The Hope of Easter . . . .

One of the benefits of living in uncertain times is that we stop taking life for granted. I can still remember the vividness of 9/11–the shock of watching the television screen, trying to make sense of the tragedy inflicted on so many people. Throughout that day I cried out to the Lord,

“Help me! I don’t know how to make sense of this!
What would You have me do? How would You have me pray?”

Throughout that day and late into the night, as I watched and prayed. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. When I went upstairs, carrying the heaviness of that awful day, I slowly got ready for bed. Then just as I began to pull the covers on my bed back, a most gentle voice spoke to my heart: “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is Good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”

I remember looking around my bedroom, trying to figure out what had just happened. No one else was there, but I realized that a peace had settled over me that was inexplicable. Nothing had changed . . . the world was still an awful mess . . . but a quietness of spirit settled over me that provided rest for my soul and much needed sleep.

The next morning I opened my Bible and found this verse in Romans 12:

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

(Verse 9)

Since that moment I have carried that message in my heart and mind through dark and light days. Many times it has rescued me from fear as it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in all things.

“He has risen, just as He said!”

In times such as these, we are forced to face our own mortality and to reassess our priorities. It is then that we realize the importance of our relationships with others, and with God . . .❤️

So why am I writing this post? It may seem a bit early to be writing about Easter since it’s a couple of weeks away, but I was inspired by a drawing posted on Facebook by a friend of mine. Done in soft pastels, it depicted a wooden cross that had a lily and other flowers draped around it and the opened Scriptures declaring,:“Christ is Risen!”  The greeting at the bottom of the drawing, “Happy Easter” initially startled me as I wondered, “Did I miss Easter?” But then tears came with my next thought, “That’s exactly what we need right now, the Hope of Easter!”

So what is the Hope of Easter?  I like the simplicity of Matthew 28, as it depicts this hope through two women who went to the the tomb where Jesus body was laid after His crucifixion. When they arrived, the large stone that had closed the tomb had been rolled back. As they approached, an angel spoke to them saying.

“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead,
just as He said would happen.
Come, see where His body was lying.”

(Verse:6 )
(New Living Translation)

Can you imagine the wonder and excitement generated in the hearts of those women who, just days before, had witnessed the battered, lifeless body of Jesus being taken down from the Cross? But the blessing did not stop there. As they ran from the empty tomb, they were stopped again:

“Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said.
They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.
Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.’”
(Verses 9 & 10)

The Scriptures do not tell us what the women said to each other as they ran to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.  I imagine there were assurances exchanged between them like, “Did you see what I saw? Was it really real? Do you think anyone will believe us when we tell them about seeing the angel and Jesus?”  

It was in such encounters that Sunday morning that the Hope of Easter was born. Centuries later, the Hope of Easter remains in the promises of Jesus, fulfilled in His resurrection from the dead.  Had Jesus not overcome death on that third day after His crucifixion, we would have no such hope. But because He DID we can enter each day with this wondrous hope:

“He came to that which was His own,
but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him,
to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.”

John 1:11-13

Like many of you, I am missing the traditions of advent leading up to the celebration of Easter in my church right now:

  • Hearing the Scriptures faithfully read each Sunday that remind us of the events that took place as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem for the last time.
  • Receiving Communion in small groups around the Cross draped in purple on Maundy Thursday . . .
  • On Good Friday, seeing the Cross draped in black while listening to the account of Jesus’ suffering as the candles are snuffed out one by one ,. . .
  • Then on Easter Sunday, the joy of seeing the Cross covered in fresh flowers as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death for our redemption as a church family . . . oh the wonder of it all!

We do not know what the immediate future holds as to when things will get back to “normal”, but we hold fast to the faithfulness of Jesus as we live each day looking for ways to glorify Him. I write this to encourage you to embrace the Hope of Easter–Christ’s redemption won for all who place faith in Him.

Perhaps the best way servants of Christ can truly encourage one another, is to  daily (starting NOW) exchange the greeting traditionally shared on Easter morning:

“Christ is Risen!”
“He is Risen indeed!”

I challenge you to join me in taking hold of the Hope of Easter in these uncertain times, by embracing  the truth that, Christ has indeed risen and He’s coming again!

All to His Glory!

 

Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . .
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .

When In Doubt . . . .

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need,
until Christ is all you have.”
Corrie Ten Boom

It was a time when darkness was all that I could see. Certainly friends were there . . . and family too. But depression kept hope at a distance as doubt ruled my perceptions. Certainly I had cried out to God for help, but even then, the darkness continued to prevail.

When in doubt, give thanks for God’s Sovereign Goodness . . .❤️

Then one day, while listlessly sorting through a pile of mostly junk mail, I realized the young man who had just become my son-in-law was standing near me. After clearing his throat, Nathan said something about attending Youth Group when he was in high school. Nathan said he didn’t get a whole lot out of it except for something a special speaker shared that had been helpful to him. The speaker told the group that in the future they would likely face difficult, times–times when they felt as if God had abandoned them.

As Nathan spoke I found myself listening closely, realizing that was exactly how I was feeling. I felt totally alone even though I was surrounded by people who loved me. As he continued Nathan said that there were two things about God the speaker told them to hold to above everything else:

1. That God is Sovereign and
2  That God is Good.

Struck by what Nathan had said, I was not even aware when he stepped away. It was in that moment that I remembered Psalm 139, a place where I had found comfort in the past. David begins the Psalm with,

“O LORD, You have searched me
and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.”

I was comforted by the reminder that God knew exactly where I was and what I was feeling. I realized that whatever I experienced in my life was not foreign to Him, that He understood completely . . . .

