On Reclaiming Hope in Corrupt Times . . . .

One of the many things I appreciate about the Bible is its capacity to speak through the ages. Corruption is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul, knowing his remaining days were probably few, wrote these words to warn and encourage Timothy, a godly young man he regarded as a son:

“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,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure
rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

Sound at all familiar? When I first read this passage three decades ago, I was struck by how it mirrored what was happening then. As I read it today . . . I weep.

We see the effects of corruption all around us. In the Counseling Room, many pour out their anger, their fears, their confusion and their regrets in having been caught up in the lies of corruption.  Depression and anxiety are commonplace, as hope appears impossibly distant.  It is my role and privilege to point them to a God who is alive and well and worthy of their trust:

“May the God of HOPE
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

The question is this

How are Christians to respond when corruption appears to abound?

Are we to cut ourselves off from those who have been caught up in such evil? I think not. I think what Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, is coming under the influence of false teachers who fan corruption into flame through their teaching and actions.

I believe that in times such as these, we are called to be courageous in loving those God puts on our path according to Christ’s teaching:

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

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:27-28; 36 and 37

When we do this, we reflect the same determination and courage it took for Christ to love us sacrificially.  How are we to do this?

  • By remembering what Christ said to His disciples on the night of His arrest:

In this world you WILL have trouble . . . .”
John 16 :33

We cannot afford to be naive about sin. As we navigate the challenges of living in this fallen world, we all too easily crumble and lose sight of hope as we doubt God’s goodness.

Speaking from experience:

  • Remember that we cannot manufacture Christ’s love in and of ourselves. (When we do, we are doomed to failure.) It is only as we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Scriptures, that we receive the strength and courage needed to love others as Christ loved us. Such love is found only in the peace offered to us by Christ:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
John 14: 27 

Reflecting the call of Jesus to not let trouble or fear weaken us, Paul offers the mechanics of how we are to move forward in the love and mercy of Christ as we encourage each other:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
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.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Romans 12:9-12, 17-21

All too often, when fear strikes we doubt God’s goodness.
We feel  . . . vulnerable . . . trapped . . . without hope.
Paul is saying, YOU HAVE OPTIONS
in how you respond to what is happening–
DO NOT LET FEAR OR ANGER GET IN THE WAY!

So what are our choices when faced with adversity in this very broken, screwed-up world?  It boils down to two:

  1. We refuse to allow fear to hold us captive in corrupt times.
  2. We instead trust God to help us offer the HOPE of Scripture.

Jesus continues to call:

“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

The truth is, as we remember Christ’s call
and reclaim HOPE in corrupt times,
His light will shine through us to a desperately needy world.

All to His Glory!

 

On Meaningful Change . . . .

When she walked into my office, the change I saw in her was like–dare I say it?–night and day.  After weeks of constant turmoil, extreme highs and lows, when she entered into the Counseling Room yesterday–calm, confident and at peace–all I could do was marvel at God’s Goodness.

For years I have said that I love my job because God allows me to see miracles large and small. Yesterday was a BIG ONE. But that is not what I am writing to you about. It was something she said, as we settled in and opened our Bibles, that resonated with me in a powerful way. She said,

You know . . . it’s just not right.
People throw the Bible at you and say,
HERE, the answers are all in here,’ and then they walk away! 

Having someone help me open the Scriptures to what I needed to see,
and challenge me to APPLY what God says to my life . . . 
now that’s been a life-changer!”

In that moment, she expressed what the work done in the Counseling Room (along with her personal Journey Notes) has been designed to accomplish. It has been a long process of learning on my part, but it has always been my goal to:

Help hurting people get into the Word of God,
so that He can shepherd their hearts and
bring about meaningful change in their lives.

Living in a world that is hungry but never satisfied is confounding. We chase rainbows and fantasies fueled by desires that often lead to tragedy and heartache. Of course, this is nothing new.  More than two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul wrote about our human dilemma:

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind and
making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me
from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God,
who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Romans 7:21b-25

Can you relate? Me, too.

Yet God is exceedingly faithful. Indeed, it is humbling to watch as lives are changed one heart at a time according to Christ’s promise:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

So how are we to work out meaningful change in our lives and then help others?  Psalm 139:23, 24 provides wisdom and direction in our quest:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139: 23,24

The first time I prayed David’s prayer, I was terrified but determined. I was terrified at the thought of the pain involved in having my sin ripped out of my heart.  Yet, I was determined because I respected David’s example as, “a man after God’s own heart.”* What I discovered after praying David’s prayer, was that God is far gentler than I ever imagined. Where I had expected Him to rip and tear the ugliness out of me, I found Him to be gracious yet thorough. It would take time to replace the ugliness of my sin with His goodness, but He continues to work in me as He does in all who seek Him.

