When Sin Replaced Love . . . .

When you think about relationships and the memories that go with them, what comes to your mind?  Being a “glass-half-full” kind of gal (and slightly corny), when I think about relationships and the memories that go with them, I initially think along the lines of Barbra Streisand singing, “The Way We Were”: 

“Memories
Like the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were . . . .”

I enjoy remembering childhood summers at Pismo Beach with family and how my dashingly handsome husband watched and waited as my dad guided me down the church aisle 47 years ago. I still cherish the delight that filled my heart the first time I spoke of, “my daughter”, as I walked down the hallway to the hospital nursery to retrieve her.

But if we are honest, life is not full of “misty watercolor memories” because relationships are frequently painful, confusing and confounding.  At times we are tempted to isolate ourselves from God and other people to avoid that pain.  The problem is that when we do, other pains emerge–loneliness and depression.

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is how it provides glimpses into the dramatic shift that took place in our relationship with God and with others when sin replaced love in the Garden:

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden.
So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.
Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.
I was afraid because I was naked.’
‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked.”
Genesis 3: 8-11
New Living Translation

God made us first and foremost for a relationship with Him.

Casually fellowshipping with God, without the turmoil sin creates is difficult to imagine.  But deep down, I believe it is what we long for. From the very beginning God created us for loving relationships. When sin entered the Garden and became the “new normal”, love was lost along with the deep fellowship enjoyed in the Garden.  Jesus affirmed this when He responded to a question about what He considered to be the greatest of God’s commandments:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind’. . . .

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39

  • God made us, first and foremost, for a relationship with Him.
  • Secondarily, He made us for relationships with one another.

Where sin creates chaos and disunion, the basis for meaningful relationships (love) has never changed:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us
and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

I John 4:10

In fact, truly meaningful relationships are rarely formed in a vacuum of pleasantries and ideals. The truth is that the challenges of pain and disappointment in our relationships, when addressed with God’s love and the wisdom of Scripture, provide greater opportunities for spiritual growth than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.    

The wisdom and perspective offered in Romans 12 directs us to keep our priorities straight as we relate to others, even when disappointment threatens:

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” 
(Verses 
10-12)

As we dedicate ourselves to being “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” we discover the sweeter path to His Hope and Light penetrating even the bitterest of relationships.

But what are we to do with those memories that seem to stalk us, like shadows that grow larger over a distance?  The words of the Apostle Paul, written while in a stinking Roman prison cell, lends the sweetness of wisdom that has transformed even the most heinous of memories for two thousand years:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8

Feeling defeated by sin and yearning for love?  Are you stuck in a prison cell of unforgiveness?  Perhaps you have been hurt and feel forgotten?  Are you frustrated with life and your relationships?  Perhaps you are so filled with regrets that you can see no way of making things right?  Then follow the wisdom of Scripture and the law of loving sacrificially by trusting and honoring God in the NOW.  Repent of the selfish turmoil that has overtaken you and give thanks to God for His love and mercy extended through the sacrifice of His only Son.  As you do, I guarantee that He can and will clean out the sludge of your bitterest memory as you determine to trust and walk in sweet fellowship with Him..

All to His Glory!

Christmas Peace . . . .

It started this past fall.  Friends had told me about a struggling young woman who occasionally showed up at our church.  Professing faith in Christ yet full of doubt, anger and self-recrimination, I began to pray . . . .

When I finally did meet Sonia (not her real name) I appreciated her honesty in expressing her struggles and was slightly intimidated by the intensity of her passion. Most of all, I was impressed by Sonia’s goal for counseling:

To be healthy, happy, whole
and God-minded,

 even as she lamented, PEACE is what I want–and do not have.”  

Seeing that she had left a question blank on the Intake Form all Clients fill out before our first meeting, “Do you have a favorite saying?”, I recommended a favorite I use when I’m struggling,

“THANK YOU, GOD, THAT YOU LOVE ME.”

With every Session that followed, Sonia unfolded her story of heartache, disappointment and resentment.  Week after week we dove into the Scriptures:

  • To see God as a merciful Shepherd in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • To gain wisdom and perspective into how God uses the hard things in life to draw us closer to Himself.
  • To talk about how pride and resentment separate us from God, and how humility before God brings us peace.

