Every Day A Gift . . . .

Until it happened, few of us could imagine the vast machinery of civilization being shut down. With streets and airports mostly empty and the future uncertain, we locked our doors and limited our exposure to others as an invisible foe caused us to face our own mortality.  In the decades to come the question frequently asked will be, “Where were you when the pandemic hit?” and, “What did God teach you?

I had just completed a series of spinal injections and physical therapy  to relieve debilitating pain in my lower back and left leg. Our oldest grandson was home visiting, so we were vacationing for a week at a place rented months before as a family get-away. Three days into our seven day vacation we were told not to drive across the causeway to the mainland because we would not be allowed to return,  When we returned home, all my medical appointments had been canceled we were told to stay home due to COVID-19 . . . the shutdown had begun.

Here is some of what I have learned thus far:

  1. Every day is a gift from God-not a right.
  2. Humanly speaking, it is easy to give way to fear. But God is faithful to help us switch spiritual gears when we confess our fears in faith.
  3. The best way to replace fear with faith is to give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness.*
  4. While looking for wisdom in Scripture I found hope in the sufferings of Job:

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
He does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ 
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone He has made may know His work,
He stops all people from their labor.”
Job 37:5-7

Quite frankly, I almost choked as the last seventeen words reminded me that God does what He will to draw us closer to Himself and is still in control!

The person who spoke those words was a young man named Elihu– the only one of Job’s friends to urge him to trust God in his suffering.

While reflecting on God’s possible purposes in the “storm” we find ourselves in today, I found the insight of commentator Mike Mason helpful:

“Is not the whole book of Job about men who have been stopped from their work? It is about an enormous work stoppage, an enormous inconvenience that has fallen out of the sky and forced five busy people to drop everything they were doing and to turn for a while to a more important task.” *

And that more important task?

To look at whatever we face with eyes of faith,
as we embrace each day as a gift from God.

The following passages provide further food for thought as we make our way through the pandemic::

“Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Isaiah 55:7-9

As with the whole of Scripture, the Apostle Paul spoke truth in love in his opening remarks to the church in Rome: 

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men
who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities,
His eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship,
so that men are without excuse.”
Romans 1:18-20

Paul offered those living in uncertain times in his day these words of encouragement in Christ:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
And be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:15-17

God continues to encourage those who are in Christ through His Spirit and His Word.  Know and trust that as you continue to give thanks for each new day, He will continue to carry you through any storm you face.

All to His Glory!

*Thanking Him for His love and mercy . . . that we are never alone . . . that His ultimate goal is blessing.

**Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job: An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One Who Lost Everything, January, 1994, p. 379.

 

 

A Force For Good In A Hurting World . . . .

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God . . . .”

Ephesians 6:12, 13a

The truth is, I didn’t see it coming, When I agreed to attend a Counseling Conference with my niece-in-law, I was mainly excited about getting to spend four days with her.  To be sure, there were several notable speakers slated and an interesting array of workshop topics offered that I trusted would be beneficial, but what I looked forward to most was spending quality time with Joyce..

Then about a week before the Conference was to begin, I received an email saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was going to be a guest speaker. My initial response was puzzlement: Why would a man so busy traveling around the globe putting out political fires, make time to speak to a gathering of Christian counselors? Along with that thought, I also wondered if there would be any sort of political agenda pressed that could be divisive in a setting of several thousand attendees–IF he came at all? Not once did I anticipate how what he said would actually impact me . . . .

Finally the Conference date came. It was great to spend time connecting with Joyce and have an opportunity to hear notable people in the Christian counseling realm speak. For me, the best part was chatting with Joyce about what we had seen and heard at the end of each day.

On the morning Mr. Pompeo was scheduled to speak, the Conference atmosphere was charged with electricity.  After being cleared by a group of security people, only those with Conference badges were allowed to enter the auditorium. As Mr. Pompeo was introduced I was impressed by his background–especially that he graduated first in his class from West Point!  When he finally stepped up to speak, he put everyone at ease as he shared his testimony about becoming a follower of Christ as a cadet at West Point–thanks to two fellow cadets who faithfully ministered to him. As to why he agreed to speak to a an auditorium full of counselors, he likened his role at the State Department to that of a counselor:

“Helping people in crisis as a force for good.” 

Of all the speakers I was privileged to hear at the Conference, it was that simple statement that most succinctly expressed, not only what should be at the root of meaningful counseling, but also how Christians in every walk of life can best minister to a hurting world.  It is a reminder that ultimately, we are in a spiritual battle that cannot be won apart from loving our neighbor in Christ.

