True Freedom: The Gift of Self-Forgetfulness ~

“With privilege comes responsibility!”  It was a phrase repeated often as our children grew into young adulthood and left the family nest.  They are gone, tending to their own families, but the truism remains in our home (with a slight twist) . . . “With FREEDOM comes responsibility!”

Why the change?  Because as the years have passed, God has given me a heightened awareness and appreciation for the spiritual freedom won for us by Christ.  Such freedom is not a right . . . it is an amazing Gift:

“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

Passing on that Gift has become an important part of what I do in the Counseling Room, especially when the subject of self-esteem comes up: 

“Your self-esteem is not my concern–there will always be someone or something ready to tear it down.  My goal as your Counselor is to strengthen your esteem for God (your God-confidence) and to achieve His goal for you: a mature faith.” (James 1:2-4)

Living in a culture where the self-esteem philosophy is so prevalent, even the church has become weakened by its influence.  All too often, we blame low self-esteem that resulted from childhood deficiencies, a bad marriage or the influence of others rather than taking responsibility for our sin.

That is why I was delighted last week to discover a small jewel of a booklet titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY* by Dr. Timothy Keller.  I appreciated the clear and concise way Dr. Keller addresses the problem of the self-esteem philosophy and lays out the biblical framework for self-forgetfulness.

What I found most encouraging from a Counseling standpoint, is how Dr. Keller affirms our Christian responsibility to grow a mature faith by trusting God more and relying less on ourselves and others when it comes to the measurement of our self-worth.

In a world where low self-esteem is deemed the root of all evil, where elevated self-esteem is touted as the answer . . . what has become of JOY?  In a world where we have turned ever-inwardly and darkness appears to be winning, it would seem hopeless.  You might wonder what self-forgetfulness would even look like?  Dr. Keller answers our doubts as he introduces gospel-humility as the prescription for what truly ails us.  Gospel-humility is:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”

 He writes further,

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up . . . The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes.  It just works.  It does not draw attention to itself.  The toes just work; the ego just works.  Neither draws attention to itself. 

In short, self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility . . . embraces the Gift of our spiritual freedom to no longer worry ourselves about ourselves.  Gospel-humility loves with abandon; it is no longer run by hurt feelings or the fear of “not making the grade” of someone else’s expectations.  Got low self-esteem?  Praise Him and shoot for the moon as you live your lives in gratitude for such an amazing freedom!

Self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility?  Trust me when I say . . . it is our only hope!

All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013. (To get a copy PRESS HERE)

Simple Anticipation . . . Profound Peace

Anticipation: to look forward to as certain; pleasurable expectation; visualization of a future event or state 

Anticipation–there is a loveliness to this word as it rolls off the tongue that delights my heart . . . especially at Christmas!  For many, the anticipation of Celebrating God’s Gift of our Savior King is the highlight of the year as we remember:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”  
Luke 2:8-11

Remembering God’s faithful provision of our Savior Redeemer is reason enough for our hearts to overflow with joy-filled anticipation of the Season.  Yet, there is a darker side of anticipation that can steal our joy and our peace–the dark stain of DREAD.  As the pressures of shopping, finances being pushed to the limit and a myriad of activities and social obligations threaten to overwhelm us, we lose sight of the simple joy of remembering God’s Goodness and have no peace..  

Many complain that living in convoluted times has caused DREAD to darken the door of ANTICIPATION when it comes to Celebrating God’s Amazing Gift.  We blame culture for robbing us of the PEACE that is rightfully ours in Christ. 

I accepted such arguments in years past, and felt defeated and depressed. However, I have since decided that neither the times nor the culture have power to rob Christians of the Peace that is inherently ours in celebrating Christ’s Coming.  In fact, rather than shifting blame to outside influences, we need to take responsibility for the choices we make as we reel-in the stresses and strains that can lead us to dreading Christmas.

I write this to encourage you to take an honest look at where you are one week into the Christmas Season.  On a scale from one to ten, with joyful anticipation at number ten and dread at number one, where are you?

