To Be Made Whole . . . .

After first entering Narnia and hearing about Aslan the Lion, one of the main characters, Susan, asked this question, “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

The response of their host, Mr. Beaver, initially brings chills but then generates wary curiosity:

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘
Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”*

To be made whole . . . .

As I write, I am struck by how short-sighted we are when it comes to the things of God. Living in a world that speaks about fulfillment in terms of outward success, we are urged to “follow your dreams” with little to no thought of God’s purposes being worked out in our lives. Very often, if/when success comes, disillusionment soon follows as we wonder, “What now? Is this all there is?”  The fact is, when our dreams become our god, success is fleeting and true fulfillment eludes us.

In the Counseling Room we talk about God and the importance of seeking out His plan and purpose for our lives. Rather than fulfillment in the now–or even in the immediate future–we look to the Scriptures to learn that God thinks longterm, toward our ultimately being made whole in Him. Consider the following verses that speak toward this end:

“For in Him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
and you have been filled in Him,
who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Colossians 2:9-10 ESV

When we receive Christ in repentant faith, the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts to clean out our old ways of thinking and doing through conviction. It is through the Spirit’s working that we are made whole.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,
who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10 ESV

To be restored, confirmed, strengthened and established by God is to be made whole.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:4

Our part of being made whole is succinctly laid out by James as he encourages God’s own to consider trials a “joy”.**  As we rely on God to help us persevere through adversity, we are being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus– which is ultimately, being made whole..

I share the following poem by my good friend, Heidi Viars, that beautifully broadens our vision of God in relation to all that He has made. Heidi wrote her poem in response to a quote from renowned violin maker, Martin Schleske who records his thoughts as he works:

“A religion, in which success and blessing cover the same space,
has nothing to say to the world, because what such a religion could say,
the world is telling itself already.”***

Here is Heidi’s response:

An Instrument of God

Skilled is Your craftsmanship – Your art
With which You hone each part of man
As instruments we’re set apart
Play songs that through the ages span.

Your hand holds tight while chisel cuts
The flaws the world has left within;
You carve Your thoughts in those who trust
The Carpenter to take their sin.

With gentle bow-stroke You can hear
The sound of each vibrating string;
You bend and press Your holy ear
Into the heart and hear it sing.

In ways that I will never know
You craft this instrument of man;
With care design his song to grow
Into Your tune – Your sovereign plan.****

To be made whole requires that we surrender ourselves to the mysterious wonder of a God who continues to work out His wondrous purposes. Consider the words of David that offer hope beyond our human understanding in God’s ultimate purposes being worked out for the good of His faithful ones, to His sovereign glory:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16

It is only as we respond in faith to His question–“Will you trust me in this?”-– that our spiritual eyes are opened to appreciate the beauty of His divine purposes being worked out around us and into eternity. God’s ultimate goal for His own is that we would be made whole . . . conformed into the precious image of His Son.

All to His Glory!

*C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
**“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
James 1:2-4
***Martin Schleske’s book, “The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty” (Der Klang) will be released in English in April 2020
****To receive blessing from more of Heidi’s writing press: https://heidiviars.com/2019/10/01/an-instrument-of-god/

Hearts + Chocolate = Love . . . REALLY?

It was fun perusing Facebook last weekend to see what others had received on Valentine’s Day–flowers, chocolates and other gifts.  However, it was the comments written by single friends that touched me.  For many, our cultural emphasis so strongly bent on romantic love, makes the occasion a painful irritant to get through.  While there is nothing sacred about the day, I do believe that to remember the history behind the occasion provides a wonderful opportunity for Christians to love neighbors, friends and family “more deeply from the heart.” (I Peter 1:22)

I was grateful on that same day to find three posts (also on Facebook) that offered a healthier, more thoughtful way to rethink our approach to Valentines Day as a means of blessing others:

  • The first post was a blatant reminder of the gap between how our culture celebrates loving through romanticism, and the actual basis of Valentine’s Day–sacrificial love.  While our culture has largely reduced our understanding in commemorating the occasion with formula of Hearts + Chocolate = Love–Really?–we can richly benefit from the treasury of sacrificial love demonstrated by a man who truly loved God and his neighbors. 

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his
friends.”

