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.

 

“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.

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!

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.

DSC02555
“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.

The Richness of a Spiritually Healthy Life . . . .

 

I learned early in my walk with Jesus, that God uses what He will to direct us toward the path we might otherwise miss.  Case in point: inspired by my last post, “A Healthy Death”, I started thinking about how a biblical view of healthy living differs from the secular view of today.  Several days into writing on this topic, I came down with a miserable flu that then morphed into a severe bronchial and sinus infection–the irony of it was difficult to ignore!

So, what is a spiritually healthy life and how does it differ from what secular culture teaches about healthy living? Where secular culture judges the state of our health by what can be seen or empirically measured, God’s primary concern is with our spiritual health.  (This is not to say such things diet and exercise do not matter to God.  Certainly we are expected to be good stewards of what He has provided for us–including the care of our bodies.)  Also, while secular culture is far more concerned with an outwardly healthy self-esteem, God’s concerns go far deeper as He examines our hearts.  Proverbs 3:7-8 provides a simple formula that effectively hits at the basics of what God prescribes for living spiritually healthy lives:

A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .
A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.   

In practical, spiritual terms this breaks down as,

HUMILITY + FEAR/RESPECT FOR GOD + RESISTING WHAT GOD HATES (SIN) = A SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY LIFE THAT ENRICHES THE SOUL

So what are some of the earmarks of a spiritually healthy life?  The first one might surprise you, but I learned its truth when I first began counseling:

  1. A spiritually healthy life is often messy as it reaches out to others.*
  2. Lives daily in relationship with Christ through prayer and seeking to live out the Scriptures.
  3. Maintains an attitude of gratitude for God’s Presence, Provision and Plan for our lives.
  4. Recognizes that while life is not problem-free, steadfastly trusts in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  (James 1; Hebrews 12)
  5. Bears good fruit that honors God.
  6. Looks for the good in others by loving and forgiving deeply.
  7. Takes sin seriously in self and then also in helping others.
  8. Rests fully in Christ.
  9. Speaks truth in love as a reflection of God’s Grace.
  10. Is not long impacted by adverse circumstances . . . .  Just as a compass takes a few moments to adjust when a shift in direction is made, a spiritually healthy life can make whatever adjustments necessary to navigate toward the Hope we share in Christ.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
Psalm 34:12-14

All to His Glory!

*I learned early in my career that many times, those outwardly perfect families and individuals are covering deep pain or insecurities others know nothing about.

“If Any Of You Lacks Wisdom . . . . “

I can still remember the first time I read James 1:5,

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

 I was a new Christian with much to learn as a wife, a mother and a daughter of God Most High.  In my world before Christ, making mistakes or showing oneself as weak was a dangerous thing.  Once exposed, the resulting fault-finding and blame-shifting were elements that tore at the soul of this wounded and confused kid.  I had lived most of my life desperate to please and keep peace at just about any  price.   The thought of not having to guard against being ridiculed for showing weakness intrigued me and was downright revolutionary.   In the thirty-plus years I have walked with Christ since reading James’ letter, I have tested this promise many times and in various scenarios:

Crying out to God in fear. . .
Turning to Him with deep regret . . .
Seeking Him for the comfort and assurance I lacked–
 
God has proved Himself faithful . . .
EVERY . . .
SINGLE . . .
TIME . . . .

In my last post, I wrote to you about humility being the key to helping others as we rely on God for the wisdom and strength we need.  We looked at a picture of relationships being lived as God designed them to be–“Two are better than one . . . “–in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12.  We focused on what happens when we invite God into those relationships as the powerful “third strand.” We marveled at how God’s people are strengthened and how those relationships become cosmic because of His Presence.

As I concluded that post, I promised to write in my next post about a very practical tool/exercise that has been helpful to me and has benefited many others.  I ask but one thing of you–I ask that you apply it personally before attempting to help someone else with it.  I make this request because you will never appreciate the value of what is offered unless you have personally reaped its benefits.  Also, by applying it first, Christ’s admonition that you, “take the plank out of our own eye” before going after the speck in the eye of a friend or neighbor (Luke 6:42) will have been honored.

The goal of the exercise is to discern (or expose) who or what the primary influence ruling your thinking and responding at various times is.  It is based on the assumption that there is always a rule or authority that influences how you think and/or act.  We start with the bare bones:

  1.  Draw a triangle on a piece of paper with a heart placed in the center of the triangle.
  2. Write your name next to the right bottom tip; to the left of the triangle write either “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or a specific problem or concern that comes to your mind.  (The point here is, that this illustration holds merit in both difficult (challenges) and easier (joyful) times.)
  3. Draw an arrow from where you have written your name to the top of the triangle.
  4. Draw another arrow from the top of the triangle to the bottom left where you have written, “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or have entered a specific problem or concern.

Now, put some flesh on those bones:

  1. The premise of the exercise: we rarely respond to the challenges and joys we encounter straight on–draw an arrow between your name and the other side underneath the triangle, then “X” the line out.
  2. Instead, we are influenced by whatever “rule or authority” we hold to at any given time.   Identifying what is at the top of the triangle is the key to determining what rules the heart at any given time.  (When working with a Client I ask them, “who or what” is influencing their thinking about their problem?  The answers vary: pressure . . . fear . . . anger . . . hurt . . . anxiety . . . pride . . . money . . . confusion . . . guilt . . . resentment . . . and the list goes on!)
  3. The next step (remembering James’ encouragement)– ASK GOD for the wisdom you need to identify what is influencing your thinking toward what you wrote to left of the triangle.  (Write those influences above the top of the triangle.)
  4. Now, take a deep breath and consider this: Anything written there that is influencing you (other than God) is probably an idol.  Write “God or Idol?” above your reasons listed over the top of the triangle.
  5. Finally, ASK GOD for the help you need to clean out the excuses and keep Him in His rightful place–“God and . . . ” never works!

There are times when I know my attitude is not right or when I know what my problem is but I feel stuck.  In both cases, when I ASK GOD for the wisdom and courage I lack, He has delivered without fail.  I have learned through this simple exercise that when God exposes my sin He does so, not to ridicule me for my failures, but to free me by facing my sin to enjoy a deeper faith.

Proverbs 16:2 warns:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

To hold onto our “reasons” for what we do is to lose what we need most–
the blessing of Christ’s Presence in our lives.
 Seek Him for the wisdom you lack to grow and mature spiritually through those difficulties.
He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!