Hope in Evil Times . . . .

After being on the road for fifty-nine days and exploring over ten-thousand miles of this beautiful country, it took us a while to get back into the routine of what we’d left behind.  We have been grateful to catch up with the people we love sharing our lives with.  Yet we yearn for the comfortable simplicity of those fifty-nine days of discovery.  We miss following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who spent two-and-a-half years carving out a pathway for others to follow in the 1800’s.  We also miss discovering parts of the old Route 66 that connected towns large and small in an increasingly mobile society in the 1900’s.

As I reflect back on our travels,
it is not just the beauty and diverse landscapes we miss exploring–
we also miss connecting-the-dots of the history across this nation
that was especially gratifying.  DSC00803

Since our return, my husband has remarked numerous times, that the two things we saw most consistently as we camped our way through vast cities and the smallest of towns were, first of all churches and secondly Dollar General (or Family Dollar) stores.  The saddest thing we saw were many of those churches appearing abandoned.

Since our return home, the one thing we did not miss during our travels–the daily, sometimes constant pounding of national and international news–has hit us especially hard.  We miss the protective bubble that surrounded us as we mostly listened to audio-books.  I suppose that is why reading the wisdom of Solomon, brought a chill to my bones several days ago:

“As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12

With every day that passes, the news reports of atrocities inflicted on innocent people fill us with dread.  How are we to live as the darkness of evil appears to become increasingly pervasive?  

I was grateful for the wisdom of the Scriptures as I reflected on this question:

  • Romans 12:19 & 21 directs our steps with, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  • I John 5: 11, 12 reminds us to love those around us with the light and hope of the Gospel:  “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in the Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
  • Revelation 17:14 affirms the light of our future, when evil will be defeated and cast away forever:  “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them (and) with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.”

No matter what is happening in your life or around the world, if you know Christ, be encouraged that:

  1. You are not alone and
  2. Because of Christ, you have every reason to be filled with hope.

How are we to access that hope when darkness threatens?

  1. By making prayer a priority–talking to God rather than just to yourself–when troubling news hits.
  2. By investing time in searching the Scriptures to maintain a healthy perspective on what is reported in the news as well as what you are personally dealing with.
  3. By committing to live out what you are gleaning from the Scriptures–there’s nothing better to activate the truth of what God says.
  4. Finally, be encouraged by the wisdom of Jesus who dispels darkness with the Light of Hope:

“Why do you worry about clothes?
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was dressed like one of these. . . .
But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:28, 29, 33 & 34

All to His Glory!

“Lord, Turn Our Whining Into Worship”– The Necessity Of Spiritual Regrouping* . . . .

It was a jolt to my system, the day I started to read James for the first time:

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

I say “started to read”, because I was so shocked and frightened by James’s instruction that, for months, I avoided going anywhere near his letter when I opened my Bible.  Looking back I can see where it was God’s mercy, giving me space before facing a life or death challenge that would change my perspective forever.

"Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . "
“Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . “

After that first encounter with James, life was going exceedingly well.  In fact, we were surprised and thrilled to announce to the world that we were expecting a third child that fall.  All appeared to be well until, at 25 weeks gestation, we faced the possibility of losing our son.  During those early weeks of being hospitalized, I went back to James–convicted that I needed to hear him out.  Picking up where I had left off, I found that James’s wisdom provided the perspective I needed to help me spiritually regroup*:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brothers (and my sisters),
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS,
because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces PERSEVERANCE.
Let PERSEVERANCE finish its work so that you may be
MATURE AND COMPLETE, not lacking anything.”
 James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine)

Where I had assumed that God was all about my happiness, I realized that He wanted much, much more:

A rich, full-bodied, mature faith that trusts in Him . . .
that, pure and simple, is God’s goal in allowing trials and uncertainty
to test and grow us.

All these years later,  I have helped many a Client to spiritually regroup with the forthright wisdom of James.  When God asks, “Will you trust me in this?”  There is nothing that delights His heart more than when we say, “Yes Lord, I will trust You in this.”

In these uncertain times, I find myself returning to James often to spiritually regroup.  That is why the opening prayer of a sermon I listened to recently got my attention:

“Lord . . . turn our whining into worship.”

Initially I caught myself smiling as I reflected, “Turn our whining into worship?”  I remembered a childishly scrawled addition to a grocery list I found many years ago requesting, “kids whine”.  It was referring to a favorite sparkling juice our children enjoyed during special meals when wine was served to the adults.  Even now, the irony of the misspelling of “wine” to “whine” makes me chuckle!

But then it struck a much deeper cord in me . . . “Lord, turn our whining into worship.”  I thought about;

  • How easy it is to complain to God about our troubles, even shifting blame to Him for allowing the fruit of our choices to impact our lives.
  • How easy it is to give way to fear, as the world blatantly denies Him.
  • Even now, I catch myself (a supposed “mature Christian”) entering into a whining, “poor me”  attitude when things to differently than I want them to.

To be clear, it is not whining when we seek help from God.  In fact, He urges us to run to Him with our fears and whatever weighs heavy on our hearts:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.”

 (Matthew 11:28)

However, the “rest” we are invited to enter, does not necessarily take us out of the battle.  We ultimately discover rest for our souls when we choose to trust in Christ–whether our circumstances change or not.  Such rest comes as we answer the question God asks each of us, “WILL YOU TRUST ME IN THIS?”  

When faith says, “Yes Lord, I trust You no matter what . . . . ”
Guess what happens? We leave the realm of whiners and uncertainty
as we enter into a worship that reflects a maturing faith!

