Faith: The Grit That Moves Us Forward . . .

Have you ever wanted to run away?  In those seasons in life when we are hit hard by the pain of disappointment, rejection or failure . . . the thought of escape is absolutely understandable.  Many years ago, although my circumstances had actually improved, thoughts of running was hitting especially hard,  Tired of fighting, I ran to the Scriptures for the help and perspective I needed.  For two or three days I wrestled with my fear:“What if it happens again?”  When I received no answer to my query I changed my question to, How do I move forward?”  

"Be imitators of God, therefore . . . ."
“Be imitators of God, therefore . . . .”

The answer was immediate and almost took my breath away when I opened my Bible and read:

“Get rid of all bitterness (and) rage . . . along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving . . . just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 4:31-5:2

As I was forced to face the basis of my fear–bitterness and pride–I felt as if I had been slammed in my gut.  Even so, I was profoundly encouraged by God’s answer to my question, couched as it was His reminder of my own need for redemption:

“Walk in the way of love . . . as Christ did . . .
who gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The realization that it took enormous determination and a gritty courage for Jesus to carry out His Father’s Plan encouraged me like never before.  When Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,”* He fully understood what was to come in a very few hours.  In those moments of reflection, I found courage in Jesus’s gritty steadfastness, to love, to forgive and to trust again as I placed everything at His feet.

These days many scoff at faith as being “naive . . . not in touch with the real world . . . a false hope for weak people.” But those who have entered into a faith relationship with Christ will tell you, faith is anything but naive.  In fact,

  • Faith faces the fact of our human condition before a Holy God–there is no such thing as a “good person”.
  • Faith recognizes that we cannot save ourselves“For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.”***
  • Only a faith invested in the gritty love demonstrated by Jesus, who knowingly faced rejection, torture and a very public execution, is a faith worth having.

Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there . . .

Faith knows that Sunday is coming and an empty tomb awaits for all the world to see
Praise Him for a gritty faith that moves us forward,
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts!

“Yet to all who received Him, to who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.”
John 1:12, 13

All to His Glory!

*Luke 22:42
**Maundy Thursday commemorates the last meal Jesus and His disciples shared before His arrest and crucifixion.
***Romans 3:23

Voices (Part Two) . . . .

If you are a Christian who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, or if you know someone who does, this is for you.  In my last post I wrote about learning to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know, those accusing voices that taunt us despite our repentance saying, “You claim Christ but look at you . . . you are never going to change . . . you will never measure up to being a REAL Christian.”  Sometimes those “other voices” can sound quite reasonable, justifying sin, even as we are inwardly convicted by God’s Spirit.  Also, there are those angry, self-righteous voices that declare, “Enough! You don’t deserve to be treated this way!” as they urge us to hold on to bitterness and/or resentment.

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“WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.”

To gain insight in discerning the difference between God’s voice and those “other voices”, I included several examples of God’s voice as our Shepherd to compare with those taunting, deceptive voices we hear in our heads.  From James we learned that one of the distinguishing marks between God’s voice and those “other voices”, is that God does indeed test our faith (in order to strengthen and mature us), but He never tempts us to sin.  When we are tempted, that is completely the voice of evil. (James 1:13,14)

This post will include insights into how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that can rob us of the freedom won for us in Christ.  (Galatians 5:1)   They are personal insights, gained in my own battle with depression, that have also been helpful to others.

1.  We all have a history of past sin; Christ Jesus is our only hope.  

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned . . . ,
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:17

2.  God convicts in order to draw us to Himself; He does not torment or abandon His children.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26, 27

3.  So long as we live on this earth, there is an ongoing spiritual battle between God (who is Light) and evil (spiritual darkness).  To forget or be naive about this makes us vulnerable.  The Apostle Paul warned his friends in Ephesus with this admonition:

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.
Ephesians 6:10-12

4.  God will provide all that we need to do battle as we stay close to Him.  It strikes me as ironic that in the battle against terrorism, the term “chatter” is used to refer to listening in on Internet conversations between known terrorist organizations to try to figure out where the next attack will be.  In God’s “army”, we are to resist exposing ourselves to the “chatter” of the world as we draw nearer to God:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up
against the knowledge of God, and
WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT
TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.” 

