On Giving Thanks In All Things . . . .

God has proved Himself faithful through the ages and continues to speak to those who seek Him.  That is why, I encourage every Client I serve to get into the Scriptures for themselves through Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  One of my favorite passages we visit is recorded in Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God offers hope to a generation that had forgotten Him:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13

In these weeks and months, as our family has journeyed the cancer trail with our son Luke and then our beautiful Shannon, the challenges have been many.  Certainly, fear has been a constant threat–the thought of losing either (or both) of them have weighed heavily on our hearts.  Yet our faith has been strengthened as we have watched them persevere in trusting God at every juncture.  Since Shannon’s surgery, nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago, we have watched as Luke has gained strength daily but not knowing what was in store for Shannon.

As we have waited for the results of Shannon’s tests, I have thought about the faith of three men who lived long ago, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.   When ordered to bow down to an image of gold or perish in a fiery furnace, they refused to obey the king.  Their response to the kings order, before being thrown into the fiery furnace, bore testimony to a faith in God that saw beyond this world:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  
Daniel 3:16-18

Shannon and Luke--in all things giving thanks!
Shannon and Luke–Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Yesterday we rejoiced at the wonderful news from Shannon’s pathology report.  Her cancer has been determined to be at “stage one”, so she will remain under observation, but will not have to receive further treatment.  You can bet that many tears of relief fell as the dread of further treatment was lifted from our shoulders!  We are certainly grateful for God’s gracious answer to all of our prayers and yet . . . I pray that we never lose sight of His continued faithfulness to us throughout this trial.

This season of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) has drawn us closer together as a family and to the Shepherd of our hearts.  Many have entered in to bless us with countless prayers, acts of sacrifice and kindness that humbled us all.  Reflecting on all of this, Shannon asked this question a few weeks ago: “If all of this hadn’t happened, what would we be doing?”  The answer chilled us–we would probably be busy and worried about things that really have little significance in the greater scheme of things.

As we move into the New Year, my prayer is that we never lose sight of the lessons learned through this trial.  Certainly, cancer is ugly, horrible stuff.  Yet, in the midst of such ugliness, we have learned to count our many blessings as God has proven Himself to be faithful.  I extend my prayer for those of you who read this.  No matter what you are facing, give thanks to God for the opportunity to deepen your faith; with every breath He grants you, give thanks for His glorious grace!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

All to His Glory!

“Love…Electricity…Maybe Some Magic Too.”

Eliana and her grammie.
Eliana and her grammie.

“What is the world made of?”  I am not sure who asked the question, but I can absolutely picture the thoughtful look on my granddaughter Eliana’s face as her answer floated through the air: one . . . ingredient . . . at a time,

“Love…
Electricity…
Maybe some magic too.” 

Some people might say that Ellie’s five-year-old view of the world is sweet but naïve–given the ugliness of daily world events.  However, Ellie is most certainly aware of sin in the world–she has three older brothers to contend with each day and, just this week, was quite relieved to hear that her mommy was not going to be taken to fight in Ukraine.  (Not that she does not care about the people in Ukraine (she does) but, for right now, Ellie knows she still needs her mommy to take care of her.)

Actually, Ellie’s answer is full of wisdom and closer to the truth about the world and how it is made than many may think.  With regard to love, Scripture tells us:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .”  (John 3:16)

Electricity?

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you:
      God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”  (I John 1:5)

And magic?  Look around, beyond the ugliness sinful man creates, to the backdrop that enfolds us:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

What I like about Ellie’s response is that it is so full of HOPE!  I confess that there are times when I give way to despair when I hear about the rotten things people do.  Were it not for the love . . electricity. . . and magical reality of God’s Sovereign Goodness, this world would be a much darker place. 

This morning I was thinking about Easter approaching and playing around with Ellie’s list of ingredients in my head.  I thought about God’s mysterious will being worked out through the sacrifice of His only Son; how love came down to seek and save the lost.  (Luke 19:10)  I thought about Ellie’s formula, interjecting mystery alongside of the magic, and realized that Christ’s coming as the fulfillment of His Father’s will, was the ultimate magical mystery tour of all time!  It was then that I was struck by how love, electricity and the magical mysterious will of God have continued to dramatically move in the hearts of men, women and children throughout history.   My mind started to race as I thought about Hebrews 12:1-3–where the Cross of Christ stands as the dramatic fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation for all who would trust in His Son.

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame,
  and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 
Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

 “Love . . . electricity . . . maybe some magic too”?  Yep, Ellie Honey, throw some mystery into the equation and that about sums it up!  Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!

To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“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 . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

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

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 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.

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . 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.” 
Matthew 4:16
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted 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.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”