEARS . . . when you get right down to it, tears are at the heart the business of Counseling–tears of regret, tears in suffering, but also (and perhaps especially) tears of frustration–when God is silent and we ask, “Where is He . . . why doesn’t He answer my prayers?”

In this post, I will introduce a simple tool I refer to as, the Heartstring Illustration.*  It is a model that helps identify a problem we all have: that tendency to doubt God’s faithfulness rather than examining our own hearts.   There are times when God is silent because He chooses to be silent (after all, He is God!) and there is nothing to do except wait for further direction.  However, all too easily, we tend to blame God when there is a “disconnect” between us, rather than looking within ourselves. It is for that reason that we go to the Scriptures early and often in the Counseling Room, to gain insight into God’s perspective on OUR PROBLEM.  James 4:1-4 is especially helpful:

“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.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world
means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”  

Heart Strings-2

Like it or not, there is something refreshing about God’s ability to cut to the heart of OUR PROBLEM: a willingness to believe the worst of God rather than taking an honest look at ourselves.  Knowing full well our situation, Jesus clues us in on a more appropriate response to OUR PROBLEM as described in the parable of the prodigal son:

“When he came to his senses, he said,
‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare,
and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father . . . . ”
Luke 15:17-20

Little did the son know that, from the time he left to squander his inheritance, his father had watched and prayed for his safe return.  God does the same for you and me.  He watches and waits for us to “come to our senses” in repentance and faith.  The Heartstring Illustration is a useful tool that helps us turn to God for the help we need to identify OUR PROBLEM.  It is a simple means of gaining clarity when life appears chaotic.

I was first introduced to the Heartstring Illustration when working in a counseling office located above our local Pregnancy Help Center.  (I share this story because it is the simplest way to illustrate the value of the model.)  When a woman who was abortion-minded came to the Center, one of the Counselors would sit down with her to talk about her situation.  Looking at the triangle, on the bottom right they put the Client’s name; to the left of the triangle they wrote, Unwanted Pregnancy.  Then they asked the question: “Who or what is influencing your decision about your baby?”  Whatever answer that was given–pressure from boyfriend or parents, fear, money, etc–was written at the top of the triangle.  The Counselor then talked about how we will all be held accountable by God for our decisions; that we cannot shift the blame to others or to our circumstances,  Also, the Counselor explained that anything listed at the top of the triangle other than God–is an idol.  The Counselor then asked, “Who or what do you think should be at the top as you make this decision?”  To the best of my knowledge, every woman knew the answer: GOD.

The format is the same when we use it in the Counseling Room–only I draw it out on a white board. We talk about how dangerous it is to put our family and other concerns as our primary motivation (making them idols) rather than God.  Many times we refer to Psalm 139:24,25  as we seek God’s help in restoring Him to His rightful place in their hearts:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I have also been helped personally using the model, when I have been tempted to blame Him for my troubles or sense a distance in our relationship.

“Search my heart God . . . clean house as You see fit . . .
so I can serve You with a glad heart.”  

The good news is that when we pray such honest prayers, owning OUR PROBLEM,
He proves Himself faithful every single time.
It is then, that we gladly welcome tears . . . TEARS OF JOY in the Lord
who speaks and works in the hearts and minds of all who seek Him.
Struggling? Confused?
Go to Him NOW–He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

* For twenty-plus years I referred to this model as, The Triangle Illustration–doesn’t exactly stir the heart, does it?!  As my son Luke was helping me put together the illustration for this post, I mentioned my frustration at not having a better title.  Luke (a puppeteer) suggested, heartstrings.  I thought about it and BAM!  It was a great fit, communicating the idea that, indeed, we need to be more aware of who or what is tugging at our hearts.  Thanks, Luke!

Voices (Part Two) . . . .

If you are a Christian who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, or if you know someone who does, this is for you.  In my last post I wrote about learning to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know, those accusing voices that taunt us despite our repentance saying, “You claim Christ but look at you . . . you are never going to change . . . you will never measure up to being a REAL Christian.”  Sometimes those “other voices” can sound quite reasonable, justifying sin, even as we are inwardly convicted by God’s Spirit.  Also, there are those angry, self-righteous voices that declare, “Enough! You don’t deserve to be treated this way!” as they urge us to hold on to bitterness and/or resentment.

