On Refusing Black-Edged Invitations . . . .

It had been a very long day. After sitting in a small boat teaching enormous crowds of people who came to see and hear Him, Jesus then ministered privately to His disciples. Having poured Himself out on all who sought Him . . . Jesus needed sleep.  Mark 4 records what happened next:

“That day when evening came, He said to His disciples,
“Let us go over to the other side. . . .”
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat . . . .
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.
The disciples woke Him and said to Him, 
‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
‘QUIET! BE STILL!’
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to His disciples, ‘
Why are you so afraid?
Do you still have no faith?’”

Mark 4:35,37-40

Having read the story many times, I would have skipped past it. What stopped me was that in my last post I had featured God’s call in Psalm 46 to, “Be still and know that I am God!”.  Before publishing that post, I had asked  my son Luke to read it to make sure that what I’d written came across clearly. What I hadn’t expected was the blessing of Luke’s comment written on the corner of the page. This is what he wrote:

“Be still and know that I am God’
is a command to HOPE
establishing who is God and who is not.”

That insight, filled my heart and soul with an awe of God that left me nearly breathless. That is why, when Jesus commanded the waves to “be still” and He admonished His disciples for their lack of faith, it grabbed my attention. What I have since learned is:

Our response to difficulty and pain before God matters,
because they demonstrate who or what rules our hearts,

It wasn’t wrong to run to Jesus in fear.  Jesus encourages all: 

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

What the disciples did wrong was to run to Jesus doubting His divine goodness: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

God’s command to HOPE is also a command
to refuse the temptation to doubt His goodness.
Such ‘invitations’ from Satan come to us in packages large and small:

Years ago I was friends with two sisters who grew up in Indonesia until their family was forced to leave for political reasons. One day a letter arrived in the mail, bordered in black around the edges of the envelope.  I became curious as they they carefully separated the letter from the rest of the mail.  When questioned, they explained that it was customary to send notices in black-edged envelopes to family and friends when someone died.  I’ve never forgotten the sobering veil that filled the living room, as they waited until their parents came home to learn what friend or family member had died.

Satan plagues us with such black-edged invitations, filled with every sort of fear and dread imaginable. When we open them, we are overwhelmed by dark hopelessness. So how are we to handle such ‘invitations’?  A passage in James 4 provides clarity and direction in how we are to run to God in faith:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail.
Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and He will lift you up.”

(Verses 7-10)

When life hits us hard He says,

Come . . . COME! Just as you are,
with tears streaming and hearts broken by despair,
COME in faith and you will find HOPE for your souls!

The following is a love-filled invitation to HOPE given me when despair threatened to capsize my boat.  I’ll never forget driving on a dark, rainy night, sobbing as HOPE flooded my heart beyond measure.**  If you are in such a place, I offer it in the love, mercy and tenderness of Jesus. ❤️

“For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I
will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19
(New Living Translation)

All to His Glory!

*Matthew 11:28
** What Wondrous Love Is This?, Fernando Ortega.

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

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 . . . .”