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!

“No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . . “

When I woke up this morning, it was the first time in ten days that I felt no pain in my head.  In fact, I only remembered my accident after glancing at my reflection in the bathroom mirror–though improving after passing so many days . . . oh my, what a shiner!  This week has been full of lessons about gratitude, humility and the difference they make in how we navigate our lives:

LESSON ONE:  Last Monday, while visiting my daughter and her family, I took a bit of a tumble.  Okay . . . truthfully, it was more like a crash and burn on concrete . . . SPLAT.  I counted it a blessing that I could pick myself up and made my way up the stairs–nothing broken except maybe my pride.  I kept an ice pack on my head and laid low for several hours, but was grateful to enjoy a good finish to our visit.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

LESSON TWO:  On Tuesday, I was no worse from my “tumble/crash” so was grateful to fly home with my husband.  As we traveled I saw several reports in the news about a study done by the Pew Research Center’s findings titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”  According to the report, while Christianity still dominates the American religious identity at 70 percent, “dramatic shifts” have taken place as “people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.”  (USA Today)  I watched an interview featuring a thirty-something year old man, who was “raised in the church” but who “had no need” of “religion.”  None of this was a surprise to me, in fact, it confirmed what I have witnessed in my own community.  What caught my attention though, was the countenance of the young man who was interviewed–I saw a joylessness (a spiritual deadness) that weighed heavy on my heart.

Reflecting on the report, I shuddered as I wondered about the correlation between such spiritual deadness and the horrific violence being reported around the world.  It was then that I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his final letter to his young friend Timothy:

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.

 II Timothy 3:1-5

How are Christians to respond to such a world?  We are called to love others when given the opportunity, as Christ has loved us, in grateful humility–

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for the ungodly . . . .
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:6, 8b)

LESSON THREE: Wednesday morning, we woke up to the news of a deadly train derailment that occurred the previous evening.  Eight people were killed and hundreds injured.  The reports were grim, however, one bright spot stood out to me.  It was a tweet from one of the survivors at the scene,

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful . . . . “

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful….”  

As I processed the words of the tweet, I was surprised when I realized that tears were welling up in my eyes–what was that about?  It struck me that sometimes it takes our being stripped of everything we hold dear–truly humbled--that brings us to the point where we are grateful for the gift of our lives.  But here’s the proverbial “rub”:

What is the focus of such gratitude?

Is our gratitude simply for life itself?

Or, is our gratitude extended to the Giver of life?
Is there a difference?
Absolutely!  

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines gratitude as, “Having a due sense of benefits received; kindly disposed toward one from whom a favor has been received; willing to acknowledge and repay, or give thanks for . . . a grateful heart.”

The problem is:

♦  When there is no appreciation of favor having been extended to us by a merciful God, we end up serving ourselves (or others) as we fulfill what has become popularly known as our, “bucket list”.  

♦  With that, the benefits of gratitude and humility before a Holy God are totally lost on a world that is self-focused rather than esteeming God as Creator.

So what is our call?

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship,
with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  
Hebrews 12:29,29
(ESV)

LESSON FOUR: Remember that “tumble/crash” experienced on Monday?  On Thursday morning, I was shocked to see a dark purple “shiner” around my right eye when I looked in the mirror.  (Remember, I hit my head, not my eye!)  Also, the shooting pains in my head were increasing, growing from those sparklers used to celebrate special holidays to an ice pick.  Pride started to creep in when I thought about the Clients I had promised to see that day–should I cancel?  I remembered the Thessalonians 5 passage that encouraged me on Monday, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances . . . .”  With that, I started to put my makeup on extra thick–hoping they would not notice.

Of course, they did notice . . . but God was faithful in blessing both Sessions.  However, towards the end of the second Session my head started to throb.  I called my doctor; he sent me to the Emergency Room where I was immediately humbled when told, “Anyone in their sixties who hits their head needs to have a CT-scan.”  I was also told, “The idea that being fifty or sixty is ‘the new forty’  is a lie–period.”  I was too miserable to argue.  Thankfully, they found no fractures or blood clots formed so I was released to go home.

