She Was Brave . . . .

Bravery:  a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
WordNet Dictionary

Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well.  My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.

Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th.  I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,

“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.” 

There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades.  But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave.  This is not to imply that she was never fearful.  It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people.  Here’s an early example:

She was brave . . . .

She was brave . . . .

My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven.  All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”.  Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard.  Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off.  I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom.  Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!

Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were.  Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side.  Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought.  When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture!  As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety!  Embarrassed by my fearfulness,  it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.

Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.

When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook.  Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:

“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!  
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”

That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY!  So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.

In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before.  In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.13442057_10208969039816875_678463191_o

God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared.  Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.

When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence.  This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there!  She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind.  When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,

“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there.  I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind.  I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”  

Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment.  Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.**  We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things.  When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.”  Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.

Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together.  Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart.  Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.”

I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!

*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.

When God Is Big And We Are Small: The Journey Continues . . . .

The old adage, “Hindsight is 20/20”, is certainly true when it comes to the way God works in our lives.  When my husband and I took off on our camping adventure seven weeks ago, we felt like a couple of kids cutting school.  For years we had talked about taking off to explore the places we never got to because of time constraints.  With my husband’s retirement, we realized that the time had finally come.  With our new smallish camper in tow, we were as giddy as newlyweds out on a lark.  Little did we know how God would deepen our faith through seemingly unrelated lessons.

In my last post I wrote about the tragic deaths of two young men in our church. Killed in separate accidents in the same week, we struggled to comprehend the reality that Josh and Heath were suddenly gone.  Three thousand miles from home, our “lark” quickly become despair. But God gently ministered to us in the enormity of the California redwoods through Psalm 46,  

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts his voice, the earth melts . . . .”

Where verses 1-6 spoke to the immediacy of our pain, it is verse 10 that continues to direct our steps:

Be still and KNOW that I am God.”

As the incomprehensible assailed us, Psalm 46 became a blanket that enfolded us with these tender assurances:

“Hush. Stop striving to understand what is far larger than you can comprehend.
Hush . . . be still.  KNOW that I am with you and in the coming days will carry you.
This isn’t the end of the story.
Hush . . . you must trust Me in this.”  

Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .

Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .

Looking back, we can see how God had been preparing us weeks before in our travels.  We had noticed them before we left–little “shrines” along roadways marking where someone was killed in an accident.  Typically a simple cross with a name on it; at other times flowers, teddy bears, and other personal reminders are placed as a memorial.  Our awareness grew as we traveled through Montana, where the State marks every life lost on its roads with a small white cross.  We began watching for them as we drove and were stunned when more than one cross marked a scene.  In this age of “political correctness” we wondered how long the practice of using a “religious” symbol would be allowed to continue. Looking back, it was then that what had been “a lark” became a journey within a journey.  It was as if the roads we traveled on, “scenic” or ordinary, became grim reminders of loss.

When we received the news about Josh and then Heath, we remembered those crosses. They were with us, full of life one moment . . . and then suddenly . . . they were gone.

So what does it mean, to “be still and know that God is God”,
when we are stung by such painful loss?
For us, the biggest thing has been to remember that God is Big and we are small.  

To be still and know is a call to humility.  James 4 speaks to the battle that is on-going in our hearts, especially when life hits hard:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and
purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail.
Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

(Verses 6-10)

"Be still and KNOW . . . ."

“Be still and KNOW . . . .”

Since leaving Montana, we’ve driven through eleven more states.   In that time God’s incomprehensible enormity has been demonstrated in countless ways.  The day after receiving the devastating news, we watched whales basking in God’s Provision off Patrick’s Point and then appreciated the solitude of three days camping in the Avenue of the Redwoods–where God was indeed big and we . . . were tenderly cared for.  After that, visits with long missed family and friends ministered greatly to our hearts.

