While It Is Still Today . . . .

In a world where money, talent and fame garner highest praise, the suicidal deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain hit hard last week. Spade and Bourdain appeared “to have it all'”, yet they chose to end their lives as the world wondered, “Why?”  

Kate Spade’s family and friends pointed to a long history of battling depression and anxiety.  Those who knew Anthony Bourdain pointed to possibly the pressure of working on a film series, but otherwise were clueless.  The saddest part (from my perspective) was that they both left young daughters behind, ages 13 and 11.

While it is still today . . . .

This was in stark contrast to the four women I saw in the Counseling Room last week.  Each one vastly different in terms of background, yet each Client familiar with the downward spiral of depression and therefore desirous of biblically-centered counsel.

What stood out was not their differences in background, but their agreement in recognizing the value of doing their Journey Notes.  Each Client talked about how being encouraged to talk TO God (rather than ABOUT Him) helped them to focus more on Him and less on themselves.  They also said digging into the Scriptures helped them keep their thinking straight as they gained clarity into themselves, the world around them and into God as the Shepherd of their hearts. As a result, each reported that the spiral of depression was much less of a threat to them than previously.

What touched me most, was hearing to them talk about their hopes for the future, as well as changes they intend to make in future choices.  These three praises logged in one of their Journey Notebooks reflect the tenderness of relationship between God and one of His children:

Thank You God:

  1. You’ve never taken advantage of me.
  2. For Your sense of humor.
  3. You brought me out of depression.

When it comes to loving others in a hurting world, this nugget of wisdom from Hebrews tells us not to put off what we can do to help someone now:

“You must warn each other every day,
WHILE IT IS STILL “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be deceived by sin
and hardened against God.
For if we are faithful to the end,
trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed,
we will share in all that belongs to Christ.”  
Hebrews 3: 13 & 14
New Living Translation

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be within the body of Christ?  When we claim Christ as Lord and Savior, we are responsible, while it is still today, to love and to encourage others facing depression, anxiety and the innumerable other problems that can hit so hard.

The question is, HOW?

One way to help such a friend is to offer a listening ear, a heart willing to pray with them, and a steadfast commitment to helping that friend to get closer to God.  If your friend is willing, put a Journey Notebook together for them (and perhaps one for yourself.)  Then commit to getting together for an hour or two each week to pray with thanks for God’s faithfulness as the two of you talk about what He had revealed since you last met.

I love the perspective of the Apostle Peter given as a blessing and a warning all:

“Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and His ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
I Peter 3:10-12

While it is still today . . .
loving our neighbor in a hurting world is risky business,
but it’s the only business that truly counts!

All to His Glory!

 

With Every Problem . . . .

The first time I read the opening declaration of James*, I was a new Christian:

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many 
kinds . . . .”  

I was terrified!

Even now, four decades later, when hit  by the twists and turns of life, my first response is rarely to embrace hurt or disappointment with “joy.”  Even so, I committed to live out the wisdom of James and determined to test the promise that follows his declaration::

“The testing of your faith produces perseverance,
and perseverance must finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything,”

 With that, I have embraced this truth:

Opportunity to trust God more . . . .

“With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust God more.”

Of course this commitment has not only impacted my personal outlook, but also how I counsel others.  From the onset, my goal in building a relationship with each Client has been based on my conviction that:

Biblical counseling
is more than fixing problems.
Biblical counseling should be about strengthening our relationship with the Shepherd of our hearts.

When people seek counsel, they often perceive God as being very distant and assume the worst of Him. To circumvent this, we rely on prayer and the Scriptures to bring God into every conversation that takes place in the Counseling Room. This “conversation” between God and Client continues as Clients are encouraged to do their Journey Notes outside of the Counseling Room two or three times a week. Those who follow through are the ones who do the best overall, as they learn to trust God not only with details of their lives but also their eternal future.

One passage that is a favorite with Clients is found in Isaiah 30. In it God urges His people to resist the temptation to run from their problems–but to run to Him instead.  The passage begins with this prescription:

“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. . . .”

Meant to calm the heart and mind, the passage goes on to acknowledge what we are more likely to do:

. . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
(Verses 15-17)

It then reassures us with this beautiful picture of a caring Shepherd:,

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Isaiah 30:18

Did you catch that? “He will RISE UP to show you compassion.”  A perfect illustration of God being ACTIVELY concerned when it comes to the lives of His children.

