Christmas: A Reflection of His Light . . . .

For weeks I have struggled with thoughts about what to write to you as Christmas approaches.  I have to admit that with so much ugliness happening around the world, Christmas can be a nice diversion.

But when we look to Christmas as a diversion rather than for instruction,
we lose sight of the blessing God intends for it to be.

In the end what grabbed my heart to write about, were the instructions Jesus gave His disciples before sending them out to a world that was no friendlier then than it is today:

"Freely you have received, freely give." Matthew 10
“Freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8b

“The Kingdom of Heaven is near . . .
Freely you have received, freely give.”
Matthew 10:7 & 8b

Jesus’s words serve both as a warning–that God’s Kingdom (the only kingdom that ultimately matters) is only a heartbeat away–and, as a reminder of how our lives are enriched as we follow Him.  As I reflect on Jesus’s instruction I am touched by His simple directness:

“The Kingdom of Heaven . . .

freely . . .

give!”  

For those who claim Christ, Christmas is not a seasonal event, wherein generosity and caring are in vogue for a set amount of days.  No.  For those who claim His name, Christmas should be:

  1. A lifestyle–that reflects our awareness that Christ’s return is closer than ever before.
  2. A daily reflection of Christ’s Presence in our lives–as we set our sights on loving Him and our neighbor as He requires.
  3. Extravagantly given to those He puts on our paths–as we honor the Gift as well as the Giver who changed our lives for all eternity.

As I reflect on the times we live in, I am encouraged in knowing that living in such times, is meant to draw us ever closer to Christ.  When you think about giving gifts this year, don’t limit your thinking to mere tangibles.  Think instead about the treasure you have received in Christ Jesus, and give it away freely to a world in desperate need of His Light:

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

All to His Glory!

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ” . . . the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

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

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

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

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

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

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 
II Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part Two

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Sorting Out Facts From Feelings

The first time I saw tears in my dad’s eyes I was seventeen.  I am not sure why Dad decided to teach me to drive “stick shift” that morning, but we were about seven miles into my “lesson”–grinding the gears of our old Volkswagen van and stalling at every intersection–when I made a left turn in front of an oncoming car!    Thankfully, the driver of the other car managed to avoid us, but as soon as I could I steered the van to the side of the road where the engine ground to a stop.  It was then, when I looked at my dad, that I saw his tears.  Not a word was said as we each got out of the van, exchanged places and Dad re-started the engine to drive us the rest of the way to work.  Years later, I learned to drive “stick shift” without grinding the gears or stalling, but it took a while before I was even willing to try again!

There are times in our Christian walk when we can grind to a halt spiritually and find ourselves stuck for a variety of reasons.  I learned early in my walk with Christ that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth we would never otherwise have gained.  Remembering this in no way negates our suffering, but it does keep the light of hope shining during those dark days.

People who are spiritually stuck often have:

  • Experienced deep hurt inflicted by someone else and the problem never resolved
  • Become discouraged by the direction their lives have taken and lost sight of hope
  • Witnessed someone else suffer unjustly and their abuser appears to go unpunished,
Humanly speaking, becoming spiritually stuck is understandable.  
However, the danger of  remaining in such a state is that the more we fixate on the problem, 
the more distant God appears to us and the more we doubt His goodness. 
When we perceive ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victory that is ours in Christ. 

So is there a way to get unstuck?  Yes.  But it often requires the same concentration and finis as it takes to learn to drive a “stick shift” vehicle.  To learn to shift those gears takes practice and determination not to give up. It calls for accepting that mistakes will be made along the way, but chooses to learn from those mistakes rather than giving way to defeat.  In my last post, I wrote about switching gears by putting off old ways of responding and putting on new attitudes and actions that reflect Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I wrote about switching spiritual gears by replacing our  “self-talk” with “God-talk” (prayer).

In this post I will write about another aspect of switching spiritual gears:

Learning to stand on the facts of what Scripture teaches, rather than allowing feelings to run us and weaken our faith.

