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!

Doors . . . .

When our family returned to the States after living in England for three years, our four-year-old son Luke talked about missing his “green door”.  He was referring to the flint and brick home we rented while living in England that had green front and back doors.  Luke’s “green door” was the only place he had ever known as home.  It was six weeks before we finally found a place for our family and, YES, we painted the front door the same shade of green as our home in England, so Luke would know we were truly home!

Doors . . . there is something fascinating about doors (especially front doors) that I find intriguing.  I saw a poster once that pictured fifty or more front doors of homes, some quite plain while others commanding the passerby’s attention–each of them uniquely hinting at what might lie within.

When temptation entered the Garden of Eden there was no physical door to knock on except for the doorway to Eve’s mind and heart.  When Eve responded by opening the door to doubting God’s Goodness, the domino-effect of sin changed everything.  Gone were times of enjoying such intimacy as a walk in the garden with our Creator.   From that point, sin clouded our perceptions of God and of all He created for us to enjoy.  Perhaps saddest of all, we lost sight of our unique status as His image bearers.  Yes, when doubt darkened the perceptions of the human heart toward God, the unique relationship enjoyed before man’s fall into sin was lost.

When doubt enters, how are we to respond?
When doubt knocks, how are we to respond?

To be clear, there is a place for doubt/caution in this sin-bent world. The Bible affirms this danger as it encourages us to look to God as the Shepherd of our hearts.  James 1:5 offers direction and encouragement to believers,

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

To know that God wants us to seek Him in trouble is amazing.  Yet, for many years I struggled with the warning that immediately follows James’s encouragement:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

(Verses 6-8)

“You must believe and not doubt?”  The question I wrestled with was,

How is it possible to guard against doubting God’s character,
when doubt can so easily slide in through the doorway of our minds?

I gained insight into my question recently while reading Matthew 9.  The passage describes a paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by some of his friends.   Also in attendance was a crowd of people that included some religious scribes.  Jesus spoke kindly to the man as He said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew relates that when the religious scribes heard this, they condemned Jesus and thought what He said was blasphemous.  Matthew then wrote,

‘”Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said,
“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?”‘

(verse 4)

Jesus confronted them not so much for doubting but for condemning Him as they entertained evil in their hearts.

How does Jesus’s rebuke help to sort out the difference between doubt/caution that is necessary to help us navigate through life vs doubt that condemns?  As was said earlier, doubt serves a purpose when it comes to living in this world.

Doubt defined: to fear, suspect, to lack confidence in : distrust* 

  However, when doubt darkens the door of our hearts and negatively influences our perception of God’s character–doubt becomes insidious:

Definition of Insidious: Awaiting a chance to entrap : treacherous
Harmful but enticing : seductive 
Having a gradual and cumulative effect : subtle
Of a disease : developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.*

SIN is the disease that encourages us to question God’s character and to entertain doubts about God’s will and purpose for our lives.

So is there a way to avoid this problem?  I believe there is:

  1. Recognize that deep within every human heart the danger lurks of not only forgetting God, but also of doubting His character.
  2. Prayerfully ask God to help you recognize where you are most vulnerable when it comes to doubting His character.
  3. When you find yourself entertaining doubt (note: I did not say if)– go immediately to God in confession as you give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness.
  4. Seek His help in closing the doorway to doubt as you lean on Him as the Shepherd of your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  
Proverbs 4:23

 All to His Glory! 

*Taken form: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

True Freedom: The Gift of Self-Forgetfulness ~

“With privilege comes responsibility!”  It was a phrase repeated often as our children grew into young adulthood and left the family nest.  They are gone, tending to their own families, but the truism remains in our home (with a slight twist) . . . “With FREEDOM comes responsibility!”

Why the change?  Because as the years have passed, God has given me a heightened awareness and appreciation for the spiritual freedom won for us by Christ.  Such freedom is not a right . . . it is an amazing Gift:

“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

Passing on that Gift has become an important part of what I do in the Counseling Room, especially when the subject of self-esteem comes up: 

“Your self-esteem is not my concern–there will always be someone or something ready to tear it down.  My goal as your Counselor is to strengthen your esteem for God (your God-confidence) and to achieve His goal for you: a mature faith.” (James 1:2-4)

Living in a culture where the self-esteem philosophy is so prevalent, even the church has become weakened by its influence.  All too often, we blame low self-esteem that resulted from childhood deficiencies, a bad marriage or the influence of others rather than taking responsibility for our sin.

That is why I was delighted last week to discover a small jewel of a booklet titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY* by Dr. Timothy Keller.  I appreciated the clear and concise way Dr. Keller addresses the problem of the self-esteem philosophy and lays out the biblical framework for self-forgetfulness.

What I found most encouraging from a Counseling standpoint, is how Dr. Keller affirms our Christian responsibility to grow a mature faith by trusting God more and relying less on ourselves and others when it comes to the measurement of our self-worth.

In a world where low self-esteem is deemed the root of all evil, where elevated self-esteem is touted as the answer . . . what has become of JOY?  In a world where we have turned ever-inwardly and darkness appears to be winning, it would seem hopeless.  You might wonder what self-forgetfulness would even look like?  Dr. Keller answers our doubts as he introduces gospel-humility as the prescription for what truly ails us.  Gospel-humility is:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”

 He writes further,

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up . . . The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes.  It just works.  It does not draw attention to itself.  The toes just work; the ego just works.  Neither draws attention to itself. 

In short, self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility . . . embraces the Gift of our spiritual freedom to no longer worry ourselves about ourselves.  Gospel-humility loves with abandon; it is no longer run by hurt feelings or the fear of “not making the grade” of someone else’s expectations.  Got low self-esteem?  Praise Him and shoot for the moon as you live your lives in gratitude for such an amazing freedom!

