With Every Problem . . . .

The first time I read the opening declaration of James*, I was a new Christian:

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many 
kinds . . . .”  

I was terrified!

Even now, four decades later, when hit  by the twists and turns of life, my first response is rarely to embrace hurt or disappointment with “joy.”  Even so, I committed to live out the wisdom of James and determined to test the promise that follows his declaration::

“The testing of your faith produces perseverance,
and perseverance must finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything,”

 With that, I have embraced this truth:

Opportunity to trust God more . . . .

“With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust God more.”

Of course this commitment has not only impacted my personal outlook, but also how I counsel others.  From the onset, my goal in building a relationship with each Client has been based on my conviction that:

Biblical counseling
is more than fixing problems.
Biblical counseling should be about strengthening our relationship with the Shepherd of our hearts.

When people seek counsel, they often perceive God as being very distant and assume the worst of Him. To circumvent this, we rely on prayer and the Scriptures to bring God into every conversation that takes place in the Counseling Room. This “conversation” between God and Client continues as Clients are encouraged to do their Journey Notes outside of the Counseling Room two or three times a week. Those who follow through are the ones who do the best overall, as they learn to trust God not only with details of their lives but also their eternal future.

One passage that is a favorite with Clients is found in Isaiah 30. In it God urges His people to resist the temptation to run from their problems–but to run to Him instead.  The passage begins with this prescription:

“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. . . .”

Meant to calm the heart and mind, the passage goes on to acknowledge what we are more likely to do:

. . . 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.”
(Verses 15-17)

It then reassures us with this beautiful picture of a caring Shepherd:,

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!

Isaiah 30:18

Did you catch that? “He will RISE UP to show you compassion.”  A perfect illustration of God being ACTIVELY concerned when it comes to the lives of His children.

The passage continues, with this assurance of God’s faithfulness in seeing us through dark valleys, as it challenges us to reject the things we cling to instead of God:

“Although the Lord gives you
the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
your teachers will be hidden no more . . . .
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.”
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver
and your images covered with gold;
you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth
and say to them, “Away with you!” 
 

No matter what we face, God calls us to come to Him with problems large and small.  I especially love the encouragement of Jesus’s invitation to all,

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

It’s all true:

With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust and love God more.

How to begin?  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy as you rely on Him to provide the wisdom and perspective you lack.

So . . . what are you waiting for?!!!

All to His Glory!

*James 1:2-4

When Sin Replaced Love . . . .

When you think about relationships and the memories that go with them, what comes to your mind?  Being a “glass-half-full” kind of gal (and slightly corny), when I think about relationships and the memories that go with them, I initially think along the lines of Barbra Streisand singing, “The Way We Were”: 

“Memories
Like the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were . . . .”

I enjoy remembering childhood summers at Pismo Beach with family and how my dashingly handsome husband watched and waited as my dad guided me down the church aisle 47 years ago. I still cherish the delight that filled my heart the first time I spoke of, “my daughter”, as I walked down the hallway to the hospital nursery to retrieve her.

But if we are honest, life is not full of “misty watercolor memories” because relationships are frequently painful, confusing and confounding.  At times we are tempted to isolate ourselves from God and other people to avoid that pain.  The problem is that when we do, other pains emerge–loneliness and depression.

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is how it provides glimpses into the dramatic shift that took place in our relationship with God and with others when sin replaced love in the Garden:

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden.
So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.
Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.
I was afraid because I was naked.’
‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked.”
Genesis 3: 8-11
New Living Translation

God made us first and foremost for a relationship with Him.

Casually fellowshipping with God, without the turmoil sin creates is difficult to imagine.  But deep down, I believe it is what we long for. From the very beginning God created us for loving relationships. When sin entered the Garden and became the “new normal”, love was lost along with the deep fellowship enjoyed in the Garden.  Jesus affirmed this when He responded to a question about what He considered to be the greatest of God’s commandments:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind’. . . .

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39

  • God made us, first and foremost, for a relationship with Him.
  • Secondarily, He made us for relationships with one another.

Where sin creates chaos and disunion, the basis for meaningful relationships (love) has never changed:

“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

In fact, truly meaningful relationships are rarely formed in a vacuum of pleasantries and ideals. The truth is that the challenges of pain and disappointment in our relationships, when addressed with God’s love and the wisdom of Scripture, provide greater opportunities for spiritual growth than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.    

The wisdom and perspective offered in Romans 12 directs us to keep our priorities straight as we relate to others, even when disappointment threatens:

“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.” 
(Verses 
10-12)

As we dedicate ourselves to being “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” we discover the sweeter path to His Hope and Light penetrating even the bitterest of relationships.

