When Hate Comes Easy: The Danger Of Playing The Blame Game . . . .

Living in a time when hatred and shifting blame have become the “new normal”, the world has become an increasingly dark and scary place. The effect in the Counseling Room has been a marked increase of Clients struggling with anxiety coupled with hopelessness.  Many who come say, “The Bible tells us, ‘Do not be anxious,’ but how can I NOT be anxious in such perilous times?”

The following are some of the things we discuss in the Counseling Room to address this very timely question:

1. We talk about how the world can be a dangerous place and how Jesus had first-hand knowledge of that. The writer of Hebrews 12:2,3 helps us appreciate this:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

We need to acknowledge that the world CAN BE a very frightening place. God calls us not to be naive about the dangers around us, but to walk daily in obedient faith. As we do He enables us live for, love and serve Him in trusting obedience.

2. We talk about how God calls His children to come to Him with our fears as our Shepherd and God of Hope.

“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden.
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

 3. Living in a time when there is a lot of anger and finger pointing as to who’s responsible for the explosion of hatred being manifested around us, it is tempting to become caught up in shifting blame. But as followers of Jesus, we have an obligation to resist blame shifting (be it in our personal relationships or in the world around us) as we determine to follow Him:

“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,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:43-45

The commitment to honor Christ as we pray for our enemies  is what insulates us from being overwhelmed by anger and hatred ourselves. Such a practice (speaking from personal experience), is both humbling and freeing as we are helped to look at ourselves and the world around us with His eyes.  Only then do we become teachable and experience His peace–even in the midst of trials:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 1:18-20 (ESV)

 How can we put all of this into practice? Here is a two-part answer::

A. By maintaining the discipline of giving thanks to God through the process of doing their Journey Notes:**

“Thank You God that, no matter how I feel, I am never alone.
Thank You for Your love and mercy.
Thank You for the hope of spending eternity with You . . .
THANK YOU!”

As one Client said this week, “Doing my praises helps me  keep fear from taking over my thoughts.” It is as we give thanks to God to for His loving provision despite our fears, that humility and hope lighten our hearts.

B. By asking God to help us guard our hearts using this simple tool: The Triangle Illustration.**  (I know it’s an odd name but when you look at it you will understand.) It helps to identify who (or what) is influencing our perceptions.  Is it fear or anger? Personal desires or a desire to please others?

If it is anything less than God,
it is an Idol and needs to be confessed as sin.

The blessing is that when we put God in His rightful place,
He strengthens and guides our every step.

No matter what you may be facing, give thanks to God that you are not alone. Give thanks for His love and mercy displayed on the Cross as you follow His lead every step of the way . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 4:23
**See top of this post to access.

 

Do Not Be Anxious . . . .

“For everything that was written in the past
was written for our instruction, so that
through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures,
we might have hope.”

Romans 15:4

God’s got this . . .❤️

I am always grateful to get to my office early enough to settle in and pray before my Clients arrive. During that time I ask God for wisdom and sensitivity in how I minister to each one.  I also ask Him for direction when it comes to encouraging each Client with Scripture. Last Wednesday was one of those times when God gave me not only the sensitivity needed to respond to each Client– He also provided Scripture that benefitted each uniquely.

To appreciate what happened, here’s a little background on the women I saw that day. All three are serious about living out their faith yet struggle with anxiety and have experienced panic attacks.* One of them I’ve worked with for more than a year; the others I’d seen for about six weeks. Each one is aware of the biblical admonitions regarding fear and anxiety: Do not be anxious about,

  • Your life . . .
  • What you will speak . . .
  • About how you should defend yourself . . .
  • About tomorrow.**

They also understand the admonition to be strong and courageous given throughout the Bible.*** They have responded well by learning to face their anxiety by answering their fears with Scripture. In the process they learned to turn to God with thanksgiving for His love, mercy and sovereign goodness. As they have done this, they have discovered courage not from within themselves, but through faith in the One who suffered and died for them.

The passage I received after praying that morning was Ephesians 5:8-21. The passage talks about being light in the Lord:

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”
(Verses 8-10)

After reading the passage aloud, each then responded to my question, “What stands out to you?”  Each responded differently, but all were encouraged (one with tears of gratitude) by the call in verse 14:

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

We then focused on verses 15 and 16:

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:15, 16

We talked how one of the reasons we have been given the Scriptures by God, is so that we will not be naive. We also talked about the danger of naivety in a corrupt, evil world and how, even so, the Scriptures offer HOPE. It is in that eternal hope promised by Jesus that we find courage to stand and move forward despite our fears.

