The Key to Godly Discipline . . . .

This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring ways God
used my family and the Scriptures to draw me closer to Himself.
I share some of those insights to testify to His faithfulness. ❤️

WORDS TO GROW BY:

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.”
I Peter 3:10

“To love life and see good days“–isn’t that what most of us yearn for?  Yet when our goals are skewed by unrealistic, worldly ideals such as–living a perfect, happily-ever-after kind of life–we are more prone to depression than true joy.  The problem none of us can escape is that life can be messy–exceedingly so–and when it is, SIN is often at the center of it.  There are times when, no matter how well organized or disciplined the effort, even our best laid plans can be thwarted.

In my last post I wrote about the connection between discipline and discipleship, using II Timothy 3:16, 17 as the framework for Godly discipline:

“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.”

In that post I shared seven insights about Godly discipline:

Insight #1: Godly discipline has to be learned before it can be applied.  (Hence, there is no place for the foolish maxim: “Do as I say, not as I do.”)
Insight #2: Godly discipline is meant to be a lifestyle, not a series of events. (Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness should be an on-going part of family relating.)
Insight #3: God does not have grandchildren; He only has children. (Only those who enter into a personal relationship with Christ has the assurance of being a child of God–John 1:12, 13)
Insight #4: Make regular worship at a Bible-teaching church and fellowship with other Believers a priority. (The strength of those relationships, will likely be invaluable as you support each other through the tougher seasons.)
Insight #5: Help your children think biblically by reading to them–A LOT! We especially enjoyed learning about the lives of Christian heroes, various series of books as well as reading the Bible itself.
Insight #6: When disciplining your children–draw them close to you–rather than isolate them.  (Such times can provide special opportunities to minister the mind and heart.)
Insight #7: Along the way, look for opportunities to bring laughter, adventure, and ways to serve others into your family routine.

In this post I will share additional insights into Godly discipline as it connects to love and truth using Hebrews 12:10 & 12 as our basis,

“Our fathers disciplined us for a short time as they thought best,
but God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it yields a peaceful harvest of righteousness
to those who have been trained by it.…”  

The passage speaks:

  • Assurance to all with this declaration of LOVEGod disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. 
  •  TRUTH with its promise of ultimate blessing (a peaceful harvest of righteousness) to those who choose to trust God.

I share the following story to help you appreciate my five remaining insights:

Prayer . . . the Key to Godly Discipline

We had one preteen and two teenagers in our home.  At times, the pressure was immense–especially in making last minute decisions.  In fact, looking back I can see that I was starting to shut-down–saying “no” to almost every request.  Feeling convicted, I turned to God.  I confessed my bad attitude and asked for His help. Nothing remarkable occurred when I prayed, except that I felt slightly more hopeful.  However, several days later, after another request was made, I was startled when these words came out of my mouth:

“I”m not sure.  If you have to have an answer NOW,
then the answer has to be NO.

But if you’ll let me pray about it . . . we’ll see.”

I was shocked by my inward calmness, and their response was amazing–they backed off completely!  In fact, they very wisely would approach me almost warily saying, “I’m not demanding an answer, Mom, but . . . have you prayed yet?”

That was the day I learned the importance of setting an example as a praying mom before my kids.  Where before, every request made was a burden, I learned the importance of setting an example of prayer.  With that new parameter in place, my kids approached me with greater respect as they asked, “Mom, have you prayed yet?”  The results?  The majority of the time I was able to answer, “Yes but . . . “–adding some qualifiers to assure their safety.  When I had to say no, they never argued; I suspect they already knew it was wasn’t a good idea.

By far the best part was that my kids saw me
as a praying mom (rather than a roadblock mom)
who honestly cared about them.

Insight #8:  The key to effective Godly discipline is PRAYER.

God is all about relationships–our relationship with Him as well as with one another.  When we keep Him at the center of how we relate to others through reading the Scriptures and prayer, we are blessed with the wisdom and perspective we otherwise lack.  Ecclesiastes affirms this in 4:9-12,

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If either of them falls down,
the other can help him up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

When we keep God and the Scriptures as our third strand to guide us, humble thanksgiving becomes a friend and our prayers are more effective.