DSC02555

“WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.”

To gain insight in discerning the difference between God’s voice and those “other voices”, I included several examples of God’s voice as our Shepherd to compare with those taunting, deceptive voices we hear in our heads.  From James we learned that one of the distinguishing marks between God’s voice and those “other voices”, is that God does indeed test our faith (in order to strengthen and mature us), but He never tempts us to sin.  When we are tempted, that is completely the voice of evil. (James 1:13,14)

This post will include insights into how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that can rob us of the freedom won for us in Christ.  (Galatians 5:1)   They are personal insights, gained in my own battle with depression, that have also been helpful to others.

1.  We all have a history of past sin; Christ Jesus is our only hope.  

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned . . . ,
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:17

2.  God convicts in order to draw us to Himself; He does not torment or abandon His children.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26, 27

3.  So long as we live on this earth, there is an ongoing spiritual battle between God (who is Light) and evil (spiritual darkness).  To forget or be naive about this makes us vulnerable.  The Apostle Paul warned his friends in Ephesus with this admonition:

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 devil’s 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.
Ephesians 6:10-12

4.  God will provide all that we need to do battle as we stay close to Him.  It strikes me as ironic that in the battle against terrorism, the term “chatter” is used to refer to listening in on Internet conversations between known terrorist organizations to try to figure out where the next attack will be.  In God’s “army”, we are to resist exposing ourselves to the “chatter” of the world as we draw nearer to God:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up
against the knowledge of God, and
WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT
TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.” 

II Corinthians 10:3-5

5.  The best way to resist evil, is to persist in offering praises to God.  (James 4:7) I learned this years ago when I was tormented by thoughts that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Initially I was horrified and embarrassed . . . waves of depression hit me hard.  It was as I prayed, asking God to help me in my weakness, that it occurred to me that the last thing the evil one wanted to hear were praises to God–so that is what I started to do:  “Thank you God that you love me; thank You that You died so that I might live to your Glory; thank You that my future is secure in Jesus . . . Lord take these unwanted thoughts away from me (clean out any lingering “garbage” that may be hiding)–that I might give You all honor, praise and glory.”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

6.  Always assume the best of God, especially when we are hurt and life seems unfair.  God’s purposes are always for our ultimate good–that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything” when we meet Him face-to-face.  (James 1:2-4)  We find encouragement in the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:19-20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

The wisdom of John Newton offers blessing as we reflect on God’s voice as our source of light and hope vs the voices of darkness that seek to ensnare us:

“When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them–unbelief.  For what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride than to dare to contradict the express Word of God.  To say that He will not pardon when He declares He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He assures us that He will make none . . . . Be thankful for the past and the present.  Trials no less than comforts are the tokens of His love.  ALL is regulated by infinite wisdom.  You will find cause to praise Him, even for the severe.“*  (Emphasis, mine.)

All to His Glory!

*Letters of John Newton, from The Banner of Truth Trust, written to the Rev. William Howell, pgs. 198 & 201.

Voices . . . .

It is a conversation that takes place more often than you may think . . . talking in the Counseling Room about how to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know–those destructive voices that fan our fears and encourage us to run from God (believing the worst of Him); those lying voices (and sometimes even, “well-meaning” voices) that rob us of wisdom and hope in how we view ourselves, our circumstances as well as our relationships with God and with others.  Why is this important?  Because living in a world filled with so much “chatter” bombarding us from every direction, we are too easily taken off track.  Too often, I have had to help a Client pick up the shredded remains of their faith, because that Client listened to voices that lead them astray.

To be able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd on good days and in bad,
is critical to navigating through the challenges we face in uncertain times.

This is not new.  That is why Jesus encouraged His own to stay close to Him:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.…”

John 10:27-28

There are many reasons people seek Counseling: ALL need clarity in discerning God’s voice, because All are vulnerable to the unrelenting accusatory voices that seek to weaken our faith.  That is why I encourage every Client to connect with God through the Journey Notes process:

"Come to me all . . . . "

“Come to me all . . . . “

  • Logging their praises and concerns to God with every entry,
  • Prayerfully investing personal time reading Scripture (becoming familiar with God’s voice),
  • Writing at the top of the page in red, the Scripture that stands out to them in their reading,
  • Responding prayerfully to what God has said as they log their thoughts and feelings in their Journey Notebook.

In the Counseling Room, we talk about the way God speaks to us–to convict and bring us to repentance in order to free us. (Galatians 5:1)  We also talk about how the voices of evil seek to distract or cause us to doubt God’s goodness.  We find James extremely helpful, as he makes a clear distinction between being tested by God (in order to strengthen our faith) and when we are tempted by our sinful desires:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

James 1:13, 14

James makes clear: we are not victims when it comes to sin.  We are challenged to confess our sin when we go our own way and receive God’s forgiveness in repentant faith..

We spend quite a bit of time in the Old Testament, finding that God’s voice is the same in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Two passages that are especially helpful are:

Genesis 4:1-7  When Cain got angry because God was not pleased with his offering (displaying a bad attitude), God’s response was interesting. God sought Cain out, not in anger but to offer the first Counsel to the rebellious heart recorded in Scripture,

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master/rule over it.”

(verses 6b & 7)

Of course, we know what Cain’s response was . . . but that same voice of a caring Shepherd speaks to you and I in our struggles.  The only way we can “know what is right” is to become familiar with His voice as we follow Him.

Isaiah 30:15-21  God offers the prescription we need when it comes to facing up to our sinful propensities:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

and follows up with a challenge to resist going our own way:

 . . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you will all flee away,
till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”

Can you relate to that image of feeling abandoned and without hope? When you realize you have nothing left to give? The passage continues with this encouragement:

Yet 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 . . . .

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction . . .  
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Isn’t that amazing?! As our voices are raised to Him in repentance and rest, God rises to the occasion with GRACE.  Instead of anger and wrath, He responds with compassion and justice, directing our every step. 

As we listen to the voice of the One who saves and obey Him, His Grace begins to fill in the gaps as our faith is strengthen.

Of course it does not stop there, does it?  In my next post I will write about how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that rob us of the joy, hope and peace that are meant to be ours in Christ.

All to His Glory!

More Than Fireworks . . . .

Since I was a child I have loved celebrating the Fourth of July.  From age six, I understood that Independence Day celebrated the birth of our nation.  I knew that on July 4, 1776, a group of men, representing thirteen British colonies, gathered together to formally declare those colonies to be a new, independent nation.   On that day, the Signers of the Declaration of Independence became enemies of the King of England , , , risking everything they had for the cause of freedom.  As I grew I learned:

  • That the Signers of the Declaration were men of vision . . . men who saw a future country far beyond themselves.
  • They were men who, though different one from the other, yet were united as created beings–accountable to their divine Creator.  
  • Certainly, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence did not think of separating themselves from their Creator as they wrote:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator . . . . “

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator . . . . ”  

The Fourth of July was a day of remembrance, culminated by waving sparklers wildly with my brother, cousins, neighbor kids or whoever else wanted to join in on celebrating the best nation on earth.  For me, taking hold of one (or even two) of those sparklers took a bit of daring–even though I never got burned, I dreaded the possibility.  However, even then, I knew the Fourth of July was about far more than fireworks–that our security rested in the knowledge that we were “one nation, under God.”  

As years became decades, change came and secularism grew.  Celebrating the Fourth became more sophisticated–filled with parades and activities having little to do with honoring the sacrificial courage and vision of the Signers before their Creator.  Instead, we became obsessed by the “wow-factor” of fireworks that we critiqued from year to year.