II Corinthians 10:3-5

5.  The best way to resist evil, is to persist in offering praises to God.  (James 4:7) I learned this years ago when I was tormented by thoughts that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Initially I was horrified and embarrassed . . . waves of depression hit me hard.  It was as I prayed, asking God to help me in my weakness, that it occurred to me that the last thing the evil one wanted to hear were praises to God–so that is what I started to do:  “Thank you God that you love me; thank You that You died so that I might live to your Glory; thank You that my future is secure in Jesus . . . Lord take these unwanted thoughts away from me (clean out any lingering “garbage” that may be hiding)–that I might give You all honor, praise and glory.”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

6.  Always assume the best of God, especially when we are hurt and life seems unfair.  God’s purposes are always for our ultimate good–that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything” when we meet Him face-to-face.  (James 1:2-4)  We find encouragement in the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:19-20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

The wisdom of John Newton offers blessing as we reflect on God’s voice as our source of light and hope vs the voices of darkness that seek to ensnare us:

“When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them–unbelief.  For what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride than to dare to contradict the express Word of God.  To say that He will not pardon when He declares He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He assures us that He will make none . . . . Be thankful for the past and the present.  Trials no less than comforts are the tokens of His love.  ALL is regulated by infinite wisdom.  You will find cause to praise Him, even for the severe.“*  (Emphasis, mine.)

All to His Glory!

*Letters of John Newton, from The Banner of Truth Trust, written to the Rev. William Howell, pgs. 198 & 201.

Voices . . . .

It is a conversation that takes place more often than you may think . . . talking in the Counseling Room about how to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know–those destructive voices that fan our fears and encourage us to run from God (believing the worst of Him); those lying voices (and sometimes even, “well-meaning” voices) that rob us of wisdom and hope in how we view ourselves, our circumstances as well as our relationships with God and with others.  Why is this important?  Because living in a world filled with so much “chatter” bombarding us from every direction, we are too easily taken off track.  Too often, I have had to help a Client pick up the shredded remains of their faith, because that Client listened to voices that lead them astray.

To be able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd on good days and in bad,
is critical to navigating through the challenges we face in uncertain times.

This is not new.  That is why Jesus encouraged His own to stay close to Him:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.…”

John 10:27-28

There are many reasons people seek Counseling: ALL need clarity in discerning God’s voice, because All are vulnerable to the unrelenting accusatory voices that seek to weaken our faith.  That is why I encourage every Client to connect with God through the Journey Notes process:

"Come to me all . . . . "
“Come to me all . . . . “
  • Logging their praises and concerns to God with every entry,
  • Prayerfully investing personal time reading Scripture (becoming familiar with God’s voice),
  • Writing at the top of the page in red, the Scripture that stands out to them in their reading,
  • Responding prayerfully to what God has said as they log their thoughts and feelings in their Journey Notebook.

In the Counseling Room, we talk about the way God speaks to us–to convict and bring us to repentance in order to free us. (Galatians 5:1)  We also talk about how the voices of evil seek to distract or cause us to doubt God’s goodness.  We find James extremely helpful, as he makes a clear distinction between being tested by God (in order to strengthen our faith) and when we are tempted by our sinful desires:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

James 1:13, 14

James makes clear: we are not victims when it comes to sin.  We are challenged to confess our sin when we go our own way and receive God’s forgiveness in repentant faith..

We spend quite a bit of time in the Old Testament, finding that God’s voice is the same in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Two passages that are especially helpful are:

Genesis 4:1-7  When Cain got angry because God was not pleased with his offering (displaying a bad attitude), God’s response was interesting. God sought Cain out, not in anger but to offer the first Counsel to the rebellious heart recorded in Scripture,

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master/rule over it.”