Insight #9: Speak truth in love–relying on the Scriptures for the best means of ministering to the mind and heart. 

There are many passages in Scripture that provide what is needed to speak truth in love.   Ephesians 4:17-32 is one of my favorites, especially verse 29:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth,
but only such a word as is good for edification
according to the need of the moment,
so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Insight #10:  When dealing with sin, resist the temptation to minimize it.

SIN is not “a mistake”, nor is it merely “a phase” that kids go through.  Sin is a contemptuous act that is offensive to God.  Much of the messiness of life is the result of sinful attitudes and actions.  II Peter speaks powerfully about the plight of Christians who take sin lightly:

If they have escaped the corruption of the world
by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
and are again entangled in it and are overcome,
they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness,
than to have known it and then to turn their backs
on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”
and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.
II Peter 2: 20-22

Referring to sin as, PUKE ON GOD’S THRONE–your own included–serves as a good reminder of the grossness of sin.

Insight #11: With older children/teens, resist using long-term restriction as a weapon.  

While temporarily taking away certain privileges may be necessary to keep them safe, I recommend using what I call, prayerful regrouping, as you lean on God to help you minister to their hearts rather than to simply isolate them.  (See Insight #6 in my previous post for the reasoning behind this.  I will expand on this in my next post.)

Insight #12: Problems seldom occur at convenient times.  Check your attitude by giving thanks that God’s timing is always perfect. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have prayed, “Lord, I didn’t know it was going to be so hard!” Life IS hard, but God is EXCEEDINGLY GOOD to those who seek Him for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  James 4:7 declares:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Satan uses doubt to separate us from God.
By refusing to doubt God’s Sovereign Goodness,
He will provide the courage and strength you lack.  

All to His Glory~

 

 

On Dealing With Fear and Bullies . . . .

This is the second in a series of posts featuring spiritual lessons God taught me through my family.  Over the years these stories have been helpful to many a Client; I share them now in the hope that they might also encourage you. ❤️

There is much talk about bullies/abusers in the world today, but bullies have been around since the beginning.  It was their fear of bullies, that resulted in Israel having to march around in the wilderness for forty years*; and Goliath (of David and Goliath fame) was nothing more than an oversized bully.

Of our three children, Amy (our middle child), was the most fearful. Amy was afraid of (or was resistant to) such things as:

  • Volcanoes. When we received orders to move to England, our then four-year-old middle asked with serious intensity in her voice: “Are there volcanoes in England?” (All these years later, we still laugh that if we’d received orders to Hawaii, we would never have been able to get her on the airplane!)
  • A boy in our village named Christopher Blackman.  I doubt that Christopher (who was probably about 10 and DID have a bad reputation) had any idea that our little Amy had stopped going to the village shop for sweeties (candy) because she was afraid he might be there.  Also, he probably was unaware that she immediately hid herself behind a garden wall or bushes if she saw him when walking home from school.
  • Pick-pocketers.  After traveling into London on a train, we heard an announcement warning that pick-pocketers had been active in the area that morning.  Amy clutched the little purse I had made for her tightly against her chest as she said, “They should make them wear uniforms so we can tell who they are!”
  • Learning to write–because she knew she wouldn’t be able to write as well as her sister–Amy resisted the pressure to learn to write.)

    Amy

Yet despite her fears, Amy could also be the most courageous.  When she saw a smaller classmate being bullied, she took it upon herself to stick up for them.  On one such occasion, Amy was quite surprised when the bigger kid (not Christopher) knocked her down.  Fighting back tears, Amy got up and yelled passionately, “I FORGIVE YOU!”  (I heard later that the bully looked quite embarrassed as he slunk off!)

When I learned about the incident I was both stunned and proud.  I had to admit that Amy’s response demonstrated a special courage and biblical wisdom that I lacked.

COURAGE defined: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

True courage demonstrates moral strength to withstand danger despite our fears
as we take our stand against evil.

God chose to teach our family a deeper lesson through Amy’s second fear: Christopher Blackman.

