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

Essentials To Spiritual Problem-Solving In a Material World . . . .

I couldn’t help but smile yesterday when I read this note. Written after a previous Session with the Client I was about to see, I wrote:

“Focused on:
1. “Being still’ before God–rather than running from Him, and
2. “Switching gears”– determining to talk less to self and more to God.”

I smiled because I was struck by the irony of “being still”* before God, while at the same time being called to, “switch gears””– which implies action!

“Be still and know . . . .” Psalm 46:10

So which is it? When it comes to problem-solving spiritually, actually BOTH–so long as Christ is in the mix!

The challenge of “being still” before God as we “switch gears” spiritually,
(replacing old sin patterns

with new, Christ-honoring responses) are BOTH essential to resolving problems spiritually.

The first essential piece, the call to “be still” , comes from Psalm 46.  It speaks powerfully of the seasons in life that can seem to be filled with chaos as it reminds us, that even in the chaos, God rules supreme: 

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts . . . .
He says,“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:1-6 & 10

To “be still” is to take our focus off ourselves and look to God for the strength and direction we need. When talking with my son about God’s call to stillness, I appreciated this additional insight Luke shared with me:

“Stillness is a command for hope . . .
a reminder of who is God and who is not.”  

I like that . . . I like that a lot!  “Stillness . . . a command for hope . . . a reminder . . . .”  (Ka-pow Luke, you hit a home run with that one!)

When it comes to the second essential piece--switching gears–there are numerous portions of Scripture to draw from. One of my favorites is in Colossians 3, because it provides helpful insight into the process. I like how the Apostle Paul depicts the movement needed on our part to switch gears spiritually:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:
sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed . . . .
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these:
anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Do not lie to each other,
since you have taken off your old self with its practices and
have put on the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge
in the image of its Creator.”
Colossians 3:5-10

BOTH “being still” and “switching gears” require thoughtful intentionality and are motivated by our individual commitment to honor God as Sovereign over all–no matter what our circumstance.

But there is a third essential piece to working out problems that brings it all together. We gain insight into this is in Philippians 4:6 where Paul instructs servants of Christ:

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The key to problem-solving spiritually in a material world requires a steadfast refusal to allow worry or fear rule us.  To do this requires prayer AND thanksgiving to God. (I emphasize AND because giving thanks to God actually helps to mitigate fear as we find our resting place in Him.) Prayer AND thanksgiving offered to God in humble faith, are what move us forward in humble reliance on Him.

And what will be the reward in all of this?  As we choose to trust God in a chaotic world and our thinking is transformed by Christ’s Presence in our lives, fear will no longer rule us.  Consider the promise Paul wrote immediately after his admonition to pray in every situation:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

May His Peace be yours, as you prayerfully give thanks each day for His Sovereign Goodness.

All to His Glory!

*To “keep God in the mix”  is to intentionally keep Him as our primary motivation.

.

 

Hope That Rises Through Change . . . .

Change is rarely something I seek but have come to appreciate.  My husband and I, married for almost forty-eight years, have lived in the same house for more than thirty of those years. We’ve made many changes to the house over time, but the placement of the couch in the living room has not changed since the day we moved in. (Just to clarify, we did replace the couch–twenty years ago!)

Yet we have learned to appreciate change–largely through our kids.  We enjoyed them when they lived at home (for the most part), but celebrated when they became contributing members of society, married, and gifted us with our seven grandchildren.  Last year we entered a new stage of change when our oldest grandchild left home to serve in the Army–much sooner than we were ready for.  But we have been gratified to see the fruit of that change . . . the man that he is becoming.

Change can be difficult and even unwelcome.
But we have learned that when change comes (not if),
God is always–always(!)–good!

Change is in the air . . . .

Meaningful change has come to the Counseling Room.  I wasn’t looking for it, but there has been a noticeable shift of attitude in the majority of Clients seeking help:

  • When I became a Counselor more than two decades ago, Clients sought help dealing with their problems–period.

Clients back then were open to looking at the Bible, much the same way that we do today, but their focus (and probably my own) was mainly on resolving their problem(s).

In recent years, change having to do with the long-term goals of Clients, has made work in the Counseling Room gratifying.:

  • Where resolving problems was the emphasis in the past, the majority of Clients today are expressing a “desire to grow spiritually” as their primary goal of Counseling.  

This is how one Client expressed it recently:

“I’ve been in [secular] Counseling for 2 years and nothing much has changed.
I’ve ‘vented’ for countless hours and filled journals that need to be burned.
Now I’m realizing that nothing’s going to change,
apart from God changing me.
I want . . . no, I NEED to know God better!”*

What has caused this change? My thought is that as our times have become increasingly uncertain, and as what is “right” and what is“wrong” have become blurred within society, people are looking for clarity and with it, HOPE.  In essence, this shift has taken place because hearts are craving what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.”