Before going any further, let me share something very simple yet surprisingly profound that helped me to adjust my number on the anticipation scale this past week.  The insight came as I prepared to lead the Advent wreath workshop at my church.  I felt privileged to have been asked to lead the workshop, but inwardly . . . I quaked for weeks as I anticipated (dare I admit . . . I dreaded?!) blundering my way through presenting something I felt ill-equipped to do!  I repeatedly asked myself, “Who am I to instruct a group of people who already know what they are doing?”  In fear, I did what I generally do . . . I started researching everything I could that related to “Advent wreaths” on the Internet!

Not having grown up observing the Advent tradition, I understood Advent to be part of a church service–more formal. What I learned in my research was that the Advent wreath was originally meant for use in Christian homes and was not used formally in Church services (in a broad sense) until the mid-twentieth century.   What a revelation!  With that insight, I realized that, instead of placing our Advent wreath in the more formal setting of our dining room table (where it has been largely forgotten and unused in past years), it would be far more fitting to put it on our kitchen table for daily use.  So . . . that is exactly what I did.

DSC00129

The result of making this simple change?  Amazing and unexpected.  This past week when my husband and I shared our main meal (which varies with his work schedule) we lit the first candle, prayed and read the Scripture to each other as we ate. (The paperback we are using [found stuffed in amongst some Christmas dishes and decorations] is one we used when our children were young.)  After doing this three days in a row I realized how much I looked forward to sharing time with God and my husband each day.    Reflecting on it now, I marvel at how the simple shift from a formal mindset to daily use increased my level of anticipation as the days lead up to Celebrating Christ’s Birth.  Along with the higher level of anticipation, the result has been a greater inward peace as the dissonance/noise of Christmas pressures are put (essentially) on the “back burner” each day.

In the past, I looked at Advent wreaths as “one more should” to be saddled with.  However, what I discovered is the benefit of setting aside the “noise” of the many demands that surround Christmas with the simple lighting of a candle (a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world) and savoring the Scripture over a meal–profound peace.  Wherever you are on the anticipation scale it is never too late to make adjustments to move away from dread toward joyful anticipation.  It may sound silly, but I am actually looking forward to lighting the additional candles!  Simple anticipation . . . profound peace . . . rejoicing in Him!

All to His Glory!

With Conviction There Is Hope ~

When she walked into my office I was surprised as she offered an almost shy smile.   She called a few days earlier asking about “anger management.”  I responded with a question, “Who is it for?”  She answered with a quivering voice, “It’s for me.  I have no friends because they’ve all distanced themselves from me.  I’m so lonely . . . I hurt people without thinking with my sarcasm . . . can you help me?”  Although I could not see her, I knew tears were falling . . . each one marking the pain of regret. Concerned yet aware of a knowing smile forming on my face, I remembered myself a lifetime ago with nowhere to turn . . . so angry . . . so afraid when I realized my anger had become a prison.  Life was hard but I soon found out that God is very, very good. . . .

During our first meeting, I introduced myself and talked about what I do as a Biblical Counselor.   I explained that I don’t “do” anger management but that I would help her get into the Scriptures to gain insight into God’s perspective on life and how He sees her.  I told her about how God helped me with my anger and that He could certainly help her too.  A light came into her eyes that I can only describe as a glimmer of hope as she responded, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

It was my turn to listen as she told me her story.  She talked about her family, about hurt inflicted upon her by others.  She admitted that being angry had been a way of life; only recently did she realize that it was becoming a prison.  I appreciated her candor as she spoke of losing the people she holds most dear as they have distanced themselves from her angry outbursts and cutting remarks.  She admitted being confused as to why God allowed bad things to happen to her while also feeling convicted about hurting people who had done nothing to her.

I spoke to encourage a dry and hungry soul, not with pat answers but with the assurance of God’s provision:

Conviction is a good thing; with conviction there is hope.

She looked at me with her face twisted oddly as she tried to make sense of what I had just said.  She finally asked, “How can conviction ever be good?”