As we searched, Sonia appeared appreciative of what the Scriptures said, but invariably every Session ended with this roadblock:

“Why would God allow me to suffer the pain of hurt and rejection,
if He is truly a loving God?”

Sometimes reframing a question can be the biggest help to moving toward a solution.  In Sonia’s case, we began to look at why she blamed God for her suffering, when it was people who had sinned against her.  We turned to Genesis to consider the first instances of blameshifting:

“And God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?
Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’
The man said
, ‘The woman YOU put here with me—
SHE gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’*
Genesis 3:11,12

We then talked about how, as Christians, we are to break old sinful patterns by going to God in confession and in faith.  We turned to the New Testament for direction and Sonia began to read:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,
set your hearts on things above, where Christ is . . . .
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:
sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed . . . .
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things
as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language . . . .
Colossians 3: 1, 5-7

We talked about the beauty of humility before God and the ugliness of pride.  We considered the example given to us by Jesus, as in humility He bore our sins rather than shifting what was due us from Himself:

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross,
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
‘by His wounds you have been healed.'”

I Peter 2:24

Sonia continued to read, more softly in tone as we drank in each word:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another  . . .
forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12, 13b-14

I told Sonia that every time I heard that passage read, the deep rumble of closet doors being opened sounded in my head and I imagined beautiful robes of “compassion, kindness, humility’, gentleness, patience and love” waiting to be taken out and worn–to cleanse our hearts and make us whole.

As Sonia read the concluding piece of the Colossians passage it was as if the words had come alive,

“Let the PEACE OF CHRIST rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to PEACE.
And BE THANKFUL.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
GIVING THANKS to God the Father through Him.”

(Verses 15-17)

As the room was engulfed by quiet, I wondered if the Scriptures had ministered to Sonia’s heart as they had to my own.  There was nothing left to be said so I asked her to close us in prayer.  I remember little of Sonia’s prayer except for these heartfelt words:

THANK YOU GOD THAT YOU LOVE ME.
THANK YOU FOR SENDING YOUR SON
TO SAVE ME FROM MYSELF . . .
FOR YOURSELF.”

No matter where you’ve been in your life, God has a plan of blessing for all who come to Him through Christ in humble faith.  As I have chosen this path of humility in the most difficult of times–as well as in seasons of ease–He has proved Himself to be faithful.

May His Peace be your greatest gift this Christmas as you pray,
“Thank You God that you love me . .  .
help me to love others as You have loved me .”

All to His Glory!

*Emphasis mine.

 

 

Principle #4: The Bible Is Not A Cookbook . . . .

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to help others–myself included–is to use the Bible as if it were a cookbook. You know . . . having a handy list of Bible verses to fix problems such as fear, anger, depression, anxiety, and the loss of a loved one with a Bible verse or two.  Oh, there are times when hearing the right verse at the right time, can do wonders to give Light and even Hope to someone in trouble.  But to use the Bible to fix problems, rather than to minister to the heart is JUST PLAIN WRONG!

Principle #4:

Rejoice Always!

The Bible is not a cookbook meant to fix problems,
but is God’s means of extending Endurance and Encouragement
and Hope to the hurting,
as well equipping us to do good works. 

I confess that when I began counseling I looked for verses that hit problems head-on with answers that would get my Clients up and going.  Over time, however, I realized that using the Scripture as if it were a bandaid, rarely penetrated the remaining infection lurking deep inside.

As I prayed for wisdom, I discovered blessing through the example of the Apostle Paul:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11b-13

It was Paul’s testimony of living a life full of heartache and disappointment (as well as blessing), that changed my approach to helping others.  Instead of looking to the Scriptures for answers, I looked for the light of God’s perspective that ultimately yielded an unflagging faith.  Romans 15:4 speaks well to how God intends the Scriptures to be used:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,
so that through the Endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the Encouragement they provide we might have Hope.”

Romans 15:4

Instead of immediate answers, I learned to:

  • Admit that I don’t know why God allows hurt to enter our lives.
  • Offer the kindness of listening as God has done for me when I have been in dark places
  • Extend meaningful Scripture passages (rather than a single verse) knowing that God uses what He will in ministering to the broken heart.

Are you in a hurting place today, looking for answers to your problems?
Do you know someone you want to help, but don’t know how?