BULLY defined: “a blustering, browbeating person . . . one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

Our youngest, Luke (about 2 1/2 years old at the time), was notoriously friendly toward anyone he met.  While taking Luke out to the local playing field in his stroller, Luke reached out to Christopher–who I had no idea was THE Christopher Blackman!  Soon after, Christopher began showing up by our garden wall calling out for Luke.  Having found out WHO the boy was, I kept Luke inside at first.  But I remembered what Jesus taught about dealing with enemies in Luke 6:27, 28,

Luke
with Christopher Blackman

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

As we (Amy and I) began to pray for Christopher, something unexpected happened: God softened our hearts.  I began to see that Christopher genuinely held a special affection for Luke–who Christopher called, “Lu-key”.  As I made some inquiries around our village I learned that Christopher was in foster care and was waiting to be placed in a special school. (He had been put out of the village school because of something he’d done.)  We reached out to Christopher’s foster parents and learned that because his foster mom was quite ill with diabetes, she put him out of the house after he’d had his breakfast each day to roam the village.  I realized that Christopher was showing up at our garden wall, because he was lonely while all the other children were in school.

What happened next is really kind of a blur.  We began by allowing Christopher into our garden and it wasn’t long until he became a special part of our lives.  I cannot tell you how long it was before Christopher and a couple of his friends began attending church with us.  Looking back, I do not recall even a hint of Christopher’s bad reputation being expressed in our time with him.

You may be wondering about Amy in all of this?  Well, she now says that Christopher probably DID push her down, sat on her and pounded on her back one day before he became a special part of our family.  But when she saw how he liked her little brother and saw our genuine concern for Christopher, she was okay with it.  Besides, even as a child, Amy said, she “figured that it was what Christian families were supposed to do!”

Soon after we returned to the States Christopher started at his new school.  We wrote back and forth for a while but then lost touch with him.  After all these years, I still wonder what he did with his life and would love to see him again.

So what did I learn from my children about dealing with fear and bullies?

  1. To take sin seriously–my own included–in difficult relationships.  Romans 12:9 says, “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  God is both sovereign and good and worthy of our trust.
  2. To faithfully pray for my enemy.  I have learned that by doing this God keeps my heart soft. Praying for my enemy also opens the door to miracles, as God also can work in the heart of the bully/abuser.  James 4:7 hits the mark with this counsel: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  3. To trust God to provide courage to resist being run by my fears. By standing up to bullies/abusers (and asking others to pray where needed) the sin is exposed for what it is.  The wisdom contained in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare, lends powerful encouragement to all who seek Christ’s help:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when (not if) the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then . . . .”

Ephesians 6:10-14

After 25 years of counseling, I have learned (where bullying/abuse is concerned) that prayer and getting help (be it in the church or by calling on the civil authorities) to stop the pattern of abuse is the best course.

To allow the sin of abuse to continue without addressing it,
encourages disrespect in the heart of the abuser toward the one being abused.
To call for outside help often forces the abuser to face the ugliness of their sin.  

In the end, there is opportunity on both sides of the relationship, for spiritual growth to take place as God works in both hearts.

All to His Glory

*Press here–> Joshua 5:6, to read the text.

Hope in Evil Times . . . .

After being on the road for fifty-nine days and exploring over ten-thousand miles of this beautiful country, it took us a while to get back into the routine of what we’d left behind.  We have been grateful to catch up with the people we love sharing our lives with.  Yet we yearn for the comfortable simplicity of those fifty-nine days of discovery.  We miss following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who spent two-and-a-half years carving out a pathway for others to follow in the 1800’s.  We also miss discovering parts of the old Route 66 that connected towns large and small in an increasingly mobile society in the 1900’s.

As I reflect back on our travels,
it is not just the beauty and diverse landscapes we miss exploring–
we also miss connecting-the-dots of the history across this nation
that was especially gratifying.  DSC00803

Since our return, my husband has remarked numerous times, that the two things we saw most consistently as we camped our way through vast cities and the smallest of towns were, first of all churches and secondly Dollar General (or Family Dollar) stores.  The saddest thing we saw were many of those churches appearing abandoned.

Since our return home, the one thing we did not miss during our travels–the daily, sometimes constant pounding of national and international news–has hit us especially hard.  We miss the protective bubble that surrounded us as we mostly listened to audio-books.  I suppose that is why reading the wisdom of Solomon, brought a chill to my bones several days ago:

“As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12

With every day that passes, the news reports of atrocities inflicted on innocent people fill us with dread.  How are we to live as the darkness of evil appears to become increasingly pervasive?  