The following is a guideline to help navigate the process of achieving meaningful change:

  1. Confess your need to God (pray) as you admit that meaningful change is not something you can achieve apart from Him. (Remember, humility is beautiful in God’s sight.)
  2. Make worship of Him in a Christ-centered, Bible teaching church a priority.
  3. Get into the Scriptures to gain God’s perspective on you, your life and the world around you.  (A good starting point is Journey Notes if you don’t have something in place or you’re looking for a fresh start. Also, I have found being involved in a solid Bible study with other believers extremely helpful)
  4. Ask God to help you to recognize opportunities to exchange old sinful patterns of behavior/thinking with new ones that honor Him.
  5. Give thanks to God for His love, mercy and amazing grace on a daily basis–no matter how your circumstances may change..

Sound daunting? Then find encouragement from these words of assurance:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13

All to His Glory!

*I Samuel 13:14–Samuel, speaking to Saul, made this  declaration, “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him ruler of His people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

Essentials To Spiritual Problem-Solving In a Material World . . . .

I couldn’t help but smile yesterday when I read this note. Written after a previous Session with the Client I was about to see, I wrote:

“Focused on:
1. “Being still’ before God–rather than running from Him, and
2. “Switching gears”– determining to talk less to self and more to God.”

I smiled because I was struck by the irony of “being still”* before God, while at the same time being called to, “switch gears””– which implies action!

“Be still and know . . . .” Psalm 46:10

So which is it? When it comes to problem-solving spiritually, actually BOTH–so long as Christ is in the mix!

The challenge of “being still” before God as we “switch gears” spiritually,
(replacing old sin patterns

with new, Christ-honoring responses) are BOTH essential to resolving problems spiritually.

The first essential piece, the call to “be still” , comes from Psalm 46.  It speaks powerfully of the seasons in life that can seem to be filled with chaos as it reminds us, that even in the chaos, God rules supreme: 

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts . . . .
He says,“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:1-6 & 10

To “be still” is to take our focus off ourselves and look to God for the strength and direction we need. When talking with my son about God’s call to stillness, I appreciated this additional insight Luke shared with me:

“Stillness is a command for hope . . .
a reminder of who is God and who is not.”  

I like that . . . I like that a lot!  “Stillness . . . a command for hope . . . a reminder . . . .”  (Ka-pow Luke, you hit a home run with that one!)

When it comes to the second essential piece--switching gears–there are numerous portions of Scripture to draw from. One of my favorites is in Colossians 3, because it provides helpful insight into the process. I like how the Apostle Paul depicts the movement needed on our part to switch gears spiritually:

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 from your lips.
Do not lie to each other,
since you have taken off your old self with its practices and
have put on the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge
in the image of its Creator.”
Colossians 3:5-10

BOTH “being still” and “switching gears” require thoughtful intentionality and are motivated by our individual commitment to honor God as Sovereign over all–no matter what our circumstance.

But there is a third essential piece to working out problems that brings it all together. We gain insight into this is in Philippians 4:6 where Paul instructs servants of Christ:

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The key to problem-solving spiritually in a material world requires a steadfast refusal to allow worry or fear rule us.  To do this requires prayer AND thanksgiving to God. (I emphasize AND because giving thanks to God actually helps to mitigate fear as we find our resting place in Him.) Prayer AND thanksgiving offered to God in humble faith, are what move us forward in humble reliance on Him.

And what will be the reward in all of this?  As we choose to trust God in a chaotic world and our thinking is transformed by Christ’s Presence in our lives, fear will no longer rule us.  Consider the promise Paul wrote immediately after his admonition to pray in every situation:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

May His Peace be yours, as you prayerfully give thanks each day for His Sovereign Goodness.

All to His Glory!

*To “keep God in the mix”  is to intentionally keep Him as our primary motivation.

.

 

Hope That Rises Through Change . . . .

Change is rarely something I seek but have come to appreciate.  My husband and I, married for almost forty-eight years, have lived in the same house for more than thirty of those years. We’ve made many changes to the house over time, but the placement of the couch in the living room has not changed since the day we moved in. (Just to clarify, we did replace the couch–twenty years ago!)

Yet we have learned to appreciate change–largely through our kids.  We enjoyed them when they lived at home (for the most part), but celebrated when they became contributing members of society, married, and gifted us with our seven grandchildren.  Last year we entered a new stage of change when our oldest grandchild left home to serve in the Army–much sooner than we were ready for.  But we have been gratified to see the fruit of that change . . . the man that he is becoming.

Change can be difficult and even unwelcome.
But we have learned that when change comes (not if),
God is always–always(!)–good!

Change is in the air . . . .

Meaningful change has come to the Counseling Room.  I wasn’t looking for it, but there has been a noticeable shift of attitude in the majority of Clients seeking help:

  • When I became a Counselor more than two decades ago, Clients sought help dealing with their problems–period.

Clients back then were open to looking at the Bible, much the same way that we do today, but their focus (and probably my own) was mainly on resolving their problem(s).

