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!

 

Forgiveness: Facing-Off Evil In The Love And Mercy Of Christ . . . .

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 6:12

It is difficult to make sense of forgiveness, especially when it is extended to someone who brutally snuffed out the lives of innocent family members.  Such was the response of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community in 2006, when five young girls were brutally murdered and five others severely injured.  Not only did they forgive the shooter (who committed suicide at the scene), the Amish community extended their forgiveness by caring for his wife and three children who were left without a husband and father.

A similar scenario played out this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a stranger, welcomed into their church’s Bible study,  murdered the pastor and eight others.  Though still reeling from the loss of their loved ones, family members none-the-less made their way to the courtroom to extend forgiveness to the shooter as well as his family.

Where does such strength to forgive–such determination to face-off evil–come from?  After years of working with people in the Counseling Room, as well facing my own personal challenges, I can assure you that such forgiveness never comes easy.  Humanly speaking, we want to hold onto anger and hate; we desire to repay evil for evil.  Yet even from a health perspective, we know that to allow such things to hold sway for very long, is to allow the acidic erosion of our thinking to separate us from the God who saves.  James 4 speaks to the inward struggle we face:

"What causes fights and quarrels among you?"  James 4:1
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James 4:1

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill . . . .You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

James 4:1-3

The good news is that God desires better for us and calls us to Himself as the Shepherd of our hearts.  In the end, forgiveness is God’s means of deepening a faith relationship between Himself and His people.  Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.… “

Matthew 11:28, 29

That rest for your souls, is embedded in the knowledge that God, who is merciful as well as just, will not forget the burden you surrendered to Him.  If not repented of, God’s justice will prevail.  With this in mind, God asks but one question, “Will you trust Me in this?”

Forgiveness, pure and simple, is a God-thing . . . it is not something we can conjure up alone.  What is the critical ingredient needed to face-off evil when life hits us hard?  Forgiveness . . . that is grounded in the love and mercy of Jesus.  As forgiveness is applied in humility and faith, the evidence of God’s Presence in the hearts of His people is revealed.  

The declaration Paul made to his friends in Galatia, when they were in danger of entering into the bondage of legalism, is a good reminder to us when we are tempted to hold on to bitterness and anger:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1

  • Forgiveness is a decision, that reflects the mercy received through God’s only Son.
  • Forgiveness comes alive and is believable, only as acts of mercy follow it.
  • Forgiveness chooses, to trust in God’s ultimate justice.

Forgiveness is the ultimate means whereby God’s people are truly freed–
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

 

 

Sin That Cannot Be Undone . . . .

Last week I was sickened by hatred spewed by elements of the media, aimed at destroying a Christian family featured in a reality television program–Nineteen Kids and Counting.  I have been fascinated by how this unique family of nineteen homeschooled children seeks to live out their faith according to biblical principles.  To be honest, I have been humbled by their example of kindness and mercy extended toward others, even as they have been ridiculed for their faith.  I am not sure how long the program has been on, but I do know that it has been long enough to have featured the courtship and weddings of three of the Duggar children–long enough for the oldest son,  Josh, and his wife Anna, to have grown their family to include four children (the fourth child due some time this year.)  I have especially appreciated programs featuring Anna, as she has navigated the challenges of being a young wife and mother after moving to Washington, DC for a job opportunity that opened up for Josh.  Were I to say I have a favorite in the family, it would be Anna–as she has grown and matured tending her little “flock” with humor and grace, reached out to others in their new community and sought to be a good helpmate to Josh.

I admit that learning about Josh abusing some of his sisters when he was fourteen-years-old (he is now twenty-seven) was shocking.  Josh, to his credit, has not denied it.  In fact, he made a public apology that said (in part):

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends . . . . I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

Responses to his apology have been mixed, at best.  But, far more troubling to me were comments expressed on Facebook, by some who obviously enjoyed exposing “every dirty little secret” they could dig out about the family.  I found myself wondering about the source of such hatred that appeared to come so easy.  Of the two Facebook posts I read last weekend and the sixty-plus comments made in response to those posts, only one individual wrote what I found to be a helpful, credible response to Josh’s confession:

“I am a victim and mom who has had to walk this painful road
because of someone else’s sin. The difference”
(contrasting Josh Duggar’s response with her experience)
“–never has the perpetrator sought forgiveness
nor been quick to accept with such humility that they screwed up.
My heart is so broken for this family–and praying for them . . . .
The world holds Christians to a perfect standard-we are NOT perfect.” 