But what are we to do with those memories that seem to stalk us, like shadows that grow larger over a distance?  The words of the Apostle Paul, written while in a stinking Roman prison cell, lends the sweetness of wisdom that has transformed even the most heinous of memories for two thousand years:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8

Feeling defeated by sin and yearning for love?  Are you stuck in a prison cell of unforgiveness?  Perhaps you have been hurt and feel forgotten?  Are you frustrated with life and your relationships?  Perhaps you are so filled with regrets that you can see no way of making things right?  Then follow the wisdom of Scripture and the law of loving sacrificially by trusting and honoring God in the NOW.  Repent of the selfish turmoil that has overtaken you and give thanks to God for His love and mercy extended through the sacrifice of His only Son.  As you do, I guarantee that He can and will clean out the sludge of your bitterest memory as you determine to trust and walk in sweet fellowship with Him..

All to His Glory!

Sandpaper People . . . .

It had been months since Stella* and I had connected, so it was great to meet her for lunch last week. Of course there was a good bit of laughter shared between us, but we also talked about some hard stuff involving what I generally refer to as, the sandpaper people in our lives.

“Sandpaper people?” you may well ask.  Sandpaper people are the people in our lives who grate on our nerves by simply walking into the same room we are in.  They are often:

  1. People we have to work with– who we might otherwise avoid!
  2. People who irritate us when their views do not align with our own or,
  3. People who fail to live up to our expectations.

On a personal level, the hard thing about sandpaper people
is that they grate on our nerves and frustrate us–
often triggering unkind, sinful responses!  

As the exchange between Stella and I continued I wondered, “Lord, is there a better way to deal with the irritation that sandpaper people cause?  How would YOU have us deal with such people who bring out the worst in us?” 

“He has risen just as He said!” Matthew 28:6

As I empathized with Stella’s lament, the answer to my question floated into my mind with the unexpected thought, “Put on love . . . .”  I tried to brush it away, as if it was a persistent fly buzzing my ear. But as Stella talked about an irritating co-worker, I found myself less able to focus on her words as the answer that began as a whisper grew louder in my mind: “Put on love!” 

Finally, I told Stella about my struggle.  Thinking the phrase was something the Apostle Paul wrote, I asked her to look it up on her cell phone–I’m helpless when it comes to doing such things!  Within minutes she found the phrase in a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Colossians.  As I slurped my soup Stella read these words aloud:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
AND OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14

Oblivious to the activity around us as she read, I remembered how the passage had helped me in the past.  I told Stella about how Paul’s words had encouraged me when it reminded me of my identity in Christ: 

Chosen . . . holy . . . and dearly loved by God.

I shared how in the past, when struggling with a sandpaper person,  Paul’s letter showed me how in Christ we have options to choose from . . . options that do not lead to sin:

Where frustration, anger or bitterness urge a haughty response,
Paul encourages us to put on one of Christ’s robes of
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience
and, yes,  even love.
As I have prayerfully confessed my temptation to sin
and given thanks for His love and mercy,
His Peace has become my own.

Since our lunch date, I have continued to think about how God blesses us through sandpaper people.  When tempted to hate or resent such a person, Jesus urges His own.to love and pray for our enemies!**.  When I have obeyed this command, He has lightened the burden in my heart and freed me to avoid the path of bitterness and resentment. Best of all, through this process He has freed me to live for, love and serve Him with an exceedingly glad heart.

This past Palm Sunday I gained a fresh insight that I am still processing:

Not all sandpaper people are negative.
God uses them to mature and draw us closer to Himself.
Jesus was (and continues to be)
a sandpaper person to all who encounter Him!

As we remember Christ’s Crucifixion on Friday–demonstrating mans hatred for what we might call, God’s Ultimate Sandpaper Person–we can rejoice in the knowledge that Sunday’s celebration marks the day Redemption was won for all who trust in Him.

No matter what you may be facing in your life,  no matter how overwhelmed you may feel . . . you are NOT alone.  As Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Sunday approach, be encouraged and learn from Christ’s sacrificial demonstration of “putting on love” for you and for me . . . ❤

Rejoicing in Him–Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!

*Not her real name.
**“”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-45b

 

The Lost Art of Humility . . . .

Words rarely heard these days:

“I’m sorry . . . I was wrong . . . will you please forgive me?”

It’s called an apology–
an admission of error or discourtesy
accompanied by an expression of regret.*

We practiced this when our children were small, often finding it most helpful to lead by example. To apologize is an outward demonstration of humility, but it does not necessarily reflect what is in the heart.

