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!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

“Continue To Do Good . . . “

What are we to do when evil strikes and when life does not make sense?  How are we to respond to someone who slaps us hard and looks at us with eyes of hate; when there is no apparent remorse for what has been done?  It is tempting to try to hide from evil, to pull away from a world fraught with danger until things clear and we feel safe again.  Truthfully, that is my first response when life gets hard.  However, rather than curl up and hide, I have learned in my Christian walk to take a deep breath and respond to whatever challenge faced (be it my own or when helping someone else) according to the simple direction of James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

As the events of 9/11/2001 took place, I remember begging God for wisdom and perspective all that day and into the night.  I felt tormented and did not know how to respond to such evil.  Finally, as I was going to bed exhausted and confused these words came to me:  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  God is good.”  (The first part is from Romans 12:9b; the second served as a reminder as to where I could safely put my trust.)  A sense of relief flooded my mind and heart as I reflected on the simple clarity imparted through those words.  As I went to sleep I remember how the words continued to work through my mind and heart: “Hate what is evil . . . cling to what is good . . . God is good . . . .”  I slept peacefully that night, finding my resting place in the hands of a loving God who is worthy of my trust despite the chaos in the world.

Since then, those words have continued to echo in my mind and heart, even as evil has continued to lurk and destroy.  I have continued to see God’s goodness still holding the upper hand.  This week though, I felt myself stumble inwardly as the tragedy in Boston took place and as I counseled three women hurt by the pain of rejection and betrayal.  What to do?  Deep down I realized I was tired of the hurting and done with the unfair suffering imposed on innocent people by the sin of others.  Even so, I had to smile when the words came to my mind, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God . . . . ”  My response was what I have learned to do, I took a deep breath and ran to the Scriptures, this time with my Clients.  Focusing on I Peter 3:8 through the end of Chapter 4, it was the final verse that settled into our minds and hearts as it rendered this simple clarity and assurance:

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

What would God have us do when bad things happen; when we are treated unfairly or betrayed by others?  Are you tired and feel as if you have nothing left to give?  God has cleared a simple path for you and me as He urges us to  “continue to do good” by hating what is evil and clinging to Him for the strength and mercy we need to speak and act in love.  We live in a fallen world, full of heartache and confusion; a world no different from the one two thousand years ago that rejected and betrayed its only Hope.  God was faithful then and He continues to be now so . . . continue to do good as we trust HIM to deal with the ugliness of sin in this fallen world.  Truly, HE IS WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!  

All to His Glory!

A God of Celebration . . .

One of the things I love about God is that He is a God of celebration.  I marvel at all the ways God prescribed creative and meaningful celebration for the Israelites during their forty year wilderness treck.  (Check out Exodus after the holidays to see for yourself.)  Celebration in the Bible served to remind God’s people and future generations of His faithfulness.  I suppose that was the motivation behind writing “De-Schlucking” Christmas: Focus on HOPE!    To “de-schluck” Christmas is really an effort to simplify and creatively bring out the true meaning of the celebration of Christ’s birth.  I found that in my “de-schlucking” effort the process was very personal.  Were you to come to my home you would see some rather oddball things displayed–like a palm tree and a red apple on my Christmas tree.  This is where the personal part comes in, because those things serve as reminders of God’s kindness to us in the past.  That is why no one should ever attempt to “de-schluck” someone else’s celebration– it’s personal!

For me, the most meaningful celebration in our family takes place after our Christmas Day dinner.   The meal varies (I think we are eating Caribbean this year) but dessert is always the same:  Birthday Cake for Jesus.  Now I can see many of you rolling your eyes with disappointment at the suggestion of a “schlucky” birthday cake as the grand finale of your Christmas dinner.  Just hear me out!

~ BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR JESUS ~

  • Any size or shape cake frosted with white icing  (White Icing represents the Purity of Christ)
  • 20 red birthday candles  (Serve to remind us of the twenty centuries that have passed since Jesus was born, the red stands for His royalty and, of course, when lit we are reminded that He is the Light of the world.)
  • Washable greenery such as holly or evergreens to put around the sides of the cake (Reminds us of Life Everlasting that is promised to all who look to Him as Lord and Savior.)
  • Anything else that serve as a reminder of the Christmas Story

As we light the candles we review the meanings of the white icing, the twenty red candles and the greenery.  Once the candles are all lit we sing Silent Night and then Happy Birthday Jesus.  I have enjoyed sharing this tradition with many groups, young and old.  My favorite was after caroling in our village while living in England.  The tradition in the village was to serve oxtail soup (a hearty finish after being out so long in the cold.)   When we brought out the cake and made the presentation they all loved it.  When I think of that night, I still have to smile . . . .

Do you have a tradition that holds special meaning for you at Christmas?  Please share so it can be passed on . . .

All to His Glory!

Royal Words ~

“Words … so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary; how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Notebooks, 1841-1852

Words!  Living in a world where words are so carelessly tossed around, we forget their powerful potential for both good and evil.  In several posts I have written about “royal words,”  a term birthed soon after we  moved to England with our children (ages six, four and eleven months.)  When our hotel offered a “cot” for our youngest to sleep in (puzzled and slightly horrified that British babies slept on army cots!) I declined the offer.    Months passed before I learned that “cot” is their word for “crib” and that there are many other words we commonly use that have different meanings.  For instance, I was told that “a yard is where pigs are raised,” people have “gardens.”  We had only just moved into our village when Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married.  This gave our children a heightened awareness of all things “royal”; evidenced by our four-year old’s aspiration to becoming a princess as her occupation of choice!

As our children grew, one of our goals was to instill respect in their hearts for words important to God.  Words like love and hate became “royal words” in our family lexicon to retain the strength of their meaning as they were saved for special use.   Therefore, our family loved God and hated evil, but neither “loved” nor “hated” spinach.  (We instead “liked” or “didn’t care for” the green stuff.)

As I grew with my kids (I was thirty when I gave my heart to Christ) I became aware of other words and phrases in Scripture that are not necessarily “royal” but none-the-less require special attention because they are mentioned frequently in the Bible.  When I learned that the heart is mentioned over 500 times, I started marking every “heart” I discovered with a little red heart drawn over it.  I later noticed admonitions throughout the Bible to, “remember” and “do not forget” God and His faithfulness to us.  (I draw a red cloud around “remember” or “do not forget” when I encounter them in my Bible.)  I mark such words (and several others) because I want them to stand out on the page.  What I appreciate about this practice is that it helps me recognize patterns and themes that I might otherwise miss.

When I started working on this post, I intended to write about the importance of remembering God’s faithfulness in our daily lives.  (I was not thinking about “royal words” at all.)   However, when I decided to find out how many times “remember” is written in the Bible, the course of this entry was totally changed.  I found a chart on a site called, christianbiblereference.com* that lists fifteen words mentioned frequently in the Bible and the number of times they appear in the Old and in the New Testaments (in four different translations!)  Remember was listed at number ten on their list, mentioned 166 times in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  (This does not include “do not forget” and other similar references.)  What grabbed my attention were the top five words listed, as they reminded me of God’s priorities:

  1. Lord – mentioned in Old Testament 7,143 times; New Testament 618 times
  2. God – mentioned in Old Testament 2,725 times; New Testament 1,244 times
  3. Jesus – not mentioned in Old Testament; New Testament 1,273 times  (does not include other references such as Christ, Son of God, etc)
  4. Heart – mentioned in Old Testament 489; New Testament 81 times
  5. Love – mentioned in Old Testament 319; New Testament 232 times

Living in a world that throws Lord, God and Jesus around as cheap disposables can often be painful.  But this list was not about the surrounding world, it was about me.  I was convicted that I too easily speak those names without a whole lot of thought.  It was then that I remembered what God established from the beginning: the supremacy of His Name,

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”  Exodus 20:7

 As I reflect on the royalty of God’s Names I am grateful for the reminder and determined to take greater care in how I use them.  How about you?

All to His Glory!

*Another site I found, ChristianAnswers.Net, has great resources for kids.