Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Verses 2-3)

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

Where was His focus?

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

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

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

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

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

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

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

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

All to His Glory!

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

Reflections At Christmas . . . .

It is early Christmas morning, so early that the house is silent around me. As I bask in the beauty of our tree hung with lights and special ornaments collected over nearly five decades of marriage, I am fixed on one ornament in particular that speaks through the ages of Christmas celebration. It is the porcelain image of the Christ-child with the word, “Behold” spelled out above it.

Behold defined: To have in sight; to see clearly; to look at; to regard with the eyes.

 With the simple yet elegant beauty of the ornament I am reminded of that dark starry night when some lowly shepherds were visited by a host of celestial beings:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

“Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:8-13

As I reflect on the wondrous events of that took place that long ago night, the words of John the Baptist come to mind:

“Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!”
*

To see clearly that Babe, who came down to save a world sick with sin, is to behold the grace-filled Hope that continues to hold darkness at bay.

Whatever you are facing this Christmas season– be it sickness, the loss of a friend or loved one, or the discouragement of the world around us . . . find encouragement in the promise given to all who have trusted in Him through the ages:.

“Silent night, holy night
Son of God . . . love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.**

Merry Christmas, dear friends . . ..

All to His Glory!

*John 1:29
**Silent Night, Franz Gruber, final verse, 1816

A Force For Good In A Hurting World . . . .

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God . . . .”

Ephesians 6:12, 13a

The truth is, I didn’t see it coming, When I agreed to attend a Counseling Conference with my niece-in-law, I was mainly excited about getting to spend four days with her.  To be sure, there were several notable speakers slated and an interesting array of workshop topics offered that I trusted would be beneficial, but what I looked forward to most was spending quality time with Joyce..

Then about a week before the Conference was to begin, I received an email saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was going to be a guest speaker. My initial response was puzzlement: Why would a man so busy traveling around the globe putting out political fires, make time to speak to a gathering of Christian counselors? Along with that thought, I also wondered if there would be any sort of political agenda pressed that could be divisive in a setting of several thousand attendees–IF he came at all? Not once did I anticipate how what he said would actually impact me . . . .

Finally the Conference date came. It was great to spend time connecting with Joyce and have an opportunity to hear notable people in the Christian counseling realm speak. For me, the best part was chatting with Joyce about what we had seen and heard at the end of each day.

On the morning Mr. Pompeo was scheduled to speak, the Conference atmosphere was charged with electricity.  After being cleared by a group of security people, only those with Conference badges were allowed to enter the auditorium. As Mr. Pompeo was introduced I was impressed by his background–especially that he graduated first in his class from West Point!  When he finally stepped up to speak, he put everyone at ease as he shared his testimony about becoming a follower of Christ as a cadet at West Point–thanks to two fellow cadets who faithfully ministered to him. As to why he agreed to speak to a an auditorium full of counselors, he likened his role at the State Department to that of a counselor:

“Helping people in crisis as a force for good.” 

Of all the speakers I was privileged to hear at the Conference, it was that simple statement that most succinctly expressed, not only what should be at the root of meaningful counseling, but also how Christians in every walk of life can best minister to a hurting world.  It is a reminder that ultimately, we are in a spiritual battle that cannot be won apart from loving our neighbor in Christ.

In his talk Mr. Pompeo focused on responsible Christian leadership, breaking it down into three areas: Disposition, Dialogue and Decision. The following is my take from what he said about helping people in crisis as a force for good:

  1. A Humble Disposition: Relies on God to help us as we are transformed each day. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–
His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

When we humbly rely on God rather than allowing the influences of the world determine our steps, we are transformed, reflecting the light and hope of Jesus to those He puts on our path. I find this picture the Apostle Paul projects of the spiritual battle being waged around us helpful:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives
in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us
to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
To the one we are an aroma that brings death;
to the other, an aroma that brings life.
And who is equal to such a task?
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.
On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity,
as those sent from God.”

II Corinthians 2:14-17

 2. Truthful Dialogue that reflects Christ:

Listening well and asking questions that underscore a desire to fully understand, opens the door to meaningful dialogue. When our interactions with those in crisis are couched in such humility, the light of truth can penetrate darkness in unimaginable ways.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry . . . .”