DSC02168 - Version 2
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously, without finding fault . . . .” James 1:5

SIN . . . whatever form it takes, is vile stuff.  In the Counseling Room we refer to sin as, “puke on God’s Throne” (II Peter 2:22) to emphasize the vileness of it.  Part of my role and responsibility as Counselor, is to help those I serve deal with sin that has impacted them–either their own sin or sin imposed on them by others.  By far, the sin that is the most challenging to address, is sin committed in the past that cannot be undone.

In no way can I excuse what Josh did, but there is some comfort in knowing that he has expressed his regrets and repented of his sin.  Also, I was grateful to hear that before marrying Anna, Josh owned up to his past–giving her the opportunity to walk away if she wanted to.  Anna chose to marry Josh and, as my grandma used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.”  It has been in watching Anna’s confidence grow in her role as wife, mother and friend that, I believe, reflects something good about the character of the man she married.

As Christian’s, we are challenged to respond to this family tragedy in a manner that honors Christ.  While it may be tempting to enter into the fray of condemnation encouraged by social media, we must take care that we avoid “puking on God’s Throne” as we consider the broken and prayerful example given us by a true victim of abuse.

There is much to be gleaned from the wisdom of Scripture to guide us.  A personal favorite of mine we frequently look to in the Counseling Room, is this passage in Romans:

“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,” says the Lord.
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.”e
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21

It is always comforting to remember, that as much as we may hate the pain and suffering sin inflicts on us and on those we love, God hates it more–“Vengeance is Mine, I WILL repay” the unrepentant sinner.  While we cannot know fully the depth of anyone’s confession, God’s Justice will ultimately prevail.

Our Challenge as Christians,
is to take care that we avoid heaping our own sin/puke on others as we pray for them,
rather than delighting in and exposing sin that cannot be undone.    

All to His Glory!

A Lesson on Brokenness . . . Grace is a Gift!

It happened so quickly!  My husband and I were in a hotel gift shop–killing time really.  While looking at some terra-cotta Christmas ornaments, one I barely touched tumbled to the tile-floor and smashed into pieces.  We looked around for help, surely everyone in the shop heard the crash . . . but no one came.  Dutifully, we looked at each other and started picking up the pieces one-by-one, before making our way to the sales counter.

When I showed the manager the pieces, I must confess that part of me hoped she would forgive the debt owed.  She didn’t.  Instead, she looked at me and the broken pieces and said, “It’s okay Ma’am, I’ll give you a discount . . . that will be $14.” My heart sank as I looked at my husband and said, “I’m sorry, Honey.”  She looked me and asked, “Do you want this?” With tears threatening to spill, I started to say “no”–why would I want such a painful reminder?  However, my husband interjected, “Yes, we will take it–I will put it back together.”  So, she put the pieces into a clear ziploc baggie and we walked out of the shop.

A lesson on brokenness . . . .
A lesson on brokenness . . . .

It was quite a while before either of us spoke.  Inwardly my thoughts seemed to go everywhere at once–embarrassed at breaking the ornament, upset that the store manager was not willing to forgive the debt . . .  I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I struggled inwardly with a growing anger.  Yet, in a flash my anger dissipated as I recognized my sinful and foolish attitude.  Suddenly, these words flew through my mind like an electric banner:

Kathie, you love the idea of grace but you have forgotten that, from start to finish, GRACE IS A GIFT!”  

I felt silly and downright arrogant when I realized what I had done–demanding what can only be received as a gift!  Two passages of Scripture came to mind.  The first was David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.  After being confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David’s prayer reflects the kind of brokenness that pleases God in verse 17,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

The second passage, written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to his friends in Ephesus (chapter 2, verses 4 and 5), boldly declares the wondrous love of God who, in His divine mercy, offers grace to all who repent of their spiritual brokenness:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
it is by grace you have been saved.”

As we continued to walk, I found myself bubbling over with excitement at God’s kindness in extending this lesson to me.  Suddenly, I was grateful that my husband had the broken pieces in his pocket and could hardly wait for him to glue the pieces back together.  This Christmas that very special ornament will be hung on our tree with special care, tagged with a note for all to see: Grace is a Gift from start to finish!

All to His Glory!

 

The Mysterous Balm of Praise: Not Meant To Be A “Quick Fix”

I still remember the wonderful relief experienced when, as a child, I had a bad cold and Vicks Vapo-Rub was rubbed onto my chest.  I remember how the strong aroma of the menthol seemed to flood my plugged sinuses and filled my lungs to provide almost instant relief.  Looking back, I can see how those instances were a balm that not only soothed my symptoms but communicated love and caring to me in an otherwise stress-filled home.  I cherish those memories.

In my Christian walk I have found that giving thanks to God for His love and mercy when in difficulty, helps clear my senses like a spiritual balm.  I know personally how overwhelming the darkness of depression and anxiety can be; I also know that offering praises large and small to God can serve to lighten my perceptions and fill me with a quiet balm of hope and peace even when nothing else has changed.

