A Force For Good In A Hurting World . . . .

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God . . . .”

Ephesians 6:12, 13a

The truth is, I didn’t see it coming, When I agreed to attend a Counseling Conference with my niece-in-law, I was mainly excited about getting to spend four days with her.  To be sure, there were several notable speakers slated and an interesting array of workshop topics offered that I trusted would be beneficial, but what I looked forward to most was spending quality time with Joyce..

Then about a week before the Conference was to begin, I received an email saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was going to be a guest speaker. My initial response was puzzlement: Why would a man so busy traveling around the globe putting out political fires, make time to speak to a gathering of Christian counselors? Along with that thought, I also wondered if there would be any sort of political agenda pressed that could be divisive in a setting of several thousand attendees–IF he came at all? Not once did I anticipate how what he said would actually impact me . . . .

Finally the Conference date came. It was great to spend time connecting with Joyce and have an opportunity to hear notable people in the Christian counseling realm speak. For me, the best part was chatting with Joyce about what we had seen and heard at the end of each day.

On the morning Mr. Pompeo was scheduled to speak, the Conference atmosphere was charged with electricity.  After being cleared by a group of security people, only those with Conference badges were allowed to enter the auditorium. As Mr. Pompeo was introduced I was impressed by his background–especially that he graduated first in his class from West Point!  When he finally stepped up to speak, he put everyone at ease as he shared his testimony about becoming a follower of Christ as a cadet at West Point–thanks to two fellow cadets who faithfully ministered to him. As to why he agreed to speak to a an auditorium full of counselors, he likened his role at the State Department to that of a counselor:

“Helping people in crisis as a force for good.” 

Of all the speakers I was privileged to hear at the Conference, it was that simple statement that most succinctly expressed, not only what should be at the root of meaningful counseling, but also how Christians in every walk of life can best minister to a hurting world.  It is a reminder that ultimately, we are in a spiritual battle that cannot be won apart from loving our neighbor in Christ.

In his talk Mr. Pompeo focused on responsible Christian leadership, breaking it down into three areas: Disposition, Dialogue and Decision. The following is my take from what he said about helping people in crisis as a force for good:

  1. A Humble Disposition: Relies on God to help us as we are transformed each day. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–
His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

When we humbly rely on God rather than allowing the influences of the world determine our steps, we are transformed, reflecting the light and hope of Jesus to those He puts on our path. I find this picture the Apostle Paul projects of the spiritual battle being waged around us helpful:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives
in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us
to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
To the one we are an aroma that brings death;
to the other, an aroma that brings life.
And who is equal to such a task?
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.
On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity,
as those sent from God.”

II Corinthians 2:14-17

 2. Truthful Dialogue that reflects Christ:

Listening well and asking questions that underscore a desire to fully understand, opens the door to meaningful dialogue. When our interactions with those in crisis are couched in such humility, the light of truth can penetrate darkness in unimaginable ways.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry . . . .”

James 1:19

The added benefit of such humility is that as we are less likely to speak with a haughty attitude that tend to build walls rather than break through them.

 3. Prayerful Decision:

Our actions and attitudes should reflect our commitment to prayer as we are faithful in stewardship and intentional in defending human dignity.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:11-12

Mr. Pompeo concluded his talk by saying that helping others get into God’s Word personally is key to being a force for good. 

The truth of Mr. Pompeo’s concluding remark, that the key to helping hurting people as a force for good is in exposing them to the wisdom of Scripture, cannot be overstated. In what is believed to be the last letter written by Paul before he was killed, he made this declaration:

“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 3:16-17

It is the Scriptures, combined with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit, that bring about meaningful change in people. To be a force for good in a hurting world requires that Christians humbly reflect the undeserved love and mercy we have received. I didn’t expect to be touched so deeply by the simple message of a fellow servant of Christ . . . but I was. I share this with you, in the hope that you will also be encouraged and strengthened–to move forward in the love and mercy of Jesus in whatever battle you face.