(verses 6b & 7)

Of course, we know what Cain’s response was . . . but that same voice of a caring Shepherd speaks to you and I in our struggles.  The only way we can “know what is right” is to become familiar with His voice as we follow Him.

Isaiah 30:15-21  God offers the prescription we need when it comes to facing up to our sinful propensities:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

and follows up with a challenge to resist going our own way:

 . . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you will all flee away,
till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”

Can you relate to that image of feeling abandoned and without hope? When you realize you have nothing left to give? The passage continues with this encouragement:

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 . . . .

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction . . .  
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.’”

Isn’t that amazing?! As our voices are raised to Him in repentance and rest, God rises to the occasion with GRACE.  Instead of anger and wrath, He responds with compassion and justice, directing our every step. 

As we listen to the voice of the One who saves and obey Him, His Grace begins to fill in the gaps as our faith is strengthen.

Of course it does not stop there, does it?  In my next post I will write about how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that rob us of the joy, hope and peace that are meant to be ours in Christ.

All to His Glory!

Forgiveness: Facing-Off Evil In The Love And Mercy Of Christ . . . .

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 6:12

It is difficult to make sense of forgiveness, especially when it is extended to someone who brutally snuffed out the lives of innocent family members.  Such was the response of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community in 2006, when five young girls were brutally murdered and five others severely injured.  Not only did they forgive the shooter (who committed suicide at the scene), the Amish community extended their forgiveness by caring for his wife and three children who were left without a husband and father.

A similar scenario played out this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a stranger, welcomed into their church’s Bible study,  murdered the pastor and eight others.  Though still reeling from the loss of their loved ones, family members none-the-less made their way to the courtroom to extend forgiveness to the shooter as well as his family.

Where does such strength to forgive–such determination to face-off evil–come from?  After years of working with people in the Counseling Room, as well facing my own personal challenges, I can assure you that such forgiveness never comes easy.  Humanly speaking, we want to hold onto anger and hate; we desire to repay evil for evil.  Yet even from a health perspective, we know that to allow such things to hold sway for very long, is to allow the acidic erosion of our thinking to separate us from the God who saves.  James 4 speaks to the inward struggle we face:

"What causes fights and quarrels among you?"  James 4:1
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James 4:1

“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 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.”

James 4:1-3

The good news is that God desires better for us and calls us to Himself as the Shepherd of our hearts.  In the end, forgiveness is God’s means of deepening a faith relationship between Himself and His people.  Jesus said,

“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

That rest for your souls, is embedded in the knowledge that God, who is merciful as well as just, will not forget the burden you surrendered to Him.  If not repented of, God’s justice will prevail.  With this in mind, God asks but one question, “Will you trust Me in this?”

Forgiveness, pure and simple, is a God-thing . . . it is not something we can conjure up alone.  What is the critical ingredient needed to face-off evil when life hits us hard?  Forgiveness . . . that is grounded in the love and mercy of Jesus.  As forgiveness is applied in humility and faith, the evidence of God’s Presence in the hearts of His people is revealed.  

The declaration Paul made to his friends in Galatia, when they were in danger of entering into the bondage of legalism, is a good reminder to us when we are tempted to hold on to bitterness and anger:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1

  • Forgiveness is a decision, that reflects the mercy received through God’s only Son.
  • Forgiveness comes alive and is believable, only as acts of mercy follow it.
  • Forgiveness chooses, to trust in God’s ultimate justice.

Forgiveness is the ultimate means whereby God’s people are truly freed–
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

 

 

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.

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

When she walked into the Counseling Room yesterday, I could see the discouragement and disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders.  Knowing how far she has come in recent months, I ached for her.  Angie has been a pleasure to work with–a living, breathing miracle of God!