We live in a culture  focused on self-esteem yet we are miserable. It may seem counter-intuitive to address problems as God calls us to, but might I suggest that:

It takes far more courage and determination to live out a Faith
that yields an Eternal Hope in Someone outside of our ourselves.  

As we shift our focus from viewing the Bible as a cookbook, we find Endurance, Encouragement and Hope in a faithful God who Shepherds our hearts.   With that discovery, we can gratefully yield to the gift God means for Scripture to be:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”
II Timothy 3:16

All to His Glory!

Godly-Discipline: Stubborn, Steadfast, Grace-Centered Love . . . .

This is the sixth post in a series featuring ways God
used my family and the Scriptures to draw me closer to Himself.
I share them to urge you, to trust in God no matter what your circumstance may be. ❤️

WORDS TO GROW BY:

“Let your conversation be always full of grace,
seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:6

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud,
abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love,
unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good . . . .”

II Timothy 3:1-3

Are we in the last days?  We do not know, but certainly we are closer than the Apostle Paul was when he wrote his letter to Timothy 2,000 years ago.  What we DO know, is that God gifted us with the Scriptures to equip us with everything we need to navigate through life.

When it comes to disciplining/discipling older children (pre-teen, teen and young adult), the challenge for us is often to resist being run by fear, anger or resentment.  Instead, Godly discipline endeavors to provide the stubborn, steadfast love (GRACE) we otherwise lack.

Godly Discipline: Stubborn, Steadfast, GRACE-Centered Love . . . .

In this post Godly discipline, as it relates to GRACE, will be our focus as Insights #8 through 12* (posted 5/8/17) are expanded.  The following are the Insights touched on in that post:

  • Insight #8:  The key to effective Godly discipline is PRAYER.
  • Insight #9: Speak truth in love–relying on the Scriptures for the best means of ministering to the mind and heart. 
  • Insight #10:  When dealing with sin, resist the temptation to minimize it.
  • Insight #11: With older children/teens, resist using long-term restriction as a weapon.  
  • Insight #12: Problems seldom occur at convenient times.  Check your attitude by giving thanks that God’s timing is always perfect. 

When it comes to connecting GRACE to Godly discipline,
stubborn, steadfast, GRACE-centered love is key.

One of my favorite examples of a parent extending stubborn, steadfast, GRACE-centered love in the Bible was a parable told by Jesus.  The story begins with the youngest son demanding his inheritance from his father.  The father gave it to him and, soon after, the son left to squander his inheritance on everything that went against what his father had taught him.

Jesus does not comment about what the father knew or thought, He only says that the father did as his son demanded of him.  Almost predictably, this is what happened to the son:

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine . . . and he began to be in need.
So he went and hired himself out . . . 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, the son 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.’”
Luke 15: 14-19

A thought to ponder: Repentance inspired by conviction is beautiful in God’s sight.  

Most certainly, the father who thought he’d lost his son forever, saw such beauty in the face of his son . . . even at a distance:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him,
and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

(verse 20)

 

But there was a second son, the older brother, who was less than delighted to hear music and dancing when he came in from the field.  When he learned that the festivities were in honor of his “low life” brother, well . . . suffice it to say, he was extremely unhappy:

“‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you . . .
I have never neglected a command of yours;
and yet you have never given me a young goat,
so that I might celebrate with MY friends;
but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes,
you killed the fattened calf for him.’
 “

Luke 15:29 & 30

Humanly speaking, most of us can relate to the older brother’s anger. But jealousy combined with self-righteousness is as ugly as the sins of the younger brother.  The father’s reply reflects God’s call to forgive as we have been forgiven:

““And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead
and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
Luke 15:31-32

In these times of uncertainty, when children raised in Christian families are denying the faith they were raised in, do not give way to despair–God is absolutely worthy of your trust.  Insights 8 through 12 are especially meant to encourage you:

  • Insight #8:  The key to effective Godly discipline is PRAYER.  The older my children, the more precious the gift of PRAYER became.  There is no greater weapon when applied in stubborn, steadfast, grace-centered love that rests in God’s Sovereign Goodness.
  • Insight #9: Speak truth in love–relying on the Scriptures for the best means of ministering to the mind and heart.  Lean on God and the Scriptures to know when to speak and when to be silent.  Remember that the spiritual battle for souls has been ongoing since the Fall–trust God to help you stay on His path.
  • Insight #10:  When dealing with sin, resist the temptation to minimize it . . . but also resist the temptation to make a mountain of it.  Learn from the father who, after all had been said and done, let his son go his own way.  (You can bet that in the weeks/months/years after his younger son left, prayer became his greatest ally as he watched for his sons return.)
  • Insight #11: With older children/teens, resist using long-term restriction as a weapon.  (Review Insight #6 for my perspective on this.)  If grounding is necessary to keep them safe, do what you can to draw that child closer by spending time with them.  I taught one of my daughters to sew during such a season and looked for ways to build good character by serving others with all of them.  Attending church worship and youth group activities were maintained as part of our regular routine.  Lastly, encourage them to get into the Scriptures for themselves by making Journey Notes entries.  (See Journey Notes Praise Journaling page).
  • Insight #12: Problems seldom occur at convenient times.  Check your attitude by giving thanks that God’s timing is always perfect. 

Along the pathway of raising children, prayers such as, “Lord, I didn’t know it was going to be so hard”, are common.  It is my prayer that blessing will abound in your life (no matter what the season), as you seek God’s wisdom in applying His stubborn, steadfast, GRACE-centerer love to those He puts on your path.

All to His Glory!

*The Key to Godly Discipline
**To read the story in Luke 15, PRESS HERE.

 

 

The Key to Godly Discipline . . . .

This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring ways God
used my family and the Scriptures to draw me closer to Himself.
I share some of those insights to testify to His faithfulness. ❤️

WORDS TO GROW BY:

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.”
I Peter 3:10

“To love life and see good days“–isn’t that what most of us yearn for?  Yet when our goals are skewed by unrealistic, worldly ideals such as–living a perfect, happily-ever-after kind of life–we are more prone to depression than true joy.  The problem none of us can escape is that life can be messy–exceedingly so–and when it is, SIN is often at the center of it.  There are times when, no matter how well organized or disciplined the effort, even our best laid plans can be thwarted.

In my last post I wrote about the connection between discipline and discipleship, using II Timothy 3:16, 17 as the framework for Godly discipline:

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

In that post I shared seven insights about Godly discipline:

Insight #1: Godly discipline has to be learned before it can be applied.  (Hence, there is no place for the foolish maxim: “Do as I say, not as I do.”)
Insight #2: Godly discipline is meant to be a lifestyle, not a series of events. (Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness should be an on-going part of family relating.)
Insight #3: God does not have grandchildren; He only has children. (Only those who enter into a personal relationship with Christ has the assurance of being a child of God–John 1:12, 13)
Insight #4: Make regular worship at a Bible-teaching church and fellowship with other Believers a priority. (The strength of those relationships, will likely be invaluable as you support each other through the tougher seasons.)
Insight #5: Help your children think biblically by reading to them–A LOT! We especially enjoyed learning about the lives of Christian heroes, various series of books as well as reading the Bible itself.
Insight #6: When disciplining your children–draw them close to you–rather than isolate them.  (Such times can provide special opportunities to minister the mind and heart.)
Insight #7: Along the way, look for opportunities to bring laughter, adventure, and ways to serve others into your family routine.

In this post I will share additional insights into Godly discipline as it connects to love and truth using Hebrews 12:10 & 12 as our basis,

“Our fathers disciplined us for a short time as they thought best,
but God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it yields a peaceful harvest of righteousness
to those who have been trained by it.…”  

The passage speaks:

  • Assurance to all with this declaration of LOVEGod disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. 
  •  TRUTH with its promise of ultimate blessing (a peaceful harvest of righteousness) to those who choose to trust God.

I share the following story to help you appreciate my five remaining insights:

Prayer . . . the Key to Godly Discipline

We had one preteen and two teenagers in our home.  At times, the pressure was immense–especially in making last minute decisions.  In fact, looking back I can see that I was starting to shut-down–saying “no” to almost every request.  Feeling convicted, I turned to God.  I confessed my bad attitude and asked for His help. Nothing remarkable occurred when I prayed, except that I felt slightly more hopeful.  However, several days later, after another request was made, I was startled when these words came out of my mouth:

“I”m not sure.  If you have to have an answer NOW,
then the answer has to be NO.

