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!

The Lost Art of Humility . . . .

Words rarely heard these days:

“I’m sorry . . . I was wrong . . . will you please forgive me?”

It’s called an apology–
an admission of error or discourtesy
accompanied by an expression of regret.*

We practiced this when our children were small, often finding it most helpful to lead by example. To apologize is an outward demonstration of humility, but it does not necessarily reflect what is in the heart.

In the Counseling Room we talk a lot about the importance of humility before God.  First Session we almost always turn to Jeremiah 17:5-10 to establish the importance of sorting out who (or what) needs to be the primary motivation behind resolving problems.  The passage warns against relying on other people who will ultimately lead us“to a salt land where no one lives,”  (verse 6).  It then encourages us to trust only in God’s faithfulness. When we get to verses 9-10 the passage warns:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?’
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’” 

Not every Client sees it right away, but we talk about the danger of relying on our feelings rather than on God in problem solving. All too often it is as we “follow our hearts” (the counsel of the world) that lead us down destructive paths.

Humility defined:  “Freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble–not haughty or assertive.”*

We live in difficult times. With each passing day hatred has become increasingly easy and humility is perceived as weakness.  It is our natural bent to want to respond “in kind” to those who offend or hurt us.  But Jesus taught His followers to do the opposite:

The lost art of humility . . . .

“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 . . . .”

Matthew 5:43, 44

For Christians, humility has less to do with who is right or wrong but what is right before God:

To love Him first and foremost and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) are what should be our primary motivation in how we live out our lives.

Humility is about choosing to trust God as Sovereign, Good and Just. I love the way Romans 12 broadens the scope of how we are to put humility and love together as we pray for our enemies::

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge,
my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay. . . .’
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.”
(Verses 17-21)

Humility becomes an art form when the mysterious working of God’s Spirit strengthens us to love the unlovely by praying for those who have hurt or disappoint us. 

Such humility is revealed by our attitude and actions toward God and others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.”  

Philippians 2:3,4

Humility is a God-thing.  It is a reflection of the loving sacrifice demonstrated on the Cross by Christ.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

For many years I blamed the modern emphasis on building self-esteem as a major contributor to our cultural rejection of Christian principles. However, I no longer attribute the downward spiral of culture solely to the self-esteem movement.  Certainly, our self-centeredness has contributed to our downfall. However, God calls us to have a healthy regard for both our neighbor and ourselves as we remember His call:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another . . .
God opposes the proud but shows favor 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

Only recently have I come to see that, even among many Christians, our problem has more to do with our lack of humility in our dealings with others than with our self-esteem.

So is there a way to stop this downward spiral that threatens to divide us?  In the Counseling Room we talk about the strength of biblical humility as it centers on Christ: the key to living and finishing our lives well before God.   

The artful working out of biblical humility calls for;:

  1. Prayer, first and foremost, as we confess our need for clarity when hate threatens to consume us.
  2. Reliance on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts and direct our steps. (the entirety of Romans 12 provides a helpful perspective.)
  3. Praying for teachable hearts as we seek God’s wisdom and perspective on ourselves and others.
  4. Giving thanks to God that He is in control and His justice will ultimately prevail.

So is there any hope of restoring the lost art of humility? Absolutely!  Such beauty shines through when Christ’s own choose to love others as He has loved us–sacrificially.  It is the beauty and mystery of His Presence in our lives that will ultimately shine through to touch a hurting world.

All to His Glory!

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

“Lord, Turn Our Whining Into Worship”– The Necessity Of Spiritual Regrouping* . . . .

It was a jolt to my system, the day I started to read James for the first time:

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . . “

I say “started to read”, because I was so shocked and frightened by James’s instruction that, for months, I avoided going anywhere near his letter when I opened my Bible.  Looking back I can see where it was God’s mercy, giving me space before facing a life or death challenge that would change my perspective forever.

"Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . "
“Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . “

After that first encounter with James, life was going exceedingly well.  In fact, we were surprised and thrilled to announce to the world that we were expecting a third child that fall.  All appeared to be well until, at 25 weeks gestation, we faced the possibility of losing our son.  During those early weeks of being hospitalized, I went back to James–convicted that I needed to hear him out.  Picking up where I had left off, I found that James’s wisdom provided the perspective I needed to help me spiritually regroup*:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brothers (and my sisters),
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS,
because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces PERSEVERANCE.
Let PERSEVERANCE finish its work so that you may be
MATURE AND COMPLETE, not lacking anything.”
 James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine)

Where I had assumed that God was all about my happiness, I realized that He wanted much, much more:

A rich, full-bodied, mature faith that trusts in Him . . .
that, pure and simple, is God’s goal in allowing trials and uncertainty
to test and grow us.

All these years later,  I have helped many a Client to spiritually regroup with the forthright wisdom of James.  When God asks, “Will you trust me in this?”  There is nothing that delights His heart more than when we say, “Yes Lord, I will trust You in this.”

In these uncertain times, I find myself returning to James often to spiritually regroup.  That is why the opening prayer of a sermon I listened to recently got my attention:

“Lord . . . turn our whining into worship.”

Initially I caught myself smiling as I reflected, “Turn our whining into worship?”  I remembered a childishly scrawled addition to a grocery list I found many years ago requesting, “kids whine”.  It was referring to a favorite sparkling juice our children enjoyed during special meals when wine was served to the adults.  Even now, the irony of the misspelling of “wine” to “whine” makes me chuckle!

But then it struck a much deeper cord in me . . . “Lord, turn our whining into worship.”  I thought about;

  • How easy it is to complain to God about our troubles, even shifting blame to Him for allowing the fruit of our choices to impact our lives.
  • How easy it is to give way to fear, as the world blatantly denies Him.
  • Even now, I catch myself (a supposed “mature Christian”) entering into a whining, “poor me”  attitude when things to differently than I want them to.

To be clear, it is not whining when we seek help from God.  In fact, He urges us to run to Him with our fears and whatever weighs heavy on our hearts:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.”

 (Matthew 11:28)

However, the “rest” we are invited to enter, does not necessarily take us out of the battle.  We ultimately discover rest for our souls when we choose to trust in Christ–whether our circumstances change or not.  Such rest comes as we answer the question God asks each of us, “WILL YOU TRUST ME IN THIS?”  

When faith says, “Yes Lord, I trust You no matter what . . . . ”
Guess what happens? We leave the realm of whiners and uncertainty
as we enter into a worship that reflects a maturing faith!

The Bible is full of wisdom to help us grow through difficulty. Recently I have found encouragement and direction from God’s instruction given to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.  It is helpful and relevant to you and I today as we pray:

“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray
and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.”

II Chronicles 7:14

Yes, we live in uncertain times
where it is easy to give way to fear or to be run by anger.
But such times offer us a myriad of opportunities to
spiritually regroup and deepen our faith,
as we trust in Him with humble, glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

*To spiritually regroup refers to those times when we are convicted that our emotions are running us rather than our faith in Christ.  We spiritually regroup when we confess our fears, anger, bitterness, pride, etc, as sin against God.  We spiritually regroup when we choose to trust Him to work out His Perfect Plan for our ultimate good and His Glory.

How to Make Joy in Your Journey a Reality . . . .

There is a small sampler hanging in the entryway of my home.  Few people notice it (probably because it is surrounded by pictures of family) but I quite enjoy its depiction of a colonial home with a tree along with a beehive with bees framed by flowers and greenery typical of a colonial sampler.  Yet, as lovely as it is to look at, for me, the best part is the message it proclaims:  “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.”  

Blessed are those who find . . . .
Blessed are those who find . . . .

JOY.  The Bible mentions joy frequently, but in ways that a world focused on itself cannot understand:

“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . .”

 James 1:2

“Do not be grieved,
for the JOY of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10b

“But REJOICE . . .
as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
SO THAT YOU MAY BE OVERJOYED
when His glory is revealed.”*

I Peter 4:13

Holding onto joy in the journey can often elude us in our ever-changing, increasingly upside-down world.  For more than twenty years I have been privileged to come alongside people fighting personal battles large and small in the Counseling Room.  As we have looked to the Scriptures for wisdom and perspective, God has faithfully spoken to each hurting, hungry soul. Repeatedly, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in shepherding the hearts of those faithful to do their Journey Notesas the assurance of His Presence and Purpose being worked our in their lives, provide a quiet JOY that settles in their hearts.

