BOLD TRUST . . . .

How do you respond when the unexpected becomes a reality . . . when people disappoint you and what means most is taken away? Me? By nature, I shy away from conflict. I tend to be a runner, especially when fear grips my heart.  When forced to face my fears, I have been known to come out fighting–like a bulldog on steroids–angry because I feel very alone and trapped.  That is why I find this passage in Isaiah so meaningful:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

Courage to trust . . . .

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Isaiah 30:15-17

Yep, setting aside any thought of turning to God to confess my fears and trust in Him, that’s me . . . or at least is was me.  How about you?

It would be devastating if the passage ended there.  Thankfully it doesn’t:

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
‘This is the way; walk in it.'”

(Isaiah 30:18, 21)

Over time God has given me a boldness to trust Him despite my fears.
It is a gift that I treasure and is what I endeavor to pass on to my clients–
a deeper appreciation for God as Sovereign and Good.

I was captivated when I heard the testimony of Lynsi Snyder, America’s youngest female billionaire.  Lynsi was also a runner and bears testimony to the Sovereign Goodness of God.  Watch and listen to her story of how her decision to stop running and boldly trust in God changed everything:

In Psalm 30:11 & 12 King David declared,

“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”

Because He is faithful . . . He is worthy of your trust!

ALL To His Glory!

*Lynsi Snyder, a White Chair Film – I Am Second®

True Thanksgiving . . . .

When Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day in 1863, he was not thinking about feasting or relationships between Pilgrims and Indians.  At the time Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, this nation was in the middle of a bloody Civil War that would last another year and a half.  The Battle at Gettysburg– the largest and most devastating of that war–with total casualties numbering over 50,000–had been fought. Three months later, when this Proclamation was declared, the process of reburying the thousands of bodies that had been shallowly interred on the battlefield had begun but was not yet complete.  Even so, Lincoln recognized the blessings bestowed on the United States while in peril. In a time filled with uncertainty, we can learn much from President Lincoln’s perspective as he recognized God’s hand of grace and mercy during the perilous times of a country at war with itself.  That Proclamation included the following:dsc03086

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added . . . (so) that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed . . . to invite and to provoke . . . aggression (from other nations), peace has been preserved . . . order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship . . . . Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field . . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union . . . .”*

There is much that can applied to our own times as we contemplate Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

  • True thanksgiving is not about what we are thankful for but WHO we are thankful to.
  • True thanksgiving remembers God’s grace and mercy extended in countless ways despite our sin or our circumstances.
  • True thanksgiving is meant to be a lifestyle rather than a yearly occasion.

While writing this post the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, came to mind.  Written more than two centuries before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, it captures the essence of what true thanksgiving is meant to be about to this day:

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Words: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), 1636
trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), 1858

As President Lincoln said, we have much to give thanks to God for.  We also have much to repent of–fear, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lack of mercy for the suffering of others.  As we observe Thanksgiving in repentant faith, we can look to the future with the same confidence and hope as the Apostle Paul:

“Now to Him who is able
to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

Ephesians 3:20-21

All to His Glory!

*To read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in full see:      http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

More Than Fireworks . . . .

Since I was a child I have loved celebrating the Fourth of July.  From age six, I understood that Independence Day celebrated the birth of our nation.  I knew that on July 4, 1776, a group of men, representing thirteen British colonies, gathered together to formally declare those colonies to be a new, independent nation.   On that day, the Signers of the Declaration of Independence became enemies of the King of England , , , risking everything they had for the cause of freedom.  As I grew I learned:

  • That the Signers of the Declaration were men of vision . . . men who saw a future country far beyond themselves.
  • They were men who, though different one from the other, yet were united as created beings–accountable to their divine Creator.  
  • Certainly, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence did not think of separating themselves from their Creator as they wrote:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator . . . . “

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator . . . . ”  

The Fourth of July was a day of remembrance, culminated by waving sparklers wildly with my brother, cousins, neighbor kids or whoever else wanted to join in on celebrating the best nation on earth.  For me, taking hold of one (or even two) of those sparklers took a bit of daring–even though I never got burned, I dreaded the possibility.  However, even then, I knew the Fourth of July was about far more than fireworks–that our security rested in the knowledge that we were “one nation, under God.”  