All to His Glory!

 

To Be Made Whole . . . .

After first entering Narnia and hearing about Aslan the Lion, one of the main characters, Susan, asked this question, “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

The response of their host, Mr. Beaver, initially brings chills but then generates wary curiosity:

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘
Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”*

To be made whole . . . .

As I write, I am struck by how short-sighted we are when it comes to the things of God. Living in a world that speaks about fulfillment in terms of outward success, we are urged to “follow your dreams” with little to no thought of God’s purposes being worked out in our lives. Very often, if/when success comes, disillusionment soon follows as we wonder, “What now? Is this all there is?”  The fact is, when our dreams become our god, success is fleeting and true fulfillment eludes us.

In the Counseling Room we talk about God and the importance of seeking out His plan and purpose for our lives. Rather than fulfillment in the now–or even in the immediate future–we look to the Scriptures to learn that God thinks longterm, toward our ultimately being made whole in Him. Consider the following verses that speak toward this end:

“For in Him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
and you have been filled in Him,
who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Colossians 2:9-10 ESV

When we receive Christ in repentant faith, the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts to clean out our old ways of thinking and doing through conviction. It is through the Spirit’s working that we are made whole.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,
who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10 ESV

To be restored, confirmed, strengthened and established by God is to be made whole.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:4

Our part of being made whole is succinctly laid out by James as he encourages God’s own to consider trials a “joy”.**  As we rely on God to help us persevere through adversity, we are being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus– which is ultimately, being made whole..

I share the following poem by my good friend, Heidi Viars, that beautifully broadens our vision of God in relation to all that He has made. Heidi wrote her poem in response to a quote from renowned violin maker, Martin Schleske who records his thoughts as he works:

“A religion, in which success and blessing cover the same space,
has nothing to say to the world, because what such a religion could say,
the world is telling itself already.”***

Here is Heidi’s response:

An Instrument of God

Skilled is Your craftsmanship – Your art
With which You hone each part of man
As instruments we’re set apart
Play songs that through the ages span.

Your hand holds tight while chisel cuts
The flaws the world has left within;
You carve Your thoughts in those who trust
The Carpenter to take their sin.

With gentle bow-stroke You can hear
The sound of each vibrating string;
You bend and press Your holy ear
Into the heart and hear it sing.

In ways that I will never know
You craft this instrument of man;
With care design his song to grow
Into Your tune – Your sovereign plan.****

To be made whole requires that we surrender ourselves to the mysterious wonder of a God who continues to work out His wondrous purposes. Consider the words of David that offer hope beyond our human understanding in God’s ultimate purposes being worked out for the good of His faithful ones, to His sovereign glory:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16

It is only as we respond in faith to His question–“Will you trust me in this?”-– that our spiritual eyes are opened to appreciate the beauty of His divine purposes being worked out around us and into eternity. God’s ultimate goal for His own is that we would be made whole . . . conformed into the precious image of His Son.

All to His Glory!

*C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
**“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. And perseverance must finish its work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
James 1:2-4
***Martin Schleske’s book, “The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty” (Der Klang) will be released in English in April 2020
****To receive blessing from more of Heidi’s writing press: https://heidiviars.com/2019/10/01/an-instrument-of-god/

Seasons . . . .

“To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are tied to being part of an outstanding high school choir.  There was no “magic” associated with our excellence, except for the relationship between choir director, Leonard Cesene–who clearly enjoyed and respected his students–and the students who worked hard to please him. Five mornings a week we met to learn and practice a diverse variety of music that ranged from popular tunes to the deep richness of the sacred. With every opportunity  to perform, there was an almost palpable electricity that connected each choir member, as we watched for the nod of Mr. Cesene’s head and the movement of his upraised arms that signaled us to begin.  As the modulated, energized sounds were delivered, Mr. Cesene’s eyes danced with approval as the audience enjoyed our singing almost as much as we did.

So many years later, I still appreciate the blessing of having been part of something so special in the awkward season of my teen-aged years. For me, the balance of respect and discipline under Mr. Cecene (as well as the wonderful exposure to sacred music) positively impacted future seasons in my life.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

When I first read Mother Teresa’s observations on the seasons of life, I felt that same intense excitement of performing so long ago:

“Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin!”

I like the way she set the stage, with three simple truths:

  1. “Yesterday is gone.
  2. Tomorrow has not yet come. 
  3. We have only today.”

Then, with a soft yet theatric, WHAM! . . . her words, “Let us begin,” reflect the divine call of Scripture:

“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 . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

It is a passage that speaks to the rhythm of seasons ebbing and flowing as God’s people seek to live their lives by faith. That call continues to echo across time and generations to Christians today.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to convict and encourage some friends who were in trouble. They had been duped by false teachers who entered their ranks after Paul left them.  He sought to encourage them with this wisdom and call:

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Galatians 5:25, 26

Paul also wrote to warn them:

  1. To NOT lose sight of what they had been taught and
  2. To remember Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit who was there to help them with every step they took.

Following up on the importance of the Holy Spirit’s availability to help them (and you and I), Galatians 6:8-10 warns of the pitfalls as well as the goal of living life well before the One who saves:

“Whoever sows to please their flesh,
from the flesh will reap destruction;
whoever sows to please the Spirit,
from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

But how? How are we to enter into the rhythm of such a life? The answer is remarkably simple:

  • By treasuring Christ as the Source of all that is good.
  • By putting off old patterns–confessing our sins as forgiveness is sought.
  • By putting on the newness that is ours in Christ, when we receive Him into our hearts through faith.

No matter what season in life you find yourself–in plenty or in want, in stability or in a season of uncertainty–God is right there to help you. Consider the reassurance, encouragement and hope offered by God in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek Me and find Me
when you seek Me with all your heart.”

It is your faith in Him as the Shepherd of your heart, that will provide the courage needed to carry you through whatever you are facing.

As I remember Mr. Cecine’s eyes that encouraged us to give our best with every note we sang, I can also picture the eyes of a loving Shepherd who will lead His flock safely home . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

 

To Live a Fulfilled Life . . . .

“I have come that they may have LIFE,
and have it to the FULL.
John 10:10

To live a fulfilled life . . . isn’t that what most of us desire?  Yet, living in a culture where money and fame are held as the ultimate markers of success/ fulfillment, it is often a shock when people who appear to “have it all” take their own lives. The question that invariably comes to mind is, “Why?”

While researching this question, thinking specifically of notables Robin Williams and Kate Spade, I was struck by this observation posted on Millionaire Before 50:*:

“That they may have LIFE, and have it to the FULL.” John 10:10

“You can have all the money in the world,
but you’re still a failure
if you’re not fulfilled.

Success without fulfillment is worthless.”*

As that last sentence wound around in my mind, I wondered, “So what is true fulfillment?” 

Fulfillment can be many things for many people. According to WordNet Dictionary fulfillment is:

  1. A feeling of satisfaction at having achieved your desires.
  2. The act of consummating something (a desire or promise.)

The tricky thing about fulfillment, is the challenge of maintaining satisfaction. Typically, once we achieve what we set out to do–no matter how many accolades are received, or how much the bank account swells–our human penchant for “more” kicks in and we become dissatisfied. Because of this:

Fulfillment is elusive
because satisfaction is often fleeting.

There is no resting place when it comes to holding onto fulfillment in the world around us. When Jesus proclaimed, “I have come that they may have LIFE, and have it to the FULL, He was offering fulfillment that can never be found apart from Him. 

The Apostle Paul shared the secret to holding onto authentic fulfillment in a letter he wrote from a Roman prison cell:

“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 things through Him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4: 12, 13

Fulfillment is not found by living a problem-free life and traveling the world. Jesus said, “In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
So how can the fullness of life promised by Jesus become ours? We uncover such fulfillment when we: answer His call to “come” to Him in our brokenness and disappointment.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

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 11:28-19

Authentic fulfillment becomes ours when we take our focus off of ourselves and cultivate a thankful heart–no matter what our circumstance.