Sadly, the critiquing did not stop there–not by a long shot.  In more recent years, as American culture has become increasingly secularized, the notion, “that all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator” has been marginalized by many as “meaningless rhetoric.”  In an article posted on CNN’s website by Mark Edwards, “Was America Founded As A Christian Nation?” (July 4, 2015), five history professors from universities around the United States shared their perspectives pertaining to the roots of American democracy.  Before presenting the five perspectives, Edwards extended a second question, “Why do so many people think the country’s Christian history is so important?”  Sadly, the second question was largely ignored as the majority of the respondents denied any significant Christian influence in the formation of this nation.  Such a suggestion was denigrated in the article to be, “a myth” or, as one respondent suggested, “an invention of corporate, Christian America.”  

After reading the article, the one phrase that resonated with me was, “meaningless rhetoric”–that best sums up much of its content.  Although there were a few interesting insights to be gained, the bulk of it struck me as arrogant and short-sighted.  Thankfully, I did not have to look very far to find an answer to the question of why this nation’s Christian history IS so important.  I found the succinct insights of Christian writer and speaker, Ravi Zacharias, (posted on his Facebook page, dated July 3, 2015) thought provoking and helpful:

“America may not be a Christian nation per se, but only the Judeo-Christian worldview could have framed such a nation’s ideas and values: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.” No other religion or secular assumption can affirm such a statement except the Judeo-Christian worldview. But today that very worldview, on which our systems of government and law are based, is expelled from the marketplace.”

This next part gives the chilling answer to WHY remembering our Christian roots is so important:

Democracies that are unhinged from all sacred moorings ultimately sink under the brute weight of conflicting egos. Freedom is destroyed not only by its retraction; it is also devastated by its abuse.”

The phrase, “the brute weight of conflicting egos” hit me especially hard, as I reflected on our government’s inability to legislate anything of substance, largely because of the conflicting egos on both sides of the political aisle.

But we dare not think of secularism as only political . . . it is far more personal than that. Secularism, in the ultimate sense, denies God and elevates man even as it denigrates the value of people–the unborn, the frail or those considered too flawed to live.  The fruit of a secularized, Godless society?  In what is believed to have been his last known letter, written before he was beheaded, the Apostle Paul warned:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful,
unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control,
brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .

II Timothy 3:1-5

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I started working on this post, I had no idea of the direction it would take.  It was the morning after watching my grandchildren, initially tentative, and then boldly waving sparklers in their backyard, that I was reminded of my own childhood and how there is so much more to the Fourth of July than fireworks.  As I finish this post, I am struck by the unknown challenges we face, and how very much we need the mindset of the Signers of what became a great nation.  They were imperfect men of courage, who saw themselves as created beings, accountable to their Creator.

The challenge Christians face in this ever darkening world that only knows the man-made “rush” of fireworks is: Will we courageously demonstrate the steadfast Light of God’s love and mercy to a world in need of a Savior?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full . . . .
I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me . . . .”
 

John 10:10 & 14

All to His Glory!

Forgiveness: Facing-Off Evil In The Love And Mercy Of Christ . . . .

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 6:12

It is difficult to make sense of forgiveness, especially when it is extended to someone who brutally snuffed out the lives of innocent family members.  Such was the response of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community in 2006, when five young girls were brutally murdered and five others severely injured.  Not only did they forgive the shooter (who committed suicide at the scene), the Amish community extended their forgiveness by caring for his wife and three children who were left without a husband and father.

A similar scenario played out this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a stranger, welcomed into their church’s Bible study,  murdered the pastor and eight others.  Though still reeling from the loss of their loved ones, family members none-the-less made their way to the courtroom to extend forgiveness to the shooter as well as his family.

Where does such strength to forgive–such determination to face-off evil–come from?  After years of working with people in the Counseling Room, as well facing my own personal challenges, I can assure you that such forgiveness never comes easy.  Humanly speaking, we want to hold onto anger and hate; we desire to repay evil for evil.  Yet even from a health perspective, we know that to allow such things to hold sway for very long, is to allow the acidic erosion of our thinking to separate us from the God who saves.  James 4 speaks to the inward struggle we face:

"What causes fights and quarrels among you?"  James 4:1

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James 4:1

“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 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

The good news is that God desires better for us and calls us to Himself as the Shepherd of our hearts.  In the end, forgiveness is God’s means of deepening a faith relationship between Himself and His people.  Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.… “

Matthew 11:28, 29

That rest for your souls, is embedded in the knowledge that God, who is merciful as well as just, will not forget the burden you surrendered to Him.  If not repented of, God’s justice will prevail.  With this in mind, God asks but one question, “Will you trust Me in this?”