The passage continues, with this assurance of God’s faithfulness in seeing us through dark valleys, as it challenges us to reject the things we cling to instead of God:

“Although the Lord gives you
the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
your teachers will be hidden no more . . . .
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver
and your images covered with gold;
you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth
and say to them, “Away with you!” 
 

No matter what we face, God calls us to come to Him with problems large and small.  I especially love the encouragement of Jesus’s invitation to all,

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28-29

It’s all true:

With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust and love God more.

How to begin?  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy as you rely on Him to provide the wisdom and perspective you lack.

So . . . what are you waiting for?!!!

All to His Glory!

*James 1:2-4

The Lost Art of Humility . . . .

Words rarely heard these days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lost art of humility . . . .

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

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

Matthew 5:43, 44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:3,4

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

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

Romans 5:8

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

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

I Peter 5: 5b-7

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

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

The artful working out of biblical humility calls for;:

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

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

All to His Glory!

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

The Quiet of Now . . . .

The first time I thought it, my heart skipped a beat because I knew it didn’t come from me.  It came when I was curled up with my Bible, writing my praises to God in a Journey Notes entry:  “Thank You, God, for the quiet of now.”  

The quiet-of-now, is that profound peace of soul we crave in our cluttered lives, that too often eludes our grasp.  It is the fruit of seeking after God for the strength and perspective we lack. That elusive quiet-of-now, comes only after yielding to His question:“Will you trust Me in this?” with,“Yes Lord, I will trust you.” 

It struck me recently that, the quiet-of-now, is what Jesus was offering His disciples as He prepared them for His departure:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.

I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and
do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

The quiet-of-now,, is what He continues to offer to us no matter what our circumstance:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened . . .
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me;

for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.…
Matthew 11:28, 29

The quiet of now, is a God-thing . . . .

The quiet-of-now”, is the rarified Gift of God that once received is meant to be passed on.

 No matter what your station in life, if you have entered into a relationship with Christ, then you are meant to pass on His Peace, His Love, His Mercy and the resulting quiet-of-now blessing to all He puts on your path.

While waiting for a Client several weeks ago, I was struck by how my office encourages, quiet-of-now moments.  I am always grateful for the time right before a Client arrives, when I can ask God to help me see that person with His eyes rather than my own. The setting is simple, There are two upholstered chairs for Clients to chose from, a few things on the walls, a bookshelf, my desk, chair and a white board that I use mostly for drawing illustrations.  On my desk is my Bible and a red leather notepad given me many years ago by an appreciative Client.  Directly across from where I sit is a cabinet located between the two Client chairs with a red leather Bible sitting center-stage.

At the start of a Session, the Bible waits quietly, as each Client tells their story.  But as soon as the worn leather Bible is opened, and the words on the crisp pages tinged by time and frequent use are read, it speaks truth to receptive hearts.  It is when we read and ponder the words inside that Book, that God enters the conversation between us, and interesting (even miraculous) quiet-of-now moments are most frequently shared.

Quiet-of-now moments come with a yieldedness of mind and heart . . . .

So is there a key to unlocking the door to such quiet-of-now moments on a regular basis?  As I reflect on this question, I am struck that such moments have less to do with setting and more to do with attitude and heart:

If you seek Me you will find Me,
if you seek Me with all of your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13

Quiet-of-now moments come upon us, when Scripture takes center-stage in our minds and we yield our hearts to the Sovereign Goodness of God’s Spirit.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

All to His Glory!

Letters . . . .

When is the last time you received an honest-to-goodness letter in the mail?  No, I’m not talking about a message printed on cardstock with a ready-made greeting you simply write your name on or a “wish-you-were-here” postcard.  I’m talking about an envelope sent in the mail (preferably with a stamp on it), containing personal communication (otherwise known as, “news”), written on paper that is exchanged between two people. In this age of email, text messages and junk mail, I had forgotten the thrill of discovering an actual letter in my mailbox until I found such a rarity waiting for me about a week ago.  What made it even more precious was that it was from our oldest grandson, Matt, who left home for Army boot camp two months ago.

How does a young man keep his way pure?

Joining the military has been Matt’s dream since he was a little boy.  Growing up, Matt was active in Boy Scouts and then in high school, demonstrated his commitment to his dream by signing up for JROTC*.  After getting his driver’s license, Matt was out the door most mornings before dawn, picking up other students for JROTC training . . . even as roadblocks loomed to block his dream.

