“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!

Beware the Thorns of Bitterness ~

 “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.  ~Voltaire~

I enjoy working in our garden as the seasons change and delight in seeing the deep red of cardinals contrast against the glistening white of a first snow.  There have been times, when I have been lost in thought while clearing a spot for something new to be planted, that I have been surprised to hear the hungry ‘peep, peep, peep’ of newly hatched chicks coming from a nest that I did not know was even there!  In recent years, we have had several families of robins raised in amongst the thorns of a climbing rose that grows against the back of our garage.  The amazing thing is that the thorns on that climbing rose are absolutely wicked! Even when I wear my leather gardening gloves to cut some of its crimson blooms, I still often suffer a painful jab or stinging prick despite my precautions.  For a long time l wondered at the placement of the nest among those nasty thorns, but have realized that while nests in other parts of our garden have been raided by bigger birds, the robin’s nest remains unscathed.  It would appear, that those wicked thorns actually have shielded several generations of robins in our garden from outside predators! .

Yet, where the rose thorns serve to protect our robin fledglings, when people give reign to the prickly thorns of bitterness in the “garden” of their lives for self-protection, the opposite is true.  Instead of protection, such self-reliance often ends up becoming a prison of isolation as depression and loss of hope darken the senses.  The chilling result of depending on any resource other than God for protection is well expressed in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6,

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.”

Having battled depression several times in my life, I have experienced the awfulness of that lonely wasteland.   I know what it is to be blind to any provision of kindness from God as I have been overwhelmed by bitter despair.  I also know the blessing of His forgiveness as I have confessed my foolish sin and sought His help in dealing with my problems.  Indeed, I have learned to heed the warning to guard our hearts from serving idols given in I John 5:21 (The New Living Translation):

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

Idols can take a variety of forms, many of them appearing quite reasonable.   When we serve idols such as self-justification, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts.  Ultimately they lead us to doubt God’s goodness, when it is we who have abandoned Him!  I ache for Clients who come in with wounds that have never healed because bitterness had held sway far too long.  The truth is that the thorns of bitterness are at the root of much of depression.  Bitterness deepens scars rather than bringing about healing.

So is there a remedy?  Yes . . . and no.  It all depends on who we choose to trust–Ourselves or God?  If you are looking to go deeper in your faith and desire to be healed of the bitterness that has been a damaging influence in the “garden” of your life for all too long:

  1. Go to God in humility and faith; confess your sin of handling past hurts and disappointments in your strength instead of HIS.
  2. Ask Him to touch your mind and heart to begin the healing process that has been put off far too long.
  3. Give thanks daily for His forgiveness and His faithfulness as you move forward in obedience and faith.
  4. Enjoy His Presence and Peace daily as you stay close to Him through prayer and reading the Scripture.*

Consider these Scriptures for the help you to move forward:

 “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.”  (Matthew 5:43-45a)

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  Hebrews 12:15

And finally, Roman’s 12:17-21 assures us that when we forgive God’s justice will none-the-less prevail against those who remain unrepentant:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Be encouraged and enjoy the light of His love . . . .

All to His Glory!

*The Journey Notes Praise Journaling process was designed to help Clients get back on the right path–check it out!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

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.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

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!

De-Schlucking Christmas: Focus on HOPE!

De-Schlucking Christmas?”  No, I have not been learning German; I have a hard enough time keeping my English straight!  Actually, I was inspired to write this post after watching a television special featuring a behind-the-scenes look at decorating the White House for Christmas.  To be honest, I was disappointed.   There were a dizzying amount of lights and decorations everywhere and the trees were so full of ornaments you could hardly see the actual trees.   The emphasis was strongly on  “family” and “patriotism”“We are grateful for the sacrifices of our military and their families.”  (Don’t get me wrong, we are a retired military family, well aware of the sacrifices such serving entails.)  I must say, there was a nice personal touch on the trees: an abundance of stars decorated by children from across America.   But the stars had more to do with the Stars and Stripes than remembering the Star of Bethlehem.  I realized after the program, that there was no mention of a Babe in a Manger nor the Solitary Star that men of high and low position have been drawn to for over two thousand years.  Instead, as the cameras went from room to room and tree to tree, it was all so heavily decorated that it all began to look like what I refer to as “schluck”– a bunch of clutter that has no real meaning.  Concluding the program there was no, “Merry Christmas.”  Instead, there was something lame like, “Have a great holiday.”  

Totally missing was the HOPE in the eternal wonder and majesty of Christ that IS Christmas!    

In an odd way,  I am grateful to have seen the program because it helped me appreciate why so many people struggle with depression and anxiety at Christmas.  Living in a fallen world with real problems and imperfect families, where the pain of death hits hard and the pressures of financial woes are abundant, a schlucky, Christ-less Christmas offers no real substance.  Where there is no substance, there is no hope.