So, how can we receive JOY when life hits hard?
By giving thanks to God IN the hard places.

An even better question to ponder is:

How can we retain JOY throughout our journey?
By give thanks to God FOR the hard places.

I met a young woman recently who, though shattered by infidelity in her marriage, told me about how God had softened her once angry and bitter heart.  She confessed her own failures as she expressed her determination to be reconciled with her husband.  She admitted that she almost canceled our appointment except for one remaining question: “Is there anything else I can do to encourage my husband to want to re-build our marriage?”

I responded with a question that burned brightly in my mind as soon as I heard her question, “Have you given thanks to God for your husband’s life and for your marriage?”  I went on to explain, “You have testified to me about how God has brought about change and spiritual growth in your mind and heart.  GIVE THANKS,  for the blessing of God’s divine purposes being worked out in your heart and life–a maturing, humble faith.”  She nodded with a thoughtful smile as the wisdom of what was said settled in.

What lesson can we learn from this?  While the world touts “happiness”, God calls us to go deeper as we choose JOY as a reflection of our trust in Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends about the basis of his JOY from a prison cell:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:12, 13

If you are looking for a formula for Joy/contentment in your circumstances, this acronym for JOY will serve you well: put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself, last.  

True Christ-centered JOY, chooses to trust more in His love for us,
as we give thanks that we are never alone.**

 Christ-centered JOY remembers the all-surpassing love of the One who came expressly to save us from ourselves . . . for Himself:

He died for us so that,
whether we are awake or asleep,
we may live together with Him.
Therefore encourage one another. . .
build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing . . . .
Rejoice always, pray continually,
GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES*;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11, 16-18

ALL to His Glory!

*Large capitalized letters, emphasis mine.
**Psalm 139

Forgiveness: Facing-Off Evil In The Love And Mercy Of Christ . . . .

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 6:12

It is difficult to make sense of forgiveness, especially when it is extended to someone who brutally snuffed out the lives of innocent family members.  Such was the response of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community in 2006, when five young girls were brutally murdered and five others severely injured.  Not only did they forgive the shooter (who committed suicide at the scene), the Amish community extended their forgiveness by caring for his wife and three children who were left without a husband and father.

A similar scenario played out this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a stranger, welcomed into their church’s Bible study,  murdered the pastor and eight others.  Though still reeling from the loss of their loved ones, family members none-the-less made their way to the courtroom to extend forgiveness to the shooter as well as his family.

Where does such strength to forgive–such determination to face-off evil–come from?  After years of working with people in the Counseling Room, as well facing my own personal challenges, I can assure you that such forgiveness never comes easy.  Humanly speaking, we want to hold onto anger and hate; we desire to repay evil for evil.  Yet even from a health perspective, we know that to allow such things to hold sway for very long, is to allow the acidic erosion of our thinking to separate us from the God who saves.  James 4 speaks to the inward struggle we face:

"What causes fights and quarrels among you?"  James 4:1
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James 4:1

“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 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

The good news is that God desires better for us and calls us to Himself as the Shepherd of our hearts.  In the end, forgiveness is God’s means of deepening a faith relationship between Himself and His people.  Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
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

That rest for your souls, is embedded in the knowledge that God, who is merciful as well as just, will not forget the burden you surrendered to Him.  If not repented of, God’s justice will prevail.  With this in mind, God asks but one question, “Will you trust Me in this?”

Forgiveness, pure and simple, is a God-thing . . . it is not something we can conjure up alone.  What is the critical ingredient needed to face-off evil when life hits us hard?  Forgiveness . . . that is grounded in the love and mercy of Jesus.  As forgiveness is applied in humility and faith, the evidence of God’s Presence in the hearts of His people is revealed.  