In his talk Mr. Pompeo focused on responsible Christian leadership, breaking it down into three areas: Disposition, Dialogue and Decision. The following is my take from what he said about helping people in crisis as a force for good:

  1. A Humble Disposition: Relies on God to help us as we are transformed each day. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–
His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

When we humbly rely on God rather than allowing the influences of the world determine our steps, we are transformed, reflecting the light and hope of Jesus to those He puts on our path. I find this picture the Apostle Paul projects of the spiritual battle being waged around us helpful:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives
in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us
to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
To the one we are an aroma that brings death;
to the other, an aroma that brings life.
And who is equal to such a task?
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.
On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity,
as those sent from God.”

II Corinthians 2:14-17

 2. Truthful Dialogue that reflects Christ:

Listening well and asking questions that underscore a desire to fully understand, opens the door to meaningful dialogue. When our interactions with those in crisis are couched in such humility, the light of truth can penetrate darkness in unimaginable ways.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry . . . .”

James 1:19

The added benefit of such humility is that as we are less likely to speak with a haughty attitude that tend to build walls rather than break through them.

 3. Prayerful Decision:

Our actions and attitudes should reflect our commitment to prayer as we are faithful in stewardship and intentional in defending human dignity.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:11-12

Mr. Pompeo concluded his talk by saying that helping others get into God’s Word personally is key to being a force for good. 

The truth of Mr. Pompeo’s concluding remark, that the key to helping hurting people as a force for good is in exposing them to the wisdom of Scripture, cannot be overstated. In what is believed to be the last letter written by Paul before he was killed, he made this declaration:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful
for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”

II Timothy 3:16-17

It is the Scriptures, combined with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit, that bring about meaningful change in people. To be a force for good in a hurting world requires that Christians humbly reflect the undeserved love and mercy we have received. I didn’t expect to be touched so deeply by the simple message of a fellow servant of Christ . . . but I was. I share this with you, in the hope that you will also be encouraged and strengthened–to move forward in the love and mercy of Jesus in whatever battle you face.

All to His Glory!

 

The Fine Art Of Speaking Truth In Love . . . .

A quote posted on social media weighed heavy on my heart last week:

“Don’t waste your words
on people who deserve your silence.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say
is nothing at all.”

It struck me that the perspective of not wasting words on those who deserve our silence, reflects a haughtiness of attitude that is lightyears away from God’s call to love.  In fact, to say nothing at all, effectively denying the worth of the other individual, underscores the chilling observation of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel,:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

The truth is, silence is never golden when love is absent.
Instead, silence combined with the absence of love kills
and has great potential for hardening hearts–
yours, mine and the one being ignored.    

God calls us . . . .

The problem is not new. The Apostle Paul wrote about conflict in relationships and how Christ’s followers were to handle such:

“We are no longer to be children,
tossed here and there by waves
and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men,
by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in all aspects
into Him who is the head,
even Christ . . . .”
Ephesians 4: 14, 15

So what does it mean to speak truth in love?  Is it to follow wisdom of Thumper in the classic movie, Bambi? 

If you don’t have anything nice to say,
don’t say anything at all.”  

While that may be a sweet notion, God calls His own to go deeper in our relationships . . . much, much deeper.

To speak truth in love is not about niceties.  It often requires:

  • Sacrificial kindness–a willingness to risk being misunderstood for the good of the other.
Speaking truth in love is a process that requires intentionality. The key to working out that process is given us in Ephesians 4:22-25,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and
speak truthfully to your neighbor . . . .”
  

Speaking truth in love becomes an art form over time when we remember Christ’s call to us:

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12
It is when we take our focus off ourselves and look to Christ as Sovereign and Good, that we begin to understand the value of words.  It is when we begin to choose our words prayerfully that we will bless our friends, neighbors and even that irritating individual we would otherwise be tempted to ignore.
Yes, relationships ARE hard and and at times even draining.  But when we keep Christ’s call in the center of our thinking as we use words to bless others, life becomes an adventure that is interesting and full of meaning.
All to His Glory!

When Sin Replaced Love . . . .

When you think about relationships and the memories that go with them, what comes to your mind?  Being a “glass-half-full” kind of gal (and slightly corny), when I think about relationships and the memories that go with them, I initially think along the lines of Barbra Streisand singing, “The Way We Were”: 

“Memories
Like the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were . . . .”

I enjoy remembering childhood summers at Pismo Beach with family and how my dashingly handsome husband watched and waited as my dad guided me down the church aisle 47 years ago. I still cherish the delight that filled my heart the first time I spoke of, “my daughter”, as I walked down the hallway to the hospital nursery to retrieve her.