I was grateful for the wisdom of the Scriptures as I reflected on this question:

  • Romans 12:19 & 21 directs our steps with, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  • I John 5: 11, 12 reminds us to love those around us with the light and hope of the Gospel:  “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in the Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
  • Revelation 17:14 affirms the light of our future, when evil will be defeated and cast away forever:  “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them (and) with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.”

No matter what is happening in your life or around the world, if you know Christ, be encouraged that:

  1. You are not alone and
  2. Because of Christ, you have every reason to be filled with hope.

How are we to access that hope when darkness threatens?

  1. By making prayer a priority–talking to God rather than just to yourself–when troubling news hits.
  2. By investing time in searching the Scriptures to maintain a healthy perspective on what is reported in the news as well as what you are personally dealing with.
  3. By committing to live out what you are gleaning from the Scriptures–there’s nothing better to activate the truth of what God says.
  4. Finally, be encouraged by the wisdom of Jesus who dispels darkness with the Light of Hope:

“Why do you worry about clothes?
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was dressed like one of these. . . .
But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:28, 29, 33 & 34

All to His Glory!

Simple Kindness, Prayerfully Applied . . . .

It wasn’t until we lived in England, that I learned there is a difference between niceness and kindness.  As one friend put it, “Kathie, ice cream is ‘nice’, kindness goes deeper.”  Looking at several dictionaries this morning, I found the distinction between the two terms is best understood by considering what is at the root of what niceness and kindness do and do not communicate:

Niceness: Synonyms–befitting, correct, decent, well-bred, proper, polite, respectable, seemly.  Antonyms–improper, inappropriate, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, unbecoming, ungenteel, unseemly

Kindness:  Synonyms–benevolence, courtesy, grace, indulgence, favor, mercy, service.  Antonyms: coldheartedness, hard-heartedness, inhumanity, inhumanness, mercilessness, pitilessness

Niceness can tend to be a bit flashy (i.e. “Look at what I just did!”), kindness is more simply applied as it focuses on the needs of others.  It all boils down to this:

Love is kind . . . .
Love is kind . . . .

Niceness is about outward appearances,
Simple kindness, is often sacrificial as it reflects what is in the heart.
Simple kindness is a fruit of God’s Spirit.
Simple kindness, prayerfully applied, is rooted in God’s love. 
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 

I Corinthians 13:5

When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about two societal “nice guys” and another man, viewed a societal reject in that day, who none-the-less, demonstrated simple kindness:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him  . . . beat him and . . . left him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He . . . bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  (Luke 10:30-35)

Jesus then asked this very important question,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (verse 36)

The “expert in the law” responded to Jesus’ question–avoiding even mentioning the word, “Samaritan”–answered,  “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him (and continues to tell us), “Go and do likewise.”  (verse 37)

The Scriptures continue to call you and I to,

GO . . . “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:29),

GO . . . “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

GO . . . “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

What I have learned this week as I have thought about kindness is that:

To act in the simple kindness of Christ, does not require a lot of fanfare,
but for it to be truly effective as a fruit of God’s Spirit,
prayer is essential.

In my last post I wrote about the Duggar’s, a Christian family featured on a reality TV program called, Nineteen Kids and Counting.  Normally I would not write about people on a television program, but as I have watched this family be (essentially) ‘beaten and left for dead’ by elements of the societal elite of our day, I have been challenged to think about MY role in their story.  Am I one of the “nice guys” full of self-importance, who says, “Too bad for them”, as I continue on my busy way?  Or, do I stop and apply simple kindness by praying for the family and asking, “God, what would you have me do?”  

How about you?  Are there people or situations that you are aware of, but manage to “pass by on the other side”, because you feel like you cannot take on one more thing?  Perhaps you avoid listening to the news (like I sometimes do) because it is always seems to be so . . . dare I say it? . . . not very nice.  What I am learning is that, although the world is not a nice place to live and sometimes is even scary, simple kindness applies prayer to every situation, looking to Christ for wisdom as to when and how to help.  Simple kindness challenges each one of us to set aside fear, and even our busyness, as we learn what living by faith is truly all about.  