As years became decades, change came and secularism grew.  Celebrating the Fourth became more sophisticated–filled with parades and activities having little to do with honoring the sacrificial courage and vision of the Signers before their Creator.  Instead, we became obsessed by the “wow-factor” of fireworks that we critiqued from year to year.

Sadly, the critiquing did not stop there–not by a long shot.  In more recent years, as American culture has become increasingly secularized, the notion, “that all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator” has been marginalized by many as “meaningless rhetoric.”  In an article posted on CNN’s website by Mark Edwards, “Was America Founded As A Christian Nation?” (July 4, 2015), five history professors from universities around the United States shared their perspectives pertaining to the roots of American democracy.  Before presenting the five perspectives, Edwards extended a second question, “Why do so many people think the country’s Christian history is so important?”  Sadly, the second question was largely ignored as the majority of the respondents denied any significant Christian influence in the formation of this nation.  Such a suggestion was denigrated in the article to be, “a myth” or, as one respondent suggested, “an invention of corporate, Christian America.”  

After reading the article, the one phrase that resonated with me was, “meaningless rhetoric”–that best sums up much of its content.  Although there were a few interesting insights to be gained, the bulk of it struck me as arrogant and short-sighted.  Thankfully, I did not have to look very far to find an answer to the question of why this nation’s Christian history IS so important.  I found the succinct insights of Christian writer and speaker, Ravi Zacharias, (posted on his Facebook page, dated July 3, 2015) thought provoking and helpful:

“America may not be a Christian nation per se, but only the Judeo-Christian worldview could have framed such a nation’s ideas and values: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.” No other religion or secular assumption can affirm such a statement except the Judeo-Christian worldview. But today that very worldview, on which our systems of government and law are based, is expelled from the marketplace.”

This next part gives the chilling answer to WHY remembering our Christian roots is so important:

Democracies that are unhinged from all sacred moorings ultimately sink under the brute weight of conflicting egos. Freedom is destroyed not only by its retraction; it is also devastated by its abuse.”

The phrase, “the brute weight of conflicting egos” hit me especially hard, as I reflected on our government’s inability to legislate anything of substance, largely because of the conflicting egos on both sides of the political aisle.

But we dare not think of secularism as only political . . . it is far more personal than that. Secularism, in the ultimate sense, denies God and elevates man even as it denigrates the value of people–the unborn, the frail or those considered too flawed to live.  The fruit of a secularized, Godless society?  In what is believed to have been his last known letter, written before he was beheaded, the Apostle Paul warned:

“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 . . .

II Timothy 3:1-5

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I started working on this post, I had no idea of the direction it would take.  It was the morning after watching my grandchildren, initially tentative, and then boldly waving sparklers in their backyard, that I was reminded of my own childhood and how there is so much more to the Fourth of July than fireworks.  As I finish this post, I am struck by the unknown challenges we face, and how very much we need the mindset of the Signers of what became a great nation.  They were imperfect men of courage, who saw themselves as created beings, accountable to their Creator.

The challenge Christians face in this ever darkening world that only knows the man-made “rush” of fireworks is: Will we courageously demonstrate the steadfast Light of God’s love and mercy to a world in need of a Savior?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full . . . .
I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me . . . .”
 

John 10:10 & 14

All to His Glory!

When The World Around You Crumbles . . . .

I saw it in her eyes . . . a glazed fatigue that said she was just barely hanging on.  After stowing her backpack under the seat in front of us, she settled next to me with her 17-month-old daughter and a paper cup filled with a large scoop of ice cream.  Perhaps seeing the concern in my face or . . . just needing to talk, she said softly, “We have been flying for the past thirty-six hours . . . from Kathmandu.”  Having watched many reports of the devastating earthquake all week, the only thing I could think to say was, “Welcome home.”

Popular 200 ft. tower landmark in Nepal, gone in an instant.