With that conviction I decided to “de-schluck” my approach to Christmas, removing the extraneous clutter that get in the way of remembering the HOPE  that is in nothing less than Jesus Christ.   But where to begin?  This is what I did:

  1. I prayed for direction:  Asking the Lord of Christmas for help–praying for wisdom in the process of de-schlucking-helped keep me on the right track.
  2. I reflected on the direction I received:  After praying I realized that to “de-schluck” Christmas had to begin not in getting rid of things (my first thought), but in taking stock of what is going on in my mind and heart.  Colossians 3:1-3 set my course: Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”  
  3. I began to act on that direction:  I committed to focusing on the HOPE that is mine in Christ Jesus as I became more intentional in making choices that reflect that HOPE.   I made Christ Jesus my priority as I attended Church, served in my community, decorated our home and invited family and friends in to celebrate His Goodness.  To help guard against distractions, reading the Scriptures daily became key.  (There are books and booklets on Advent that are generally available; some helps online are available for free.)
  4. I decided to extend the Christmas Season to January 6– Epiphany.  This is totally a God-inspired thing.  Humanly, my thinking is “keep it short and sweet and be done with it!”  But as I have prayed (and remembering past years when I have done this) I know there are benefits to “de-pressurizing” Christmas from being an event, to instead take advantage of the down-time after Christmas Day as a Season to be enjoyed.
  5. I continue to give thanks to God (the Center of Christmas) for His Perfect Plan . . . for HOPE that is not tied to this imperfect world but to the love and mercy of His Son, the Light of the world.

Since then, I have found that being more intentional in remembering Jesus as my HOPE, I do not feel as stressed about Christmas.   A phrase that has been helpful in the process is, “Less is more.”  We do not need a lot of “schluck” to make our lives (or Christmas) what God intends, we need the HOPE that is only to be found in His Son, our Lord Jesus.  I have found Hebrews 6:19 to be a special encouragement as we navigate through this Season that is all about HOPE in Him:

“We have this HOPE (Christ Jesus) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

No matter what you may be facing in your life at this moment, hold fast to the love and mercy of Jesus as your anchor of HOPE eternal.

When I told my husband about “de-schlucking” Christmas he asked, “So does that mean “Rudolph the Reindeer” is dead?”  My answer may surprise you, but I’ll save it for my next post:  “De-Schlucking” Christmas: Focus on JOY!

All to His Glory!

Calm After a Storm?

I grew up hearing the phrase “calm before the storm” but never thought much about it.  This past week, as we watched the weather reports of an encroaching storm, there was NO “calm before the storm!”  Fear of the unknown was really more what ruled my heart, with a dash of wondering, “Will we get through this one okay?”  With every waking moment trying to prepare, it was a very intense week.  Then there was all the waiting . . . hour upon hour . . . as the storm neared, stayed around far longer than we were used to and f-i-n-a-l-l-y passed.

Our area was largely spared the loss and suffering experienced by so many living just north of us.  It has been hard to even know how to pray for those neighbors who have been stripped of family members or everything they worked many times a lifetime to attain.  After watching hour after hour of news reports I wondered, “Where is fairness in all of this chaotic mess?”  

Still battling this confusion, yesterday afternoon my husband and I drove down to a local beach to check on a friend and to survey some of the damage.  As we traveled, I was comforted by the bright light shining through a sky still full of banks of gray clouds that swirled over the passing countryside . . . I was struck by an unmistakable quietness of mind and heart.   The feeling was somehow familiar. . . CALM AFTER A STORM?  Yes!

There it was . . . that calm I have experienced during a multitude of life storms, when hanging on was all I could do.

There it was . . . breaking through solitary moments, a quietness of mind and heart that in past days had faithfully calmed my mind and heart, even as those seemingly devastating  storms stripped away all that I tried to hold onto.

There He was . . . finally revealed as all was stripped away.   My faithful God forever offering His strength . . . His peace . . . His amazing grace!

As His calmness tended to my confusion and heartache for so many impacted by this dreadful storm,

There it was . . . a calm full of HOPE!  

This morning, still pondering the blessing of yesterday, the words of an old hymn flooded my soul afresh with a balm of calmness to face this new day.  I offer the words of Katharina von Schlegel, that have encouraged many through a multitude of storms.  I especially offer it to those of you who are facing or are persevering through storms of many kinds, praying that His calm will prevail over your minds and hearts no matter what:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shall you better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Katharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855
Tune: FINLANDIA, Jean Sibelius, 1899

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I Thessalonians 5:23

 All to His Glory!