John 15:13 (ESV)

  • The second post was a cartoon, taken from the cover of New Yorker magazine.  I totally related to the worry and doubt on the man’s face as he stared at the series of deadbolts and locks lining the inside of his door. Yet, when I saw the Valentine that someone had slipped in despite all off his precautions, I found it to be a healthy reminder that, while we may be tempted to hide in uncertain times, Christians are called to reach out t0 others in the love, hope and mercy of Christ.  Years ago I was challenged by a question someone asked, “If you were accused of being a Christian in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Rather than allowing fear to rule us, we are called to love and serve others as we live out the gospel of hope.

    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."  I Corinthians 13:7-8
    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    Love never fails.” I Corinthians 13:7-8

“And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
I Corinthians 13:13

  • The last post was very personal.  My second daughter, Amy, put up pictures of her family observing  Valentine’s Day in the tradition that developed as our family grew. When my children were small and we were living in England, I helped my daughters (then, ages seven and almost five) make heart-shaped baskets “woven” out of contrasting colored construction paper. We loaded the baskets with handmade valentine cards and small, heart-shaped candies imprinted with such messages as, “love” and “be mine.” Early the next morning, the girls and I left those baskets hanging on the door knobs of our landlord and several neighbors who had become friends. We snuck off quickly, leaving no trace of our identities . . . or so we thought! Later that morning I received several telephone calls, thanking us for the baskets. Puzzled, I asked how they knew it was us? One friend laughingly put it this way, “I saw it hanging on the door and thought, ‘It was the Americans!’. . . we don’t celebrate Valentines Day in this country!”  (It never occurred to me that Valentine’s Day was not universal!)  My children still have fond memories of the parties we threw to love neighbors and friends on Valentine’s Day.
Brother loving brother . . .
Brother loving brother . . .

It was after returning to the States and our children entered their teens that I proactively morphed our family tradition to a more personal level.  The change was prompted when picking up my oldest daughter as a freshman in high school.  It was Valentine’s Day and I was shocked to see so many girls walking out of the school carrying bouquets of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and other “gifts” that had been delivered to them in school from their boy friends. (In a culture that is so focused on building self-esteem, I find it astounding that such a practice was (or is) even allowed!)  Desiring to override the confusion of equating self-worth and being loved by trivial gifts, we shifted gears within our family.  From that time until our children finally left home we made Valentines Day a special day we all looked forward to:

  1. Special cards were made for one another that were affirming to that sibling or parent that was especially esteemed–“I appreciate how you . . . . “
  2. We dressed up to share our meal in the dining room, where the table was set with our best dishes and candles we burning.
  3. Dinner was kept simple but special since it usually was a week-day.
  4. After finishing our meal came the best part: when we opened the cards stacked at the top of each place-setting we had made earlier.  Every card was read aloud and enjoyed as we took time to love each other.

It was interesting this week when I asked my children (long out of the family nest with families of their own) about their memories of those times.  They all said they enjoyed and looked forward to our family celebration.  The memory we all still laugh about was a card Luke (our youngest) made for Amy (at the time Luke was probably eleven and Amy almost 15) that said, “Dear Amy, I appreciate it when you leave me alone!”  (That one kind of slipped under the radar of what we hoped to accomplish, but it definitely reflected the tension between siblings and their parents so it was allowed.)  Another comment I heard, was how reading positive comments from their family at a time when the tensions of daily life seemed to prevail, was an especially sweet gift.

No matter what your circumstance may be, whether you are young, old, married or single, if you are a Christian I write to encourage you to consider looking beyond yourself for opportunities to love others.  We live in a hurting and increasingly dangerous world that tempts us to run, but if we will live our lives intentionally and sacrificially as a reflection of our love for God and others, the rewards will truly be out of this world!  Hearts + Chocolate = Love?  No way!

All to His Glory!

When Life Gives You Lemons . . . .

“Life is hard, but God is so very, very good . . . .”  It is a saying I have repeated to myself and to others in recent months after witnessing horrific ugliness on the news, while counseling hurting people or absorbing devastating news from friends and family.  In such seasons, when bitterness threatens to overtake us and fear grips our hearts,  it is important to remember that no matter what happens, we have options:

Option One:  The world offers popular sayings such as, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “Grin and bear it!”  According to Wikipedia,  such sayings encourage “optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.”  However well-intended, such sayings lack comfort, wisdom, direction or even a glimmer of hope. When life turns sour, we can no more will ourselves through a mountain of heartache and trouble, than we can will into existence “lemonade” that is palatable from a bowl of lemons!

Compounding the impossibility of making palatable “lemonade”,  the “water” the world offers is tainted with pollution and the artificial sweetness of saccharin can never dissipate bitterness or generate hope.  