As she fed her daughter spoonfuls of ice cream (the only thing the worried mother could get her little one to eat on their long journey) she talked about her experience.  She and her daughter had flown to Nepal to attend her sister’s wedding.  When the quake hit, my seat mate was the only one in the house–the rest of the family (including her daughter) was out in the back garden.  She said several times, “I thought I was going to die,”  before adding,  “My only comfort was in knowing my family would take care of my daughter.”  

Thankfully, she survived.  But I could tell she was still reeling from having seen the world she had known since childhood literally crumble.  She described “the wind that seemed to form with the quake”, filling the air with all sorts of dust particles that made survivors prone to eye and respiratory problems for days after.  Over the next three days, she and her family “camped” (along with countless others) in an open-dirt area with no power, water or even a blanket to form a shelter.   Finally, she and her daughter were admitted to the American Embassy, where they stayed two more days until a flight out was arranged for them.  (Her comment here, “I have never been more grateful to be an American citizen!”)

She spoke softly about the historic sites as well as the majority of the city being flattened.  To help me appreciate the significance of what she had witnessed she said, “Imagine the White House in Washington, DC, being demolished in just a moment . . . that is the magnitude of what has happened in Nepal.”  

How does one respond to a story such as this?  It took some careful thought before I responded with, “During times when I have felt like my life was crumbling, the Bible has provided me with the strength and courage I needed to continue moving forward.  Psalm 139:16b is one of my favorites,

‘All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.'”

A gentleness settled across her face as she said, “I know that what you are saying is true, that God can often bring much blessing out of tragedy.  That is what I am clinging to right now.”  We spoke for some time about the blessings that could come out of the catastrophic shift that had taken place.  Soon, as her little one finally relaxed and fell asleep in her arms, she also closed her eyes and drifted off in exhaustion.

I watched them as they slept, grateful for the privilege of hearing their story as they traveled this final leg home.  I thought about her husband,  waiting at the airport, hungry to see that his wife and daughter were truly alive and safe.  Sitting there I also thought about how “life” can crumble around us in a myriad of ways–relationships broken, dreams squelched, a devastating health reversal, missed opportunities never to return . . . .  The truth is, life on this earth is full of danger.  I remembered the words of Psalm 46, where I have found comfort in the midst of trials:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
(Verses 1-3)

There is no tower we can build that will be high enough, nor any wall we erect that will be broad enough to keep trouble away from our door.  Only God can provide the comfort and shelter we need during such storms.  I love how the rest of Psalm 46 draws us ever closer to the God who is our only Hope and Sure Shelter:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(verses 4-11)

When the plane finally landed she opened her eyes and smiled–HOME!  They were finally home!  Doing what I could to help, I gladly held her little one briefly as she gathered their few belongings.   Then, almost in an instant, they were gone.  Only when they were finally out of sight, did I realize that I would never forget her–even though I never learned her name . . . .

All to His Glory!

To Feel God’s Pleasure . . . .

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire–the true story about Scotsman Eric Liddell.  Born in China to missionary parents, Liddell became famous as a runner and rugby player across Great Britain in the 1920’s.  Chariots of Fire focuses on Liddell’s journey to the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.  What made Liddell famous around the world, was when he refused to run the 100 meter race he had trained for because of a conflict with his religious convictions–the heats were scheduled to be run on a Sunday.  Eric ended up winning an Olympic gold medal when he ran the 400 meter race and a bronze medal for the 200 meter race instead.  One of the lines in the film that stands out in my mind, is Eric’s response to his sister Jenny when she expressed concern that he was investing too much of his time running.  Eric, looking tenderly into his sister’s face, reassured her as he said, “Jenny, Jenny . . . I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”   

Being confident in knowing that God has a plan and purpose for our lives is what compels us as Christians to move forward in challenging times.  I believe that, “to feel God’s pleasure . . .” is more illusive but ties in with our desire to honor God.

We feel God’s pleasure when we use the gifts and abilities He has given us to love our neighbor and to glorify Him. 

