With Every Problem . . . .

The first time I read the opening declaration of James*, I was a new Christian:

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many 
kinds . . . .”  

I was terrified!

Even now, four decades later, when hit  by the twists and turns of life, my first response is rarely to embrace hurt or disappointment with “joy.”  Even so, I committed to live out the wisdom of James and determined to test the promise that follows his declaration::

“The testing of your faith produces perseverance,
and perseverance must finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything,”

 With that, I have embraced this truth:

Opportunity to trust God more . . . .

“With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust God more.”

Of course this commitment has not only impacted my personal outlook, but also how I counsel others.  From the onset, my goal in building a relationship with each Client has been based on my conviction that:

Biblical counseling
is more than fixing problems.
Biblical counseling should be about strengthening our relationship with the Shepherd of our hearts.

When people seek counsel, they often perceive God as being very distant and assume the worst of Him. To circumvent this, we rely on prayer and the Scriptures to bring God into every conversation that takes place in the Counseling Room. This “conversation” between God and Client continues as Clients are encouraged to do their Journey Notes outside of the Counseling Room two or three times a week. Those who follow through are the ones who do the best overall, as they learn to trust God not only with details of their lives but also their eternal future.

One passage that is a favorite with Clients is found in Isaiah 30. In it God urges His people to resist the temptation to run from their problems–but to run to Him instead.  The passage begins with this prescription:

“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. . . .”

Meant to calm the heart and mind, the passage goes on to acknowledge what we are more likely to do:

. . . 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.”
(Verses 15-17)

It then reassures us with this beautiful picture of a caring Shepherd:,

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!

Isaiah 30:18

Did you catch that? “He will RISE UP to show you compassion.”  A perfect illustration of God being ACTIVELY concerned when it comes to the lives of His children.

The passage continues, with this assurance of God’s faithfulness in seeing us through dark valleys, as it challenges us to reject the things we cling to instead of God:

“Although the Lord gives you
the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
your teachers will be hidden no more . . . .
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver
and your images covered with gold;
you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth
and say to them, “Away with you!” 
 

No matter what we face, God calls us to come to Him with problems large and small.  I especially love the encouragement of Jesus’s invitation to all,

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 11:28-29

It’s all true:

With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust and love God more.

How to begin?  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy as you rely on Him to provide the wisdom and perspective you lack.

So . . . what are you waiting for?!!!

All to His Glory!

*James 1:2-4

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!

Sandpaper People . . . .

It had been months since Stella* and I had connected, so it was great to meet her for lunch last week. Of course there was a good bit of laughter shared between us, but we also talked about some hard stuff involving what I generally refer to as, the sandpaper people in our lives.

“Sandpaper people?” you may well ask.  Sandpaper people are the people in our lives who grate on our nerves by simply walking into the same room we are in.  They are often:

  1. People we have to work with– who we might otherwise avoid!
  2. People who irritate us when their views do not align with our own or,
  3. People who fail to live up to our expectations.

On a personal level, the hard thing about sandpaper people
is that they grate on our nerves and frustrate us–
often triggering unkind, sinful responses!  

As the exchange between Stella and I continued I wondered, “Lord, is there a better way to deal with the irritation that sandpaper people cause?  How would YOU have us deal with such people who bring out the worst in us?” 

“He has risen just as He said!” Matthew 28:6

As I empathized with Stella’s lament, the answer to my question floated into my mind with the unexpected thought, “Put on love . . . .”  I tried to brush it away, as if it was a persistent fly buzzing my ear. But as Stella talked about an irritating co-worker, I found myself less able to focus on her words as the answer that began as a whisper grew louder in my mind: “Put on love!” 

Finally, I told Stella about my struggle.  Thinking the phrase was something the Apostle Paul wrote, I asked her to look it up on her cell phone–I’m helpless when it comes to doing such things!  Within minutes she found the phrase in a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Colossians.  As I slurped my soup Stella read these words aloud:

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
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
AND OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14

Oblivious to the activity around us as she read, I remembered how the passage had helped me in the past.  I told Stella about how Paul’s words had encouraged me when it reminded me of my identity in Christ: 

Chosen . . . holy . . . and dearly loved by God.

I shared how in the past, when struggling with a sandpaper person,  Paul’s letter showed me how in Christ we have options to choose from . . . options that do not lead to sin:

Where frustration, anger or bitterness urge a haughty response,
Paul encourages us to put on one of Christ’s robes of
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience
and, yes,  even love.
As I have prayerfully confessed my temptation to sin
and given thanks for His love and mercy,
His Peace has become my own.

Since our lunch date, I have continued to think about how God blesses us through sandpaper people.  When tempted to hate or resent such a person, Jesus urges His own.to love and pray for our enemies!**.  When I have obeyed this command, He has lightened the burden in my heart and freed me to avoid the path of bitterness and resentment. Best of all, through this process He has freed me to live for, love and serve Him with an exceedingly glad heart.