Fact number one: This is not heaven!!!  Jesus said in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

All too often we crumble when bad things happen or our efforts are thwarted. We forget that life on planet earth is temporary, that eternity is yet to come.  Rather than giving way to discouragement when hurt or believing God has abandoned us, it is at such times we are given the opportunity to switch gears by going back to the basics of Scripture:

“Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for,
it means being certain of things we cannot see.”  
Hebrews 11:1

Faith is not static or dormant.  Faith, according to its biblical definition, is practiced and lived out on a daily basis.   Over time, as faith is practiced it is strengthened and tempered to reflect the beauty of Christ’s presence in the heart and mind of the believer.  Faith trusts increasingly in God’s character for our future and is the basis for enduring hope.

Feelings are not static or dormant either.  However, there is a problem with feelings because they can tend to run counter to biblical faith.  Instead of being God-focused, feelings are run by our emotions and tend to be self-absorbed.

Facts stand alone for all time and are not subject to “interpretation.”  The Scriptures are the major resource Christians have to identify the facts that faith is build upon.  It is as we rely on the truth/facts given us through the Bible, that our faith is verified and strengthened.

Faith lived out greases the gears of a healthy, vibrant relationship with Christ in good times and in difficulty. That is why I encourage Clients to begin to move forward spiritually by encouraging them to do their daily praises and acquainting them with the character of God in Scripture.  God’s purposes are accomplished in us when we rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us.  II Timothy 3:16,17 says it best,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 Whatever you may be struggling with the one thing you can be confident in, is God’s call to shift your spiritual gears in Isaiah 30:15,

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

 Repentance . . . rest . . . quietness . . . trust . . . an opportunity for personal growth and a relationship that is out of this world–so what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

Defeated by Chance?

Recently I experienced what can only be described as a “burning bush” moment– like when God first spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.  What led up to my “burning bush” experience?  Last weekend my husband Marshall and I were away camping.   Marshall is a wonderful man who has the heart of an inventor–he loves to tinker!  He is thoughtful, generous and rarely gets angry at people but when “things” frustrate him . . . look out!  As we were setting up our campsite, Marshall got frustrated and then angry as he was trying to fix something–I honestly do not recall what.  Talking about the incident later, he said that when he gets frustrated, anger builds and is almost always rooted in the thought that he is “being DEFEATED by CHANCE.”  I realized that he had expressed this before but, I had never taken it to heart.  I thought about the times when I have been upset, slamming doors to emphasize my frustration.  Thankfully those instances are rare but still . . . I’m embarrassed to have to admit it at all.  I wondered:

Is the thought of our lives being thrown into disarray and defeated by “chance” at the root of much of our frustration and feeling victimized?

More to the point, the question my heart asked:

 Can Christians be defeated by “chance”?

The next morning, with these questions still on my mind, I thought about how often the Bible talks about the mysterious ways of God.  I thought about how the wisdom and perspective of Psalm 139 was instrumental in helping me appreciate God as Sovereign and Good.  Verse 16 in particular has been a special encouragement to me in my walk with Christ:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book before one of them came to be.”

For many years, when I had to fly (the majority of my family lives 3,000 miles away from where I live) I would board a plane always feeling inwardly defeated by fear.   Verse 16 challenged me to surrender my fear as I embraced the assurance that there was nothing that could happen to me apart from God’s divine will.  The next time I got on an airplane, I thanked God that He was with me and that He was in control.  Since that time I have actually come to a place where I enjoy flying–sort of.  Verse 16 settled the question of my vulnerability to “chance,” as my faith in Christ overtook the fear that had plagued me for so long.