In the Counseling Room we talk a lot about the importance of humility before God.  First Session we almost always turn to Jeremiah 17:5-10 to establish the importance of sorting out who (or what) needs to be the primary motivation behind resolving problems.  The passage warns against relying on other people who will ultimately lead us“to a salt land where no one lives,”  (verse 6).  It then encourages us to trust only in God’s faithfulness. When we get to verses 9-10 the passage warns:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?’
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’” 

Not every Client sees it right away, but we talk about the danger of relying on our feelings rather than on God in problem solving. All too often it is as we “follow our hearts” (the counsel of the world) that lead us down destructive paths.

Humility defined:  “Freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble–not haughty or assertive.”*

We live in difficult times. With each passing day hatred has become increasingly easy and humility is perceived as weakness.  It is our natural bent to want to respond “in kind” to those who offend or hurt us.  But Jesus taught His followers to do the opposite:

The lost art of humility . . . .

“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 . . . .”

Matthew 5:43, 44

For Christians, humility has less to do with who is right or wrong but what is right before God:

To love Him first and foremost and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) are what should be our primary motivation in how we live out our lives.

Humility is about choosing to trust God as Sovereign, Good and Just. I love the way Romans 12 broadens the scope of how we are to put humility and love together as we pray for our enemies::

“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. . . .’
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.”
(Verses 17-21)

Humility becomes an art form when the mysterious working of God’s Spirit strengthens us to love the unlovely by praying for those who have hurt or disappoint us. 

Such humility is revealed by our attitude and actions toward God and others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.”  

Philippians 2:3,4

Humility is a God-thing.  It is a reflection of the loving sacrifice demonstrated on the Cross by Christ.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

For many years I blamed the modern emphasis on building self-esteem as a major contributor to our cultural rejection of Christian principles. However, I no longer attribute the downward spiral of culture solely to the self-esteem movement.  Certainly, our self-centeredness has contributed to our downfall. However, God calls us to have a healthy regard for both our neighbor and ourselves as we remember His call:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another . . .
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

Only recently have I come to see that, even among many Christians, our problem has more to do with our lack of humility in our dealings with others than with our self-esteem.

So is there a way to stop this downward spiral that threatens to divide us?  In the Counseling Room we talk about the strength of biblical humility as it centers on Christ: the key to living and finishing our lives well before God.   

The artful working out of biblical humility calls for;:

  1. Prayer, first and foremost, as we confess our need for clarity when hate threatens to consume us.
  2. Reliance on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts and direct our steps. (the entirety of Romans 12 provides a helpful perspective.)
  3. Praying for teachable hearts as we seek God’s wisdom and perspective on ourselves and others.
  4. Giving thanks to God that He is in control and His justice will ultimately prevail.

So is there any hope of restoring the lost art of humility? Absolutely!  Such beauty shines through when Christ’s own choose to love others as He has loved us–sacrificially.  It is the beauty and mystery of His Presence in our lives that will ultimately shine through to touch a hurting world.

All to His Glory!

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Christmas Peace . . . .

It started this past fall.  Friends had told me about a struggling young woman who occasionally showed up at our church.  Professing faith in Christ yet full of doubt, anger and self-recrimination, I began to pray . . . .

When I finally did meet Sonia (not her real name) I appreciated her honesty in expressing her struggles and was slightly intimidated by the intensity of her passion. Most of all, I was impressed by Sonia’s goal for counseling:

To be healthy, happy, whole
and God-minded,

 even as she lamented, PEACE is what I want–and do not have.”  

Seeing that she had left a question blank on the Intake Form all Clients fill out before our first meeting, “Do you have a favorite saying?”, I recommended a favorite I use when I’m struggling,

“THANK YOU, GOD, THAT YOU LOVE ME.”

With every Session that followed, Sonia unfolded her story of heartache, disappointment and resentment.  Week after week we dove into the Scriptures:

  • To see God as a merciful Shepherd in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • To gain wisdom and perspective into how God uses the hard things in life to draw us closer to Himself.
  • To talk about how pride and resentment separate us from God, and how humility before God brings us peace.

As we searched, Sonia appeared appreciative of what the Scriptures said, but invariably every Session ended with this roadblock:

“Why would God allow me to suffer the pain of hurt and rejection,
if He is truly a loving God?”