This past Palm Sunday I gained a fresh insight that I am still processing:

Not all sandpaper people are negative.
God uses them to mature and draw us closer to Himself.
Jesus was (and continues to be)
a sandpaper person to all who encounter Him!

As we remember Christ’s Crucifixion on Friday–demonstrating mans hatred for what we might call, God’s Ultimate Sandpaper Person–we can rejoice in the knowledge that Sunday’s celebration marks the day Redemption was won for all who trust in Him.

No matter what you may be facing in your life,  no matter how overwhelmed you may feel . . . you are NOT alone.  As Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Sunday approach, be encouraged and learn from Christ’s sacrificial demonstration of “putting on love” for you and for me . . . ❤

Rejoicing in Him–Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!

*Not her real name.
**“”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-45b

 

Letters . . . .

When is the last time you received an honest-to-goodness letter in the mail?  No, I’m not talking about a message printed on cardstock with a ready-made greeting you simply write your name on or a “wish-you-were-here” postcard.  I’m talking about an envelope sent in the mail (preferably with a stamp on it), containing personal communication (otherwise known as, “news”), written on paper that is exchanged between two people. In this age of email, text messages and junk mail, I had forgotten the thrill of discovering an actual letter in my mailbox until I found such a rarity waiting for me about a week ago.  What made it even more precious was that it was from our oldest grandson, Matt, who left home for Army boot camp two months ago.

How does a young man keep his way pure?

Joining the military has been Matt’s dream since he was a little boy.  Growing up, Matt was active in Boy Scouts and then in high school, demonstrated his commitment to his dream by signing up for JROTC*.  After getting his driver’s license, Matt was out the door most mornings before dawn, picking up other students for JROTC training . . . even as roadblocks loomed to block his dream.

Matt originally wanted to join the Marines, but a “back problem” identified during his physical–Matt has never had back problems–disqualified him.  Matt was undeterred, as he filed waiver after waiver with notes from doctors to appeal the decision.  We worried as a family that Matt would get angry and depressed when the waivers were denied . . . but we never saw or heard any of that.  Instead, we marveled as Matt switched gears and applied to the Army, where he steadfastly continued his fight to serve our country even as he served his fellow students.  Less than a week before his high school graduation, Matt’s waiver was was finally granted by the Army.

We are all very proud of Matt, but I will not deny that it was tough the night before he left for Army boot camp.  Uncertain about what loomed ahead for Matt–as a grandmother wishing he was leaving for college instead–I came away with a comforting, unexpected treasure of Matt stepping through the awkwardness I bore, with the firm hug of a young man entering manhood.

Since that night our prayers for Matt (and the prayers of many others) have steadied us all.  We have been grateful to hear of brief phone conversations, punctuated by wonderful long letters shared that reflect Matt’s doubts and frustrations, his humor and overall enjoyment of training, and most of all, his deep love for home and family.

As I have watched Matt pursue his dream without complaint–except to say in one of his early letters that boot camp is every bit as tough as we’d heard it was— a verse from Scripture has continually played in my mind:

“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to Your word.”
Psalm 119:9

What has been at the root of Matt’s determination to continue after his dream without complaint and despite the roadblocks?  I have no way to answer that fully, but a comment written in one of his early letters home provides some clues:

Thank you for raising me right. Most of the people in my company are 18 but they act like they are 12. The thing is here, that if one person messes up, the entire platoon gets “corrective training”–which is basically a lot of really high intensity, high-speed workouts.”

Having been raised, not in a perfect home, but according to the Christ-centered values of loving God and neighbor–all these weeks and months we have been privileged to witness the fruit of that training.  After reading Matt’s letter to us, he affirms this:

I hate it when people won’t do what is right . .  . .
I have noticed that ever since I left (home), I have felt closer to God,
I pray a lot more and have been enjoying church more.”

So why do I share this with you?  Certainly not to brag about our grandson, even though we are grateful for God’s blessing on him.  I share it more to encourage you (as I have been) to follow Matt’s lead:

  1. To set your sights on pursuing what honors God, as you follow the path laid before you.
  2. To refuse to complain, give way to depression or fear, as you entrust each day to Him.
  3. To be honest in whatever challenge you face, as the prayers offered by others provide encouragement along the way.
  4. To love what is right before God as you love your neighbor as He has loved you:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

  5.  To remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage servants of Christ:

“You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
II Corinthians 3:3

No matter what the challenge, disappointment or hurt you have experienced, if you love and serve Christ you have not been abandoned.  Instead, remember Christ’s charge to the man He healed after being paralyzed for 38 years: “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”  (John5:8)  Trust Him with every breath you take and let the adventure begin!

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.

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 12:1, 2

All to His Glory!

*Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps— Facilitated in many American high schools with the goal of producing positive character development and leadership skills, JROTC is open to all students–not just those interested in joining the armed services.

 

Principle #5: Pity vs Compassion–It’s About The Heart

I’m not sure why I decided to call them, Principles, except that calling them such helped make what had been abstract in my mind for so long, more concrete. Over time, what had begun as life lessons in my personal walk, morphed into principles that proved to be helpful in the Counseling Room.  I am passing on the blessings of learning to live life well (despite the pain that inevitably is part of life) as you choose to trust God MORE.  (Special thanks to those of you who have let me know of their help to you. 💜)

These are the first four Principles:

Principle #1: God convicts our hearts to draw us closer to Himself through repentance; He never “guilts” or beats up His kids. 

Principle #2: The Battle is real.  While Satan intends us harm, God uses the hard things for our good–to promote spiritual maturity, as we learn to trust Him more.

Principle #3: Whenever you find yourself talking to yourself, you’re probably sinning.  Switch gears–and TALK TO GOD INSTEAD!

Principle #4: The Bible is not a cookbook meant to fix problems.  The Bible is God’s means of extending Endurance, Encouragement and Hope to the hurting, as well equipping us to do good works. 

And now, the final principle of this series:

It’s a matter of the heart.

Principle #5:  

Resist pity.
Pray about everything.
Act out of the compassion of Christ Jesus.

This last principle has been the most challenging for me to write about.  In fact, after sorting out the difference between pity and compassion, I wondered if I could even continue writing  about it, because I fall so horribly short when it comes to being compassionate!

Thankfully, the Lord reminded me that I had the same struggle when writing about unconditional love: 

Several years ago I struggled with guilt when I said I had forgiven someone but then caught myself entertaining some ugly thoughts about that person. (See Principles 1, 2, and 3)  It wasn’t until I understood that:

While we love the idea of unconditional love (and compassion),
only Jesus can truly love unconditionally (or demonstrate compassion)
from a pure heart.

It was then I understood Jesus’s call in Matthew 11:28-30 was to a DAILY dependance on Him rather than  “For Emergency Use Only”:

“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.

For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

So what is the difference between pity and compassion?  I found this analysis on DifferenceBetween.net helpful*:

  1. Pity is the feeling of sympathy or sharing in the suffering of another human being or an animal while compassion is the feeling of mercy, empathy, and a desire to help the suffering person or animal.
  2. Pity is an emotion while compassion is both an emotion and a virtue.
  3. Pity can sometimes be tinged with contempt or dislike while compassion is part of love and is therefore free from any negative feelings.”*

It is embarrassing to admit that while I may feel sorry for others–even empathize and pray with them–I am not compassionate the way Jesus was.  Consider some of these examples:

  • When faced with the tears of His dead friend Lazarus’ sister, the Scriptures record simply, “Jesus wept.” and then raised Lazarus from the dead!** 
  • One of my favorites we look to frequently in the Counseling Room is the man who admitted his minimal faith when seeking help for his demon-possessed son–“I believe . . . help me in my unbelief!”  Jesus didn’t tell him to come back when he had his life together . . . He healed his son!
  • Or the story about the woman who had suffered for more than a decade with a medical issue.  Not wanting to bother Him, she thought that if she, “could just touch His clothes,” she would be healed. The passage describes what happened next,

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take courage, daughter,” He said,
“your faith has healed you.” And the woman was cured from that very hour.…”
Matthew 9:21, 22

  • Another passage to learn from is found later in Matthew 20:30-34,

“Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.

“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.

Every example demonstrates how compassion was never convenient–it would have been far easier to heal the woman and not speak to her–and required caring that was intentionally applied.  Jesus gifted every need with His attention, even as the rest of the world ignored or turned their backs on them. How was this possible?  Such compassion is NOT of this world.

So if the compassion demonstrated by Christ Jesus is not of this world, what are we to do?  It’s a matter of having Christ in your heart through confession and faith. 

Apply what has been learned from the Five Principles:

  1. Listen for God’s voice in the matter (#1) as you remember the on-going spiritual battle we are in (#2).
  2. Talk to God honestly in your struggle (#3)–thank Him for His Sacrifice on the Cross for you as you confess whatever sin that lurks in your heart.
  3. Give thanks that His Presence in your heart and life will provide the Courage and Strength you would otherwise lack. (#4)
  4. Resist pity as you pray about everything (#5)–there are a zillion “needs” confronting us every day and you and I are not the Savior.  Ask God for sensitivity to His Spirit’s leading as you navigate each day.
  5. Put your love and commitment to Christ into action, as you love others as He has loved you.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins.”

I John4:10

All to His Glory!

*To read the rest of the article on the difference between, pity and compassion– PRESS HERE.
**John 11:35

 

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!