How praise works as a balm to a wounded soul remains a mystery to me; what I do know that God is consistently faithful to meet us at our point of need when we seek Him out. 

Journey Notes Praise Journaling was developed to help Clients discover this spiritual balm for themselves.  For twenty years, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in turning simple praises into a balm that penetrates deeply into the hearts of all who seek Him.  It is nothing short of a miracle . . . but it is not a “quick fix”.  To offer up praises to God as a formula to get what we want, rather than in a spirit of humility and in faith is to court disappointment because of our impure motives.  Even so, God will remain faithful as the wisdom Psalm 73 attests:

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before You.
~~~~~~~~
Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Verses 21-26)

How does one move from impure motives to a heart strengthened by the mysterious balm of praise?

  1. It begins with a personal decision to trust in God more and ourselves less.
  2. Next, we surrender the bitterness and pain that would otherwise consume us to Him.
  3. Finally, we give thanks to Him for our freedom, for loving us even when we fail Him:

“Thank You God for loving me . . . for saving me from myself through the bloody and painful sacrifice of your Son.  Help me Lord to forgive as I have been forgiven . . . that I may honor you with by singing Your praises.  Thank You Lord for being the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . “

Do you feel your senses beginning to clear as you breathe in the very breath of heaven?  Give thanks that when God works it is not a “quick fix” but has eternal consequences . . . PRAISE HIM! 

All to His Glory!

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part One

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Resist “Self-Talk”; Switch Gears to “God-Talk”

“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.” 
Ephesians 4:22-24

Problems have a way of sucking hope from our perspective and can weaken the faith of even the hardiest believer.  To make matters worse, our responses to problems can complicate them even further.  Even so, I have come to appreciate that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth that could not be accomplished in any other way.

Some examples of responses to problems that can take us down the “old self” path all too quickly are:

“I don’t have to put up with that!” 
“It’s MY way or the highway!”   
“I’m just not feelin’ it any more . . . I want out! “

Actually, the problem is not with any of those “old self” responses–they happen!  We get into trouble when we continue the “conversation” with ourselves, feeding our anger, frustration or what-have-you.  Years ago a friend of mine made this observation, “If you find yourself talking to yourself for any amount of time–you’re probably sinning!  She was so right!

In the Counseling Room, we refer to the process of “putting off” our old selfish attitudes and behaviors and “putting on” attitudes and actions more honoring to Christ as, “switching gears.”  As we reflect on various Scriptures (appropriate to the special needs of each Client) much time is spent talking about the difference between “self-talk” and “God-talk” when it comes to dealing with problems.

  • “Self-talk” refers to when we get upset and have that intense conversation in our head about what we “should” have said, how “unfair”  someone is and . . . well, I think you can take it from there!
  • “God-talk” takes place when we realize we have embarked on the “self-talk” path and decide to “switch gears” by bringing God into the conversation–“God-talk” is PRAYER.

“Self-talk” almost always leads to sin and the downward spiral of spiritual darkness that overwhelms us.  The miraculous thing about “God-talk” is that when we focus on God in the midst of dealing with problems and disappointments, HOPE lights the way to move us forward.  As we spend time reflecting on the Scriptures we recognize our need for God’s help in the process of “switching gears.”  The warning in James 4:1,2b &3 speaks of the war within the human heart:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

So how do we switch from “self-talk” to “God-talk?”

  1. When you catch yourself talking to yourself–take a deep breath and STOP!
  2. Reflect on the “conversation” you have been having with yourself as you turn to God, knowing He is fully aware of what has just occurred.  Embarrassed?  Tell Him without making excuses for yourself–repent!
  3. Then thank Him for His love and mercy granted you through His Son . . . thank Him that He is in charge and will bring blessing out of whatever challenge you are facing.
  4. Ask Him for the wisdom you lack as you look to the Scriptures for guidance.
  5. Commit each day to the Lord as you follow the Spirit’s lead.

 The Apostle Paul wrote to warn his friends in Ephesus of the danger they were in as, “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (4:14)

God used Paul to nurture the body of Christ toward a robustness of a faith lived well:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” 
(4:15)

God wants no less for you and me.  To be run by our “old selves” makes us vulnerable to all sorts of evil that can compound our problems.  To trust God by talking to Him about every aspect of your life in the “newness” of Christ, is to grow a faith worthy of His Name.  Also, it is to take advantage of growing through the trials of adversity . . . indeed, taking advantage of the opportunities afforded us in the midst of trouble, is one of the hallmarks of a mature faith.  I like the way The Message presents the benefits of “switching gears” as we learn to consistently walk and talk with God in Colossians 2:2,3,

I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God.
Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.
All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else.
 

All to His Glory!