An Upfront and Personal God . . . .

I’m not sure where the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20” came from, but I appreciate how it pictures the process of connecting-the-dots of blessing after going through tough times. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize those blessings, but ultimately they all fall together to provide peace to those who trust in Him. It is during such times that I learned to give thanks for such an upfront and personal God.

I was reminded of His upfront and personal way of getting our attention while reading about an encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus on the morning of His Resurrection:

“But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent down to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” they asked.

“Because they have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I do not know where they have put Him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not recognize that it was Jesus.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asked. “Whom are you seeking?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him off, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  

She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
                                                                                                    John 20:11-16

It appears that when He spoke her name, Mary realized it was actually Jesus speaking to her. I wonder . . . was it was simply the way Jesus pronounced her name that reminded her of Him? Or maybe, having spent hours listening intently to Jesus, did Mary remember Him speaking about what was to come for Him:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law,
and He must be killed
and on the third day be raised to life.”
Luke 9:22

“He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion . . . .” Philippians 1:4-6

There’s no way to know what was going through Mary’s mind, but it reminded me those times when a soft yet upfront and personal voice has spoken to my heart, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?

The first time it happened, I was in a quandary about something that seemed important at the time but years later, I have no idea what it was about. What I DO remember was NOT responding to the question because I didn’t want to be rude to God–as if He didn’t know what was in my mind!

So . . . for about two weeks I sensed this sort of cloud following me that continually echoed the question, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?” Finally, feeling totally worn down, I turned back to the Lord and said, “YES! Lord, I will trust You in this!” In that instant, though my situation had not changed, the cloud dissipated and a wonderful peace filled the void–bringing relief and comfort to my mind and heart.

In the years since that same question has, with prodding gentleness, helped me get through many a trial. I admit that at times I have been hesitant to answer, especially when fear grips my heart and mind. There have been times when I have prayed as the father who asked Jesus to heal his son prayed: “I believe, help me in my unbelief!”* But as time passes and I remember the lessons taught me in previous years, I have learned to respond more quickly–“Yes Lord, I do trust You in this!”

How about you? What is your experience with this upfront and personal God?Are you facing something unexpected that you don’t know how to respond to? Or maybe you’re tired of fighting a battle that never seems to end? Perhaps He has asked–or is asking you right now–“______, will you trust Me in this?”

These words written by the Apostle Paul to a church he deeply loved, lend encouragement and hope to followers of Christ,

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:4-6

With every problem that comes in your walk with Him, you can rest in the promise that, “He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion.” When we do step out in faith–affirming that, “Yes Lord, I will trust You in this,”–our situation may not necessarily change, but WE are changed as we gain courage and strength to trust Him with every portion of our lives. Give thanks for an upfront and personal God!

All to His Glory!

*Mark 9:24

Formula For Blessing In The New Year . . . .

There’s a familiar lilt to the greeting, “Happy New Year!” that generates excitement and energy. In years past we have welcomed family and friends into our home to get a little crazy as we greet the New Year together.

This year was different. My husband and I had just returned from gathering with all 15 members of our family over Christmas break. We thought about inviting friends in to welcome the new year, but in the end my husband went to bed at 10:00 on New Years Eve and, just before midnight, I realized I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.  So I crept up to bed and listened to fireworks being set off at a distance as I drifted off to sleep.

Since then I have greeted many family, friends, and even strangers with “Happy New Year”, not thinking much about it until yesterday . . . .  Curious about where the greeting, “Grace and peace to you,” is recorded in the Bible, I looked it up online. What I discovered was that the Apostle Paul extended that greeting (in various forms) in every one of his letters recorded in the New Testament:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . .”

Galatians 1:3-5

“To the church of the Thessalonians
in God the
 Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you . . . .”

I Thessalonians 1:1

“To Timothy my true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I Timothy 1:2

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:2

What stood out to me initially was the richness of Paul’s greeting, compared to the impersonal, almost generic quality of how we greet one another today.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wishing happiness to others. But compared to the richness of Paul’s extension of “grace and peace” (especially as it is founded in God the Father and Christ Jesus), Happy New  Year” and “Happy Birthday” seem almost trite!