I answered simply, “When it serves as evidence of God’s Holy Spirit working in your heart.  God convicts in order to bring us to our senses, to recognize our need for salvation because we know we deserve hell.  When we repent of our sin (no longer making excuses for it) and trust in Christ Jesus to save us, we are truly free to live our lives well before Him.”  A light seemed to dawn as she listened and considered what I had said; that glimmer of hope began to widen as we looked at the Scriptures together . . . .

In a world that avoids taking personal responsibility for anything that happens and shifts blame to others for our sinful ways, the idea of conviction being a blessing is absurd.  Yet, consider the parable Jesus told about the youngest of two sons recorded in John 15:11-20,

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“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 and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.”

When the rebellious son “came to his senses” he became convicted of his sinful behavior.  It was with that conviction that he realized his only hope was to return to the father he had dishonored and to confess his sins in the hope of being allowed to work for him as a hired hand.

Of course the parable has a much happier ending as Jesus pictures the father ready to receive and restore:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”  (vs. 20-24)

I still remember the day I realized I deserved hell.  I realized that before a Holy God there was nothing I could do but ask for the mercy I had refused to give to others because of my anger and resentment.  It was when I understood how filthy I truly was, that I came to appreciate the awful necessity and wonder of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

17th century Commentator Matthew Henry lends insight into the blessing of conviction under the Holy Spirit:

“Without clear discovery of our guilt and danger, we never shall understand the value of Christ’s salvation; but when brought to know ourselves aright, we begin to see the value of the Redeemer.”

Truly, with conviction there is hope when it is placed in the Lord Jesus Christ!

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who did receive Him, to those 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 1:11-13

Feeling convicted?  Go to God as the younger son returned home to his father.  You can know and trust that God is watching for you just as the father watched for the son he had lost.

All to His Glory!

Faith Assumes the Best of God ~

I put a sticky note on our computer screen weeks ago that says: “FAITH Assumes the Best of God!”   I put it there to help me remember my New Years Resolution to resist grumbling and/or blaming others.  So far, it has been very effective.  In fact, every time I read the note an inward warmth floods my mind and heart that is difficult to describe . . . a rich and meaty chicken soup for the soul perhaps?

A faith that pleases God  refuses to doubt His goodness when times get tough.  Such was the faith of Joseph, who trusted God to the point of blessing his brothers when they knew they deserved his wrath.  Genesis 50:19-21 gives credence to a rich and meaty faith that never doubted in God’s goodness despite the betrayal and heartache inflicted by his brothers.  Joseph said to them,

 “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

We tend to think of grace as a New Testament idea.  However, Joseph was a man who demonstrated the reward of a faith that assumed God’s goodness as grace superceded any thoughts of revenge.  I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of faith I want!

So where does that kind of faith come from?  We take an important first step toward such faith, when we assume the best of God by refusing to grumble and instead own up to our part of a problem.   When we grumble and doubt God’s goodness during the tough times, we lose the advantage of faith.  In fact, we play Satan’s game as demonstrated in the Garden of Eden when he sewed seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s character:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:1-5)

Satan would have us think the worst of God, doubting His goodness and going our own way. Instead, when hardship comes, it is our God-given faith that  propels us to run to Him for the help we need.   I love how the image of God in Isaiah 30:18 mirrors the actions and attitude of the father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  Here is the picture of God watching and waiting for us to turn back to Him in Isaiah 30:18,

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    He rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Now here is the picture Jesus painted in Luke 15, of a father whose son who left home to squander his inheritance.  Having lost everything the son “came to his senses” (verse 17) and decided to return home in humble repentance.  Now, consider how the image of God in Isaiah is reflected in verse 20B,

 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

How foolish we are to doubt God’s goodness in trials (whatever their source) rather than assuming the best of our faithful Creator!  Whatever you are facing in your life right now, go to Him in faith.  If you have been managing your life in your own strength or have sinned, repent NOW and give thanks for His love and mercy.  He is so very worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

When Life Seems Complicated ~

Whether I hear it in casual conversation or in the Counseling Room, my spiritual antenna rise when I hear anyone say, “It’s complicated.”  The reason is because of a simple principle I learned early in my walk with Jesus:

When life seems complicated sin is often there.  Sin tends to complicate, but God always clarifies!