Speaking from experience, God has gifted me with the ability to help people dig into the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  In the Counseling Room, I feel God’s pleasure when working with a Client who is in a whole lot of trouble and thinks God has abandoned them.  Many times when I listen to their stories my heart breaks for them.   Over time, I have learned that while empathy is nice, what they need is the strength and perspective the Scriptures offer.  There is nothing more powerful than God speaking truth and hope into the lives of hurting people.  I especially feel His pleasure when He leads us to two, three and sometimes four passages of Scripture–glorious fare for the hungry soul!

There are other instances when I have recently felt God’s pleasure.  One that especially stands out to me has been in witnessing the next generation take on responsibilities serving in my Church.  This summer several young men who have grown up in our church have blessed the musical aspects of worship with their humble leadership. To witness the Spirit of God working in their lives has given me hope for the future.

We feel God’s pleasure when we are broken yet choose to give Him thanks.
His pleasure becomes ours when we are awed by all He has made . . . 
when we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Ephesians 1:9-10 provides a much broader picture of the working out of God’s pleasure across His universe:

With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect
when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16

After the Olympics Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary.  Throughout his life I trust that he felt God’s pleasure many times as he married, had children and served the Chinese people with the Good News of Christ.  His wife and children left China when the Japanese were taking over in WWII.  Eric chose to remain and was ultimately interred by the Japanese in a detainee camp with 1,800 men, women and children in 1943.  There he continued to honor Christ by serving others until he died of a brain tumor in 1945 at age 43.

Liddell was a man after God’s heart, who lived out his life like he ran his races: with patient dedication he honored Christ at every turn.  When he fell, Eric got up and ran harder to follow the path God laid out for him until he finished his race.

To trust God more than our instincts or the opinions of others, moves us in the direction of feeling God’s pleasure as we walk/run in obedience to His Spirit and His Word. 

So what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory! 

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!

Light in Dark Places to Warm the Soul~

 
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 
II Corinthians 3:18

Having grown up in Sunny Southern California, I am always captivated by the miraculous transformation of the landscape when snow falls.  The first “real” snow in our area was a “powdered sugar” kind of snow that demanded no fanfare but caught your breath with its quiet beauty.  What was fascinating about that particular snow was how it seemed to light up the darkness as it fell.  When my daughter commented the next day that she had to close the blinds in her bedroom to sleep because it was so bright, I knew exactly what she meant.

In a sense, the light of Christ transforms the landscape of the human heart, cleansing and filling the broken places with His peace.  No matter how dark life may appear, when we draw near to Christ in faith, the darkness is dispelled as the light of hope blankets and warms the soul.  Are you looking to lighten those dark areas in your life . . . perhaps to unhinge the icy fingers of bitterness or regret?

This week I was reminded of one of the best means of transforming the landscape of the heart as I worked with a young woman I have come to enjoy and respect.   Journey Notes Praise Journaling is a wonderful means of entering into the ongoing, personal soul-work we all need to stay fresh in our faith.    The young woman’s story is one of tragedy–raped at age 12, in and out of psychiatric hospitals after attempting suicide several times– until recently she lived a life sold out to drugs, rehab and more drugs.   Today, she marvels that she is still alive and is intent on getting to know God better.  We meet weekly, but the major work being done in her heart and mind is the conversation cultivated between her and her Lord as she does her Journey Notes.  In our last Session, I asked her if she wanted to share anything from her Journey Notes?  Her response immediately got my attention: “My voice has changed.”  I responded with a puzzled look and waited for an explanation.  She went on to say, “My Praises and Responses to what God says to me have changed.”  When she read some of her most recent entries I understood what she was saying; there was a new depth and passion expressed in her writing that wasn’t there before.  Ah yes, I have seen it before– the light of His Presence had filled and warmed her soul, dispelling darkness and giving hope.

What the Bible says is true, to contemplate the Lord’s glory is to be transformed . . .

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”  
John 12:46 

Are you in a dark place right now or is there someone you want to encourage?  Maybe you are absolutely fine, but are looking for a fun way to add joy to your journey?  Then I strongly encourage you to consider giving Journey Notes Praise Journaling a try.  You can do it on your own or you might ask a friend to do it also; committing to meet weekly or bi-weekly to share what God has shown you.  Truly a wonderful means of entering His light to warm your soul.

All to His Glory!