Since then, I learned that the flight may have exacerbated my symptoms.  In any case, even though I did not hit my eye when I fell, I did enough damage in my head to cause the internal bleeding to move to the soft tissue around my eye.

So what have I learned about gratitude and humility from all of this?

  1. l am grateful for how the accident caused me to slow down enough these past ten days to begin thinking about their importance before God.
  2.  I guess it all boils down to the reminder in Lesson Three: “No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . .”  If God is the focus of our gratitude, our response will keep Him at the center of what we think, say or do.

All to His Glory!

A Simple Faith: Connecting-the-Dots As God Intends . . . .

A pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better.  Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying.  Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness.  If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.

Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure.  When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated.  I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my Client perceives their problem(s).  What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.

It is our response to what God says, that determines
how accurately we “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.

Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways.  It was a book containing a collection of letters about faith, written in the 1700’s by John Newton*.  Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:DSC02073

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .

The wisdom of Newton’s Amazing Grace has continued to resonate from generation to generation.  What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God.  It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:

 “Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance. (p.116)

Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied.  It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith.  These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,

  1. “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness.  Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
  2. “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .”  I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .”  I  must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.”  However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason.  Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God. 
  3. The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.”  When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God.  There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart. 

The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people:

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.”   As we continue to walk in simple faith we discover rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.  

All to His Glory!

 *Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.

The Richness of a Spiritually Healthy Life . . . .

 

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

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

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

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

In practical, spiritual terms this breaks down as,

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

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

On Giving Thanks In All Things . . . .

God has proved Himself faithful through the ages and continues to speak to those who seek Him.  That is why, I encourage every Client I serve to get into the Scriptures for themselves through Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  One of my favorite passages we visit is recorded in Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God offers hope to a generation that had forgotten Him:

“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.Jeremiah 29:11-13

In these weeks and months, as our family has journeyed the cancer trail with our son Luke and then our beautiful Shannon, the challenges have been many.  Certainly, fear has been a constant threat–the thought of losing either (or both) of them have weighed heavily on our hearts.  Yet our faith has been strengthened as we have watched them persevere in trusting God at every juncture.  Since Shannon’s surgery, nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago, we have watched as Luke has gained strength daily but not knowing what was in store for Shannon.

As we have waited for the results of Shannon’s tests, I have thought about the faith of three men who lived long ago, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.   When ordered to bow down to an image of gold or perish in a fiery furnace, they refused to obey the king.  Their response to the kings order, before being thrown into the fiery furnace, bore testimony to a faith in God that saw beyond this world:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  
Daniel 3:16-18

Shannon and Luke--in all things giving thanks!
Shannon and Luke–Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Yesterday we rejoiced at the wonderful news from Shannon’s pathology report.  Her cancer has been determined to be at “stage one”, so she will remain under observation, but will not have to receive further treatment.  You can bet that many tears of relief fell as the dread of further treatment was lifted from our shoulders!  We are certainly grateful for God’s gracious answer to all of our prayers and yet . . . I pray that we never lose sight of His continued faithfulness to us throughout this trial.

This season of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) has drawn us closer together as a family and to the Shepherd of our hearts.  Many have entered in to bless us with countless prayers, acts of sacrifice and kindness that humbled us all.  Reflecting on all of this, Shannon asked this question a few weeks ago: “If all of this hadn’t happened, what would we be doing?”  The answer chilled us–we would probably be busy and worried about things that really have little significance in the greater scheme of things.

As we move into the New Year, my prayer is that we never lose sight of the lessons learned through this trial.  Certainly, cancer is ugly, horrible stuff.  Yet, in the midst of such ugliness, we have learned to count our many blessings as God has proven Himself to be faithful.  I extend my prayer for those of you who read this.  No matter what you are facing, give thanks to God for the opportunity to deepen your faith; with every breath He grants you, give thanks for His glorious grace!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

All to His Glory!