I appreciate the the directness of Jeremiah 2:13, where God straightforwardly declares the foolish consequences of living apart from Him:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Option Two: We can look at the same mountain of challenges (“lemons”) through eyes of faith; allowing God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to minister to our brokenness.  There is no substitute for drinking in the sweet water of the Scriptures, where conviction by the Spirit cleanses and  brings nourishment to the soul.  Are you looking for assurance in a dizzying world filled with darkness?  The opening words of Genesis cut through the darkness as it speaks light and truth, assurance and hope with this thunderous proclamation:

“In the beginning GOD . . . . “

No matter how bad life appears, God is in control. Since time began; His design and purposes have continued to be worked out in good times and in tragedy.  When the world proclaimed defeat when God’s Only Son suffered and died on the Cross two thousand years ago, Christ was raised in victory as the Savior of all who would trust in Him. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)  God’s Plan will not be thwarted!

Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee  3 weeks later.
Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee 3 weeks later.

Is life giving you “lemons”?  The Bible is full of wisdom, encouragement and hope for those who seek God in honesty and in faith.  Give thanks to a loving God who has a plan and purpose for your life both now and into eternity with Him.

” . . . but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 
John 4:14

All to His Glory!

 

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part One

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Resist “Self-Talk”; Switch Gears to “God-Talk”

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” 
Ephesians 4:22-24

Problems have a way of sucking hope from our perspective and can weaken the faith of even the hardiest believer.  To make matters worse, our responses to problems can complicate them even further.  Even so, I have come to appreciate that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth that could not be accomplished in any other way.

Some examples of responses to problems that can take us down the “old self” path all too quickly are:

“I don’t have to put up with that!” 
“It’s MY way or the highway!”   
“I’m just not feelin’ it any more . . . I want out! “

Actually, the problem is not with any of those “old self” responses–they happen!  We get into trouble when we continue the “conversation” with ourselves, feeding our anger, frustration or what-have-you.  Years ago a friend of mine made this observation, “If you find yourself talking to yourself for any amount of time–you’re probably sinning!  She was so right!

In the Counseling Room, we refer to the process of “putting off” our old selfish attitudes and behaviors and “putting on” attitudes and actions more honoring to Christ as, “switching gears.”  As we reflect on various Scriptures (appropriate to the special needs of each Client) much time is spent talking about the difference between “self-talk” and “God-talk” when it comes to dealing with problems.

  • “Self-talk” refers to when we get upset and have that intense conversation in our head about what we “should” have said, how “unfair”  someone is and . . . well, I think you can take it from there!
  • “God-talk” takes place when we realize we have embarked on the “self-talk” path and decide to “switch gears” by bringing God into the conversation–“God-talk” is PRAYER.

“Self-talk” almost always leads to sin and the downward spiral of spiritual darkness that overwhelms us.  The miraculous thing about “God-talk” is that when we focus on God in the midst of dealing with problems and disappointments, HOPE lights the way to move us forward.  As we spend time reflecting on the Scriptures we recognize our need for God’s help in the process of “switching gears.”  The warning in James 4:1,2b &3 speaks of the war within the human heart:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
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.

So how do we switch from “self-talk” to “God-talk?”

  1. When you catch yourself talking to yourself–take a deep breath and STOP!
  2. Reflect on the “conversation” you have been having with yourself as you turn to God, knowing He is fully aware of what has just occurred.  Embarrassed?  Tell Him without making excuses for yourself–repent!
  3. Then thank Him for His love and mercy granted you through His Son . . . thank Him that He is in charge and will bring blessing out of whatever challenge you are facing.
  4. Ask Him for the wisdom you lack as you look to the Scriptures for guidance.
  5. Commit each day to the Lord as you follow the Spirit’s lead.

 The Apostle Paul wrote to warn his friends in Ephesus of the danger they were in as, “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (4:14)

God used Paul to nurture the body of Christ toward a robustness of a faith lived well:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” 
(4:15)

God wants no less for you and me.  To be run by our “old selves” makes us vulnerable to all sorts of evil that can compound our problems.  To trust God by talking to Him about every aspect of your life in the “newness” of Christ, is to grow a faith worthy of His Name.  Also, it is to take advantage of growing through the trials of adversity . . . indeed, taking advantage of the opportunities afforded us in the midst of trouble, is one of the hallmarks of a mature faith.  I like the way The Message presents the benefits of “switching gears” as we learn to consistently walk and talk with God in Colossians 2:2,3,

I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God.
Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.
All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else.
 

All to His Glory!