When we sin and we make excuses for our sin (placing blame on someone or something else); or when we are overwhelmed by the sin of others, we loose our spiritual objectivity.  However, when we prayerfully ask God for the clarity we are lacking, the insight may not come immediately but He always delivers according to His perfect will.  Here’s a personal example:

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was living on the east coast of the US.  It was a beautiful day full of promise until the unthinkable happened; four planes carrying innocent men, women and children were crashed in order to snuff out the lives of even more innocent people.  Everything stopped that day, as airplanes across the country were grounded and people were riveted to watching their television screens as the magnitude of what had happened unfolded.

I remember praying throughout that day, begging God for help in processing all I saw.  As Christians, how are we to respond when overcome by such evil?  I struggled the entire day as I tried to make sense of the chaos; it all seemed so complicated . . . .  Late that night I finally turned off the television; it seemed as if all light and hope had been snuffed out as I headed upstairs to my bed.  It wasn’t until I pulled back the covers to get into bed that God’s answer penetrated my mind and heart: “‘Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.’ God is good.”   I was stunned as God’s answer penetrated my heart.  “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good”  is a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:9b).  The reminder that “God is good” flooded my heart and mind with hope that night, as I trusted that no matter how darkly complicated life seemed, God’s goodness would prevail.

That is why when life appears to be complicated by extenuating factors, I run to my Bible for the perspective I need.  How about you?  No matter how complicated your life is, the principle is the same:  Where sin complicates, God clarifies.  Are you unsure about where to begin?  Pray . . . ask God for clarity into what seems complicated.  Then, open up your Bible to Romans 12 as a starting point.  As you read, ask God for a teachable heart and a willingness to surrender those complications to Him.  Expect good things to happen as God grants you clarity in order to free you to serve Him better.  If you don’t find your answer there in Romans, continue to pray and entrust yourself to God as the Shepherd of your heart.  Let me know what happens!

All to His Glory!

Finishing Well: It’s a God-Thing

You may wonder why, at the advent of a new year, I would write my first post about finishing well.  My answer is simple: It’s a God-thing.  God cares about the choices we make and wants us to finish our lives well before Him.  I love the beauty of Psalm 147:10, 11 as it describes the way God looks at His people:

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor His delight in the legs of a man;
 the Lord delights in those who fear Him,
    who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Put simply, God delights in those who trust more in His Sovereign Goodness than in themselves or others.  That, my friend, is finishing well.

In the last several months of 2012 I became increasingly convicted that I needed to be more intentional in making God-pleasing decisions as I resisted “going with the flow” of our culture.  As I have prayed about entering 2013, I am a little scared (yet also excited) about a radical change that the Apostle Paul has inspired me to make.  Here is what Paul wrote from a Roman prison cell to encourage friends who faced challenges similar to what you and I face today:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.  Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not labor for nothing.”  (Philippians 2:12-16)

Paul urged his friends to continue to live their lives well, in obedient faith, trusting and honoring the God who had saved them out of crooked depravity.  How was this to be accomplished?  Right smack dab in the middle of the text is our key to finishing well before a holy, loving God:  “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God.”  It struck me (like a royal kick-in-the-head!) that God hates grumblers and He hates when we make excuses for our sins . . . yet I do both!     It’s a bad habit that began that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed God for his sin (see Genesis 3.)   The wonderous thing is that through Jesus, as children of God Most High, we can (and must!) resist grumbling and blame-shifting.  In the process, Paul declares that the world will see us as distinctively different, shining “like stars in the universe” as we hold out the Word of Life to the world around us.

 How about you?  Have you thought about making changes in your life bent toward finishing well before God as we enter 2013?  Is the idea of “shining like starts in the universe” at all appealing to you?  Are you crazy enough to join me?  (I pray that you will!)  Happy New Year one and all!

All to His Glory!