In recent years, change having to do with the long-term goals of Clients, has made work in the Counseling Room gratifying.:

  • Where resolving problems was the emphasis in the past, the majority of Clients today are expressing a “desire to grow spiritually” as their primary goal of Counseling.  

This is how one Client expressed it recently:

“I’ve been in [secular] Counseling for 2 years and nothing much has changed.
I’ve ‘vented’ for countless hours and filled journals that need to be burned.
Now I’m realizing that nothing’s going to change,
apart from God changing me.
I want . . . no, I NEED to know God better!”*

What has caused this change? My thought is that as our times have become increasingly uncertain, and as what is “right” and what is“wrong” have become blurred within society, people are looking for clarity and with it, HOPE.  In essence, this shift has taken place because hearts are craving what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.”

There is a palpable “hunger and thirst” being manifested in the Counseling Room, like I have never experienced before.  I have found that the only way to satisfy that longing, is to bring God’s Voice (manifested through the Scriptures) into every conversation that takes place..

But the change doesn’t stop there.  Clients are more committed to actively continuing that conversation with God by doing their Journey Notes.  (to the point of challenging me to re-enter into doing Journey Notes myself.)  Every time we meet, I count it a joy and privilege to watch their faces and to listen to what God has taught them since our previous Session.  Please don’t get me wrong, there are still the harsh realities in their lives that need to be faced and worked through.  But even so, HOPE continues to burn brightly as the Voice of the Shepherd ministers to both our hearts.

As I write this,  I marvel at the freshness of HOPE received as God’s Spirit ministers to hearts through words written more than two thousand years ago.  Consider the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote:

“And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still sinners,
Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person . . .
but God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:5, 7 & 8

How do you respond to change?  Do you give way to fear or get angry as you try to cling to what was? Or do you lean into God when change hits, determined to trust and embrace every lesson He has for you?

This week I discovered fresh insight into dealing with challenging times in Psalm 143, especially verses 5 and 6:

“I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.” 

At first glance we may perceive only a glimmer of light on the horizon of our lives. But as we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and we thirst expectantly for God to work out His best, we discover HOPE rising as it renews and floods our senses.

That promise of HOPE in God’s steadfast love continues in verses 8 and 12:

“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I entrust my life . . . .
In Your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am Your servant.”

No matter what you are facing, no matter how dark things may appear, our God of HOPE will never abandon you.  Do you have a friend who needs help but feel as if your efforts are going nowhere?  Then I encourage you to bring God’s Voice into your conversation for the direction and HOPE found only in Him.

“May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

All to His Glory!

*In no way do I mean to disparage the value of secular counseling–certainly there is a place for it in a hurting, fallen world.  However, the benefits of Biblical Counseling–learning to look at problems and ourselves from God’s perspective–is largely ignored and opportunities for personal growth never realized.

 

More Than Words: On Being Christ In An Angry World . . . .

Living in a world where anger comes increasingly easy and words are used as weapons rather than a means of blessing, can be frightening. It is tempting to get angry and play the child’s game of, “tit for tat”. But as followers of Christ, called to be in the world but not of the world, we are instructed to love and forgive in the mercy granted to us because of Christ..

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I write this with Christ’s call to peace in mind:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27

This week I gained insight into our penchant to hate when anger or fear take control   The wisdom of James, half-brother to Jesus, written over two thousand years ago, rings truth today::

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet
but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask,
you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures..
You adulterous people, don’t you know that
friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”

James 4:1-4

Our word choices matter.
They reflect how we view ourselves,
how we relate to the world around us and, most importantly,
how we perceive God.

But God’s concern for His people is less about words
and more about attitude and action.
When hate comes easy, we distance ourselves from the One we are called to serve.

So how can we make things right?

Step One: Pray through the words of James and ask God to check the motives of your heart. Are you right with Him or are there areas that need to be confessed and made right?  Don’t put it off! Take care of it now and I guarantee your heart will feel a lot lighter.

Step Two: Ask God for the names of three people you would otherwise never pray for.  Jesus said we are to love and pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) so start praying and be faithful to watch for miracles large and small.

Step Three: Take your focus off of yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can love the people in your life better as you choose to trust Him more.

In recent weeks I have been encouraged and found direction from the Apostles who faced every sort of difficulty we face–and much more. I invite you to consider the wisdom of Peter and Paul:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you
to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage . . . .”
Philippians 2:3-6

Humility is beautiful in God’s eyes, something we fail to see. Ask God to embrace humility as you determine to trust Him in every area of your life..

Do you yearn for authentic relationships? Then take your focus off yourself and look to being a blessing in the lives of others as Christ leads.

This is one I go to often:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud . . .
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9, 12-21

Looking for wisdom and direction in times such as these?  Look no further than the Scripture as you love others, not because they deserve it, but because it reflects Christ’s  love poured out on you.  Life is more than words . . . much, much more!

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause
righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:11

All to His Glory!

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