As I continued to ponder the mystery of God’s will, I checked my concordance.  I was dumbfounded when I noticed that myth was listed immediately after mystery–enter the “burning bush” moment!  Intrigued by this, I looked up one of the references to myth in I Timothy 4 and was hit hard as I read:

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourselves to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  (I Timothy 4:7 & 8)

I felt like I had stepped onto holy ground at the realization that “chance” fits into the category of “godless myths.”  There is no place in God’s world for “chance” (or coincidence for that matter!)  To yield to the idea of “chance” is to lose sight of God and to believe a lie.  With the lie exposed I wondered, “Where do I go from here?”   Bad things happen that we can’t make sense of; life often is not fair.   It was then that I remembered the wisdom of James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and 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.”  (1: 2-4)

James assures followers of Christ that God allows trials and suffering to draw us closer to Him.  He is saying that the testing (tempering) of our faith gives opportunity for our  being strengthened into maturity, confident in His loving purpose being worked out in our lives.

So how does this answer our question?  Can Christians be defeated by “chance?”  Not if we keep our focus on what pleases and honors God.  There is no such thing as random chance in God’s Creation, but we certainly are vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the ugliness of sin (our own and the sin of others) when we doubt God’s goodness.   Feeling overwhelmed by life?  Turn to Christ with eyes of faith and give thanks that “today” has not come as a surprise to Him.  Thank Him for His promise that,

“In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Then walk in the confidence that our present and our future are secure in Him.

All to His Glory!

Running Scared~

I do not come from a family of runners.  In fact, in my extended family if anyone said they were “going to run to the store,” it was understood that they were driving the car to get there!  That is why when my oldest decided to take up running I was incredulous.  “Running . . . really?!!!”  It has been several years and she is still at it.  In fact, we are vacationing together and this morning when I found my way upstairs for some coffee Kara came in from running “just under five miles . . . .”  Am I proud of her (and ever so slightly jealous?)  You bet!

While I do not come from a family of runners, I do know about another kind of running:  Running Scared.  How about you?  There are times in life when most of us have been run by fear or doubt.  But how we handle fear is what makes Christians distinctive in facing the dangers of a fallen world.  The Scriptures counsel that the only healthy fear in life is “the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 9:10)  Otherwise, while the Bible recognizes that we live in a scary world, God’s own are admonished throughout the Old and the New Testaments to not give way to fear.   So how are we to react when we’re facing trials or are suddenly overwhelmed by fear?

  1. Recognize there is a problem.  Life is full of all sorts of problems, large and small.  The problem with running scared is that it is so one-sided.  When we run scared, we’re mostly running from what frightens us, but  rarely do we have a place we are running to.
  2. Remember that you are not alone.  Jesus urges, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Pray . . . thank Him that you are not alone and that He loves you.
  3. Run to the One who cares about you and will help you with your problem. Whatever you may be facing it is no surprise to God.  He encourages us as He tends to our hearts saying, “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 11:29)
  4. Resolve to handle the problem with His wisdom and encouragement.  

It was in a trying situation, when I wanted to run scared, that I discovered the wisdom and encouragement of Isaiah 30:15-18.  At the time, I felt like I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; when her Auntie Em’s house was ripped from its foundation and was flying through the air.  Like Dorothy, everything that flew around me took on a bizarre twist until the house finally landed with an almost imperceptible “thunk.” Verse 15 served as the “thunk” that set my mind and heart straight:  

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .”

There it is, God’s prescription for just about every problem we face.  Our response to such wisdom?  Sadly, a total mess-up:

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

There I was, feeling totally alone . . . convicted about my foolish desire to run.   As I reflected on God’s call to  “repentance and rest . . . quietness and trust . . . salvation . . . strength . . .” I felt my soul being tended to like nothing else could.  A quietness of mind and heart settled over me as I took my focus off myself and was honest with God.  “Yes Lord, my sin is great but You are greater still.  Help me to trust and honor you rather than run away.”

It is in that place of loneliness that we recognize the pit of despair where no one wants to live. It is a place fraught with anxiety and without hope.  Even so, it is a place where redemption is near for all who cry out to God for the help they need.  He waits ready and willing:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!  (v. 18)

Tired of running?  Not sure where to go from here?  Take it from someone who has faced fear at many levels and can say with complete confidence . . . He is worthy of your trust!  So, what are you waiting for?!!

All to His Glory!