So how are we to be freed from anxiety that can be so debilitating?  How can we live courageously in an increasingly unpredictable and oft times frightening world? The Apostle Paul’s words proclaim truth and direction to all who love and serve Christ:

“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.”

Ephesians 6:10, 11

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement
give you the same attitude of mind toward each other
that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice
you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 15:5, 6

God calls us to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances. He encourages us to rely on Him for what is needed to be courageous as we face challenges large and small. No matter where you find yourself in your walk with Him today, put your life (your day!) in His most capable hands as you give thanks for His Plan and Purpose being worked out in your life. When it comes to dealing with anxiety, it is faith in Him that gives us courage like nothin else can . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*Where in past years depression was the primary focus of help given in the Counseling Room, today the majority seeking help suffer from an anxiety that imprisons or impairs their ability to function.

**Matthew 6:25; Matthew 10:19; Luke 2:11: Matthew 6:24.

***Joshua 1:6-9;

Hope That Rises Through Change . . . .

Change is rarely something I seek but have come to appreciate.  My husband and I, married for almost forty-eight years, have lived in the same house for more than thirty of those years. We’ve made many changes to the house over time, but the placement of the couch in the living room has not changed since the day we moved in. (Just to clarify, we did replace the couch–twenty years ago!)

Yet we have learned to appreciate change–largely through our kids.  We enjoyed them when they lived at home (for the most part), but celebrated when they became contributing members of society, married, and gifted us with our seven grandchildren.  Last year we entered a new stage of change when our oldest grandchild left home to serve in the Army–much sooner than we were ready for.  But we have been gratified to see the fruit of that change . . . the man that he is becoming.

Change can be difficult and even unwelcome.
But we have learned that when change comes (not if),
God is always–always(!)–good!

Change is in the air . . . .

Meaningful change has come to the Counseling Room.  I wasn’t looking for it, but there has been a noticeable shift of attitude in the majority of Clients seeking help:

  • When I became a Counselor more than two decades ago, Clients sought help dealing with their problems–period.

Clients back then were open to looking at the Bible, much the same way that we do today, but their focus (and probably my own) was mainly on resolving their problem(s).

In recent years, change having to do with the long-term goals of Clients, has made work in the Counseling Room gratifying.:

  • Where resolving problems was the emphasis in the past, the majority of Clients today are expressing a “desire to grow spiritually” as their primary goal of Counseling.  

This is how one Client expressed it recently:

“I’ve been in [secular] Counseling for 2 years and nothing much has changed.
I’ve ‘vented’ for countless hours and filled journals that need to be burned.
Now I’m realizing that nothing’s going to change,
apart from God changing me.
I want . . . no, I NEED to know God better!”*

What has caused this change? My thought is that as our times have become increasingly uncertain, and as what is “right” and what is“wrong” have become blurred within society, people are looking for clarity and with it, HOPE.  In essence, this shift has taken place because hearts are craving what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.”

There is a palpable “hunger and thirst” being manifested in the Counseling Room, like I have never experienced before.  I have found that the only way to satisfy that longing, is to bring God’s Voice (manifested through the Scriptures) into every conversation that takes place..

But the change doesn’t stop there.  Clients are more committed to actively continuing that conversation with God by doing their Journey Notes.  (to the point of challenging me to re-enter into doing Journey Notes myself.)  Every time we meet, I count it a joy and privilege to watch their faces and to listen to what God has taught them since our previous Session.  Please don’t get me wrong, there are still the harsh realities in their lives that need to be faced and worked through.  But even so, HOPE continues to burn brightly as the Voice of the Shepherd ministers to both our hearts.

As I write this,  I marvel at the freshness of HOPE received as God’s Spirit ministers to hearts through words written more than two thousand years ago.  Consider the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote:

“And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still sinners,
Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person . . .
but God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:5, 7 & 8

How do you respond to change?  Do you give way to fear or get angry as you try to cling to what was? Or do you lean into God when change hits, determined to trust and embrace every lesson He has for you?

This week I discovered fresh insight into dealing with challenging times in Psalm 143, especially verses 5 and 6:

“I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.” 

At first glance we may perceive only a glimmer of light on the horizon of our lives. But as we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and we thirst expectantly for God to work out His best, we discover HOPE rising as it renews and floods our senses.