The Bible is full of wisdom to help us grow through difficulty. Recently I have found encouragement and direction from God’s instruction given to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.  It is helpful and relevant to you and I today as we pray:

“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray
and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.”

II Chronicles 7:14

Yes, we live in uncertain times
where it is easy to give way to fear or to be run by anger.
But such times offer us a myriad of opportunities to
spiritually regroup and deepen our faith,
as we trust in Him with humble, glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

*To spiritually regroup refers to those times when we are convicted that our emotions are running us rather than our faith in Christ.  We spiritually regroup when we confess our fears, anger, bitterness, pride, etc, as sin against God.  We spiritually regroup when we choose to trust Him to work out His Perfect Plan for our ultimate good and His Glory.

To Move Beyond Brokenness . . . .

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

It is often said that, “Time heals all wounds.”  While that may be true in part, it certainly is not true when it comes to ministering to the broken heart.  Just as a broken bone needs to be set aright, wisdom and intentional care are needed to straighten and strengthen the broken mind and heart.  In the Counseling Room I have ministered to many people crippled emotionally and spiritually by the still raw evidence of wounds left untended for years . . . even decades.  I know of no better resource than the wisdom contained in the Scriptures that, when rightly applied, can open up light and hope like nothing else.

Hebrews 3:13 warns believers, to guard against letting the hardness of sin and doubt to fester in our hearts for even one more day:

“Above all else, guard your heart . . . .” Proverbs 4:23

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

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

In my last post, I wrote about the Heartstrings Illustrationa very practical tool that helps identify the primary influence(s) we rely on to make decisions.  As I watched and listened to my Client, I understood the pain she was in . . . but I also understood the danger of beginning to doubt the only One we can truly trust.  To help stop the emotional and spiritual “bleeding” of a heart so broken and raw, she needed the wisdom of Scripture to help her assess who or what influence was tugging at her heartstrings. 

We went to John 21–one of those special places in Scripture that I enjoy because it is so personal.  It begins very early in the morning, with Peter and a few of the other disciples returning from a disappointing night of fishing. I asked her to begin reading the passage to me–I ask all of my Clients to read aloud to me so that was nothing new.  As she read about how Jesus was waiting on the shore and the events that took place, her voice returned to a more regular tone.  Occasionally, she stopped reading as we marveled at how simply, but powerfully Jesus ministered to the hearts of those men–by providing a miraculous catch of fish while already having prepared a meal that was waiting for them on the beach.  We were touched, when Jesus took a walk with Peter (the disciple who denied knowing Jesus three times after He was arrested.) In the conversation that took place between them, Jesus challenged and commissioned Peter to, “Feed My sheep.”

The part that I hoped would most encourage and challenge my Client came in the final section when Jesus said:

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

The text goes on to explain:

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

(verses 18 and 19)

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

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

(Verse 22)

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

Taking Ownership of OUR PROBLEM . . . .

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

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

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill.
You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world
means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”  

Heart Strings-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

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

A Comforting Grace . . . .

“It’s hard, but God is good.”  Those are the words I find myself repeating when a friend mentions the loss of my father. Some look at me quizzically and a silence lingers as they wait for me to offer more– that I know that he is in a better place (which I do.)  The problem is, when I say anything more I find myself battling unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The odd thing is, until a week ago, I would have told you that I was, “Doing just fine.”

IMG_0015
Christmas, 1953

Few of us escape seasons when we find ourselves battling emotions that appear to come out of nowhere.  To say that I have been surprised by grief is an understatement.  When I received word that Dad died, it was not unexpected. Dad’s health had been declining for several years, to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair the last time I saw him.  Living three thousand miles apart, my brother Norm has been extremely good to let me know about Dad’s overall health–the good days as well as his drastic decline three days prior to his death.  When I said goodbye to Dad last fall, I knew that it was likely the last time I would see him.  I was grateful Norm was there too . . . grateful to see Dad bask in the loving care he was receiving.

That Dad is in a better place is without question.  Yet, despite knowing this, I STILL MISS HIM.  I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face light up when I came into his room.  The one Scripture that truly speaks to the emotional loss I am presently experiencing is, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

It is a comforting grace to know that Jesus,
not only walked among us, but He wept for and with us. 

This especially resonates when we read about the death of Lazarus in John 11.  Jesus did not weep when He informed His disciples that Lazarus had died–in fact He initially told them Lazarus had fallen asleep. (verses 11-14)  It was not until Jesus saw Mary* and others around her grieving, that He was brought to tears:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . . . . Jesus wept.”
John 11:33, 35

We talk about this in the Counseling Room.  When we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster after suffering a loss or when experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it is a comforting grace to know that God is not offended by our struggle.  In fact, when we find ourselves colliding with trouble, the Bible assures us that He has compassion on His people. (Matthew 14:14 and 20:34; Mark 6:34)

Yet God does not want us to remain spiritually frail.  During the twenty years I have been privileged to Counsel, I have repeatedly marveled at God’s faithfulness in transforming human brokenness into a loveliness and strength that is fully of Him.  The key to that transformation? Time after time it has consistently occurred in those who embrace the Authority of the Scripture as God’s Spirit has tended to each heart.  Jesus continues to call us to Himself, offering His Comforting Grace to all who seek Him:

“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

Yes, I still miss my dad and trust that I will for some time.  In fact, as I have been able to identify the blessing of His Comforting Grace being worked out in my life right now, I give thanks to God for the sweetness of memories that can never be taken away.

All to His Glory!

 *The sister of Lazarus who would soon anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair– John 12:3.

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–“Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

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.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2