James 1:19

The added benefit of such humility is that as we are less likely to speak with a haughty attitude that tend to build walls rather than break through them.

 3. Prayerful Decision:

Our actions and attitudes should reflect our commitment to prayer as we are faithful in stewardship and intentional in defending human dignity.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:11-12

Mr. Pompeo concluded his talk by saying that helping others get into God’s Word personally is key to being a force for good. 

The truth of Mr. Pompeo’s concluding remark, that the key to helping hurting people as a force for good is in exposing them to the wisdom of Scripture, cannot be overstated. In what is believed to be the last letter written by Paul before he was killed, he made this declaration:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful
for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”

II Timothy 3:16-17

It is the Scriptures, combined with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit, that bring about meaningful change in people. To be a force for good in a hurting world requires that Christians humbly reflect the undeserved love and mercy we have received. I didn’t expect to be touched so deeply by the simple message of a fellow servant of Christ . . . but I was. I share this with you, in the hope that you will also be encouraged and strengthened–to move forward in the love and mercy of Jesus in whatever battle you face.

All to His Glory!

 

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/

When In Doubt . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David continues with:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling alone or uncertain about the future?

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

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

Feeling overwhelmed when bad things happen? 

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

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

Uncertain about making decisions?

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

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

Struggling with doubt right now as life gets crazy?

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

All to His Glory!

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

 

When Hate Comes Easy: The Danger Of Playing The Blame Game . . . .

Living in a time when hatred and shifting blame have become the “new normal”, the world has become an increasingly dark and scary place. The effect in the Counseling Room has been a marked increase of Clients struggling with anxiety coupled with hopelessness.  Many who come say, “The Bible tells us, ‘Do not be anxious,’ but how can I NOT be anxious in such perilous times?”

The following are some of the things we discuss in the Counseling Room to address this very timely question:

1. We talk about how the world can be a dangerous place and how Jesus had first-hand knowledge of that. The writer of Hebrews 12:2,3 helps us appreciate this:

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

We need to acknowledge that the world CAN BE a very frightening place. God calls us not to be naive about the dangers around us, but to walk daily in obedient faith. As we do He enables us live for, love and serve Him in trusting obedience.

2. We talk about how God calls His children to come to Him with our fears as our Shepherd and God of Hope.

“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden.
Take My yoke upon you and LEARN FROM ME,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28, 29

 3. Living in a time when there is a lot of anger and finger pointing as to who’s responsible for the explosion of hatred being manifested around us, it is tempting to become caught up in shifting blame. But as followers of Jesus, we have an obligation to resist blame shifting (be it in our personal relationships or in the world around us) as we determine to follow Him:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘
Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:43-45

The commitment to honor Christ as we pray for our enemies  is what insulates us from being overwhelmed by anger and hatred ourselves. Such a practice (speaking from personal experience), is both humbling and freeing as we are helped to look at ourselves and the world around us with His eyes.  Only then do we become teachable and experience His peace–even in the midst of trials:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 1:18-20 (ESV)

 How can we put all of this into practice? Here is a two-part answer::

A. By maintaining the discipline of giving thanks to God through the process of doing their Journey Notes:**

“Thank You God that, no matter how I feel, I am never alone.
Thank You for Your love and mercy.
Thank You for the hope of spending eternity with You . . .
THANK YOU!”

As one Client said this week, “Doing my praises helps me  keep fear from taking over my thoughts.” It is as we give thanks to God to for His loving provision despite our fears, that humility and hope lighten our hearts.

B. By asking God to help us guard our hearts using this simple tool: The Triangle Illustration.**  (I know it’s an odd name but when you look at it you will understand.) It helps to identify who (or what) is influencing our perceptions.  Is it fear or anger? Personal desires or a desire to please others?

If it is anything less than God,
it is an Idol and needs to be confessed as sin.

The blessing is that when we put God in His rightful place,
He strengthens and guides our every step.

No matter what you may be facing, give thanks to God that you are not alone. Give thanks for His love and mercy displayed on the Cross as you follow His lead every step of the way . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 4:23
**See top of this post to access.