But if we are honest, life is not full of “misty watercolor memories” because relationships are frequently painful, confusing and confounding.  At times we are tempted to isolate ourselves from God and other people to avoid that pain.  The problem is that when we do, other pains emerge–loneliness and depression.

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is how it provides glimpses into the dramatic shift that took place in our relationship with God and with others when sin replaced love in the Garden:

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden.
So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.
Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.
I was afraid because I was naked.’
‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked.”
Genesis 3: 8-11
New Living Translation

God made us first and foremost for a relationship with Him.

Casually fellowshipping with God, without the turmoil sin creates is difficult to imagine.  But deep down, I believe it is what we long for. From the very beginning God created us for loving relationships. When sin entered the Garden and became the “new normal”, love was lost along with the deep fellowship enjoyed in the Garden.  Jesus affirmed this when He responded to a question about what He considered to be the greatest of God’s commandments:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind’. . . .

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39

  • God made us, first and foremost, for a relationship with Him.
  • Secondarily, He made us for relationships with one another.

Where sin creates chaos and disunion, the basis for meaningful relationships (love) has never changed:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us
and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

I John 4:10

In fact, truly meaningful relationships are rarely formed in a vacuum of pleasantries and ideals. The truth is that the challenges of pain and disappointment in our relationships, when addressed with God’s love and the wisdom of Scripture, provide greater opportunities for spiritual growth than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.    

The wisdom and perspective offered in Romans 12 directs us to keep our priorities straight as we relate to others, even when disappointment threatens:

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” 
(Verses 
10-12)

As we dedicate ourselves to being “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” we discover the sweeter path to His Hope and Light penetrating even the bitterest of relationships.

But what are we to do with those memories that seem to stalk us, like shadows that grow larger over a distance?  The words of the Apostle Paul, written while in a stinking Roman prison cell, lends the sweetness of wisdom that has transformed even the most heinous of memories for two thousand years:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8

Feeling defeated by sin and yearning for love?  Are you stuck in a prison cell of unforgiveness?  Perhaps you have been hurt and feel forgotten?  Are you frustrated with life and your relationships?  Perhaps you are so filled with regrets that you can see no way of making things right?  Then follow the wisdom of Scripture and the law of loving sacrificially by trusting and honoring God in the NOW.  Repent of the selfish turmoil that has overtaken you and give thanks to God for His love and mercy extended through the sacrifice of His only Son.  As you do, I guarantee that He can and will clean out the sludge of your bitterest memory as you determine to trust and walk in sweet fellowship with Him..

All to His Glory!

Sandpaper People . . . .

It had been months since Stella* and I had connected, so it was great to meet her for lunch last week. Of course there was a good bit of laughter shared between us, but we also talked about some hard stuff involving what I generally refer to as, the sandpaper people in our lives.

“Sandpaper people?” you may well ask.  Sandpaper people are the people in our lives who grate on our nerves by simply walking into the same room we are in.  They are often:

  1. People we have to work with– who we might otherwise avoid!
  2. People who irritate us when their views do not align with our own or,
  3. People who fail to live up to our expectations.

On a personal level, the hard thing about sandpaper people
is that they grate on our nerves and frustrate us–
often triggering unkind, sinful responses!  

As the exchange between Stella and I continued I wondered, “Lord, is there a better way to deal with the irritation that sandpaper people cause?  How would YOU have us deal with such people who bring out the worst in us?” 

“He has risen just as He said!” Matthew 28:6

As I empathized with Stella’s lament, the answer to my question floated into my mind with the unexpected thought, “Put on love . . . .”  I tried to brush it away, as if it was a persistent fly buzzing my ear. But as Stella talked about an irritating co-worker, I found myself less able to focus on her words as the answer that began as a whisper grew louder in my mind: “Put on love!” 

Finally, I told Stella about my struggle.  Thinking the phrase was something the Apostle Paul wrote, I asked her to look it up on her cell phone–I’m helpless when it comes to doing such things!  Within minutes she found the phrase in a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Colossians.  As I slurped my soup Stella read these words aloud:

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 one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
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

Oblivious to the activity around us as she read, I remembered how the passage had helped me in the past.  I told Stella about how Paul’s words had encouraged me when it reminded me of my identity in Christ: 

Chosen . . . holy . . . and dearly loved by God.

I shared how in the past, when struggling with a sandpaper person,  Paul’s letter showed me how in Christ we have options to choose from . . . options that do not lead to sin:

Where frustration, anger or bitterness urge a haughty response,
Paul encourages us to put on one of Christ’s robes of
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience
and, yes,  even love.
As I have prayerfully confessed my temptation to sin
and given thanks for His love and mercy,
His Peace has become my own.