Sometimes reframing a question can be the biggest help to moving toward a solution.  In Sonia’s case, we began to look at why she blamed God for her suffering, when it was people who had sinned against her.  We turned to Genesis to consider the first instances of blameshifting:

“And God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?
Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’
The man said
, ‘The woman YOU put here with me—
SHE gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’*
Genesis 3:11,12

We then talked about how, as Christians, we are to break old sinful patterns by going to God in confession and in faith.  We turned to the New Testament for direction and Sonia began to read:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,
set your hearts on things above, where Christ is . . . .
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:
sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed . . . .
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things
as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language . . . .
Colossians 3: 1, 5-7

We talked about the beauty of humility before God and the ugliness of pride.  We considered the example given to us by Jesus, as in humility He bore our sins rather than shifting what was due us from Himself:

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross,
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
‘by His wounds you have been healed.'”

I Peter 2:24

Sonia continued to read, more softly in tone as we drank in each word:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another  . . .
forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12, 13b-14

I told Sonia that every time I heard that passage read, the deep rumble of closet doors being opened sounded in my head and I imagined beautiful robes of “compassion, kindness, humility’, gentleness, patience and love” waiting to be taken out and worn–to cleanse our hearts and make us whole.

As Sonia read the concluding piece of the Colossians passage it was as if the words had come alive,

“Let the PEACE OF CHRIST rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to PEACE.
And BE THANKFUL.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

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.”

(Verses 15-17)

As the room was engulfed by quiet, I wondered if the Scriptures had ministered to Sonia’s heart as they had to my own.  There was nothing left to be said so I asked her to close us in prayer.  I remember little of Sonia’s prayer except for these heartfelt words:

THANK YOU GOD THAT YOU LOVE ME.
THANK YOU FOR SENDING YOUR SON
TO SAVE ME FROM MYSELF . . .
FOR YOURSELF.”

No matter where you’ve been in your life, God has a plan of blessing for all who come to Him through Christ in humble faith.  As I have chosen this path of humility in the most difficult of times–as well as in seasons of ease–He has proved Himself to be faithful.

May His Peace be your greatest gift this Christmas as you pray,
“Thank You God that you love me . .  .
help me to love others as You have loved me .”

All to His Glory!

*Emphasis mine.

 

 

The Quiet of Now . . . .

The first time I thought it, my heart skipped a beat because I knew it didn’t come from me.  It came when I was curled up with my Bible, writing my praises to God in a Journey Notes entry:  “Thank You, God, for the quiet of now.”  

The quiet-of-now, is that profound peace of soul we crave in our cluttered lives, that too often eludes our grasp.  It is the fruit of seeking after God for the strength and perspective we lack. That elusive quiet-of-now, comes only after yielding to His question:“Will you trust Me in this?” with,“Yes Lord, I will trust you.” 

It struck me recently that, the quiet-of-now, is what Jesus was offering His disciples as He prepared them for His departure:

“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

The quiet-of-now,, is what He continues to offer to us no matter what our circumstance:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened . . .
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 quiet of now, is a God-thing . . . .

The quiet-of-now”, is the rarified Gift of God that once received is meant to be passed on.

 No matter what your station in life, if you have entered into a relationship with Christ, then you are meant to pass on His Peace, His Love, His Mercy and the resulting quiet-of-now blessing to all He puts on your path.

While waiting for a Client several weeks ago, I was struck by how my office encourages, quiet-of-now moments.  I am always grateful for the time right before a Client arrives, when I can ask God to help me see that person with His eyes rather than my own. The setting is simple, There are two upholstered chairs for Clients to chose from, a few things on the walls, a bookshelf, my desk, chair and a white board that I use mostly for drawing illustrations.  On my desk is my Bible and a red leather notepad given me many years ago by an appreciative Client.  Directly across from where I sit is a cabinet located between the two Client chairs with a red leather Bible sitting center-stage.

At the start of a Session, the Bible waits quietly, as each Client tells their story.  But as soon as the worn leather Bible is opened, and the words on the crisp pages tinged by time and frequent use are read, it speaks truth to receptive hearts.  It is when we read and ponder the words inside that Book, that God enters the conversation between us, and interesting (even miraculous) quiet-of-now moments are most frequently shared.

Quiet-of-now moments come with a yieldedness of mind and heart . . . .

So is there a key to unlocking the door to such quiet-of-now moments on a regular basis?  As I reflect on this question, I am struck that such moments have less to do with setting and more to do with attitude and heart:

If you seek Me you will find Me,
if you seek Me with all of your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13

Quiet-of-now moments come upon us, when Scripture takes center-stage in our minds and we yield our hearts to the Sovereign Goodness of God’s Spirit.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

All to His Glory!