Remembering to thank God for His love and mercy
extended to us through His Son,
helps foster humility and
quiets the ugliness of dissatisfaction.

We discover true fulfillment when we are intentional in loving our neighbor and pray for our enemies–in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial love extended to you and to me.

The Bible is full of direction and insight when it comes to living a fulfilled life.  In a letter written to encourage a young man he regarded as a son,  Paul wrote about accessing “life that is truly life:

“Command those who are rich in this present world
not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth . . .
but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us
with everything for our enjoyment.
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,
and to be generous and willing to share.
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves
as a firm foundation for the coming age,
so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life
I Timothy 6:17-19

Ultimately, it is through our willingness to share with others (a reflection of Christ’s sacrifice for us), that we take hold of “life that is truly LIFE”authentic fulfillment.

All to His Glory!

*From a blog article posted on, Millionaire Before 50 titled, Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Be Thankful For What You Have.

 

An Upfront and Personal God . . . .

I’m not sure where the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20” came from, but I appreciate how it pictures the process of connecting-the-dots of blessing after going through tough times. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize those blessings, but ultimately they all fall together to provide peace to those who trust in Him. It is during such times that I learned to give thanks for such an upfront and personal God.

I was reminded of His upfront and personal way of getting our attention while reading about an encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus on the morning of His Resurrection:

“But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent down to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” they asked.

“Because they have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I do not know where they have put Him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not recognize that it was Jesus.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asked. “Whom are you seeking?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him off, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  

She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
                                                                                                    John 20:11-16

It appears that when He spoke her name, Mary realized it was actually Jesus speaking to her. I wonder . . . was it was simply the way Jesus pronounced her name that reminded her of Him? Or maybe, having spent hours listening intently to Jesus, did Mary remember Him speaking about what was to come for Him:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law,
and He must be killed
and on the third day be raised to life.”
Luke 9:22

“He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion . . . .” Philippians 1:4-6

There’s no way to know what was going through Mary’s mind, but it reminded me those times when a soft yet upfront and personal voice has spoken to my heart, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?

The first time it happened, I was in a quandary about something that seemed important at the time but years later, I have no idea what it was about. What I DO remember was NOT responding to the question because I didn’t want to be rude to God–as if He didn’t know what was in my mind!

So . . . for about two weeks I sensed this sort of cloud following me that continually echoed the question, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?” Finally, feeling totally worn down, I turned back to the Lord and said, “YES! Lord, I will trust You in this!” In that instant, though my situation had not changed, the cloud dissipated and a wonderful peace filled the void–bringing relief and comfort to my mind and heart.

In the years since that same question has, with prodding gentleness, helped me get through many a trial. I admit that at times I have been hesitant to answer, especially when fear grips my heart and mind. There have been times when I have prayed as the father who asked Jesus to heal his son prayed: “I believe, help me in my unbelief!”* But as time passes and I remember the lessons taught me in previous years, I have learned to respond more quickly–“Yes Lord, I do trust You in this!”

How about you? What is your experience with this upfront and personal God?Are you facing something unexpected that you don’t know how to respond to? Or maybe you’re tired of fighting a battle that never seems to end? Perhaps He has asked–or is asking you right now–“______, will you trust Me in this?”

These words written by the Apostle Paul to a church he deeply loved, lend encouragement and hope to followers of Christ,

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:4-6

With every problem that comes in your walk with Him, you can rest in the promise that, “He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion.” When we do step out in faith–affirming that, “Yes Lord, I will trust You in this,”–our situation may not necessarily change, but WE are changed as we gain courage and strength to trust Him with every portion of our lives. Give thanks for an upfront and personal God!

All to His Glory!

*Mark 9:24

More Than a Cup of Tea . . . .

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is
until you put her in hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

When I read the above quote I laughed aloud as I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt, how very biblical!”  Like it or not, it is adversity (or as Eleanor put it,“hot water“) that builds the kind of character and maturity that pleases God.  James bears this out in the introduction to his letter,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you
may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

Just as brewing tea with scalding hot water brings forth the best cup of tea, it is often the challenges we would otherwise avoid, that mold and change us when we choose to trust God. This can also apply to relationships:

  • In my teens and twenties I enjoyed the simple pleasure of drinking a cup of tea while doing some personal reflection.
  • In my thirties my appreciation for the benefits of sharing a pot of tea with a friend broadened as I savored the warmth and fragrance of tea with friends and, in the process, became a better listener.

Looking back, I can now see how God blessed those conversations,
as He challenged me to love others as He loved me,
by learning to trust Him as the Shepherd of my heart. 

As time passed, God put two women on my path whom I quickly decided “needed more than a cup of tea.” One was a friend of someone I knew in a Bible study I was teaching. She was facing some tough personal issues that I felt were beyond my experience. At almost the same time, another person I was just getting to know, opened up to me about having been raped more than a year before.

After looking for a Christian counselor locally and finding no one, I widened my search and finally located one living about 40 miles away. Both women went there for counseling and were helped, but it bothered me that they had to drive so many miles on back country roads to receive the help they needed.

As I recognized the need for a Christian counselor in my community, I enrolled at a University to begin work toward a Master’s degree in counseling.  With 3 growing kids at home and a husband who traveled A LOT for his job–I studied the major schools of psychology, with the idea of  integrating the best of those methods with the wisdom of Scripture.  However, soon after starting my internship, I discovered that the secular base of psychology tended to undermine the strength of biblical wisdom.  It was that realization that led to developing Journey Notes Praise Journaling and the counseling approach I have used for 25 years.

Helping Clients look at themselves and their problems
by interfacing with the Scriptures, has proven to be extremely helpful
to those who embrace the process.

So why did I decide to write about this? To encouraged you to not be afraid to minister to the people God puts on your path with the wisdom of the Scriptures..Here’s where I went wrong:

  • Once I got counseling help for those two precious women, I continued to pray for them–but backed off from trying to help them . . . fearing that I might “undo” whatever therapy they were receiving.
  • I didn’t think about it at the time, but in doing that, I diminished the value of Scripture in my mind as I looked to psychology to provide the help that was needed.*

It was true that the two women I was trying to help DID need, “more than a cup of tea” (or simply a good listening ear.)

So how can you move forward? Here are my thoughts:

  • Make prayer for your friend a priority.
  • Commit to bringing God into the center of every conversation you have with your friend, by asking your them to list 3 things they are thankful to God for. (This can seem impossible at first, but it helps to break up the negatively skewed thinking that feeds anxiety and depression.)
  • Encourage your friend to start doing Journey Notes to help them draw closer to God as you do the same. (I promise, it won’t hurt and you’ll actually grow too!)
  • When you get together, talk about what God is showing each of you through the Journey Notes process.
  • Be sure to share some of your praises and close your time together with both of you giving thanks to God for His faithfulness.

I like the picture of God’s plan for relationships illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:

“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.”
(Verses 9, 10 & 12)

God’s intent for relationships is blessing–as we share in our labor or help one another when needs arise. Yet, the larger blessing in relationships comes when we bring God into the center of how we relate to one another as that powerful THIRD STRAND .Speaking from experience, when we bring Christ into the center of our thinking in how we relate to others, blessings abound.

In the end this is what I learned: Being a good listener–as in sharing a cup of tea--when someone who is hurting can be helpful . . . but it has its limitations. Helping them look outside of themselves to God and the Scriptures, however, is to encourage them to discover boundless hope and joy in a God who is faithful . . . Always.

All to His Glory!

*To be clear: In a fallen, largely unbelieving world, psychology has its place and can be helpful. But that should never negate the value of Christians helping others look to the wisdom of Scripture and relying.on God’s Spirit to minister to the human heart and mind.