I decided to write about this because, as Christians, we can and should do better in choosing the words we speak because they matter before God:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer everybody.”
Colossians: 4:6

“Then we will no longer be infants . . . blown here and there
by every wind of teaching and by the cunning, craftiness of men . . . .
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become
in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Ephesians 4: 14, 15

“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2

I appreciate the way Paul reminds us of our ultimate responsibility before God:

“And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
II Corinthians 5: 19-20

As we enter this gift of a new year, my prayer is that as Ambassadors for Christ we will walk worthy of Him. To speak truth in love and to guard our hearts against anger and fear must be our priority.   May His grace and His peace guide you, as you choose to love those He puts on your path with the same love He has invested in you.❤️

All to His Glory!

A Hope-Filled Perspective At Christmas . . . .

Having lost four friends in November and early December, tears tumbled easily after receiving word that yet another friend died last week. It wasn’t totally unexpected, Denise had battled cancer for more than a year. But when we met for lunch two months ago, that battle was barely a blip in our conversation. Instead, she talked about “God’s kindness” in allowing her to travel to Portugal with her sister the previous month and how exceedingly grateful she was for her family.

While still trying to process the thought of her family navigating Christmas and life without her, it was the observation of another friend that brought comfort and perspective:

”Denise went home to be with the Love of her Life: JESUS.”

Denise loved the people God put in her life deeply, but it was her love for Him that drew others to Jesus. The thought of Denise and my other friends receiving the things promised so long ago, brings comfort and, yes, a joy-filled hope to my heart, mind and soul:

“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His Name . . . .’

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the former things have passed away.
And the One seated on the throne said,
‘BEHOLD, I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.’”

Revelation 21:4-5b

The thought of tears no longer tumbling and death and separation no longer being a threat, are beyond my comprehension in this life. Yet we can have full confidence that, the God who can change even the hardest heart, will indeed do this.

Are you suffering the loss of a friend or loved one that makes it difficult to celebrate Christmas? Then I invite you to join me in celebrating the HOPE of heaven, won for us through faith in God’s only Son:

“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His Name,
He gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God”

John 1:12, 13.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, may we also look forward to the day when the tawdriness of this fallen world will be replaced by the goodness of our faithful Shepherd . . . Merry Christmas!

All to His Glory!

More Than a Cup of Tea . . . .

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is
until you put her in hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

When I read the above quote I laughed aloud as I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt, how very biblical!”  Like it or not, it is adversity (or as Eleanor put it,“hot water“) that builds the kind of character and maturity that pleases God.  James bears this out in the introduction to his letter,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you
may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

Just as brewing tea with scalding hot water brings forth the best cup of tea, it is often the challenges we would otherwise avoid, that mold and change us when we choose to trust God. This can also apply to relationships:

  • In my teens and twenties I enjoyed the simple pleasure of drinking a cup of tea while doing some personal reflection.
  • In my thirties my appreciation for the benefits of sharing a pot of tea with a friend broadened as I savored the warmth and fragrance of tea with friends and, in the process, became a better listener.

Looking back, I can now see how God blessed those conversations,
as He challenged me to love others as He loved me,
by learning to trust Him as the Shepherd of my heart. 

As time passed, God put two women on my path whom I quickly decided “needed more than a cup of tea.” One was a friend of someone I knew in a Bible study I was teaching. She was facing some tough personal issues that I felt were beyond my experience. At almost the same time, another person I was just getting to know, opened up to me about having been raped more than a year before.

After looking for a Christian counselor locally and finding no one, I widened my search and finally located one living about 40 miles away. Both women went there for counseling and were helped, but it bothered me that they had to drive so many miles on back country roads to receive the help they needed.

As I recognized the need for a Christian counselor in my community, I enrolled at a University to begin work toward a Master’s degree in counseling.  With 3 growing kids at home and a husband who traveled A LOT for his job–I studied the major schools of psychology, with the idea of  integrating the best of those methods with the wisdom of Scripture.  However, soon after starting my internship, I discovered that the secular base of psychology tended to undermine the strength of biblical wisdom.  It was that realization that led to developing Journey Notes Praise Journaling and the counseling approach I have used for 25 years.

Helping Clients look at themselves and their problems
by interfacing with the Scriptures, has proven to be extremely helpful
to those who embrace the process.

So why did I decide to write about this? To encouraged you to not be afraid to minister to the people God puts on your path with the wisdom of the Scriptures..Here’s where I went wrong:

  • Once I got counseling help for those two precious women, I continued to pray for them–but backed off from trying to help them . . . fearing that I might “undo” whatever therapy they were receiving.
  • I didn’t think about it at the time, but in doing that, I diminished the value of Scripture in my mind as I looked to psychology to provide the help that was needed.*

It was true that the two women I was trying to help DID need, “more than a cup of tea” (or simply a good listening ear.)

So how can you move forward? Here are my thoughts:

  • Make prayer for your friend a priority.
  • Commit to bringing God into the center of every conversation you have with your friend, by asking your them to list 3 things they are thankful to God for. (This can seem impossible at first, but it helps to break up the negatively skewed thinking that feeds anxiety and depression.)
  • Encourage your friend to start doing Journey Notes to help them draw closer to God as you do the same. (I promise, it won’t hurt and you’ll actually grow too!)
  • When you get together, talk about what God is showing each of you through the Journey Notes process.
  • Be sure to share some of your praises and close your time together with both of you giving thanks to God for His faithfulness.

I like the picture of God’s plan for relationships illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of THREE STRANDS is not quickly broken.”
(Verses 9, 10 & 12)

God’s intent for relationships is blessing–as we share in our labor or help one another when needs arise. Yet, the larger blessing in relationships comes when we bring God into the center of how we relate to one another as that powerful THIRD STRAND .Speaking from experience, when we bring Christ into the center of our thinking in how we relate to others, blessings abound.

In the end this is what I learned: Being a good listener–as in sharing a cup of tea--when someone who is hurting can be helpful . . . but it has its limitations. Helping them look outside of themselves to God and the Scriptures, however, is to encourage them to discover boundless hope and joy in a God who is faithful . . . Always.

All to His Glory!

*To be clear: In a fallen, largely unbelieving world, psychology has its place and can be helpful. But that should never negate the value of Christians helping others look to the wisdom of Scripture and relying.on God’s Spirit to minister to the human heart and mind.

On Reclaiming Hope in Corrupt Times . . . .

One of the many things I appreciate about the Bible is its capacity to speak through the ages. Corruption is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul, knowing his remaining days were probably few, wrote these words to warn and encourage Timothy, a godly young man he regarded as a son:

“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—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

Sound at all familiar? When I first read this passage three decades ago, I was struck by how it mirrored what was happening then. As I read it today . . . I weep.

We see the effects of corruption all around us. In the Counseling Room, many pour out their anger, their fears, their confusion and their regrets in having been caught up in the lies of corruption.  Depression and anxiety are commonplace, as hope appears impossibly distant.  It is my role and privilege to point them to a God who is alive and well and worthy of their trust:

“May the God of HOPE
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

The question is this

How are Christians to respond when corruption appears to abound?

Are we to cut ourselves off from those who have been caught up in such evil? I think not. I think what Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, is coming under the influence of false teachers who fan corruption into flame through their teaching and actions.

I believe that in times such as these, we are called to be courageous in loving those God puts on our path according to Christ’s teaching:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you . . . .

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:27-28; 36 and 37

When we do this, we reflect the same determination and courage it took for Christ to love us sacrificially.  How are we to do this?

  • By remembering what Christ said to His disciples on the night of His arrest:

In this world you WILL have trouble . . . .”
John 16 :33

We cannot afford to be naive about sin. As we navigate the challenges of living in this fallen world, we all too easily crumble and lose sight of hope as we doubt God’s goodness.

