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!

Principle #3: When You Find Yourself Talking To Yourself . . . .

It was one of those rare jewels that you tuck away, not so much because of its beauty, but because you recognize its potential.  

Principle #3:

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

My friend Sharon said a missionary friend had sent it to her saying, “it was too rich not to pass on”–and she was right!   For almost thirty years I have learned to rejoice in God’s provision of conviction that draws me to repentance and a deeper reliance on Him.  In the Counseling Room it has saved many a heart from hardening, as God has reminded each Client to talk to Him more.

When given this jewel, its truth made me chuckle as I remembered a “conversation” I’d entertained earlier in the day:

“I don’t have to put up with that!  I should’a said this, and I could’a done that . . .
boy oh man, that was so unfair!”  

Sound familiar?

In a contentious, mean-spirited world, sin comes all too easily.  It is tempting to say the growing ugliness that surrounds us is unique.  However, I suspect that the times Jesus lived in were no less difficult or dangerous.  The point is (humanly speaking), when sinned against, it is difficult to resist responding in kind.
So how can we avoid the trap?  Switch Gears!

SWITCH GEARS by:

  1. Confessing the sin that has crept in–whether it came at your own invitation or snuck in there.
  2. Refusing to continue down the path you were on.
  3. Talk to God (pray!) instead by first giving thanks to Him for sending His Son to free you from, “the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1*)

Switching gears spiritually comes up frequently in the Counseling Room.  To begin the process we use what I refer to as, the Triangle Illustration.  The Triangle Illustration asks two questions:

  1. Who (or what) is (or was) the major influence over the decision made in a certain situation.
  2. Was God the primary influence? Or was it something (or someone) else?

The local Pregnancy Help Center (was located below my old office) serves as a helpful illustration as to how The Triangle Illustration works:

When a woman who was abortion-minded came to the Center, her Counselors would draw the Triangle Illustration on a white board.  She would then write the woman’s name in the bottom right-hand corner, and “unwanted pregnancy” in the bottom left corner.  The Counselor would ask the question, “Who (or what) is the major influence in considering aborting your baby?”  Whatever the woman said, was written at the top of the triangle.  (Many times it was pressure from others, fear or the inconvenience of it.)

Then the Counselor would talk from the perspective of the Scriptures.  How before God every life is precious and that ultimately we will be held accountable for out decisions.  Just that simple perspective was often enough to help the woman shift gears from having an abortion, to trust God to provide the help she was going to need in making further decisions.

For many years the Triangle Illustration has been a useful tool for my Clients (as well as myself) to keep God as the Ruler over our hearts. In those seasons when such things as hurt, fear, anger, pride or our desire to please others threaten, it gives clarity that has kept such sin from finding its way to the Top.

However justifiable we may believe that placement to have been,
allowing anything less than God to influence our hearts is an idol.

Also, God’s call to, “Love thy neighbor” is an impossibility, unless we make loving Him our first priority.

Be encouraged when He calls you through conviction, to trust Him to love others as Christ has loved you.  This verse from Proverbs is one that nails the importance of our response to His call each and every day.

“Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 4:23

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 12:1, “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 . . . .”

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.

A Passion to Build Upon . . . .

 

In my last post I asked this question, “What’s Your Passion?”  It is a question that has been on my heart since entering 2017. Figuring out what I am passionate about (and the motivation behind that passion) has been a healthy challenge for me.  I decided to pass it on to you–What are YOU passionate about?– in the hope that you also would be challenged to identify your own passions.

In that post I wrote about a developing passion of mine: writing.  I say, “developing” because I really don’t think of myself as a writer at all.  For me, writing is difficult, often frustrating work that continually morphs from one idea to another.  I keep at it (and all of its frustrations) because of a mysterious “something” that happens when all those thoughts–those bunny trails of ideas–finally begin to tie together and I can finish my post. I write because it’s a calling–it is what I know God would have me do.  It has become a “developing passion” as He has opened my mind and heart to the thoughts and ideas I am privileged to pass on to you. 

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . ."
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . .

After publishing that post, I was forced to dig deeper into why I am passionate about certain things.  

Finally I asked God to help me
not only to identify my own passions,
but also to grasp the influences that drive them.
That is when I gained the wisdom and perspective
I was looking for.