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
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 3:12 & 17

All to His Glory!

Spiritual Stepping-Stones . . . .

While thinking about spiritual stepping-stones earlier in the week, I remembered some very special stepping-stones off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Named after a legendary giant named Bedruthan, we took our children to see the rocky formations the giant supposedly used as stepping-stones to cross the bay. The view was spectacular as we stood on a cliff several hundred feet above the Bedruthan Steps–imagining the giant crossing the bay toward us against the setting sun.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England
Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England

The Bible does not mention stepping-stones, but it does talk about running a spiritual race that God has laid out for us.  One of my favorites is found in Hebrews 12:1,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . . “

Sometimes, particularly when we are feeling “stuck” in a situation, it helps to look back to where we have been to get our bearings.  Looking for a practical way to work this “looking back in order to move forward” idea, it struck me that to prayerfully identify meaningful events in our lives as spiritual stepping-stones, could be very helpful.  Here are some basics to enter into this process:

  • The process must begin and end with prayer to be truly effective.  (It is God who has established “the race marked out for us,” so it is entirely reasonable to look to Him for the practical insight we need.)  Ask Him to help you identify: a) meaningful events that have impacted you; b) the Scripture Marker you remember it by and, c) the Spiritual Stepping-Stone that helped you to move forward.
  • The first spiritual stepping stone marks when we embrace Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.

To help you get started in this process, I am going to share five personal Scripture Markers that influenced my life and the resulting Spiritual Stepping- Stones that brought me to where I am today.  This is a very personal process so your list will look very different from mine–that is the whole point!  So don’t get caught up on what I have listed:

  1. Asked God to take over my life; to save me from myself.  
    • Scripture Marker: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..”  (John 3:3, 5)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: Jesus became my resting place as well as my primary source of strength each and every day.
  2. When overwhelmed by the possibility of losing our third born, God quieted my heart with the assurance that His purpose (no matter what happened) was for our family’s good.  
    • Scripture Marker: Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)  
    • Spiritual Stepping Stone: I found great comfort in God’s goal for me: “to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  I embraced His goal as my own.
  3. When faced with the challenges of being a single mom (back when my husband was away much of the time) the Shepherd blessed me with this verse one Sunday morning:
    • Scripture Marker:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40:11)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I was greatly comforted by the assurance that my Shepherd was watching over me.j
  4. On 9/11/2001 I struggled all day trying to get my spiritual bearings as I watched the tragedy unfold.  I begged God for help that entire day, but it seemed as if Heaven was silent.  Late that night after finally turning off the TV, I went up to go to bed.  As I pulled back the covers to get into bed,  these thoughts ran through my head like an electronic billboard: “Hate what is evil: cling to what is good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”  
    • It was not until several days later that I found the Scripture Marker: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. “ (Romans 12:9)
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I slept peacefully that night despite the grief experienced that awful day.  Since that time, I have learned to major on loving others, while leaning on the Lord to face- off evil in the world.
  5. When frightened because of personal health concerns I found myself gripped by fear as I contemplated my future. 
    • Scripture Marker: “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 . . . .”  (Isaiah 30:15)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: God’s answer calmed my fears as I learned to stop running and intentionally trust Him more. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  I was surprised by how the process came together once I got started.  If a Scripture Marker does not come to you right away, ask God to help you identify one that is meaningful to you.  (You need the Scripture Marker to provide your Spiritual Stepping-Stone to stand on.)  Whether you are facing a difficult situation, have an important decision to make or are at a relatively quiet place in your life, I encourage you to take time to do this for yourself.  Being able to view the Spiritual- Stepping-Stones of your life cannot help but strengthen you to finish the race God has marked out for you!

All to His Glory!

Prayer + “The Ripple Effect” = An Ocean Of God’s Love

I have to admit that I find myself cringing whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I guess all we can do is pray.”  I cringe, not because I am judging that person–God knows I have thought and said the same thing many times in the past.  No, I cringe because I have learned, in my thirty-plus years of walking with Christ and after twenty years of Counseling, that prayer must be our first priority and should never be left as a last resort.  When we are more about “doing”–and therefore make prayer secondary–we miss out on participating in the mysterious and wondrous workings of God.  The simple wisdom and counsel of Isaiah 55:6 says it all,

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.