But if you’ll let me pray about it . . . we’ll see.”

I was shocked by my inward calmness, and their response was amazing–they backed off completely!  In fact, they very wisely would approach me almost warily saying, “I’m not demanding an answer, Mom, but . . . have you prayed yet?”

That was the day I learned the importance of setting an example as a praying mom before my kids.  Where before, every request made was a burden, I learned the importance of setting an example of prayer.  With that new parameter in place, my kids approached me with greater respect as they asked, “Mom, have you prayed yet?”  The results?  The majority of the time I was able to answer, “Yes but . . . “–adding some qualifiers to assure their safety.  When I had to say no, they never argued; I suspect they already knew it was wasn’t a good idea.

By far the best part was that my kids saw me
as a praying mom (rather than a roadblock mom)
who honestly cared about them.

Insight #8:  The key to effective Godly discipline is PRAYER.

God is all about relationships–our relationship with Him as well as with one another.  When we keep Him at the center of how we relate to others through reading the Scriptures and prayer, we are blessed with the wisdom and perspective we otherwise lack.  Ecclesiastes affirms this in 4:9-12,

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If either of them falls down,
the other can help him up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

When we keep God and the Scriptures as our third strand to guide us, humble thanksgiving becomes a friend and our prayers are more effective.

Insight #9: Speak truth in love–relying on the Scriptures for the best means of ministering to the mind and heart. 

There are many passages in Scripture that provide what is needed to speak truth in love.   Ephesians 4:17-32 is one of my favorites, especially verse 29:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,
but only such a word as is good for edification
according to the need of the moment,
so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Insight #10:  When dealing with sin, resist the temptation to minimize it.

SIN is not “a mistake”, nor is it merely “a phase” that kids go through.  Sin is a contemptuous act that is offensive to God.  Much of the messiness of life is the result of sinful attitudes and actions.  II Peter speaks powerfully about the plight of Christians who take sin lightly:

If they have escaped the corruption of the world
by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
and are again entangled in it and are overcome,
they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness,
than to have known it and then to turn their backs
on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”
and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.
II Peter 2: 20-22

Referring to sin as, PUKE ON GOD’S THRONE–your own included–serves as a good reminder of the grossness of sin.

Insight #11: With older children/teens, resist using long-term restriction as a weapon.  

While temporarily taking away certain privileges may be necessary to keep them safe, I recommend using what I call, prayerful regrouping, as you lean on God to help you minister to their hearts rather than to simply isolate them.  (See Insight #6 in my previous post for the reasoning behind this.  I will expand on this in my next post.)

Insight #12: Problems seldom occur at convenient times.  Check your attitude by giving thanks that God’s timing is always perfect. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have prayed, “Lord, I didn’t know it was going to be so hard!” Life IS hard, but God is EXCEEDINGLY GOOD to those who seek Him for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  James 4:7 declares:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Satan uses doubt to separate us from God.
By refusing to doubt God’s Sovereign Goodness,
He will provide the courage and strength you lack.  

All to His Glory~

 

 

On Dealing With Fear and Bullies . . . .

This is the second in a series of posts featuring spiritual lessons God taught me through my family.  Over the years these stories have been helpful to many a Client; I share them now in the hope that they might also encourage you. ❤️

There is much talk about bullies/abusers in the world today, but bullies have been around since the beginning.  It was their fear of bullies, that resulted in Israel having to march around in the wilderness for forty years*; and Goliath (of David and Goliath fame) was nothing more than an oversized bully.

Of our three children, Amy (our middle child), was the most fearful. Amy was afraid of (or was resistant to) such things as:

  • Volcanoes. When we received orders to move to England, our then four-year-old middle asked with serious intensity in her voice: “Are there volcanoes in England?” (All these years later, we still laugh that if we’d received orders to Hawaii, we would never have been able to get her on the airplane!)
  • A boy in our village named Christopher Blackman.  I doubt that Christopher (who was probably about 10 and DID have a bad reputation) had any idea that our little Amy had stopped going to the village shop for sweeties (candy) because she was afraid he might be there.  Also, he probably was unaware that she immediately hid herself behind a garden wall or bushes if she saw him when walking home from school.
  • Pick-pocketers.  After traveling into London on a train, we heard an announcement warning that pick-pocketers had been active in the area that morning.  Amy clutched the little purse I had made for her tightly against her chest as she said, “They should make them wear uniforms so we can tell who they are!”
  • Learning to write–because she knew she wouldn’t be able to write as well as her sister–Amy resisted the pressure to learn to write.)