Speaking from experience:

  • Remember that we cannot manufacture Christ’s love in and of ourselves. (When we do, we are doomed to failure.) It is only as we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Scriptures, that we receive the strength and courage needed to love others as Christ loved us. Such love is found only in the peace offered to us by Christ:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
John 14: 27 

Reflecting the call of Jesus to not let trouble or fear weaken us, Paul offers the mechanics of how we are to move forward in the love and mercy of Christ as we encourage each other:

“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.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “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”.
Romans 12:9-12, 17-21

All too often, when fear strikes we doubt God’s goodness.
We feel vulnerable . . . trapped . . . without hope.
Paul is saying, YOU HAVE OPTIONS
in how you respond to what is happening–
DO NOT LET FEAR OR ANGER GET IN THE WAY!

So what are our choices when faced with adversity in this very broken, screwed-up world?  It boils down to two:

  1. We refuse to allow fear to hold us captive in corrupt times.
  2. We instead trust God to help us offer the HOPE of Scripture.

Jesus continues to call:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

The truth is, as we remember Christ’s call
and reclaim HOPE in corrupt times,
His light will shine through us to a desperately needy world.

All to His Glory!

 

On Meaningful Change . . . .

When she walked into my office, the change I saw in her was like–dare I say it?–night and day.  After weeks of constant turmoil, extreme highs and lows, when she entered into the Counseling Room yesterday–calm, confident and at peace–all I could do was marvel at God’s Goodness.

For years I have said that I love my job because God allows me to see miracles large and small. Yesterday was a BIG ONE. But that is not what I am writing to you about. It was something she said, as we settled in and opened our Bibles, that resonated with me in a powerful way. She said,

You know . . . it’s just not right.
People throw the Bible at you and say,
HERE, the answers are all in here,’ and then they walk away! 

Having someone help me open the Scriptures to what I needed to see,
and challenge me to APPLY what God says to my life . . . 
now that’s been a life-changer!”

In that moment, she expressed what the work done in the Counseling Room (along with her personal Journey Notes) has been designed to accomplish. It has been a long process of learning on my part, but it has always been my goal to:

Help hurting people get into the Word of God,
so that He can shepherd their hearts and
bring about meaningful change in their lives.

Living in a world that is hungry but never satisfied is confounding. We chase rainbows and fantasies fueled by desires that often lead to tragedy and heartache. Of course, this is nothing new.  More than two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul wrote about our human dilemma:

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind and
making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me
from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God,
who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Romans 7:21b-25

Can you relate? Me, too.

Yet God is exceedingly faithful. Indeed, it is humbling to watch as lives are changed one heart at a time according to Christ’s promise:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

So how are we to work out meaningful change in our lives and then help others?  Psalm 139:23, 24 provides wisdom and direction in our quest:

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.”
Psalm 139: 23,24

The first time I prayed David’s prayer, I was terrified but determined. I was terrified at the thought of the pain involved in having my sin ripped out of my heart.  Yet, I was determined because I respected David’s example as, “a man after God’s own heart.”* What I discovered after praying David’s prayer, was that God is far gentler than I ever imagined. Where I had expected Him to rip and tear the ugliness out of me, I found Him to be gracious yet thorough. It would take time to replace the ugliness of my sin with His goodness, but He continues to work in me as He does in all who seek Him.

The following is a guideline to help navigate the process of achieving meaningful change:

  1. Confess your need to God (pray) as you admit that meaningful change is not something you can achieve apart from Him. (Remember, humility is beautiful in God’s sight.)
  2. Make worship of Him in a Christ-centered, Bible teaching church a priority.
  3. Get into the Scriptures to gain God’s perspective on you, your life and the world around you.  (A good starting point is Journey Notes if you don’t have something in place or you’re looking for a fresh start. Also, I have found being involved in a solid Bible study with other believers extremely helpful)
  4. Ask God to help you to recognize opportunities to exchange old sinful patterns of behavior/thinking with new ones that honor Him.
  5. Give thanks to God for His love, mercy and amazing grace on a daily basis–no matter how your circumstances may change..

Sound daunting? Then find encouragement from these words of assurance:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13

All to His Glory!

*I Samuel 13:14–Samuel, speaking to Saul, made this  declaration, “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him ruler of His people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”