Self-Forgetfulness is Sacrificial . . . .

Their mother insists that they are “normal” children who argue and get frustrated with each other as all siblings do.  However, in this in this recording filmed to encourage others in their church, the love of Trenton Cochran for his disabled sister Lindsay is a beautiful example of self-forgetfulness as sacrificial:

In a separate interview their mother added that her children have a deepened appreciation for life and maturity beyond their years because of her battle with breast cancer . . . .

In His teaching about greatness in the kingdom of heaven Jesus taught:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” 
Matthew 18:3, 4  

It is right to protect our children, however, we do ourselves and them a disservice when we fail to teach them that all of life is a gift from God.  To be self-forgetful is to honor His example of sacrifice by loving as He has loved us:

“Love is patient, love is kind.   It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking . . . .” 
I Corinthians 13: 4, 5a

All to His Glory!

To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”  

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013.

True Freedom: The Gift of Self-Forgetfulness ~

“With privilege comes responsibility!”  It was a phrase repeated often as our children grew into young adulthood and left the family nest.  They are gone, tending to their own families, but the truism remains in our home (with a slight twist) . . . “With FREEDOM comes responsibility!”

Why the change?  Because as the years have passed, God has given me a heightened awareness and appreciation for the spiritual freedom won for us by Christ.  Such freedom is not a right . . . it is an amazing Gift:

“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

Passing on that Gift has become an important part of what I do in the Counseling Room, especially when the subject of self-esteem comes up: 

“Your self-esteem is not my concern–there will always be someone or something ready to tear it down.  My goal as your Counselor is to strengthen your esteem for God (your God-confidence) and to achieve His goal for you: a mature faith.” (James 1:2-4)

Living in a culture where the self-esteem philosophy is so prevalent, even the church has become weakened by its influence.  All too often, we blame low self-esteem that resulted from childhood deficiencies, a bad marriage or the influence of others rather than taking responsibility for our sin.

That is why I was delighted last week to discover a small jewel of a booklet titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY* by Dr. Timothy Keller.  I appreciated the clear and concise way Dr. Keller addresses the problem of the self-esteem philosophy and lays out the biblical framework for self-forgetfulness.

What I found most encouraging from a Counseling standpoint, is how Dr. Keller affirms our Christian responsibility to grow a mature faith by trusting God more and relying less on ourselves and others when it comes to the measurement of our self-worth.

In a world where low self-esteem is deemed the root of all evil, where elevated self-esteem is touted as the answer . . . what has become of JOY?  In a world where we have turned ever-inwardly and darkness appears to be winning, it would seem hopeless.  You might wonder what self-forgetfulness would even look like?  Dr. Keller answers our doubts as he introduces gospel-humility as the prescription for what truly ails us.  Gospel-humility is:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”

 He writes further,

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up . . . The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes.  It just works.  It does not draw attention to itself.  The toes just work; the ego just works.  Neither draws attention to itself. 

In short, self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility . . . embraces the Gift of our spiritual freedom to no longer worry ourselves about ourselves.  Gospel-humility loves with abandon; it is no longer run by hurt feelings or the fear of “not making the grade” of someone else’s expectations.  Got low self-esteem?  Praise Him and shoot for the moon as you live your lives in gratitude for such an amazing freedom!

Self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility?  Trust me when I say . . . it is our only hope!

All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013. (To get a copy PRESS HERE)

Growing Up Is Hard . . . No Matter How Old You Are!

As my husband and I drove out to do some errands yesterday, the shocking realization hit me that in fifteen years (if we live that long) we will be eighty!  Eighty!!!  The odd thing is that even though I will be sixty-five on my next birthday, in some ways, I still don’t feel like a grownup!  I still struggle with insecurity in certain social situations and I embarrass myself by laughing too loud when something strikes me as being especially funny.  I feel obligated to appear at least somewhat “put together” yet (more often than I am willing to admit) I frequently am scrambling just to keep up!

Growing up is hard . . . no matter how old you are!  Having this understanding has definitely impacted how I relate to others–be they family, friends or the checker at the grocery store.  Knowing that the majority of us struggle no matter what our age has freed me as a Counselor to love each Client according to their need rather than their age.    The beauty of using the Scriptures as our primary source of wisdom and perspective in the Counseling Room is that the Bible speaks to every age as it ministers to each heart.

In the past six months I have marveled at how Scripture passages that have stood out to me earlier in the week, can also be helpful to a majority of my clients facing vastly different problems.  The reason for this is that the Scriptures help to take our focus off of ourselves and beyond our circumstances to open our minds and hearts to God’s purposes and perspective.  For example, this passage from I Corinthians 4:1-5 grabbed my attention this past week:

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

As I thought about being a “servant of Christ” and the responsibility I bear before God to never forget what He has done in my life, the phrase, “With privilege comes responsibility” came into my mind.  It is a phrase that I repeated countless times as our children were growing up.  I thought about that as I reflected on the Apostle Paul’s words.  If I am privileged to claim Christ as Savior, my identity is bound up in Him as His servant.  With the privilege of serving Him comes the responsibility to never trivialize what God has done or is currently doing.  I was especially touched as I thought about, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent . . . He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”  We all carry regrets of things said or done, yet we have a clear conscience because of the saving work of Christ Jesus–Praise and honor Him by reflecting His goodness whatever age we are!