Seek the Lord NOW through prayer; call upon Him NOW!  When we seek God with prayers large and small, we become part of what I like to refer to as “the ripple effect.”  Ordinarily, the term “ripple effect” refers to when a stone is thrown into a still pond . . . after the ‘plunk’ comes the myriad of ripples that move across the otherwise still water.  Merriam-Webster.com defines it this way,

The Ripple Effect

Ripple effect: “a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.” 

In Christian circles, the term is used to describe when God works in an individual’s life . . . and how the resulting “ripples” from that action impacts the lives of many othersHowever, when God works in response to our prayers, there is nothing “unintentional” or random when it comes to the “ripple effect.”  One of the blessings of serving a God who is both Sovereign and Good, is in knowing that He is as much at work in the smallest ripple, as He is in the larger things.

Even though it has been thirty-four years, I still remember how profoundly impacted I was by the “ripple effect” when, at twenty-five weeks gestation, I was hospitalized due to complications with my pregnancy.  Back then, we were attending a wonderful church where we had met Christ a few years before.  Each Sunday my husband gave an update so people knew our specific prayer needs.  During the weeks prior to our sons birth, an interesting pattern emerged.  When things were looking bad, the fervency of people’s prayers never failed to carry us through.   However, when we did better and people eased up on praying, we seemed to go downhill.  When our pastor visited me in the hospital, he commented on how God was using our situation to teach our congregation about the importance of being steadfast in prayer.

As the days passed and Luke was born nine weeks premature, it continued to boggle my mind when I thought about God using our three-pound little boy (such a tiny little “pebble”) to ripple blessing to several hundred people who were faithful to pray.  Luke’s birth opened the door to a world of machines and buzzers, bright lights and busy doctors and nurses tending tiny babies in the hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Since our home was over an hour away, I was encouraged to stay in the hospital as long as they had a bed available. The nurses were especially kind and helpful, but that first week was rough.  All week, Luke’s nurses expressed concerns about his blood gas levels.  He had already received one blood transfusion of what they referred to as packed cells; yet by day seven, he was paler and seemed to be losing ground.

Realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed, my husband took me home for a few hours that evening.  I will never forget the night sky that greeted me when I went out to our backyard to pray.  I can only describe it as “expansive” as the darkness surrounded me and a myriad of stars shone down.  I prayed . . . confessing my fear of losing Luke.  I reflected on what my pastor said about God using Luke to encourage steadfastness in prayer in our church.  I was comforted as I recognized that, if God chose to take Luke back, his short life had accomplished what God intended.  With that realization, I surrendered Luke back to God.  As I did, a peace settled over me that freed me to trust Him no matter what happened.

When I returned to the hospital, Luke was asleep in his isolette and had a lovely rosy glow–the doctors had agreed to a second transfusion.  From that point he became a “grower” and several weeks later we were able to take him home at four pounds, two ounces.

The “ripple effect” of the prayers of so many and our learning to pray has continued to bless our family to this very day.  James 1:2-5 became a special lifeline during that time that has carried us though many a trial since:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

As I write this, our family is being carried by the prayers of countless people as Luke undergoes chemotherapy.  This time though, the ripples of the past have combined with the countless prayers being offered for Luke, his wife Shannon and our family resulting in a whole ocean of God’s love.

Wherever you are . . . whatever you may be facing . . . my prayer is that your faith in Christ will deepen and buoy you in the ocean of His love and tender mercies.  He is so very worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

 

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

We live in a frightening world where the thought of turning on the news can fill us with dread.  I was stunned last week as I watched and  listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.  As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:  “Father forgive them . . . for they know not what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind-“an eye for an eye”that’s biblical, right?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  (verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 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. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice;

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
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 17,19-20)

 As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ has loved us.  Over the years I have listened to many a testimony given by people who came to Christ after serving on the side of evil in World War Two.  I trust that there are such people caught up in the ugliness of sin, who need our prayers today.  Join me in praying for repentant hearts to overtake the evil that appears so rampant.  Also, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!