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!

The Richness of a Spiritually Healthy Life . . . .

 

I learned early in my walk with Jesus, that God uses what He will to direct us toward the path we might otherwise miss.  Case in point: inspired by my last post, “A Healthy Death”, I started thinking about how a biblical view of healthy living differs from the secular view of today.  Several days into writing on this topic, I came down with a miserable flu that then morphed into a severe bronchial and sinus infection–the irony of it was difficult to ignore!

So, what is a spiritually healthy life and how does it differ from what secular culture teaches about healthy living? Where secular culture judges the state of our health by what can be seen or empirically measured, God’s primary concern is with our spiritual health.  (This is not to say such things diet and exercise do not matter to God.  Certainly we are expected to be good stewards of what He has provided for us–including the care of our bodies.)  Also, while secular culture is far more concerned with an outwardly healthy self-esteem, God’s concerns go far deeper as He examines our hearts.  Proverbs 3:7-8 provides a simple formula that effectively hits at the basics of what God prescribes for living spiritually healthy lives:

A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .
A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.   

In practical, spiritual terms this breaks down as,

HUMILITY + FEAR/RESPECT FOR GOD + RESISTING WHAT GOD HATES (SIN) = A SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY LIFE THAT ENRICHES THE SOUL

So what are some of the earmarks of a spiritually healthy life?  The first one might surprise you, but I learned its truth when I first began counseling:

  1. A spiritually healthy life is often messy as it reaches out to others.*
  2. Lives daily in relationship with Christ through prayer and seeking to live out the Scriptures.
  3. Maintains an attitude of gratitude for God’s Presence, Provision and Plan for our lives.
  4. Recognizes that while life is not problem-free, steadfastly trusts in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  (James 1; Hebrews 12)
  5. Bears good fruit that honors God.
  6. Looks for the good in others by loving and forgiving deeply.
  7. Takes sin seriously in self and then also in helping others.
  8. Rests fully in Christ.
  9. Speaks truth in love as a reflection of God’s Grace.
  10. Is not long impacted by adverse circumstances . . . .  Just as a compass takes a few moments to adjust when a shift in direction is made, a spiritually healthy life can make whatever adjustments necessary to navigate toward the Hope we share in Christ.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
Psalm 34:12-14

All to His Glory!

*I learned early in my career that many times, those outwardly perfect families and individuals are covering deep pain or insecurities others know nothing about.

The Danger of Boredom . . . .

 

This week I enjoyed the positive slant of blogger Bunmi Laditan in her post, “Dear Kids: It’s OK to Be Bored,”  

“Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It is an itch to scratch. Boredom is the dawn of ideas. Boredom is curiosity knocking gently at your mind, asking to play.  Being bored is like sitting in front of a blank canvas. Boredom is infinite possibility. You are the captain of your own ship and before you lies an expanse of dark blue ocean and clear skies.”

I have never been able to figure out what people are trying to express when they say, “I’m bored.”  When our children were still at home and they made such a complaint, I took it to mean that they were inviting me to entertain them.  My response curtailed such complaints–“Bored people are boring people. We have plenty of radiators to wipe down . . . let me know and I will be happy to set you up!”  Funny thing, our radiators never did get wiped down (my children found better things to do) and they grew into amazing adults!

But as much as I might want to wallow in the positive perspective of Laditan, I remain convicted that there is a darker side of boredom . . . a dangerous aspect that warns us not to think of boredom as merely a phase people go through.  Webster’s 1913 dictionary affirms my conviction with this definition:

BORED: adj. 1. tired of the world; bored with life.
2. uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence. Opposite of interested.

Is it sinful to be bored?  Going by Webster’s definition . . . YES . . . ABSOLUTELY!

Certainly, God did not put us on this earth to be bored.  In fact, God’s plan was simple and rooted in blessing.  From the beginning of Creation, God deemed all that He had made to be “good”; we can infer from Genesis 3:8, 9 that God fellowshipped with Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin entered and spoiled everything.  I wonder if, at the root of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, was boredom to blame?  Had they forgotten the blessing of fellowshipping with God as they entertained doubts about God’s goodness?

What about when boredom morphs into depression as described in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6?

“This is what the Lord says:
 ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.'”  

(Verses 5, 6)

I must clarify here that not all depression is sin; much that happens in this world is depressing!  However, when we embrace boredom as “cool”; when we become disinterested or we disengage ourselves from relating to others . . . that is a definite indication of sin.  As I watch the news, I wonder if a souless-boredom is at the root of much of the senseless brutality being reported?  I ache for the victims of such evil as well as for their families. Yet I also mourn for the perpetrators living in the hell of dark hatred. Many times, when I see pictures of those who have committed such horrific crimes, the words of Jesus on the Cross flood my mind, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .
Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .

We live in a world where “bored” is “cool”, where the concept of God as a loving Redeemer is increasingly unknown, and where love and simple kindness are thought to be archaic.  So what are Christians to do?  As we press into the New Year, I offer the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who, while living in horrific, uncertain times, encouraged his friends to follow his example,

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13, 14

Powerful stuff, right?  So get going!

All to His Glory!

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–“Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2

True Freedom

What do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

On a recent trip, my husband and I saw numerous signs along highways and on large and small businesses proclaiming this simple message: Freedom Is Not Free.”  As a military family (my husband and brother are retired Air Force and my dad served as a Marine in the Korean War) it was touching to see so many reminders not to take freedom for granted. 

Since returning home, I have continued to think and pray about the costliness of freedom.   It has been disheartening to watch the nightly news reports of political upheaval around the globe–lives shattered by the greed, hatred and arrogance of others–but I have come to see an ironic twist: 

While it is true that freedom is not free,
it is also true that freedom cannot be bought, legislated or bartered for.
Diplomacy is not the answer to securing True Freedom. 

Manmade freedom on this earth will remain costly and will continue to be (at best) tenuous because of sinful hearts.  We find affirmation of this in the wisdom of Scripture:

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 4:1-3

By nature, our motives are impure because of the sinful war that wages within our hearts–so a manmade freedom can never last.  Yet we find hope in the words of Christ Jesus:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31,32
 
 “I am the way, the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
John 14:6

As I have thought and prayed about the costliness of freedom I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. True Freedom is a God-thing.  God sent His Son to be a living sacrifice–holy and pleasing to Himself–to free us from sins bondage so that we may worship Him into Eternity.
  2. True Freedom is an impossibility apart from Christ.  Man’s arrogance in parting himself from God as his Creator resulted in the twentieth-century being recorded as the bloodiest of all time.
  3. True Freedom has no room for fear or doubt.  We cannot retain True Freedom when fear or doubt rule our hearts.
  4. True Freedom has little to do with our circumstances and everything to do with faith in the Gospel of Christ.  
  5. True Freedom is manifested when we love God above all (surrendering ourselves to His Sovereign Goodness) and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters around the globe

Did you know that over one-hundred million followers of Christ suffer persecution and even death?  Watch this and be blessed by their example:

Now . . . what do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1

All to His Glory!

 
 
 
 
 

To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”  

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013.