What Not To Say To Kids . . . .

I never cease to be amazed at the way God can use just about anything to get my attention.  It happened again this week while watching an excellent DVD series, The Reason for God with Tim Keller.  In the six session series, Keller (senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) meets with a group of people to address their doubts and objections to Christianity.  The conversations are interesting, thought-provoking and instructive as Keller and the group talk about the Bible, the exclusive claims of Christianity and about God in relation to rules, homosexuality, suffering, the church and the world at large.   Especially impressive is the way each participant is afforded the opportunity to express their views, ask pointed questions and are treated with respect as Keller moderates the discussion. It was actually one of the discussion participants God used to get my attention–a young man of about 25.   The discussion question was, “What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life?”  The young man talked about his rebellion growing up and how irked he became when he asked “Why?” he had to clean his room, and his parents responded with, “Because I said so.”

 I  later thought about the young man’s struggle, wondering how many times I may have said “Because I said so” to my kids when they were still at home?  Even though it was not a major part of my “parenting arsenal”, I felt convicted at the thought of having said it at all.   I realized how self-centered such a response is!   It occurred me that a much better response to “Why?” might be something like:

“Because God loves you and has a plan for your life . . .
because you need to be able to take care of yourself when you leave home . . .
because I love you and want you to succeed at whatever God has for you!”
I began to wonder:
Be we parent, grandparent, teacher, friend, neighbor or stranger . . .
if the love of God is our motivation in how we respond to kids,
would the world be any different?

I think it would.  Rather than responding in frustration, anger or with the knee-jerk response of protecting our “turf” (isn’t “Because I said so” truly a reflection of our own selfishness?) what a difference is made in any relationship when God’s love is our motivation!

Consider the example given us by God in how He dealt with rebellious Israel after they were taken into captivity in Babylon.  Their rebellion resulted in their loss of every provision God had given them except for one . . . God Himself.  I invite you to consider and learn from God’s loving assurance to Israel in their brokenness:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place.   For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.   You will seek Me and find me when you seek Me with all your heart.   I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” ( Jeremiah 29:10b-14)

Although our “nest” has been empty for over a decade, I still remember the tension of trying to get it right as a parent and feeling like a failure much of the time.  (In fact, I still feel that tension as a parent, grandparent, neighbor and counselor at times.)  As I reflected on this fresh approach of saying, “Because I love you and God does too” to the age-old question of “Why?” I was struck by how taking the focus off of “I” and interjecting the love of God softens the whole picture.

Sometimes there are unavoidable consequences that must come into play when rebellion is at the heart of the matter, but even so . . . responding with “Because I said so” is never going to accomplish anything good in the angry heart.   Having the courage to respond wisely with the love of Christ however has all sorts of possibilities!

All to His Glory! 

The Problem With Running . . .

Countless times I have witnessed miracles in my office as God’s Spirit and His Word have worked in a hardened heart.  Last week, a young woman walked into my office angry . . . and rightfully so.  Married with two small children she felt:

Taken advantage of . . .

Unappreciated . . .

Disrespected . . .

Worn out.

Rather than argue I empathized . . . I confessed the times when I have wanted to run away too.  We talked about how the decisions made today will impact our lives and the lives of those we are tempted to leave behind.   She was at a crossroads and ready to run.  How did I know?  As I have told many a client, there is little that comes through my office door that I have not had at least a taste of in my own life experience.  I well remember those times when I have been DONE with life .  . . ready to escape the burdens that seemed impossible to bear.  How about you?

The challenge in counseling this angry young woman was to convict rather than condemn; to help her to realize the grave danger she was in. That is where the beautiful working of God’s Spirit and the Scriptures come in.   I shared a bit of my testimony, how to this day my  children (now grown and with families of their own) are grateful for how God stepped into my life, sparing our family from the tragic consequences of my abandoning them.  When God wakened me to my anger He helped me to see the dangerous possibilities my sin could cause.  The problem with running is that the consequences eventually will catch up with us.

We turned to the Scriptures for the perspective we lacked.  Considered to be the last letter written by Paul, the apostle poured out everything he had left in him because he knew his time was short.  Writing to a young man named Timothy (who Paul thought of as a son) it is a letter that speaks to the very soul of an individual.  I listened as she read:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

She stopped reading and looked at me wide-eyed saying, “How could God know so well the depth of our depravity?”  She shook her head and continued on:

“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”  (II Timothy 3:1-9)

She spoke quietly as she shared her first impressions ;  “‘Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .’ that is surely me.”  She shuddered as she then whispered, “I don’t want that ‘weak-willed woman’ to be me!”  I watched as the hardness left her countenance and she grabbed a tissue, grateful for a God who saves us from ourselves.

Life experience has taught me that it is far better to run to God with problems than to run away from them (and Him.)   Next Session we will probably turn to God’s Counsel in Isaiah 30:

“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,
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.”
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!
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  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!”  (Verses 15-22)

No matter what difficulty you may be facing, give thanks to God for the clean slate of today.  Run to Him in repentance and faith as you trust Him to help you stay the course you are on.  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy; give thanks that He has not abandoned you.  Then watch, wait and listen for the direction you need . . . in the confidence that He is worthy of your trust.