The declaration Paul made to his friends in Galatia, when they were in danger of entering into the bondage of legalism, is a good reminder to us when we are tempted to hold on to bitterness and anger:

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

Galatians 5:1

  • Forgiveness is a decision, that reflects the mercy received through God’s only Son.
  • Forgiveness comes alive and is believable, only as acts of mercy follow it.
  • Forgiveness chooses, to trust in God’s ultimate justice.

Forgiveness is the ultimate means whereby God’s people are truly freed–
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

 

 

Sin That Cannot Be Undone . . . .

Last week I was sickened by hatred spewed by elements of the media, aimed at destroying a Christian family featured in a reality television program–Nineteen Kids and Counting.  I have been fascinated by how this unique family of nineteen homeschooled children seeks to live out their faith according to biblical principles.  To be honest, I have been humbled by their example of kindness and mercy extended toward others, even as they have been ridiculed for their faith.  I am not sure how long the program has been on, but I do know that it has been long enough to have featured the courtship and weddings of three of the Duggar children–long enough for the oldest son,  Josh, and his wife Anna, to have grown their family to include four children (the fourth child due some time this year.)  I have especially appreciated programs featuring Anna, as she has navigated the challenges of being a young wife and mother after moving to Washington, DC for a job opportunity that opened up for Josh.  Were I to say I have a favorite in the family, it would be Anna–as she has grown and matured tending her little “flock” with humor and grace, reached out to others in their new community and sought to be a good helpmate to Josh.

I admit that learning about Josh abusing some of his sisters when he was fourteen-years-old (he is now twenty-seven) was shocking.  Josh, to his credit, has not denied it.  In fact, he made a public apology that said (in part):

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends . . . . I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

Responses to his apology have been mixed, at best.  But, far more troubling to me were comments expressed on Facebook, by some who obviously enjoyed exposing “every dirty little secret” they could dig out about the family.  I found myself wondering about the source of such hatred that appeared to come so easy.  Of the two Facebook posts I read last weekend and the sixty-plus comments made in response to those posts, only one individual wrote what I found to be a helpful, credible response to Josh’s confession:

“I am a victim and mom who has had to walk this painful road
because of someone else’s sin. The difference”
(contrasting Josh Duggar’s response with her experience)
“–never has the perpetrator sought forgiveness
nor been quick to accept with such humility that they screwed up.
My heart is so broken for this family–and praying for them . . . .
The world holds Christians to a perfect standard-we are NOT perfect.” 

DSC02168 - Version 2
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously, without finding fault . . . .” James 1:5

SIN . . . whatever form it takes, is vile stuff.  In the Counseling Room we refer to sin as, “puke on God’s Throne” (II Peter 2:22) to emphasize the vileness of it.  Part of my role and responsibility as Counselor, is to help those I serve deal with sin that has impacted them–either their own sin or sin imposed on them by others.  By far, the sin that is the most challenging to address, is sin committed in the past that cannot be undone.

In no way can I excuse what Josh did, but there is some comfort in knowing that he has expressed his regrets and repented of his sin.  Also, I was grateful to hear that before marrying Anna, Josh owned up to his past–giving her the opportunity to walk away if she wanted to.  Anna chose to marry Josh and, as my grandma used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.”  It has been in watching Anna’s confidence grow in her role as wife, mother and friend that, I believe, reflects something good about the character of the man she married.

As Christian’s, we are challenged to respond to this family tragedy in a manner that honors Christ.  While it may be tempting to enter into the fray of condemnation encouraged by social media, we must take care that we avoid “puking on God’s Throne” as we consider the broken and prayerful example given us by a true victim of abuse.

There is much to be gleaned from the wisdom of Scripture to guide us.  A personal favorite of mine we frequently look to in the Counseling Room, is this passage in Romans:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
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.”e
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21

It is always comforting to remember, that as much as we may hate the pain and suffering sin inflicts on us and on those we love, God hates it more–“Vengeance is Mine, I WILL repay” the unrepentant sinner.  While we cannot know fully the depth of anyone’s confession, God’s Justice will ultimately prevail.

Our Challenge as Christians,
is to take care that we avoid heaping our own sin/puke on others as we pray for them,
rather than delighting in and exposing sin that cannot be undone.    

All to His Glory!