Forgiveness, pure and simple, is a God-thing . . . it is not something we can conjure up alone.  What is the critical ingredient needed to face-off evil when life hits us hard?  Forgiveness . . . that is grounded in the love and mercy of Jesus.  As forgiveness is applied in humility and faith, the evidence of God’s Presence in the hearts of His people is revealed.  

The declaration Paul made to his friends in Galatia, when they were in danger of entering into the bondage of legalism, is a good reminder to us when we are tempted to hold on to bitterness and anger:

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

Galatians 5:1

  • Forgiveness is a decision, that reflects the mercy received through God’s only Son.
  • Forgiveness comes alive and is believable, only as acts of mercy follow it.
  • Forgiveness chooses, to trust in God’s ultimate justice.

Forgiveness is the ultimate means whereby God’s people are truly freed–
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

 

 

Simple Kindness, Prayerfully Applied . . . .

It wasn’t until we lived in England, that I learned there is a difference between niceness and kindness.  As one friend put it, “Kathie, ice cream is ‘nice’, kindness goes deeper.”  Looking at several dictionaries this morning, I found the distinction between the two terms is best understood by considering what is at the root of what niceness and kindness do and do not communicate:

Niceness: Synonyms–befitting, correct, decent, well-bred, proper, polite, respectable, seemly.  Antonyms–improper, inappropriate, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, unbecoming, ungenteel, unseemly

Kindness:  Synonyms–benevolence, courtesy, grace, indulgence, favor, mercy, service.  Antonyms: coldheartedness, hard-heartedness, inhumanity, inhumanness, mercilessness, pitilessness

Niceness can tend to be a bit flashy (i.e. “Look at what I just did!”), kindness is more simply applied as it focuses on the needs of others.  It all boils down to this:

Love is kind . . . .

Love is kind . . . .

Niceness is about outward appearances,
Simple kindness, is often sacrificial as it reflects what is in the heart.
Simple kindness is a fruit of God’s Spirit.
Simple kindness, prayerfully applied, is rooted in God’s love. 
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 

I Corinthians 13:5

When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about two societal “nice guys” and another man, viewed a societal reject in that day, who none-the-less, demonstrated simple kindness:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him  . . . beat him and . . . left him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He . . . bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  (Luke 10:30-35)

Jesus then asked this very important question,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (verse 36)

The “expert in the law” responded to Jesus’ question–avoiding even mentioning the word, “Samaritan”–answered,  “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him (and continues to tell us), “Go and do likewise.”  (verse 37)

The Scriptures continue to call you and I to,

GO . . . “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:29),

GO . . . “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

GO . . . “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

What I have learned this week as I have thought about kindness is that:

To act in the simple kindness of Christ, does not require a lot of fanfare,
but for it to be truly effective as a fruit of God’s Spirit,
prayer is essential.

In my last post I wrote about the Duggar’s, a Christian family featured on a reality TV program called, Nineteen Kids and Counting.  Normally I would not write about people on a television program, but as I have watched this family be (essentially) ‘beaten and left for dead’ by elements of the societal elite of our day, I have been challenged to think about MY role in their story.  Am I one of the “nice guys” full of self-importance, who says, “Too bad for them”, as I continue on my busy way?  Or, do I stop and apply simple kindness by praying for the family and asking, “God, what would you have me do?”  

How about you?  Are there people or situations that you are aware of, but manage to “pass by on the other side”, because you feel like you cannot take on one more thing?  Perhaps you avoid listening to the news (like I sometimes do) because it is always seems to be so . . . dare I say it? . . . not very nice.  What I am learning is that, although the world is not a nice place to live and sometimes is even scary, simple kindness applies prayer to every situation, looking to Christ for wisdom as to when and how to help.  Simple kindness challenges each one of us to set aside fear, and even our busyness, as we learn what living by faith is truly all about.  

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Colossians 3:12 & 17

All to His Glory!