That promise of HOPE in God’s steadfast love continues in verses 8 and 12:

“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I entrust my life . . . .
In Your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am Your servant.”

No matter what you are facing, no matter how dark things may appear, our God of HOPE will never abandon you.  Do you have a friend who needs help but feel as if your efforts are going nowhere?  Then I encourage you to bring God’s Voice into your conversation for the direction and HOPE found only in Him.

“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

All to His Glory!

*In no way do I mean to disparage the value of secular counseling–certainly there is a place for it in a hurting, fallen world.  However, the benefits of Biblical Counseling–learning to look at problems and ourselves from God’s perspective–is largely ignored and opportunities for personal growth never realized.

 

More Than Words: On Being Christ In An Angry World . . . .

Living in a world where anger comes increasingly easy and words are used as weapons rather than a means of blessing, can be frightening. It is tempting to get angry and play the child’s game of, “tit for tat”. But as followers of Christ, called to be in the world but not of the world, we are instructed to love and forgive in the mercy granted to us because of Christ..

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I write this with Christ’s call to peace in mind:

“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

This week I gained insight into our penchant to hate when anger or fear take control   The wisdom of James, half-brother to Jesus, written over two thousand years ago, rings truth today::

“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.”

James 4:1-4

Our word choices matter.
They reflect how we view ourselves,
how we relate to the world around us and, most importantly,
how we perceive God.

But God’s concern for His people is less about words
and more about attitude and action.
When hate comes easy, we distance ourselves from the One we are called to serve.

So how can we make things right?

Step One: Pray through the words of James and ask God to check the motives of your heart. Are you right with Him or are there areas that need to be confessed and made right?  Don’t put it off! Take care of it now and I guarantee your heart will feel a lot lighter.

Step Two: Ask God for the names of three people you would otherwise never pray for.  Jesus said we are to love and pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) so start praying and be faithful to watch for miracles large and small.

Step Three: Take your focus off of yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can love the people in your life better as you choose to trust Him more.

In recent weeks I have been encouraged and found direction from the Apostles who faced every sort of difficulty we face–and much more. I invite you to consider the wisdom of Peter and Paul:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace 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

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you
to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage . . . .”
Philippians 2:3-6

Humility is beautiful in God’s eyes, something we fail to see. Ask God to embrace humility as you determine to trust Him in every area of your life..

Do you yearn for authentic relationships? Then take your focus off yourself and look to being a blessing in the lives of others as Christ leads.

This is one I go to often:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud . . .
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
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, 12-21

Looking for wisdom and direction in times such as these?  Look no further than the Scripture as you love others, not because they deserve it, but because it reflects Christ’s  love poured out on you.  Life is more than words . . . much, much more!

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause
righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:11

All to His Glory!

Principle #2: The Battle is Real . . . .

Much of our decision-making is based on how we perceive God.  That is why we focus a large percentage of time in the Counseling Room on God’s character.   Steadfast belief in the good and  faithful character of God–as modeled when Christ walked on the earth–is what grows an enduring faith.  Just as Jesus sought to calm the hearts of His disciples as He prepared them for what was about to happen, we also find comfort and, yes–peace in Him–no matter what we may experience:

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.
In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

In my last post, Principle #1: God Convicts/He Does Not “Guilt”, I wrote about the importance of being able to distinguish between the voice of God as our Shepherd, and the voice(s) of the world that promote doubt in God’s faithfulness.  That post focused on God as the Shepherd of our hearts and the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin to:

  1. Call us to repentance before God and
  2. To deepen our faith as we give thanks to God for His love and mercy
The Battle is Real . . . .

In this post, we will enlarge our view of the very real spiritual battle that will continue until Christ’s return:

Principle #2:

The Battle is real.
While Satan intends us harm,
God uses it for our good–
to promote spiritual maturity as we learn to trust Him more.

The Battle is not new.  To doubt God’s goodness (which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden) is to play Satan’s game.  In fact, when you read Adam’s response to God when hiding from his Creator, Adam compounded their sin with this response:

“The woman YOU PUT HERE WITH ME—
she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Genesis 3:12

To besmirch God’s character, by blaming Him for our sin,
is a practice as old as time itself, and
is something we continue to be very, very good at.

In the Counseling Room we go to Ephesians 6:10-13 for clarity regarding The Battle and our call to rely on Him:

“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.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that WHEN the day of evil comes,
you may be able to STAND YOUR GROUND, and
after you have done everything,
to STAND.”
 