There is a palpable “hunger and thirst” being manifested in the Counseling Room, like I have never experienced before.  I have found that the only way to satisfy that longing, is to bring God’s Voice (manifested through the Scriptures) into every conversation that takes place..

But the change doesn’t stop there.  Clients are more committed to actively continuing that conversation with God by doing their Journey Notes.  (to the point of challenging me to re-enter into doing Journey Notes myself.)  Every time we meet, I count it a joy and privilege to watch their faces and to listen to what God has taught them since our previous Session.  Please don’t get me wrong, there are still the harsh realities in their lives that need to be faced and worked through.  But even so, HOPE continues to burn brightly as the Voice of the Shepherd ministers to both our hearts.

As I write this,  I marvel at the freshness of HOPE received as God’s Spirit ministers to hearts through words written more than two thousand years ago.  Consider the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote:

“And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still sinners,
Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person . . .
but God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:5, 7 & 8

How do you respond to change?  Do you give way to fear or get angry as you try to cling to what was? Or do you lean into God when change hits, determined to trust and embrace every lesson He has for you?

This week I discovered fresh insight into dealing with challenging times in Psalm 143, especially verses 5 and 6:

“I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.” 

At first glance we may perceive only a glimmer of light on the horizon of our lives. But as we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and we thirst expectantly for God to work out His best, we discover HOPE rising as it renews and floods our senses.

That promise of HOPE in God’s steadfast love continues in verses 8 and 12:

“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I entrust my life . . . .
In Your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am Your servant.”

No matter what you are facing, no matter how dark things may appear, our God of HOPE will never abandon you.  Do you have a friend who needs help but feel as if your efforts are going nowhere?  Then I encourage you to bring God’s Voice into your conversation for the direction and HOPE found only in Him.

“May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

All to His Glory!

*In no way do I mean to disparage the value of secular counseling–certainly there is a place for it in a hurting, fallen world.  However, the benefits of Biblical Counseling–learning to look at problems and ourselves from God’s perspective–is largely ignored and opportunities for personal growth never realized.

 

More Than Words: On Being Christ In An Angry World . . . .

Living in a world where anger comes increasingly easy and words are used as weapons rather than a means of blessing, can be frightening. It is tempting to get angry and play the child’s game of, “tit for tat”. But as followers of Christ, called to be in the world but not of the world, we are instructed to love and forgive in the mercy granted to us because of Christ..

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I write this with Christ’s call to peace in mind:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27

This week I gained insight into our penchant to hate when anger or fear take control   The wisdom of James, half-brother to Jesus, written over two thousand years ago, rings truth today::

“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..
You adulterous people, don’t you know that
friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”

James 4:1-4

Our word choices matter.
They reflect how we view ourselves,
how we relate to the world around us and, most importantly,
how we perceive God.

But God’s concern for His people is less about words
and more about attitude and action.
When hate comes easy, we distance ourselves from the One we are called to serve.

So how can we make things right?

Step One: Pray through the words of James and ask God to check the motives of your heart. Are you right with Him or are there areas that need to be confessed and made right?  Don’t put it off! Take care of it now and I guarantee your heart will feel a lot lighter.

Step Two: Ask God for the names of three people you would otherwise never pray for.  Jesus said we are to love and pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) so start praying and be faithful to watch for miracles large and small.

Step Three: Take your focus off of yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can love the people in your life better as you choose to trust Him more.

In recent weeks I have been encouraged and found direction from the Apostles who faced every sort of difficulty we face–and much more. I invite you to consider the wisdom of Peter and Paul:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you
to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage . . . .”
Philippians 2:3-6

Humility is beautiful in God’s eyes, something we fail to see. Ask God to embrace humility as you determine to trust Him in every area of your life..

Do you yearn for authentic relationships? Then take your focus off yourself and look to being a blessing in the lives of others as Christ leads.

This is one I go to often:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud . . .
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9, 12-21

Looking for wisdom and direction in times such as these?  Look no further than the Scripture as you love others, not because they deserve it, but because it reflects Christ’s  love poured out on you.  Life is more than words . . . much, much more!

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause
righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:11

All to His Glory!

While It Is Still Today . . . .

In a world where money, talent and fame garner highest praise, the suicidal deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain hit hard last week. Spade and Bourdain appeared “to have it all'”, yet they chose to end their lives as the world wondered, “Why?”  

Kate Spade’s family and friends pointed to a long history of battling depression and anxiety.  Those who knew Anthony Bourdain pointed to possibly the pressure of working on a film series, but otherwise were clueless.  The saddest part (from my perspective) was that they both left young daughters behind, ages 13 and 11.

While it is still today . . . .

This was in stark contrast to the four women I saw in the Counseling Room last week.  Each one vastly different in terms of background, yet each Client familiar with the downward spiral of depression and therefore desirous of biblically-centered counsel.