During the week that followed I shared this passage with several clients–one reeling from the pain of infidelity, another battling panic attacks, also a single mom in need of a job– and they were each blessed by it too.  No matter how young or old you are or may feel, God’s purposes will be worked out in your life as you trust and honor Him.  Be encouraged friend, growing up is hard . . . no matter how old you are–but God is certainly worthy of our trust.

All to His Glory!

What Truly Counts in the Heavenly Realms~

When it comes to relationships, how are you at keeping score?  More to the point, how do you think God is at keeping score?  Humanly speaking, we all have the potential to be expert players at the game of “tit for tat.” Yet the Bible warns against score keeping in our relationships because doing so taints our motives:

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.  (James 4:1,2)

While there is a human tendency that pictures God as a sort of giant score keeper in the sky, nothing could be further from the truth!  Jesus challenged the thinking of His disciples (then and now) in Luke 6 as He established what truly counts in the heavenly realms:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (vs.32-34)

Three times the question is asked, “What credit is that to you?” for doing something “even sinners” do.  The answer . . . NONE!  Certainly we benefit from doing what is right, but expecting extra credit is downright silly.  God is far more interested in our spiritual growth and character reflecting His goodness; He very generously rewards us when we integrate Jesus’ teaching in our more difficult (seemingly impossible) relationships:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (vs 35, 36)

True followers of Jesus aim to emulate Him as He reflected His Father.  Our actions should reflect what He so graciously has granted each of us:  Kindness and Mercy.

In my last post I shared a verse from Galatians 5 that I find particularly inspiring:  “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.”  (vs.1)  Actually, the entire chapter would be well worth memorizing as it clarifies what truly counts in the mind and heart of our Creator when it comes to relationships.  Consider verse 6:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

 When the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Galatia false teachers had infiltrated the church.  The lie that many had embraced was that circumcision, in addition to Christ, was necessary to secure their salvation.  Sick and angry at the awfulness of what was being embraced Paul’s outrage was plainly expressed when he wrote, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (v.12)

It is entirely appropriate to hate sin, but where we think in terms of keeping score God watches and waits to see the motives of our hearts demonstrate His Love, His Kindness and His Mercy to a dark and needy world.  I must confess that it is more than a little tempting to dish back to the world what has been given.  But if we are bent on reflecting what truly counts in the heavenly realms, we will demonstrate our faith in the One who has saved us by looking for ways to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us.  Whatever you may be facing today, resist the temptation to dish back what has been given.  Instead, prayerfully choose to delight God’s heart by demonstrating His love and forgiveness today.

All to His Glory!

The Clean Slate of a New Year Beckons . . . .

I am always grateful for that special window of time, when the old year is nearly finished and the clean slate of a new year beckons.  Just the anticipation of entering into that season fills me with a quiet HOPE of fresh beginnings.  To keep this time productive, I resist the temptation of focusing on regrets or successes.  Instead,  I prayerfully ask God for a teachable heart as Psalm 139:23, 24 guides me in this process:  

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

2012 was a challenging year in many ways, which perhaps is why focusing on Deuteronomy in my Journey Notes  in recent months has been so meaningful.  Yesterday, I was struck by Moses’ insights regarding the necessity of discipline throughout life.  As he prepared the Israelites to leave the desert after forty years of wandering, Moses reminded them of how God’s loving discipline had readied them to finally cross the Jordan:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you  in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna . . . to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  (Verses 2,3)

Learning humility through God’s loving discipline (not humiliation) is essential at various junctures in our lives to teach us to rely on Him for our every need.  Deuteronomy 6:18 establishes our reward in keeping Him central in our minds and hearts,  

“Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you . . . .”

Humanly, I would like to think that after thirty-plus years of serving Christ, that I would be independent and not have to bother Him with my needs.  But with every challenge and disappointment as well as in savoring those special joys that make our lives uniquely ours,  I am increasingly aware that I need Him more than ever . . . which is exactly His plan!

In light of having our seven grandchildren visiting almost daily over the holidays, this is (in part) what I wrote yesterday in in my Journey Notes as a response to the wisdom of Deuteronomy:

“How precious it has been to have all of our grandchildren together for Christmas!  Spanning from age thirteen to three, it has been a delight to watch them interact as loving cousins.  Not once have I heard a crude or rude remark between them during the almost two weeks we have been together!  (This does not mean there were no flare-ups between siblings, there certainly were!)  But as I have been reading Deuteronomy I have been grateful for the insights given as to the value of discipline and on-going training that went into preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan.  I am grateful to know that the outward love our grandchildren demonstrate for one another is founded on the forge of godly discipline and on-going training.  I pray Lord that you will continue to keep our family humbly reliant on Your Spirit and Your Word to keep us on the straight path.”

That same loving discipline (that of necessity includes learning humility) is essential to your continued spiritual growth as well as my own.  That is why I invite you to join me as the clean slate of a new year beckons . . . seek God’s wisdom and perspective on the past years regrets and successes.  Prayerfully thank Him for His plan for your life as you commit to enter into the new year increasingly reliant on Him.

All to His Glory!