Self-forgetfulness . . . gospel-humility?  Trust me when I say . . . it is our only hope!

All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013. (To get a copy PRESS HERE)

With Conviction There Is Hope ~

When she walked into my office I was surprised as she offered an almost shy smile.   She called a few days earlier asking about “anger management.”  I responded with a question, “Who is it for?”  She answered with a quivering voice, “It’s for me.  I have no friends because they’ve all distanced themselves from me.  I’m so lonely . . . I hurt people without thinking with my sarcasm . . . can you help me?”  Although I could not see her, I knew tears were falling . . . each one marking the pain of regret. Concerned yet aware of a knowing smile forming on my face, I remembered myself a lifetime ago with nowhere to turn . . . so angry . . . so afraid when I realized my anger had become a prison.  Life was hard but I soon found out that God is very, very good. . . .

During our first meeting, I introduced myself and talked about what I do as a Biblical Counselor.   I explained that I don’t “do” anger management but that I would help her get into the Scriptures to gain insight into God’s perspective on life and how He sees her.  I told her about how God helped me with my anger and that He could certainly help her too.  A light came into her eyes that I can only describe as a glimmer of hope as she responded, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

It was my turn to listen as she told me her story.  She talked about her family, about hurt inflicted upon her by others.  She admitted that being angry had been a way of life; only recently did she realize that it was becoming a prison.  I appreciated her candor as she spoke of losing the people she holds most dear as they have distanced themselves from her angry outbursts and cutting remarks.  She admitted being confused as to why God allowed bad things to happen to her while also feeling convicted about hurting people who had done nothing to her.

I spoke to encourage a dry and hungry soul, not with pat answers but with the assurance of God’s provision:

Conviction is a good thing; with conviction there is hope.

She looked at me with her face twisted oddly as she tried to make sense of what I had just said.  She finally asked, “How can conviction ever be good?”

I answered simply, “When it serves as evidence of God’s Holy Spirit working in your heart.  God convicts in order to bring us to our senses, to recognize our need for salvation because we know we deserve hell.  When we repent of our sin (no longer making excuses for it) and trust in Christ Jesus to save us, we are truly free to live our lives well before Him.”  A light seemed to dawn as she listened and considered what I had said; that glimmer of hope began to widen as we looked at the Scriptures together . . . .

In a world that avoids taking personal responsibility for anything that happens and shifts blame to others for our sinful ways, the idea of conviction being a blessing is absurd.  Yet, consider the parable Jesus told about the youngest of two sons recorded in John 15:11-20,

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.”

When the rebellious son “came to his senses” he became convicted of his sinful behavior.  It was with that conviction that he realized his only hope was to return to the father he had dishonored and to confess his sins in the hope of being allowed to work for him as a hired hand.

Of course the parable has a much happier ending as Jesus pictures the father ready to receive and restore:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”  (vs. 20-24)

I still remember the day I realized I deserved hell.  I realized that before a Holy God there was nothing I could do but ask for the mercy I had refused to give to others because of my anger and resentment.  It was when I understood how filthy I truly was, that I came to appreciate the awful necessity and wonder of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

17th century Commentator Matthew Henry lends insight into the blessing of conviction under the Holy Spirit:

“Without clear discovery of our guilt and danger, we never shall understand the value of Christ’s salvation; but when brought to know ourselves aright, we begin to see the value of the Redeemer.”

Truly, with conviction there is hope when it is placed in the Lord Jesus Christ!

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  John 1:11-13

Feeling convicted?  Go to God as the younger son returned home to his father.  You can know and trust that God is watching for you just as the father watched for the son he had lost.

All to His Glory!

“Continue To Do Good . . . “

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

Connecting Your Story With His~

Everyone has a story to tell:

you . . .

me . . .

everyone.

While in my role as a Counselor I count it a privilege to listen to the stories of every person I serve, it is my goal to help every Client connect their story to the larger story of God’s Plan being worked out in their lives.  That is why I do not place a huge emphasis on going through every single nuance of what contributed to why a new Client seeks help.   Instead, my priority in each Session is to help each Client connect their story to Scripture early and often.  Why?

Because the wisdom and perspective of the Bible combined with the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, provides the best source of healing there is.

In my weekly Bible study we just finished studying Job, which is actually a story within a story.  It begins with a straightforward introduction:

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”  

Job was a godly man who was wealthy, respected and loved his kids.  Life was sweet, but things were about to change.  Six verses into the first chapter, a conversation takes place between God (who loves and esteems Job) and Satan.  Job is never privy to the conversation that will result in the loss of his wealth, his children and his health.   I won’t go into the details of the story except to say that it is full of drama as Job suffers the pain of loss in every area of his life.  What compounds Job’s suffering are the accusations of his so-called “friends” who insist that Job or his children committed some hidden sin.  Job insists that he has nothing to repent of.  In 19:25-27 he makes this declaration in his painful anguish:

I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that in the end He will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see Him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

In the end, Job had to repent of doubting God’s goodness in his sufferings.  In doing that, God’s purposes for Job were accomplished as he comes out of the experience with a deeper appreciation and confidence in his Creator.

“I know that You can do all things;
     no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
My ears had heard of You
    but now my eyes have seen You.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

 Job’s story connected with God’s larger story as Job learned to trust God no matter what.  And do you know what?  That is exactly what God wants for you and me.  

In this season of remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Savior Redeemer, it is my prayer that we will look at suffering differently.  My prayer is that as we remember the sufferings of Christ on our behalf we will look at whatever trial we face as an opportunity to connect our stories with His.  The Apostle John wrote in his first letter (2:1,2),

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

All to His Glory!