What Truly Counts in the Heavenly Realms~

When it comes to relationships, how are you at keeping score?  More to the point, how do you think God is at keeping score?  Humanly speaking, we all have the potential to be expert players at the game of “tit for tat.” Yet the Bible warns against score keeping in our relationships because doing so taints our motives:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (James 4:1,2)

While there is a human tendency that pictures God as a sort of giant score keeper in the sky, nothing could be further from the truth!  Jesus challenged the thinking of His disciples (then and now) in Luke 6 as He established what truly counts in the heavenly realms:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (vs.32-34)

Three times the question is asked, “What credit is that to you?” for doing something “even sinners” do.  The answer . . . NONE!  Certainly we benefit from doing what is right, but expecting extra credit is downright silly.  God is far more interested in our spiritual growth and character reflecting His goodness; He very generously rewards us when we integrate Jesus’ teaching in our more difficult (seemingly impossible) relationships:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (vs 35, 36)

True followers of Jesus aim to emulate Him as He reflected His Father.  Our actions should reflect what He so graciously has granted each of us:  Kindness and Mercy.

In my last post I shared a verse from Galatians 5 that I find particularly inspiring:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (vs.1)  Actually, the entire chapter would be well worth memorizing as it clarifies what truly counts in the mind and heart of our Creator when it comes to relationships.  Consider verse 6:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

 When the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Galatia false teachers had infiltrated the church.  The lie that many had embraced was that circumcision, in addition to Christ, was necessary to secure their salvation.  Sick and angry at the awfulness of what was being embraced Paul’s outrage was plainly expressed when he wrote, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (v.12)

It is entirely appropriate to hate sin, but where we think in terms of keeping score God watches and waits to see the motives of our hearts demonstrate His Love, His Kindness and His Mercy to a dark and needy world.  I must confess that it is more than a little tempting to dish back to the world what has been given.  But if we are bent on reflecting what truly counts in the heavenly realms, we will demonstrate our faith in the One who has saved us by looking for ways to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us.  Whatever you may be facing today, resist the temptation to dish back what has been given.  Instead, prayerfully choose to delight God’s heart by demonstrating His love and forgiveness today.

All to His Glory!

Love & Faithfulness; Salt & Pepper?

 Love and faithfulness are a spiritual duo that bring out the flavor of life, much like what salt and pepper do for our food~

I woke up this morning with a portion of a verse drifting through my mind: “Let love and faithfulness . . . Let love and faithfulness . . . Let love . . . .”   Try as I might, I could not remember the rest!  Looking for closure, I decided to find the verse in my Bible’s concordance for the focus of my morning Journey Notes.   When I looked up “faithfulness” I discovered numerous references tying love and faithfulness together:

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them around your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.”  (Proverbs 3:3)

“Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.”  (Psalm 85:10)

As I read these verses (and others) it struck me that love and faithfulness are a spiritual duo that bring out the flavor of life, much like salt and pepper.  Think about it:

  • Where salt and pepper bring out flavor and dimension in our food; love and faithfulness enhance the flavor and meaning of our lives.
  • It doesn’t take much salt or pepper to make a significant difference in what we taste; this is also true of love and faithfulness.  It never ceases to amaze me how small actions motivated by love and faithfulness can tremendously impact others.
  • Yet, as valuable as salt and pepper are to bring out the best in the food we eat, we consider it “common” and fail to appreciate its worth.  In the business of life, don’t we regard love and faithfulness as common niceties, forgetting their supernatural beginnings?

Psalm 89:14, 15 broadens and enriches our appreciation for love and faithfulness as it reminds us of their “uncommon” roots:

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
    love and faithfulness go before You.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
    who walk in the light of Your Presence, Lord.” 

Love and faithfulness in God’s realm are royally esteemed, bringing out the beauty of all that God has deemed to be righteous and good.  Love and faithfulness in God’s hands unchain the captive, freeing those who trust in Him to radiate the royal love and faithfulness of Jesus to a dark and otherwise hopeless world.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  (Ephesians 2:4, 5)

There is one aspect that differs between salt and pepper compared to love and faithfulness.   Too much salt or pepper added to a dish can ruin it to the point where the food is inedible.  By contrast, love and faithfulness in God’s economy are meant to applied liberally at every opportunity.  So with that in mind, when the Holy Spirit prompts you to “pass the love and faithfulness” in whatever shape or form, give it freely, just as the Lord has so graciously given to you.  I promise, if He is the motivation in your giving, you will never be sorry!