In the weeks since, we have learned that when life hits hard, it is tempting to doubt God’s goodness. But when we entertain those doubts, the world around us dims as we distance ourselves from Him.  Yet it has been through those struggles, that we have gratefully embraced the Shining Hope of the Gospel, as the Cross speaks:

Death, Loss and Eternal Darkness
for those outside of Christ,
but
Redemption, Hope and Life Eternal
for those who are in Christ.

Today, we continue to mourn the loss of two very special men along with family and friends.  But we have learned to give thanks to God:

  • For His faithfulness in loving us–even in our doubts.
  • For ministering to us–as we have been privileged to witness the enormity and ever-changing diversity of His Creation.
  • For Josh and Heath’s lives–and the assurance that they are safe with Him . . . .

When God is BIG and we are small,
doubt recedes as we find HOPE and SHELTER in HIM.
Giving thanks!

All to His Glory!

God Is . . . .

I found encouragement in these reminders posted on my friend, Bill’s blog: Unshakable Hope.  Bill was diagnosed with ALS in 1996 and continues to be an encouragement to all who cross his path.  (Used by permission.)

God is . . . .

God is . . . .

Over the years I have heard some strange definitions of who God is. I believe these contradictory definitions cause doubt and confusion. I think it’s best to let God’s word define who God is so I copied every verse containing the words “God is” to allow God to define Himself. I hope these verses strengthen your faith.

“…God is with you in all that you do…” (Genesis 21:22)

“…God is witness between you and me.” (Genesis 31:5)

“God is not a man, that He should lie…” (Numbers 23:19)

“…God is the one fighting for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

“…God is a consuming fire…” (Deuteronomy 4:24)

“…God is a compassionate God…” ((Deuteronomy 4:31)

“…God is in your midst…” (Deuteronomy 7:21)

“…God is bringing you into a good land…” (Deuteronomy 8:7)

“…God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords…” (Deuteronomy 10:17)

“…God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deuteronomy 20:4)

“…God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“God is a dwelling place…” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

“…God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“…God is among you…” (Joshua 3:10)

“…God is He who has been fighting for you.” (Joshua 23:3)

“…God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Joshua 23:10)

“God is my strong fortress…” (2 Samuel 22:33)

“…God is gracious and compassionate…” (2 Chronicles 30:9)

“…God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him…” (Ezra 8:22)

“…God is mighty but does not despise any…” (Job 36:5)

“…God is awesome majesty.” (Job 37:22)

“…God is exalted in His power…” (Job 37:23)

“God is a righteous judge…” (Psalm 7:11)

“…God is with the righteous generation.” (Psalm 14:5)

“…God is the LORD…” (Psalm 33:12)

“…God is the King of all the earth…” (Psalm 47:7)

“…God is my helper; The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.” (Psalm 54:4)

“…God is for me.” (Psalm 56:9)

“God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.” (Psalm 59:17)

“…God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)

“God is to us a God of deliverances…” (Psalm 68:20)

“…God is good…” (Psalm 73:1)

“…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

“…God is the Judge…” (Psalm 75:7)

“…God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory…” (Psalm 84:11)

“…God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

“…God is compassionate.” (Psalm 116:5)

“…God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Proverbs 30:5)

“…God is with us.” (Isaiah 8:10)

“…God is my salvation…” (Isaiah 12:2)

“…GOD is my strength and song…” (Isaiah 12:2)

“…God is with you, and there is none else, No other God.” (Isaiah 45:14)

“…God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries…” (Daniel 2:47)

“…God is ruler over the realm of mankind…” (Daniel 5:21)

“…God is righteous…” (Daniel 9:14)

“…GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

“…God is in your midst, A victorious warrior.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

“…God is true.” (John 3:33)

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

“…God is not one to show partiality…” (Acts 10:34)

“…God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)

“…God is the one who justifies…” (Roman 8:33)

“God is faithful…” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

“…God is not a God of confusion but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

“…God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

“…God is able to raise people even from the dead…” (Hebrews 11:19)

“…God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)

“…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

“…God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

“…God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20)

“…God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” (1 John 4:16)

All to His Glory!