    Amy

Yet despite her fears, Amy could also be the most courageous.  When she saw a smaller classmate being bullied, she took it upon herself to stick up for them.  On one such occasion, Amy was quite surprised when the bigger kid (not Christopher) knocked her down.  Fighting back tears, Amy got up and yelled passionately, “I FORGIVE YOU!”  (I heard later that the bully looked quite embarrassed as he slunk off!)

When I learned about the incident I was both stunned and proud.  I had to admit that Amy’s response demonstrated a special courage and biblical wisdom that I lacked.

COURAGE defined: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

True courage demonstrates moral strength to withstand danger despite our fears
as we take our stand against evil.

God chose to teach our family a deeper lesson through Amy’s second fear: Christopher Blackman.

BULLY defined: “a blustering, browbeating person . . . one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

Our youngest, Luke (about 2 1/2 years old at the time), was notoriously friendly toward anyone he met.  While taking Luke out to the local playing field in his stroller, Luke reached out to Christopher–who I had no idea was THE Christopher Blackman!  Soon after, Christopher began showing up by our garden wall calling out for Luke.  Having found out WHO the boy was, I kept Luke inside at first.  But I remembered what Jesus taught about dealing with enemies in Luke 6:27, 28,

Luke
with Christopher Blackman

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

As we (Amy and I) began to pray for Christopher, something unexpected happened: God softened our hearts.  I began to see that Christopher genuinely held a special affection for Luke–who Christopher called, “Lu-key”.  As I made some inquiries around our village I learned that Christopher was in foster care and was waiting to be placed in a special school. (He had been put out of the village school because of something he’d done.)  We reached out to Christopher’s foster parents and learned that because his foster mom was quite ill with diabetes, she put him out of the house after he’d had his breakfast each day to roam the village.  I realized that Christopher was showing up at our garden wall, because he was lonely while all the other children were in school.

What happened next is really kind of a blur.  We began by allowing Christopher into our garden and it wasn’t long until he became a special part of our lives.  I cannot tell you how long it was before Christopher and a couple of his friends began attending church with us.  Looking back, I do not recall even a hint of Christopher’s bad reputation being expressed in our time with him.

You may be wondering about Amy in all of this?  Well, she now says that Christopher probably DID push her down, sat on her and pounded on her back one day before he became a special part of our family.  But when she saw how he liked her little brother and saw our genuine concern for Christopher, she was okay with it.  Besides, even as a child, Amy said, she “figured that it was what Christian families were supposed to do!”

Soon after we returned to the States Christopher started at his new school.  We wrote back and forth for a while but then lost touch with him.  After all these years, I still wonder what he did with his life and would love to see him again.

So what did I learn from my children about dealing with fear and bullies?

  1. To take sin seriously–my own included–in difficult relationships.  Romans 12:9 says, “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  God is both sovereign and good and worthy of our trust.
  2. To faithfully pray for my enemy.  I have learned that by doing this God keeps my heart soft. Praying for my enemy also opens the door to miracles, as God also can work in the heart of the bully/abuser.  James 4:7 hits the mark with this counsel: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  3. To trust God to provide courage to resist being run by my fears. By standing up to bullies/abusers (and asking others to pray where needed) the sin is exposed for what it is.  The wisdom contained in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare, lends powerful encouragement to all who seek Christ’s help:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when (not if) the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then . . . .”

Ephesians 6:10-14

After 25 years of counseling, I have learned (where bullying/abuse is concerned) that prayer and getting help (be it in the church or by calling on the civil authorities) to stop the pattern of abuse is the best course.

To allow the sin of abuse to continue without addressing it,
encourages disrespect in the heart of the abuser toward the one being abused.
To call for outside help often forces the abuser to face the ugliness of their sin.  

In the end, there is opportunity on both sides of the relationship, for spiritual growth to take place as God works in both hearts.

All to His Glory

*Press here–> Joshua 5:6, to read the text.