As I reflect on this passage, what strikes me is that God does not call us to be Super Heroes.
HE is meant to be the SUPER HERO and our part is to TRUST IN HIM!
KA-POW*!!!

A faith-filled life is what God wants for us.  He knows we will fall down/doubt Him in our journey; but He encourages us to turn to Him in repentant faith as He enables us to stand.

Broadening our understanding of God’s character is the major part of our work in the Counseling Room.  This is not to say that we don’t talk about and mourn the impact problems have on life–because we DO.  But to look at ourselves, at God and the challenges we face through the lens of Scripture is what ultimately helps us make sense of the craziness around us.  II Corinthians 4 is one of my favorite places to gain perspective when feeling overwhelmed by challenges or loss:

“Therefore we do not lose heart . . . . For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(Verses 16-18)

As to God’s character, one of my favorites is the description of God’s response to our running away from problems (and Him):

“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

Yes, The Battle is REAL and the stakes are high.  But with every step we take in faith, the tumult and fear of the world drops away as we learn to trust the Shepherd of our hearts.  Are you feeling stuck in a dark place in your life right now?  This invitation given by Christ was especially engraved with YOUR name on it:

“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

All to His Glory!

* A “ka-pow” describes the moment when the  color patterns in a kaleidoscope shift and a new pattern falls into place that takes your breath away.  A “ka-pow” moment describes when the ordinary suddenly becomes cosmic . . . when the everyday shifts to the sublime . . . Ka-Pow! 

 

 

 

 

 

On Valleys and Avoiding The Pit . . . .

“How was your week?”  It’s a question I often ask a Client as we begin a Session.  Responses vary of course, but one Client recently got me thinking when she said: “It’s been ups and downs, peaks and valleys . . . today I’m in a valley.”

Wanting to clarify what she was struggling with I asked, “What’s happening in your valley?”

She looked at me with pain-filled eyes as she talked about her husband’s deteriorating health and other changes that have taken place the past year and a half.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;"
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”

My response surprised even me as I said softly:  “Valleys aren’t all bad.  In fact, there are good things to be found in valleys: meadows . . . wildflowers . . . and God.  Valleys provide a quiet place to reflect on the challenges we face as well as on God’s Goodness.”  

I waited a moment before adding, “Valleys provide opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth when God is part of the conversation.  We get into trouble though, when we talk only to ourselves rather than God.”

She looked at me quizzically before I added, “You know, those self-absorbed conversations we have within ourselves–‘I should have said this’, or ‘I wish I’d done that.’  When we are angry with someone else or beat ourselves up because of our failures: light and hope are overshadowed by bitterness, anger and regret.  It is then, when we begin to doubt God’s Goodness, that the pit of depression can seem to swallow us up.”

We opened to the first four verses of Psalm 23 to gain a biblical perspective on valleys:

The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.”

Green pastures . . . still waters . . . soul restoration . . . clarity of mind and heart: ALL are ours when we stay close to the Shepherd of our hearts.  When shadows darken the terrain of our lives, He leads and enables us to walk (not run) through the scariest places as our Shield and Protector.

Isaiah says our problems multiply when we give way to fear.  It is then that we find ourselves in a pit of our own making:

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.”
And you said, “No, we will flee on horses,”
Therefore you shall flee!
“And we will ride on swift horses,”
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
One thousand will flee at the threat of one man;
You will flee at the threat of five,
Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top
And as a banner on a hill. 
(Verses 15-17)

Have you experienced that feeling of abandonment, when you look around and all you perceive is an impenetrable darkness?  Me too.  But don’t be fooled by your feelings; guard your heart against believing the worst of God.  Instead, consider the assuring words that follow the warning against being run by fear:

“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!” 
(Verse 18)

“BLESSED . . . ALL who wait for Him,” in the valleys of our lives as well as on the highest peak.

But what about those pit times, when depression and anxiety darken your door and faith is all but forgotten?  I appreciate the grittiness at the end of the Isaiah passage that speaks truth and assurance:

“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!”  
(Verses 21-22)

Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd and gave further food for thought in John 10:14-16,

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me–
just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father–
and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen . . . .
They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

As we determine to stay close to the Good Shepherd in thanksgiving and in faith–
refusing to give way to the destructive self-talk that spirals into a self-made pit–
He will provide the shelter needed to withstand any storm.

PRAISE HIM!

All to His Glory!