It was as if He opened a gate into new insights that go far deeper than I imagined, fulfilling what King Solomon was referring to when he wrote about relationships:

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12

God has given us relationships so we can help one another through life.  Two are better than one!  But, when it comes to facing difficulty, we need God’s strength and perspective to provide the wisdom we lack. I share these insights into my personal passions, in the hope that it will encourage you to go deeper in understanding your own.  I am passionate about (not necessarily in this order):

  1. PEOPLE–People matter.  I am passionate about listening to people, especially when they are hurting, because I know it helps to be heard.
  2. GOD–God saved me from myself for Himself–He heard my cry for help!  In the nearly 50 years since then, He has proven to me His faithfulness in difficulty as well as in times of ease.
  3. SCRIPTURE–Probably my deepest passion is connecting hurting people to a faithful, caring God, with the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures.  I see miracles all the time as God faithfully ministers to the hearts and minds of those who seek Him.  It is an addiction that I hope will never leave me.

Only now am I beginning to see, that the foundation of my passion for writing
has been built upon my love and passion for people, God and Scripture.

But there’s a problem with passion; it can lead us into darkness when left unchecked.  I have known such darkness many times, times when it appeared there was no hope remaining . . . when despair ruled and sickened me with fear and anger.  So how are we to avoid the passions of others that swirl around us without getting pulled down with them?  Many times we are tempted to distance ourselves . . . to turn our backs for whatever reason.  But when we do that, we lose the window of opportunity God has opened for us–“to love as He has loved us.”

Instead of abandoning others in distress, God calls us to submit ourselves to Him as we first examine our own hearts.  This passage in James chills me to the bone with it’s truthfulness, yet it reminds me to keep my own passion in check as I love others by following God’s lead:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires
(your passions) 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.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason
that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us?
That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.'”
James 4:1-6

To listen and act in the love and humility of Jesus is what Christians are called to.  In these times of uncertainty I am saddened when I see blind passion assuming the worst of others with differing views.  Whatever your passion, I urge you to:

  1. Go to God with thanksgiving for His love and mercy extended on the Cross through His Son.
  2. Give thanks that His plans ARE being worked out in these uncertain times as you confess our own struggle with fear.
  3. Ask Him to help you look for the good that is being accomplished despite the turmoil–sometimes even because of the turmoil!  (Believe me, there are amazing things God is doing if you take time to look!)

So dear friend . . . what’s YOUR passion?

All to His Glory!

True Thanksgiving . . . .

When Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day in 1863, he was not thinking about feasting or relationships between Pilgrims and Indians.  At the time Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, this nation was in the middle of a bloody Civil War that would last another year and a half.  The Battle at Gettysburg– the largest and most devastating of that war–with total casualties numbering over 50,000–had been fought. Three months later, when this Proclamation was declared, the process of reburying the thousands of bodies that had been shallowly interred on the battlefield had begun but was not yet complete.  Even so, Lincoln recognized the blessings bestowed on the United States while in peril. In a time filled with uncertainty, we can learn much from President Lincoln’s perspective as he recognized God’s hand of grace and mercy during the perilous times of a country at war with itself.  That Proclamation included the following:dsc03086

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added . . . (so) that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed . . . to invite and to provoke . . . aggression (from other nations), peace has been preserved . . . order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship . . . . Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field . . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union . . . .”*

There is much that can applied to our own times as we contemplate Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

  • True thanksgiving is not about what we are thankful for but WHO we are thankful to.
  • True thanksgiving remembers God’s grace and mercy extended in countless ways despite our sin or our circumstances.
  • True thanksgiving is meant to be a lifestyle rather than a yearly occasion.

While writing this post the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, came to mind.  Written more than two centuries before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, it captures the essence of what true thanksgiving is meant to be about to this day:

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Words: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), 1636
trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), 1858

As President Lincoln said, we have much to give thanks to God for.  We also have much to repent of–fear, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lack of mercy for the suffering of others.  As we observe Thanksgiving in repentant faith, we can look to the future with the same confidence and hope as the Apostle Paul:

“Now to Him who is able
to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

Ephesians 3:20-21

All to His Glory!

*To read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in full see:      http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm