FOUND . . . .

Is it possible to be lost and not know it? After my husband retired early this year, we camped across the United States and back, traveling close to 15,000 miles.  Without a doubt, we made numerous wrong turns in our travels, sometimes driving for several miles before realizing we were lost.  One advantage we greatly appreciated on the road, was having a GPS to help us navigate.  Rather than getting panicky or upset when we missed a turn, we learned to rely on “Hilda” (our name for our GPS) to help us return to the route we were supposed to be following without having to “back-track” the entire distance.

"Is this all there is?"
“?????”

Other ways we can be lost without knowing it are:

  • When we seek fulfillment by setting goals, achieving them, and then find ourselves looking around and wondering, “Is this all there is to life?”
  • When we put our faith in people and they let us down.
  • When we doubt God’s Sovereign Goodness and think He has abandoned us.

More shocking in our times is the lostness being manifested in a wanton disregard for human life:

  •  Of people who appear outwardly dead as they inflict as much pain and suffering as they can on others, before taking their own lives;
  • Or the lostness of those who champion the “right” to slaughter our unborn children.

John Newton, author of the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, understood the depths of such lostness.  Having been involved in the slave trade for many years and as a younger man led a life full of debauchery.  Newton also knew the joy of having been saved out of that lostness by the love his Savior, Jesus Christ:

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.”  

John Newton, 1725-1807

I too can relate to Newton’s joy of having been FOUND.  It has been 38 years since I understood the wretchedness of my sin and knew that, before a holy God, I deserved hell.  It was the worst day of my life . . . but it also was the absolute best day of my life after surrendering all to Jesus.

So what does it mean to be FOUND?

  • I normally think of it as an adjective: to come upon unexpectedly or after a search.

When I looked it up in my dictionary, however, I discovered that it means much, much more as a transitive verb:

  • FOUND–to take the first steps in building; to set or ground on something solid (a base); to establish (as an institution) often with provision for future maintenance.*

To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be more than simply discovered and then set aside.  
To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be established with design and purpose
in something (actually, SOMEONE)
outside of ourselves.

God has been kind in reminding me of these truths through two new Clients.  One has been established in her faith for many years, but struggles with the pain of a divorce and the challenge of raising her children on her own.  The other is very new in her faith and comes in every week excited to ask questions and to share what God has taught her as she has done her Journey Notes.  BOTH were encouraged and downright excited when we explored Colossians 3 this week.  Here’s what it says in part about being FOUND in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

Feeling lost or deserted?  Are you overwhelmed by whatever challenges you are facing?  Or, are you bored with your life and question God’s purpose for ever putting you here?

The question we must to consider is: Where is Christ in your life right now?

  • Is He merely a distant idea that floats in and out of your consciousness?
  • Is He at the foundational core of all that you care about?
  • Or is He somewhere in-between?

I have found much encouragement and direction in this prayer written by the Apostle Paul, and pray that it will do the same for you:

“I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strengthen you
with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have power, together with all the saints,
to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love.”

Ephesians 3:16-18

All to His Glory!

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Christmas: A Call to Worship

When thinking about Christmas, what comes to your mind?  Like many, I get wound up when it comes to Christmas.  Between the gift buying, wrapping and mailing of packages, the meal planning and the sorting out of “who is going to do what and when” as we make our way through the Celebration–Christmas can be a bit daunting!  However for others, Christmas conjures up painful memories and can be a season of heightened loneliness–for them, Christmas is a season to get through.

Whether you embrace Christmas or you dread it, I write to remind you that Christmas is not about friends or family–Christmas is a call to worship (celebrate) Christ!  Only as we make Christ the focus of our worship, as we humble ourselves before a holy, loving God, do we discover the glorious heights of experiencing Christ in this Holy Season.

In a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Samaritan woman true worship comes to the forefront.  The woman was a mess by any cultural standard–married five times and the fellow she had been living with was not one of the five!  Many Commentators suggest that the reason she came to the well in the afternoon heat, was probably to avoid being shunned or looked down upon by other townspeople.  Jesus knew this when He started a conversation with her and quickly got her to thinking less about herself and more about her relationship with God.  Verses 25 and 26 stood out especially to me last night:

“‘God is spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you, am He.'”
John 4:25,26

Jesus not only taught on the subject of worship, He pointed to Himself as the rightful Heir, deserving of that worship!  Inspired by Jesus’ reminder, I remembered the words of one of my favorite hymns, O Come All Ye Faithful:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Hungering for more, I hit youtube.com looking for more opportunities to worship Christ.  Finally, I came upon this Christmas Eve service, recorded in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England.  It was a perfect fit for me, having been there many times.  The last time I was there was especially meaningful to me when I attended an evensong communion service with my friend Maggie.  What I love about the recording is that it captures the smallness of men being surrounded by the gargantuan holiness of God–worship that fills and satisfies!  If you get a chance set some time aside (the entire recording is about 45 minutes) and be blessed as I was.

May God bless you richly as you remember His Son . . . .

All to His Glory!

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . the people living in darkness have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned.” 
Matthew 4:16
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

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.
 
T’was 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 that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

Running Scared~

I do not come from a family of runners.  In fact, in my extended family if anyone said they were “going to run to the store,” it was understood that they were driving the car to get there!  That is why when my oldest decided to take up running I was incredulous.  “Running . . . really?!!!”  It has been several years and she is still at it.  In fact, we are vacationing together and this morning when I found my way upstairs for some coffee Kara came in from running “just under five miles . . . .”  Am I proud of her (and ever so slightly jealous?)  You bet!

While I do not come from a family of runners, I do know about another kind of running:  Running Scared.  How about you?  There are times in life when most of us have been run by fear or doubt.  But how we handle fear is what makes Christians distinctive in facing the dangers of a fallen world.  The Scriptures counsel that the only healthy fear in life is “the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 9:10)  Otherwise, while the Bible recognizes that we live in a scary world, God’s own are admonished throughout the Old and the New Testaments to not give way to fear.   So how are we to react when we’re facing trials or are suddenly overwhelmed by fear?

  1. Recognize there is a problem.  Life is full of all sorts of problems, large and small.  The problem with running scared is that it is so one-sided.  When we run scared, we’re mostly running from what frightens us, but  rarely do we have a place we are running to.
  2. Remember that you are not alone.  Jesus urges, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Pray . . . thank Him that you are not alone and that He loves you.
  3. Run to the One who cares about you and will help you with your problem. Whatever you may be facing it is no surprise to God.  He encourages us as He tends to our hearts saying, “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 11:29)
  4. Resolve to handle the problem with His wisdom and encouragement.  

It was in a trying situation, when I wanted to run scared, that I discovered the wisdom and encouragement of Isaiah 30:15-18.  At the time, I felt like I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; when her Auntie Em’s house was ripped from its foundation and was flying through the air.  Like Dorothy, everything that flew around me took on a bizarre twist until the house finally landed with an almost imperceptible “thunk.” Verse 15 served as the “thunk” that set my mind and heart straight:  

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .”

There it is, God’s prescription for just about every problem we face.  Our response to such wisdom?  Sadly, a total mess-up:

” . . . 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.”

There I was, feeling totally alone . . . convicted about my foolish desire to run.   As I reflected on God’s call to  “repentance and rest . . . quietness and trust . . . salvation . . . strength . . .” I felt my soul being tended to like nothing else could.  A quietness of mind and heart settled over me as I took my focus off myself and was honest with God.  “Yes Lord, my sin is great but You are greater still.  Help me to trust and honor you rather than run away.”

It is in that place of loneliness that we recognize the pit of despair where no one wants to live. It is a place fraught with anxiety and without hope.  Even so, it is a place where redemption is near for all who cry out to God for the help they need.  He waits ready and willing:

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!  (v. 18)

Tired of running?  Not sure where to go from here?  Take it from someone who has faced fear at many levels and can say with complete confidence . . . He is worthy of your trust!  So, what are you waiting for?!!

All to His Glory!

This Is Not Heaven!

Are you lonely, discouraged, disappointed or distraught?  Welcome to life!  I do not mean to be insensitive or flippant, but sometimes we need an ice cold splash of reality in our faces to remind us that this is NOT heaven!  In fact, it is my hope that you will be encouraged by this reminder because it underscores the very reason Christ Jesus came to this earth.  Philippians 2 presents a realistic depiction of the sacrifice He made in leaving heaven to enter the world as we know it:

  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
  did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
   rather, He made himself nothing
  by taking the very nature of a servant,
  being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
  He humbled himself
  by becoming obedient to death—
  even death on a cross!  (Verses 5-8)

We celebrate Christmas as a season of remembrance: when God’s Son left the purity of heaven to enter this very dangerous and sin-polluted world.  Jesus came to save those who would trust Him for heaven.   

Think about His life on this earth, it was about sacrifice from beginning to end.  Jesus was:

  • Born in a barn to parents who would soon be on the run, seeking to protect their baby from a crazy king bent on His destruction.
  • Raised in obscurity in a poor family and in a town regarded with disdain.  (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46])
  • Rejected by those He came to redeem, He certainly knew the pain of loneliness, disappointment and suffered the cruelty of men.  ( He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.   He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”  [John 1:10, 11])

We celebrate Christmas when we take our minds off ourselves and the world around us, to embrace the Hope of Heaven that belongs to those who have faith in Him.

“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:12, 13)

There is no lonelier place than feeling discouraged, disappointed or distraught in a crowd . . . especially at Christmas.   But take heart, there is more to life than circumstances that can change with the tides.    Instead of avoiding the pains of life by filling those moments with busyness or chatting about nothing, turn your attention to the One who came down from heaven to save you and praise Him:

Thank You Lord for loving me and for saving me from myself;

Thank you Jesus for granting me the hope of heaven; help me to go deeper in appreciating all that You sacrificed for me . . .

Thank you God for Christmas as a season of remembrance . . . may You be magnified in my life this day and always!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:1-3)

 All to His Glory!

The Beauty of Solitude ~

Helping people with problems is primarily what counseling is about.  One of the advantages of counseling from a biblical perspective is in knowing that there are almost always positive aspects to whatever problem we face.  Case in point: the problem of loneliness.  Having battled loneliness personally, I know firsthand how insidiously loneliness can drain hope and light out of the landscape of the human mind and heart.

That is why I was grateful to read a blog posted this week titled, Solitude by Cristian Mihai.  Though writing from a purely secular view, I was refreshed by his reminder that there is much beauty to be enjoyed when we are on our own.  Here are some of his observations regarding solitude:

“As a kid, life is often simple.  I played with my toys, making up stories. I read books, tried to learn so many different things that I could talk to an adult as equals.  It was fun, actually.  But I also spent a lot of time alone, in silence.  But my mind was never quiet.

Solitude grants you this bizarre freedom, filling your mind with questions and answers and noise and stories.  I spent a lot of time building the life I was going to have.  I spent more time some place else than my body.”

 He went on to say that to work creatively– be it with words, paint, gardening or any other medium- solitude is often an absolute necessity.  He is totally right!  Here is part of what I wrote back to him:

“Your insights into the necessity of solitude in the creative process really hit the mark.  I would have to add that for me, what makes “solitude” most productive and exciting is the interplay of my Creator’s Voice with my own, urging me on throughout the process.  The problem of loneliness comes when my focus is so totally inward, that I lose touch with that other Voice.  The blessing is in knowing that even there (in my loneliness) His Voice can penetrate even the darkest of darkness.”  (Psalm 139:7-12)

To sort out the difference between solitude and loneliness, I checked the Oxford Dictionary Online.  What I discovered is that solitude can be very beneficial and should be guarded as something precious.  Solitude is defined as:

1  The state or situation of being alone: she savoured her few hours of freedom and solitude
2  Lonely or uninhabited place: the battle to preserve beloved solitudes flared up all over the country

Loneliness, on the other hand, is not so beneficial in its definition:

Sadness because one has no friends or company: feelings of depression and loneliness

The difference?  The root of loneliness has to do with a lack of companionship; missing that interpersonal fellowship with others with whom we share interests or friendship.  The danger in following the path of loneliness is that as we become increasingly self-focused, the world around us appears darker.

The beauty of the Journey Notes Praise Journaling process is that it helps us embrace God in our solitude as:

    1. We take our focus off of ourselves by logging our Praises to Him as well as our Prayer Concerns
    2. We look to our Creator for His perspective in the Scriptures
    3. We respond in faith as we trust and honor Him with our lives

Jesus encouraged His disciples to enter into precious solitude with Him in Matthew 11:28-29,

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”

No matter what the season, the good news is that God has provided a means of blessing through fellowship with Him.  If loneliness has overtaken you, be encouraged that if you know Jesus, YOU ARE NEVER TRULY ALONE!  The beauty of solitude invested in Christ Jesus is, that your relationship with Him will deepen as God’s Spirit and Word minister to your mind and heart.  So get going!  Abandon the loneliness of “self” and indeed find rest for your soul.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    You, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and You lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
    Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to You.  (Psalm 139:1-12)

All to His Glory!