All to His Glory!

Uncomplicated Freedom ~

As our children were growing up, there were certain words we set apart for special usage in our household.  We referred to those words as “Royal Words;”  words that are intrinsically powerful but that, by misuse (or overuse), lose the strength of their meaning.

LOVE and HATE were two of those words.  In essence, we neither loved or hated spinach; we instead liked or did not care for the green stuff.  In our household we sought to love God and/or our neighbor; we hated what was evil.

It has been many years since I thought about our family list of royal words, but this week I added a new word to to the list: FREEDOM.  It all began with something my Pastor said in his sermon last Sunday.  He was talking about Job’s response when he received word that much of his wealth had been either taken or destroyed and then learned that his ten children were dead.  Job’s response was both challenging and instructive:

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”  (Job:1:20-22)

My Pastor talked abou how Job’s response reminds us how truly naked we are apart from God’s provision for us.  He went on to say that God’s grace is what frees us, that freedom is not a right.  He underlined this by citing Galatians 4:4-7 where the Apostle Paul wrote:  

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.”

As I thought about it I realized that true freedom cannot be legislated; it is not about human rights.  In fact, it is as we focus on our perceived rights that freedom becomes complicated.  To uncomplicate freedom we must take ourselves out of the center and put God in His rightful place.  When we do, it is amazing how simple true freedom becomes.  Freedom cannot be determined by where one lives or by what one possesses.  Jesus taught in John 8:31, 32,

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Freedom in Christ is a rare and precious gift that cannot be taken away any more than His grace can be removed or shattered by our changing circumstances. Such freedom is more about surrendering and trusting in Him to free us from the bondage and misery of sin.  The bottom line?  If you know Christ, you are free indeed!

In my last post I reblogged a video that underlines what I am trying to say; it is a look at what we refer to as the persecuted church.  I invite you to watch it and marvel at the uncomplicated freedom unveiled as Christ becomes the focus.  Looking to uncomplicate your freedom?  Uncomplicated Freedom counts up the cost of following Jesus and says He is worth it!

All to His Glory!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

All to His Glory!

Faith Assumes the Best of God ~

I put a sticky note on our computer screen weeks ago that says: “FAITH Assumes the Best of God!”   I put it there to help me remember my New Years Resolution to resist grumbling and/or blaming others.  So far, it has been very effective.  In fact, every time I read the note an inward warmth floods my mind and heart that is difficult to describe . . . a rich and meaty chicken soup for the soul perhaps?

A faith that pleases God  refuses to doubt His goodness when times get tough.  Such was the faith of Joseph, who trusted God to the point of blessing his brothers when they knew they deserved his wrath.  Genesis 50:19-21 gives credence to a rich and meaty faith that never doubted in God’s goodness despite the betrayal and heartache inflicted by his brothers.  Joseph said to them,

 “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

We tend to think of grace as a New Testament idea.  However, Joseph was a man who demonstrated the reward of a faith that assumed God’s goodness as grace superceded any thoughts of revenge.  I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of faith I want!

So where does that kind of faith come from?  We take an important first step toward such faith, when we assume the best of God by refusing to grumble and instead own up to our part of a problem.   When we grumble and doubt God’s goodness during the tough times, we lose the advantage of faith.  In fact, we play Satan’s game as demonstrated in the Garden of Eden when he sewed seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s character:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:1-5)

Satan would have us think the worst of God, doubting His goodness and going our own way. Instead, when hardship comes, it is our God-given faith that  propels us to run to Him for the help we need.   I love how the image of God in Isaiah 30:18 mirrors the actions and attitude of the father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  Here is the picture of God watching and waiting for us to turn back to Him in Isaiah 30:18,

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    He rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Now here is the picture Jesus painted in Luke 15, of a father whose son who left home to squander his inheritance.  Having lost everything the son “came to his senses” (verse 17) and decided to return home in humble repentance.  Now, consider how the image of God in Isaiah is reflected in verse 20B,

 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

How foolish we are to doubt God’s goodness in trials (whatever their source) rather than assuming the best of our faithful Creator!  Whatever you are facing in your life right now, go to Him in faith.  If you have been managing your life in your own strength or have sinned, repent NOW and give thanks for His love and mercy.  He is so very worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

Holy Love

Christmas morning, Love divine;

born a Savior, glory shines!

He came with purpose, to save the lost;

amazing Grace paid an awful cost.

Blessed are all who embrace the Savior,

Holy Love . . . there is none greater!

Joy-filled Love, redemption ours;

Grace-filled manger led to a Cross.

Do you know Him, can you see?

He came for sinners like you and me.

Holy Love how great the sound,

sing His praises all around!

“For to us a Child is born,
    to us a Son is given,
    and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”   (Isaiah 9:6,7)

All to His Glory!