What stood out was not their differences in background, but their agreement in recognizing the value of doing their Journey Notes.  Each Client talked about how being encouraged to talk TO God (rather than ABOUT Him) helped them to focus more on Him and less on themselves.  They also said digging into the Scriptures helped them keep their thinking straight as they gained clarity into themselves, the world around them and into God as the Shepherd of their hearts. As a result, each reported that the spiral of depression was much less of a threat to them than previously.

What touched me most, was hearing to them talk about their hopes for the future, as well as changes they intend to make in future choices.  These three praises logged in one of their Journey Notebooks reflect the tenderness of relationship between God and one of His children:

Thank You God:

  1. You’ve never taken advantage of me.
  2. For Your sense of humor.
  3. You brought me out of depression.

When it comes to loving others in a hurting world, this nugget of wisdom from Hebrews tells us not to put off what we can do to help someone now:

“You must warn each other every day,
WHILE IT IS STILL “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be deceived by sin
and hardened against God.
For if we are faithful to the end,
trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed,
we will share in all that belongs to Christ.”  
Hebrews 3: 13 & 14
New Living Translation

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be within the body of Christ?  When we claim Christ as Lord and Savior, we are responsible, while it is still today, to love and to encourage others facing depression, anxiety and the innumerable other problems that can hit so hard.

The question is, HOW?

One way to help such a friend is to offer a listening ear, a heart willing to pray with them, and a steadfast commitment to helping that friend to get closer to God.  If your friend is willing, put a Journey Notebook together for them (and perhaps one for yourself.)  Then commit to getting together for an hour or two each week to pray with thanks for God’s faithfulness as the two of you talk about what He had revealed since you last met.

I love the perspective of the Apostle Peter given as a blessing and a warning all:

“Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and His ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
I Peter 3:10-12

While it is still today . . .
loving our neighbor in a hurting world is risky business,
but it’s the only business that truly counts!

All to His Glory!

 

When Sin Replaced Love . . . .

When you think about relationships and the memories that go with them, what comes to your mind?  Being a “glass-half-full” kind of gal (and slightly corny), when I think about relationships and the memories that go with them, I initially think along the lines of Barbra Streisand singing, “The Way We Were”: 

“Memories
Like the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were . . . .”

I enjoy remembering childhood summers at Pismo Beach with family and how my dashingly handsome husband watched and waited as my dad guided me down the church aisle 47 years ago. I still cherish the delight that filled my heart the first time I spoke of, “my daughter”, as I walked down the hallway to the hospital nursery to retrieve her.

But if we are honest, life is not full of “misty watercolor memories” because relationships are frequently painful, confusing and confounding.  At times we are tempted to isolate ourselves from God and other people to avoid that pain.  The problem is that when we do, other pains emerge–loneliness and depression.

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is how it provides glimpses into the dramatic shift that took place in our relationship with God and with others when sin replaced love in the Garden:

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden.
So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.
Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.
I was afraid because I was naked.’
‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked.”
Genesis 3: 8-11
New Living Translation

God made us first and foremost for a relationship with Him.

Casually fellowshipping with God, without the turmoil sin creates is difficult to imagine.  But deep down, I believe it is what we long for. From the very beginning God created us for loving relationships. When sin entered the Garden and became the “new normal”, love was lost along with the deep fellowship enjoyed in the Garden.  Jesus affirmed this when He responded to a question about what He considered to be the greatest of God’s commandments:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind’. . . .

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39

  • God made us, first and foremost, for a relationship with Him.
  • Secondarily, He made us for relationships with one another.

Where sin creates chaos and disunion, the basis for meaningful relationships (love) has never changed:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us
and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

I John 4:10

In fact, truly meaningful relationships are rarely formed in a vacuum of pleasantries and ideals. The truth is that the challenges of pain and disappointment in our relationships, when addressed with God’s love and the wisdom of Scripture, provide greater opportunities for spiritual growth than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.    

The wisdom and perspective offered in Romans 12 directs us to keep our priorities straight as we relate to others, even when disappointment threatens:

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” 
(Verses 
10-12)

As we dedicate ourselves to being “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” we discover the sweeter path to His Hope and Light penetrating even the bitterest of relationships.

But what are we to do with those memories that seem to stalk us, like shadows that grow larger over a distance?  The words of the Apostle Paul, written while in a stinking Roman prison cell, lends the sweetness of wisdom that has transformed even the most heinous of memories for two thousand years:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8

Feeling defeated by sin and yearning for love?  Are you stuck in a prison cell of unforgiveness?  Perhaps you have been hurt and feel forgotten?  Are you frustrated with life and your relationships?  Perhaps you are so filled with regrets that you can see no way of making things right?  Then follow the wisdom of Scripture and the law of loving sacrificially by trusting and honoring God in the NOW.  Repent of the selfish turmoil that has overtaken you and give thanks to God for His love and mercy extended through the sacrifice of His only Son.  As you do, I guarantee that He can and will clean out the sludge of your bitterest memory as you determine to trust and walk in sweet fellowship with Him..

All to His Glory!