Since our lunch date, I have continued to think about how God blesses us through sandpaper people.  When tempted to hate or resent such a person, Jesus urges His own.to love and pray for our enemies!**.  When I have obeyed this command, He has lightened the burden in my heart and freed me to avoid the path of bitterness and resentment. Best of all, through this process He has freed me to live for, love and serve Him with an exceedingly glad heart.

This past Palm Sunday I gained a fresh insight that I am still processing:

Not all sandpaper people are negative.
God uses them to mature and draw us closer to Himself.
Jesus was (and continues to be)
a sandpaper person to all who encounter Him!

As we remember Christ’s Crucifixion on Friday–demonstrating mans hatred for what we might call, God’s Ultimate Sandpaper Person–we can rejoice in the knowledge that Sunday’s celebration marks the day Redemption was won for all who trust in Him.

No matter what you may be facing in your life,  no matter how overwhelmed you may feel . . . you are NOT alone.  As Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Sunday approach, be encouraged and learn from Christ’s sacrificial demonstration of “putting on love” for you and for me . . . ❤

Rejoicing in Him–Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!

*Not her real name.
**“”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-45b

 

The Lost Art of Humility . . . .

Words rarely heard these days:

“I’m sorry . . . I was wrong . . . will you please forgive me?”

It’s called an apology–
an admission of error or discourtesy
accompanied by an expression of regret.*

We practiced this when our children were small, often finding it most helpful to lead by example. To apologize is an outward demonstration of humility, but it does not necessarily reflect what is in the heart.

In the Counseling Room we talk a lot about the importance of humility before God.  First Session we almost always turn to Jeremiah 17:5-10 to establish the importance of sorting out who (or what) needs to be the primary motivation behind resolving problems.  The passage warns against relying on other people who will ultimately lead us“to a salt land where no one lives,”  (verse 6).  It then encourages us to trust only in God’s faithfulness. When we get to verses 9-10 the passage warns:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?’
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’” 

Not every Client sees it right away, but we talk about the danger of relying on our feelings rather than on God in problem solving. All too often it is as we “follow our hearts” (the counsel of the world) that lead us down destructive paths.

Humility defined:  “Freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble–not haughty or assertive.”*

We live in difficult times. With each passing day hatred has become increasingly easy and humility is perceived as weakness.  It is our natural bent to want to respond “in kind” to those who offend or hurt us.  But Jesus taught His followers to do the opposite:

The lost art of humility . . . .

“You have heard that it was said,
‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you . . . .”

Matthew 5:43, 44

For Christians, humility has less to do with who is right or wrong but what is right before God:

To love Him first and foremost and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) are what should be our primary motivation in how we live out our lives.

Humility is about choosing to trust God as Sovereign, Good and Just. I love the way Romans 12 broadens the scope of how we are to put humility and love together as we pray for our enemies::

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge,
my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay. . . .’
On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Verses 17-21)

Humility becomes an art form when the mysterious working of God’s Spirit strengthens us to love the unlovely by praying for those who have hurt or disappoint us. 

Such humility is revealed by our attitude and actions toward God and others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.”  

Philippians 2:3,4

Humility is a God-thing.  It is a reflection of the loving sacrifice demonstrated on the Cross by Christ.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

For many years I blamed the modern emphasis on building self-esteem as a major contributor to our cultural rejection of Christian principles. However, I no longer attribute the downward spiral of culture solely to the self-esteem movement.  Certainly, our self-centeredness has contributed to our downfall. However, God calls us to have a healthy regard for both our neighbor and ourselves as we remember His call:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another . . .
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

Only recently have I come to see that, even among many Christians, our problem has more to do with our lack of humility in our dealings with others than with our self-esteem.

So is there a way to stop this downward spiral that threatens to divide us?  In the Counseling Room we talk about the strength of biblical humility as it centers on Christ: the key to living and finishing our lives well before God.   

The artful working out of biblical humility calls for;:

  1. Prayer, first and foremost, as we confess our need for clarity when hate threatens to consume us.
  2. Reliance on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts and direct our steps. (the entirety of Romans 12 provides a helpful perspective.)
  3. Praying for teachable hearts as we seek God’s wisdom and perspective on ourselves and others.
  4. Giving thanks to God that He is in control and His justice will ultimately prevail.

So is there any hope of restoring the lost art of humility? Absolutely!  Such beauty shines through when Christ’s own choose to love others as He has loved us–sacrificially.  It is the beauty and mystery of His Presence in our lives that will ultimately shine through to touch a hurting world.

All to His Glory!

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary