“My Sheep Listen To My Voice”

I was two years old when my father was called to fight in the Korean War.  I have no memory of when he left, but I definitely remember him picking me up and hugging me over a year later when he returned to us at the Navy dock in San Diego, California.  Korea changed Dad.  He suffered severe frostbite on his legs and feet so he walked like he was walking on broken glass.  Also, he rarely slept more than four hours a night because of the nightmares that plagued him.   Early on I remember his hands shaking from what they called “nerves,” and he could not walk into a darkened movie theater for many years.  (Dad said it reminded him of the night he had to keep running along a steep ridge as he and his fellow Marines were shot at from either side.  Anyone shot had to be left, because the enemy was so close they “could hear them breathing.”)   It was rough carrying so many memories of war, but Dad worked hard and did his best to provide for our family.

My dad and I - Feb. 2013.
My dad and I – Feb. 2013.

Eventually, my parents worked to build a successful dry cleaning business.   While Dad cleaned and pressed the clothes, Mom did alterations of all sorts.  My brother and I helped Dad take care of customers, marked in clothes and put orders together when we weren’t in school.   To most people, Dad’s handwriting on their receipts was an almost indecipherable scribble, but after working together for so many years and because I loved Dad, it became as familiar to me as my own.  Almost fifty years later that proved to be an asset when I transcribed ninety-two of the letters Dad wrote to Mom during the year he was gone.  I must admit there were challenges (some letters I had to hold up to a light to make out the faded writing.)  But for me, it was a labor of love as I imagined Dad writing home from such a hostile environment.  As I carefully opened each letter, unfolded the fragile paper and started to read, it was as if I could hear his voice speaking through time.  To be honest, I believe transcribing Dad’s letters was one of the most worthwhile things I will ever do for our family.  His letters reveal the character of a young family man who wanted to be home but learned to love and care about the men he served with.  To this day, he can still tell you the names of many who “didn’t make it” back to their families.

Just as I recognized Dad’s “voice” speaking from a time when I was small, I believe Jesus was referring to a similar familial connection when He responded to the questions of some men who rejected Him as God’s Son in John 10:27-30,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” 

When Jesus came to this earth He knowingly stepped into enemy territory, a spiritual battle fraught with danger, to save those who would listen to His voice for eternity.  In my last post I wrote about Connecting Your Story with His.

It is as we connect our stories with His though faith, that we learn to listen and recognize the voice of the Shepherd of our souls.

Do you have such a connection?  Do you recognize His voice as He speaks to your heart?  Then embrace the miracle of a changed heart and mind; remember the battle waged that ultimately secured your redemption.  If you do not know the voice of the Shepherd but desire to, then answer His invitation given in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” He said.  “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

His Sacrifice given on your behalf and mine proves He is worthy of our trust . . .

Happy Easter!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

All to His Glory!

When Our Plans Seem To Go Awry ~

I have been a bit dazed this week, recovering from a planned weekend away that seemed to go horribly wrong.  I live three thousand miles from my parents who are in their eighties.  Since I saw them four months ago, my mom’s health has spiraled downward.  MY PLAN was to travel with my daughter Kara (because of my own health issues) to spend three days with them.  I especially wanted to encourage my dad and visit other family in the area.

Everything seemed to be going well as we visited my parents that first morning.  However, a quote from Allen Saunders, author of the comic strip Mary Worth, reflects my perception of what occurred when MY PLANS were dashed:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

When we left my parents after lunch, we had every reason to anticipate two more days of visiting and encouraging them.  However, that is not what happened.  Hours later I got sick with something I probably picked up on the plane and never got to see them again.  I wrestled with the craziness of it all; after all, I had such good intentions!  I wonder even now, will ever see my parents alive again?

HOW we deal with disappointment and discouragement depends very much on our perception of what “LIFE” is.  The questions are straight forward:

  • Is LIFE random? a series of unrelated, quirky, circumstantial, out-of-control events?
  • Or is LIFE actually God working out His Perfect Plan in the Universe that He created? 
  • Not only that, if LIFE is actually God working out His Perfect Plan in the Universe, will we choose to trust Him more when our plans seem to go wrong?

That is the question we all face when LIFE doesn’t seem to make sense and OUR PLANS run amiss.

Are you a planner like me?  There’s nothing wrong with planning.  In fact, I believe our penchant for planning is a reflection of our Creator–the Ultimate Planner.  Planning provides order and structure to our lives as it helps to better utilize the time He has gifted us with.   But what do you do when what you planned is interrupted and goes in a totally different direction?    The cry of Job in 17:11 reflects this quandary when his perfectly ordered life was interrupted by the despair of loosing his children, his wealth and his health in quick succession:

“My days have passed, my plans are shattered,
    and so are the desires of my heart.”

For Job, a dark evil seemed to have taken over that seemed to shatter his world, robbing him of whatever hopes he had for the future.  Have you known such disappointment?  Are you wrestling with something right now that has snuffed out the hope that belongs to all who trust in the light of Christ our Savior?

Consider the insight gained from Psalm 33:8-11  regarding the motivation behind the plans God has for His people:

“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere Him.
 For He spoke, and it came to be;
    He commanded, and it stood firm.
 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of His heart through all generations.”

Do you see it?  The purposes that reflect God’s HEART for His own (His Perfect Plans) are being worked out in the seeming crazy quilt of LIFE.   God’s HEART involvement assures His own that His motivation is to draw us closer to Him as our gentle Shepherd.  The thing is, this cannot happen unless we are willing to trust Him with our hearts.  I love the way this is so beautifully reflected in Jeremiah 29:11-13 as God encourages us to yield our hearts to Him as we trust in His Plan for our lives,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.  “

As I reflect on my visit with my parents, believe it or not I marvel at God’s kind provision for us.  My mom was somewhat wakeful so she knew Kara and I were there.  It was a sweet time to talk to my dad and to share a beautiful lunch with him.  In fact, the light in the dining room was so perfect that I took pictures (when normally I save taking pictures until the end of a visit.)   Little did I know how much those pictures would mean to me when I was not able to go back!

LIFE.  Is it all random happenstance?  I think not.  Looking back with eyes of faith I see blessing that abounds from the heart of our Ultimate Planner.  How about you?

All To His Glory!

When Life Seems Complicated ~

Whether I hear it in casual conversation or in the Counseling Room, my spiritual antenna rise when I hear anyone say, “It’s complicated.”  The reason is because of a simple principle I learned early in my walk with Jesus:

When life seems complicated sin is often there.  Sin tends to complicate, but God always clarifies!

When we sin and we make excuses for our sin (placing blame on someone or something else); or when we are overwhelmed by the sin of others, we loose our spiritual objectivity.  However, when we prayerfully ask God for the clarity we are lacking, the insight may not come immediately but He always delivers according to His perfect will.  Here’s a personal example:

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was living on the east coast of the US.  It was a beautiful day full of promise until the unthinkable happened; four planes carrying innocent men, women and children were crashed in order to snuff out the lives of even more innocent people.  Everything stopped that day, as airplanes across the country were grounded and people were riveted to watching their television screens as the magnitude of what had happened unfolded.

I remember praying throughout that day, begging God for help in processing all I saw.  As Christians, how are we to respond when overcome by such evil?  I struggled the entire day as I tried to make sense of the chaos; it all seemed so complicated . . . .  Late that night I finally turned off the television; it seemed as if all light and hope had been snuffed out as I headed upstairs to my bed.  It wasn’t until I pulled back the covers to get into bed that God’s answer penetrated my mind and heart: “‘Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.’ God is good.”   I was stunned as God’s answer penetrated my heart.  “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good”  is a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:9b).  The reminder that “God is good” flooded my heart and mind with hope that night, as I trusted that no matter how darkly complicated life seemed, God’s goodness would prevail.

That is why when life appears to be complicated by extenuating factors, I run to my Bible for the perspective I need.  How about you?  No matter how complicated your life is, the principle is the same:  Where sin complicates, God clarifies.  Are you unsure about where to begin?  Pray . . . ask God for clarity into what seems complicated.  Then, open up your Bible to Romans 12 as a starting point.  As you read, ask God for a teachable heart and a willingness to surrender those complications to Him.  Expect good things to happen as God grants you clarity in order to free you to serve Him better.  If you don’t find your answer there in Romans, continue to pray and entrust yourself to God as the Shepherd of your heart.  Let me know what happens!

All to His Glory!

Avoid The Path Of The Grumbler: Cry Out To God In Faith

I woke up this morning hearing the sobs of our #6 grandboy in my dream.  Micah is very much related to Max in “Where the Wild Things Are.”  At age two, when asked his age he would respond, “Chicken cat!” as he stomped his feet and performed a sort of Indian dance.   Now five, his mother describes him as “loving and sacrificial . . . quirky . . . eager to learn new things.  He quivers when he gets excited.” He is funny and at times oblivious to what is going on around him in his passionate creativity.  But in the face of injustice, Micah sobs crocodile tears as the pain and confusion deep in his heart pour out.  Micah is a model of living life to the fullest.  He embraces all that is good and laments the pain and sorrow that are also part of living in this place.  There are times when his motives are not entirely pure, when his howl is aimed at getting a sibling punished or at the denial of a demand he made.  Drama King?  At times . . . yes.  But waking up to the ring of Micah’s sobs in my head  reminded me that, when our world is rocked by things large and small, to lament sorrow to our holy and passionate God is always appropriate.  However, our challenge is to avoid the path of the grumbler which, I am learning, has everything to do with the motivation of our hearts.

In a previous post, I wrote about finishing well before God by learning to trust more in His Sovereign Goodness.  Writing that post inspired me to make a commitment that has been a good challenge.  Philippians 2:14-16a paved the way to making that commitment,

“Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”

I vowed to avoid grumbling and making excuses for myself.  By nature, I am a mostly upbeat individual.  But, when I run into what I perceive to be unfairness or when fear grips my heart, I inwardly (and yes, sometimes outwardly) grumble and complain. Having made such a commitment, I imagined that I would periodically write about the challenges and lessons learned as I sought to keep my promise before God.  What I did not expect was a struggle within that convicted my heart.  Yes . . . grumbling can lead us on a disastrous course before God so avoiding it is wise.  But life on this earth can be painful and grim, what ARE we to do when bad things happen?  That is a question faced in the Counseling Room all the time.  In my role as a Counselor, I know that when someone calls to make an appointment they are looking for help with problems that have either been:

  • Thrust upon them by circumstances beyond their control
  • Inflicted on them by others or
  • They are suffering the consequences of poor choices they brought upon themselves.  

It is true that many come initially to complain and grumble about the unfairness of God and life.  Humanly, that is entirely understandable.  But no matter what the source of their pain may be, I see my role as Counselor is to encourage them to avoid the path of the grumbler as they cry out to God in faith.  The fourth chapter of James lends valuable insight into why checking the motivation of our hearts is crucial: 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?   You want something but don’t get it. You kill and  covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight. 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.”  (verses 1-3)

Checking the motives of our hearts and understanding that when our world is rocked, God cares and is worthy of our trust, is the key to avoiding the path of the grumbler.    Romans 8:31 gives us our incentive:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” To assume the best of our Creator will always keep us on the path of wisdom and result in a deepened faith.   The reason we go to Jeremiah 17:5-10 in the Counseling Room first session, is because the passage underscores the blessing of trusting in God above all else.  Verses 7 and 8 provide a meaningful reminder:

 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
  He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Like Micah, our motives are not always pure.  But it is right to cry out to God at the pain and injustice of this world.  Just make sure that you assume the best of God no matter what you may be facing. Truly, He will prove Himself faithful . . . every . . . single . . . time.  

All to His Glory!

The Beginning of Blame Shifting ~

While still being stunned by the ugliness of twenty-six lives being snuffed out for no apparent reason, I have mourned for their families and friends who will never see life quite the same.  How are we to make sense of such evil?  Humanly, I don’t think we can unless we are willing to examine our own hearts.  For the past several weeks in the Counseling Room, the need of almost every client has drawn us to Genesis 3 for a look at the entry of evil on the human landscape– the beginning of blame shifting.  I invite you to look at the passage in its entirety on your own; for now I will only point out the most pertinent details: 

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And He said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman YOU put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  (Verses 6-13. emphasis mine.)

There it is . . . the beginning of blame shifting at the very inception of sin, Adam blamed God for evil . . . and so do we!  The saddest part that stands out to me is in the glimpse of what was lost:Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid . . . .”   Imagine!  It had been their custom to walk and talk with God in the Garden!   The day shame entered, such fellowship with God was lost.

That there is evil in the world is nothing new, we see it every day when we watch the news– morning, noon or night.   (Like it or not, we must admit that it lives within our own minds and hearts.)  We look for “answers” as to why such things happen–mental illness, family background– and make vows to make better laws so that such evil can never happen again.  But we will never fully understand the awfulness of evil (much less stop it) until we are willing to examine our own hearts before a holy and righteous God.  The question that really needs to be asked is in Psalm 119:9,  “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to Your Word.”  Purity is very much a joke in our culture, but until we are willing to do some serious business in our own hearts, evil will continue.

His patience will one day end and His justice will prevail.  For now, God waits for us . . . having made a way for us to regain fellowship with Him through the Gift of His Son.  Truly, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

All to His Glory!

The Mysterious Necessity of Being Changed ~

How are you at accepting change?  Are you struggling with having to make some unplanned changes right now?  I would love to tell you that I am always flexible and even embrace change when it comes, but  that would be such a lie!  Change is hard for most of us, especially when things appear to be going well.  My husband (who is a real Mister Fix-It when it comes to caring for our home and vehicles) often repeats the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”   That phrase expresses well our problem with change; we resist even the thought of change when we do not recognize the need!

Yet, when Jesus issued His invitation to “Follow me,” it was (and still is) a call  to living a life yielded to the mysterious necessity of being changed.   The fact is, before God we are all hopelessly broken and cannot fix ourselves.  

Consider the words of Jesus’ mysterious call for change in the hearts of all who seek Him:

 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again . . .  I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’   The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:3, 5-8)

Change is synonymous with the spiritual necessity of being “born again.”   The change we need is spiritual; which is why our efforts to make behavioral changes performed through self-determination or having good intentions cannot save us.  How is such change initiated?  The first words of Jesus recorded in The Gospel of Mark give us clarity,  “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God.  ‘The time has come,” He said. “The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the Good News!’”  (1:14,15)  It is the humble confession of sin in humility and faith that begins the mysterious process of our spiritual change.

After having begun our spiritual journey with Christ, we find direction in how to proceed from there.  Jesus declared in Matthew 18:3,

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus warns us to let go when change looms . . . to trust Him in the everyday business of life.   In recent months I have been hounded by the prospect of significant change that will impact me and many I serve in the new year.  It has been a roller coaster ride as I have done my best to quell my fears by clinging to God’s goodness in the process.  That is why the insights on change I read in a Community Bible Study (CBS) commentary on Hebrews grabbed my attention:

“God is often too radical for us; He seems always to be expecting us to change.  The word conversion means change.  And spiritual growth involves change–if not an abrupt, external change of behavior, certainly an inner altering of attitudes and values. . . .  But this does not happen easily for most of us.  We fight it every step of the way.  Perhaps our most subtle struggle is between our natural tendency to settle down and be comfortable where we are, and our newly born desire to make the changes God has planned for us.”  (Lesson 9 of Hebrews study, p 106)

 The reminder that the word for conversion in the Bible means change really hit the mark for  me.   It was a reminder that conversion (and therefore change) is a means of our Shepherd working out blessing, as we are stretched and have to trust Him more.  And what is God’s objective in challenging us through change?  The answer is simply and eloquently put in James 1:2-5,

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

Over time, God has graciously taught me that change, in His wise and capable hands, is always about growing a mature faith.  Whatever challenge or change you may face, put your trust in Him.  I have to admit that I still balk at change, but He is teaching me to take a deep breath as He continues to work out His purposes through change.

All to His Glory!