From our first Session, after listening to her story I told her, “Perspective is everything . . . you need to draw closer to God.”  I introduced Journey Notes Praise Journaling to help her but, still reeling from a recent divorce and a lifetime of hurt and rejection, the suggestion of journaling held no appeal for her.   Angie tried to resist but in the end she agreed to try–it was a last resort:

“I am so not a writer . . .
 I believe in God . . .
that Jesus was who He said He was but . . .
God never has had much to say to me.”

Even so, she started to write.  It was awkward . . . coming up with three praises to God “was like pulling teeth.”  The first week she wrote one entry and reported, “I’m not sure if I am doing it right, my writing goes all over the place . . . it makes no sense.” 

Still, she continued to write . . .
one more week,
then the next . . .
and has kept it up until now. 

In the weeks between “then” and “now” a light dawned in her mind and heart that became visible in her eyes as the tension left her face.  Angie discovered that God has much to say to her . . . HOPE was rekindled and LIFE burned brightly in her countenance.  The evidence of God’s faithfulness became a reality for all to see:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” 
Psalm 40:2

As a result, Angie came to love doing her Journey Notes; the coffee-splattered pages of her notebook began to fill with the miracle of a conversation between her and her Maker.  As she interfaced with God through her Journey Notes, Angie started to look at herself and at “life” from God’s point of view–rightly concluding, “Perspective is everything!”

Yesterday, Angie reported she had had a “rough week.”  She talked about how seeing her ex-husband twice during the week had brought back old memories of his abuse.   Angie mentioned a broad shelf of books she read over twenty years while trying to save their marriage.  But, despite her efforts, her husband continually made it plain that he did not love her and did everything he could to get her to leave.   In desperation she finally did leave, but always with the hope that they would get the help they needed to save their marriage.  Instead, he filed the papers to obtain a divorce and it was a done deal.  Angie admitted that it was hard to see, that even now, he took no responsibility for the demise of their marriage– placing the blame fully on her. The question that pounded in her mind and heart: “Why didn’t God save our marriage?!!!” 

Isn’t it interesting how, when we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and disappointments, 
our initial response is often to blame God–I have done it and I trust you have too? 

The problem we have when we begin to doubt God’s goodness, is that we close ourselves off to the One who knows us and can best help us.  When we do that, our perceptions darken and we lose hope.  Isaiah 30:15-18 offers a prescription to address our tendency to run from God:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength . . .” as it also encourages us to turn back to Him:

 ” . . . 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!

To help Angie stop being run by her feelings, we opened the One Book that has carried and changed her these many months– Ephesians 5:21-33 says in part,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body,
of which He is the Savior. 
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .  
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies . . . 
each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I reminded her . . . “Perspective is everything!”  As we reflected on all Angie saw and felt during the previous week, we began to see God’s faithfulness emerge from where the darkness sought to overtake her.  We thanked God for His mercy and love in providing for her needs and for His plan and purposes for her life.  To help Angie avoid another hard fall we talked about the following:

  1. Her husband has no power to “make” her carry the blame she felt heaped upon her; better to give it to God with thanksgiving and in faith.
  2. Rather than fall into the trap of doubting God’s goodness, resolve to run to Him–assuming the best of God as Creator and King.
  3. It takes two to make a marriage and two to break it apart.  It is right to mourn the demise of her marriage–to continue to pray for conviction and repentance on both sides; for healing and eventual reconciliation for their entire family.
  4. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said divorce was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts.    I encouraged Angie to give thanks to God for His mercy in bringing her out of an abusive marriage; for protecting and watching over her as He has faithfully done.
  5. Continue interfacing with God through the Journey Notes process to help stay on track.  (Angie admitted that in the previous week she avoided reading her Bible and suffered the consequences of it–No Peace!)

Are you facing an unexpected challenge that you never expected to face?  Whatever it is, large or small, God is worthy of your trust.  Truly . . . Perspective is Everything!

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.” 
II Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!