David continues with:

“Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle by the farthest sea,
even there Your hand will guide me;
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light become night around me”—
even the darkness is not dark to You,
but the night shines like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
(Verses 1-2, 7-12)

It was as I read, “Even the darkness is not dark to You . . . for darkness is as LIGHT to You,” that tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes as I realized that, I had been so focused on myself–my fears mostly-that there had been no room in my heart for God to step in.

As I reflected on the truth of God’s Sovereign Goodness, the light of hope dawned. It was then that I prayed:

Thank You, Lord, for loving me–even in my foolishness.
Thank You, that You are truly Sovereign and
that You are exceedingly Good.

In that moment, as I leaned into the promised strength of God’s Sovereign Goodness, that the light of hope replaced the fear that had overwhelmed me.

As I look back to that moment, I praise God for loving me
through a tough time where I felt stripped of everything but Him.
It was then, when I surrendered my pride, my fear-tinged doubt and my anger–that I experienced new depths of His love and mercy that changed not only how I view Him, but how I look at myself and at others
.

Since then, sharing that moment and the timeless wisdom of my son-in-law, has encouraged countless others in the Counseling Room, As a result many a Client has found courage to embrace this truism as they surrender their burdens to Him:

When in doubt give thanks to God,
for His Sovereign Goodness
.

Feeling alone or uncertain about the future?

Give thanks to God that He never, ever abandons His people. I love contemplating the promise given in Deuteronomy 31:6:

“The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Feeling overwhelmed when bad things happen? 

Give thanks that God’s ultimate plan is for your good and His glory. James is always my “go-to” when difficulty strikes personally or when overwhelmed by the hate-fueled actions of others:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
when you encounter trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work,
so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
 *
James 1:2-4

Uncertain about making decisions?

Give thanks to God as you prayerfully trust Him to lead the way.*

His goal for you and I is not to provide a cushy life on this crazy earth. God’s goal for you and I is to ultimately hone us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus–as we trust in Him with thanksgiving and in faith..

Struggling with doubt right now as life gets crazy?

Give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness
as He frees you to love others as He has loved you!

All to His Glory!

*Another one of my favorite Corrie Ten Boom quotes: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”  Give thanks for prayer and trust in His perfect timing!

 

Those “Aha!” Moments . . . .

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary refers to the times when we experience, “a sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension” as,“Aha!” moments. When they happen, they typically grab our attention as we realize an adjustment needs to be made in our perspective.

My first, “Aha!”moment. as a young adult took place when I was 19. I was talking to a customer at my dad’s dry cleaners while waiting for his order to be put together. Mr. White was a postman who had watched my brother and I grow up serving customers for many years. As we waited for his last pair of pants to be pressed, Mr.White and I were enjoying a jovial conversation about the qualities I was looking for in the man I would consider marrying.  Mr. White laughed as I chattered, quite enjoying the mostly one-sided conversation. It wasn’t until there was a lull in my chattering that Mr. White spoke these words: “Those are amazing qualities you’re looking for, Kathie. But have you ever thought about what you have to offer such a man?” I can remember feeling my inflated ego burst like a balloon, as I inwardly realized that I had a lot more to think about (and work on!), if marriage was to ever be in my future!

“Beautiful possibilities to be worked out over time . . . .”

For Christians committed to living an intentional faith, “Aha!” moments can be important markers of spiritual growth and maturity. They happen fairly frequently working in the Counseling Room, as each Session is opened with a prayer asking God to, “Direct the path of our conversation.” He continually proves Himself faithful, by leading us to Scripture that lends insight and direction to navigate through the problem(s) the Client is facing.

Here is an example of such a moment that happened a few weeks ago:

As I watched and listened to an already stressed Client list the things that contribute to her anxiety, I could see an expanding mountain of guilt threaten to overwhelm her. As I listened, a verse from Proverbs came to the forefront of my mind:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; 
she can laugh at the days to come.”
Proverbs 31:25

It is a beautiful picture of a godly woman who trusts and honors God with her life.  Even so, I tried to ignore the verse because I knew that it is part of the description of “The Wife of Noble Character.”* Thought by many as being a guilt-inducing, daily “to-do” list–myself included-the passage exalts a woman who buys fields, plants vineyards, manages her household and feeds the poor while her husband spends his time sitting at the city gate! (As one already depressed and anxious Client asked me years ago–“Does this woman ever sleep?!!!”) When viewed as an impossible “to do” list, the passage can be overwhelming!

However, trusting that the Holy Spirit had brought the verse to my mind for my Client, I felt convicted that we should at least go to the passage. When we did, my heart softened as I saw the passage with fresh eyes. Rather than being a daily”to-do” list, I saw the Proverbs 31 passage as a picture of a life dedicated to trusting and honoring God over time. To be clothed with strength and dignity, and to no longer be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, is to rely on God every moment of every day.

With that insight, the passage became a picture of beautiful possibilities to be worked out–as God guides His own through the challenges that WILL come.

In reading verse 25 as God’s goal for His children and then looking at the passage as being worked out over a lifetime, both my Client and I experienced the refreshment of an “Aha!” moment. Suddenly, wisdom and hope replaced guilt and anxiety as we understood that we are to no longer rely on ourselves but look to God as our faithful Shepherd.

Weeks later, that insight continues to inspire and encourage me and several other Clients I have shared it with.

Do you have an “Aha!” moment you can share that God gave you? Here’s your opportunity to pass the blessing you received on, by writing it in the comments below.

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 31:10-31.

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