A Journey Within A Journey . . . .

It was a dream come true for us–embarking on this journey to explore the places we never made it to in our previous travels.  We purchased a smallish camper with a comfortable bed and just enough amenities to make it work for us.  In four weeks, we’ve traveled through over 5,000 miles of diverse, often spellbinding beauty.  We’ve learned to laugh at ourselves and “Hilda” (our GPS) when a wrong turn is taken and she “recalculates” our next move.  Best of all, we have started to become adept at enjoying what I like to call, “The quiet of now . . . .”  In short, my husband and I have slowly been uncovering the sweet loveliness of growing old together.

DSC01485

We beheld the Creator over His creation . . . .

Then less than a week ago, we were hit hard by the news that Josh, a young man in our church, was killed in a motorcycle accident.  We ached with Josh’s family and friends as we remembered the shock of losing my husband’s younger brother 45 years ago.  Vern was 19. There were no skid marks made by his motorcycle at the scene–indicating Vern didn’t see the car that made the sharp U-turn from the curb as he rode down the street.   We still wonder, “What would Vern have done with his life, if the guy had made his turn even a minute later?”  There’s no making sense of such tragedy.

We learned about the accident when we were headed toward the mountain that looms above all else in the Seattle/Tacoma area–Mount Rainier.  We stopped by the side of the road to process the news–the physical distance between us and home felt like a chasm.  Yet, as we began to lift up Josh’s family and friends suffering the shocking pain of his loss, the distance all but vanished from our minds.

After entering the national park, we began our upward ascent.  We stopped at one of those information kiosks–you know, those places that orient the public to things to look for in the area.  We were stunned when we read: “Considered one of the most dangerous active volcanos in the world, Mount Rainier has been the source of numerous mudflows, covering large portions of the Puget Sound lowlands.”  As we looked around we realized that the trunks of huge trees, broken off like mere toothpicks, served as evidence of those “numerous mudflows.”  Though acutely aware of the fragility of life at that moment, we continued upward, entering what became for us, holy ground.  With every bend we climbed, God allowed us to look with awe at the dangerous yet breathtaking enormity of Mount Rainier.  When we drove as high as we could go, we could see the turquoise of several glaciers above us.  As hundreds of people milled around like ants on a hill, our smallness and the enormity of our Creator registered powerfully.  That was the beginning of our journey within a journey . . . .

Two days ago, my husband looked at me in confused disbelief after reading a text message–death had struck again. It was Heath, the son of our closest friends.  We considered Heath one of our own.  Thoughtful, funny, smart–outspoken when it came to his faith in Christ–Heath was a big guy with an even bigger heart.  It had been a thrill to join in the celebration, the day Heath married Amy (another one of our own.)  Our daughters were in their wedding.  Over the years God blessed them with two wonderful kids.  What a delight it has been to watch their children and our grandchildren become friends, enjoying the wonders of life together.  We never dreamt all that would be shattered . . . that Heath and Amy will not grow old together.

Comfort waits in the shelter of His Hands.

Comfort waits in the shelter of His Hands.

After receiving the horrible news, we found ourselves off-the-grid, camping in the redwoods of Del Norte Coast State Park in California.  God ministered to us there as  we were awed by the enormity of the trees.  We set up our camper quickly in our need to take advantage of the remaining daylight.  As we hiked, we were grateful to blend into the lush landscape of giant ferns and other forest greenery amongst the redwoods.  However, we soon noticed a troubling pattern that amplified our grief.  It seemed as if everywhere we turned there was a giant stump of an ancient redwood–obviously cut down in its prime–surrounded by a circle of good-sized redwoods–growing directly from the base of the giant like a fairy ring of mushrooms–that appeared to pay homage to the one that had been cut down.  When we found one of the ancient giants on our trail, standing freely on its own–I fell against it gladly.  It was there that God’s comfort–bigger than the sky yet tender to my soul spoke,

“Be still and KNOW that I AM GOD.”
 
Psalm 46:10

Feeling worn to the bone as we returned to our campsite, we welcomed the clear direction of our loving Shepherd as we found rest in the shelter of His Provision.

There is more to share of our journey within a journey that I will write about in my next post.  Still shattered as sorrow-filled tears continue well to up without notice, we have taken a break from our traveling.  It is tempting to wallow in despair over the tragic losses that will continue to be suffered for a long time to come.  Last evening, this reminder from I Peter helped to quiet my heart:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold
that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,
but with the precious blood of Christ . . . .
For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field,
the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.'”
I Peter 1:18, 19a, 24-25

How are we to get through the tragedy and heartache of life
that leaves us raging inwardly, yet feeling numb in our grief?  

It is not about what we do; it is about where we turn.

TO BE STILL BEFORE GOD: IS TO REMEMBER OUR HOPE OF HEAVEN,WON FOR US IN CHRIST JESUS.

(THE HOPE THAT IS NOW A REALITY FOR JOSH AND HEATH BY FAITH.)

TO KNOW GOD: IS TO HONOR HIM AS THE GREAT “I AM”–AS HE TENDERLY QUIETS OUR BROKEN HEARTS . . . LIKE NOTHING LESS CAN.

All to His Glory.

 

 

 

Back to the Basics: Love is . . . .

It never ceases to amaze me how God uses the simple, very basic elements in life, to deepen our perspective on what is most important.   You know, those everyday essentials we take for granted (until there is about to be a shortage.  Things like . . . air . . . water . . . or even a half-roll of . . . toilet paper?  Yes, toilet paper:

Love is sacrificial . . . .

Love is sacrificial . . . .

It was while traveling with my recently retired husband that my latest back-to-the-basics lesson began.  Having poured over a book called, Drives of a Lifetime*for almost a year, we had decided to try to follow some of the routes described in the book.  It took us three days to reach our first target: the “Illinois River Road” near Peoria.  We chose a somewhat remote campground to use as a base for our three days of exploring.  The campground was small and had only one toilet and shower to be shared.  But it was brand new.  It was so new it wasn’t completed.  It had hot and cold water (a definite “yay”) and smelled of fresh pine because of its newness.  However, the wiring was not connected, so we needed a flashlight not only to get to the facility at night, but also to use it.  But wasn’t a huge deal for us.  The only real problem we saw, was the single roll of toilet paper sitting on the back of the commode that had only about fifteen squares remaining on it. With no manager to ask about a fresh supply (he lived at an undisclosed location), we resolved to use the half-roll of toilet paper we had buried in our camper for just such an emergency.

All went well in our trekking to and from the bathroom, except I found myself trying to hide our treasure as I carried it–especially after the roll still on the back of the commode had been reduced to about three squares.

It was after lunch on the second day, that I heard that “still small Voice” speak to my heart, “Love thy neighbor, Kathie.”

Recognizing immediately that the thought was not my own, I tried to ignore it.  I managed about three steps toward our campsite before being overwhelmed by conviction.  Only then did I finally responded, “Love my neighbor, Lord?”

The response was gentle, yet firm, “Love thy neighbor.” 

I stood on the path, embarrassed by my selfishness, as the next thought came: Love is Sacrifice.”

A myriad of thoughts went through my head I pondered the disconnect between my selfishness, love and sacrifice.  I realized that when the Apostle Paul wrote about the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13 –“love is” patience, kindness, protective of the welfare of others . . .–at the foundation any of such love-reflecting responses to my neighbor (even to those I may not know), is a call to sacrifice.   Christian love is not a feeling.  Christ-centered love is a deliberate setting aside of our personal needs or desires, for the benefit of someone else.  Love IS Sacrifice.

As I made an about-face, returning to the bathroom, I admit feeling a bit sheepish.  But, as I intentionally placed the half-roll of toilet paper on the back of the commode, it became for me an altar of sacrifice before the God who saved me for Himself.  As I stepped out into the sunlight, leaving my treasure behind me, I felt a wry smile break out across my face at the thought of how loving my neighbor sacrificially gave me a taste of freedom that was sweet indeed.

Be it in large or small ways, love often requires sacrifice.
What is the basis of such love?
Our love for the God, whose Son sacrificially paid the ransom for our freedom.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children,
and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and
gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.”

Ephesians 5:1, 2

Is there anything you’re holding onto in your heart; anything that is getting in the way of truly loving God?  If yes, surrender it NOW as you lean on Him to love your neighbor as He so freely has loved you.

All to His Glory!

Continue reading

Doors . . . .

When our family returned to the States after living in England for three years, our four-year-old son Luke talked about missing his “green door”.  He was referring to the flint and brick home we rented while living in England that had green front and back doors.  Luke’s “green door” was the only place he had ever known as home.  It was six weeks before we finally found a place for our family and, YES, we painted the front door the same shade of green as our home in England, so Luke would know we were truly home!

Doors . . . there is something fascinating about doors (especially front doors) that I find intriguing.  I saw a poster once that pictured fifty or more front doors of homes, some quite plain while others commanding the passerby’s attention–each of them uniquely hinting at what might lie within.

When temptation entered the Garden of Eden there was no physical door to knock on except for the doorway to Eve’s mind and heart.  When Eve responded by opening the door to doubting God’s Goodness, the domino-effect of sin changed everything.  Gone were times of enjoying such intimacy as a walk in the garden with our Creator.   From that point, sin clouded our perceptions of God and of all He created for us to enjoy.  Perhaps saddest of all, we lost sight of our unique status as His image bearers.  Yes, when doubt darkened the perceptions of the human heart toward God, the unique relationship enjoyed before man’s fall into sin was lost.

When doubt enters, how are we to respond?

When doubt knocks, how are we to respond?

To be clear, there is a place for doubt/caution in this sin-bent world. The Bible affirms this danger as it encourages us to look to God as the Shepherd of our hearts.  James 1:5 offers direction and encouragement to believers,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

To know that God wants us to seek Him in trouble is amazing.  Yet, for many years I struggled with the warning that immediately follows James’s encouragement:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

(Verses 6-8)

“You must believe and not doubt?”  The question I wrestled with was,

How is it possible to guard against doubting God’s character,
when doubt can so easily slide in through the doorway of our minds?

I gained insight into my question recently while reading Matthew 9.  The passage describes a paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by some of his friends.   Also in attendance was a crowd of people that included some religious scribes.  Jesus spoke kindly to the man as He said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew relates that when the religious scribes heard this, they condemned Jesus and thought what He said was blasphemous.  Matthew then wrote,

‘”Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said,
“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?”‘

(verse 4)

Jesus confronted them not so much for doubting but for condemning Him as they entertained evil in their hearts.

How does Jesus’s rebuke help to sort out the difference between doubt/caution that is necessary to help us navigate through life vs doubt that condemns?  As was said earlier, doubt serves a purpose when it comes to living in this world.

Doubt defined: to fear, suspect, to lack confidence in : distrust* 

  However, when doubt darkens the door of our hearts and negatively influences our perception of God’s character–doubt becomes insidious:

Definition of Insidious: Awaiting a chance to entrap : treacherous
Harmful but enticing : seductive 
Having a gradual and cumulative effect : subtle
Of a disease : developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.*

SIN is the disease that encourages us to question God’s character and to entertain doubts about God’s will and purpose for our lives.

So is there a way to avoid this problem?  I believe there is:

  1. Recognize that deep within every human heart the danger lurks of not only forgetting God, but also of doubting His character.
  2. Prayerfully ask God to help you recognize where you are most vulnerable when it comes to doubting His character.
  3. When you find yourself entertaining doubt (note: I did not say if)– go immediately to God in confession as you give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness.
  4. Seek His help in closing the doorway to doubt as you lean on Him as the Shepherd of your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  
Proverbs 4:23

 All to His Glory! 

*Taken form: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Meaningful Soul Work: It Takes Two . . . .

The question I ask every Client I meet for the first time is, “Do you have any questions you would like to know about me personally or professionally?”  I encourage their questions because I believe they have a right to know something about the person they are about to open their lives to.  We live in a world where we can no longer assume that “spiritual counseling” is Christian counseling; where terms such as “soul work” have more to do with the sovereignty-of-self than with God’s Sovereignty.   This was affirmed recently when I googled, “Soul work–What is it?”   What appeared on my laptop screen were ten articles on self-healing, self-exploration and “being fully immersed in MY truth and purpose.” (Emphasis mine.)

The question raised in my mind after perusing several of the articles was:

"Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . and find rest for your souls."

“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . and find rest for your souls.”

Can truly meaningful soul work happen apart from Christ and the Scriptures ministering to the human heart?  

In thinking about this question of meaningful soul work, the teaching of Jesus helps to clarify this spiritual mystery:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word
and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged
but has crossed over from death to life.”
 

John 5:24

Soul work is a God-thing.  It is belief in God’s provision, His only Son, that brings us from death to life in Christ–body, mind and soul.  Thinking about this I realized that I do have a story to share that I pray will be helpful in sorting out this question of meaningful soul work:

I was seven years old when I first became aware of the soul.  Even now, I can remember feeling the lump forming in my throat as I contemplated reciting the words of the classic children’s prayer:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”*

Contemplating the seriousness of facing my own mortality and God, l ignored the lump, swallowed hard and prayed the words as best as I could.  That simple prayer, along with the Twenty-Third Psalm, became my “go-to” prayer for many years, long before I entered into a relationship with Christ:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . .
I will fear no evilfor You are with me;
If I should die before I wake, I pray dear Lord, my soul to take.”

When I entered my twenties I set thoughts about God aside.  More than anything I wanted a family of my own.  I fell in love with a wonderful man, married and we began our family.  Outwardly things looked good, I had everything I had ever wanted.  However, it was the seventies and as time passed, the words of Helen Reddy’s popular recording, “I Am Woman”, became “my truth”:

“You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.”

I probably fooled a lot of people with my outwardly confident appearance.  Yet inwardly, there was a darkness encroaching that I had little control over– all was not well with my soul.  The challenges of marriage and having young children left me feeling constantly defeated by a fierce anger that seemed to well up out of nowhere.  I made vow after vow that I would control my temper.  Yet after being defeated continually, I got to the point where I realized that I deserved to go to hell.  “Now I lay me down to sleep” was no longer enough to quell the ever deepening darkness.  It was at that point that I prayed a small desperate prayer, “God, please help . . . .”

In the weeks that followed I was invited to a Bible study** where I found opportunity to take an honest look at the Scriptures.  During that study the words of Jesus called through my self-focused darkness:

“The time has come . . . the kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1:15

“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

Only after surrendering my life to Christ did light and hope begin to dispel the darkness . . . finally, I found rest for my soul!

Six decades later, I continue to find comfort in the simplicity of leaning into the wisdom and assurance of Scripture, as God’s Spirit tends to whatever fear crops up:

“Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from Him.
Truly He is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.”
Psalm 62:1,2, 8

I am struck by the contrast between my life before and after surrendering all to Christ.  That is why I urge every Client I serve to do the same through the Journey Notes process–a simple means of starting (or jump starting) an honest dialogue with our Creator/Soul Maker.

So . . . can meaningful soul work take place apart from the influence of our Creator?
What do you think?

All to His Glory!

*The New England Primer, 18th century textbook.
**Community Bible Study– http://www.communitybiblestudy.org/get-connected/find-a-class/