Matt originally wanted to join the Marines, but a “back problem” identified during his physical–Matt has never had back problems–disqualified him.  Matt was undeterred, as he filed waiver after waiver with notes from doctors to appeal the decision.  We worried as a family that Matt would get angry and depressed when the waivers were denied . . . but we never saw or heard any of that.  Instead, we marveled as Matt switched gears and applied to the Army, where he steadfastly continued his fight to serve our country even as he served his fellow students.  Less than a week before his high school graduation, Matt’s waiver was was finally granted by the Army.

We are all very proud of Matt, but I will not deny that it was tough the night before he left for Army boot camp.  Uncertain about what loomed ahead for Matt–as a grandmother wishing he was leaving for college instead–I came away with a comforting, unexpected treasure of Matt stepping through the awkwardness I bore, with the firm hug of a young man entering manhood.

Since that night our prayers for Matt (and the prayers of many others) have steadied us all.  We have been grateful to hear of brief phone conversations, punctuated by wonderful long letters shared that reflect Matt’s doubts and frustrations, his humor and overall enjoyment of training, and most of all, his deep love for home and family.

As I have watched Matt pursue his dream without complaint–except to say in one of his early letters that boot camp is every bit as tough as we’d heard it was— a verse from Scripture has continually played in my mind:

“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to Your word.”
Psalm 119:9

What has been at the root of Matt’s determination to continue after his dream without complaint and despite the roadblocks?  I have no way to answer that fully, but a comment written in one of his early letters home provides some clues:

Thank you for raising me right. Most of the people in my company are 18 but they act like they are 12. The thing is here, that if one person messes up, the entire platoon gets “corrective training”–which is basically a lot of really high intensity, high-speed workouts.”

Having been raised, not in a perfect home, but according to the Christ-centered values of loving God and neighbor–all these weeks and months we have been privileged to witness the fruit of that training.  After reading Matt’s letter to us, he affirms this:

I hate it when people won’t do what is right . .  . .
I have noticed that ever since I left (home), I have felt closer to God,
I pray a lot more and have been enjoying church more.”

So why do I share this with you?  Certainly not to brag about our grandson, even though we are grateful for God’s blessing on him.  I share it more to encourage you (as I have been) to follow Matt’s lead:

  1. To set your sights on pursuing what honors God, as you follow the path laid before you.
  2. To refuse to complain, give way to depression or fear, as you entrust each day to Him.
  3. To be honest in whatever challenge you face, as the prayers offered by others provide encouragement along the way.
  4. To love what is right before God as you love your neighbor as He has loved you:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

  5.  To remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage servants of Christ:

“You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
II Corinthians 3:3

No matter what the challenge, disappointment or hurt you have experienced, if you love and serve Christ you have not been abandoned.  Instead, remember Christ’s charge to the man He healed after being paralyzed for 38 years: “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”  (John5:8)  Trust Him with every breath you take and let the adventure begin!

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—
His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:1, 2

All to His Glory!

*Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps— Facilitated in many American high schools with the goal of producing positive character development and leadership skills, JROTC is open to all students–not just those interested in joining the armed services.

 

Me Too . . . .

After hearing their stories, I have told countless new Clients,

“I won’t pretend to say that I know exactly how you feel,
but there is little that comes through my office door
that I haven’t had at least a taste of.”

It’s true . . . and most seem to know it, as I look them in the eye with as much tenderness and compassion as I can muster.

I thought about this as I scrolled down my Facebook timeline last week and noticed several “Me Too”* posts entered by people I care about. Knowing personally the powerlessness of being a victim of abuse (sin imposed by others), and having listened to countless stories in the Counseling Room, I was deeply saddened by the dark reminder that such evil continues.

While a sympathetic, “Me too”, may offer temporary comfort, the larger question remains, “Where do I go from here?” 

Christ Jesus–the Ultimate “Me too” . . . .

That is the question we face in the Counseling Room, and the answer is always the same:

“We go to God and the Scriptures,
for the wisdom and perspective we lack.”

Why?  Because, while the world offers theories that change with the seasons; God calls us to trust Him as He speaks to the heart of our problems in every season:

Genesis 4:6,7 (the first counsel offered in Scripture):

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?
Why is your face downcast?

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

Isaiah 30:15,19:

“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’,
but you would have none of it . . . .

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!”

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Of the many places we visit in the Scriptures, Psalm 139 is one that speaks light and hope to every possible challenge we face:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your Presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.”
(Verses :7-10)

To those who isolate themselves from the world to avoid further pain or heartache, Psalm 139 reminds us, there’s nowhere to hide from a Sovereign and Good God:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
(Verses 7-12)

Truly, when the whole of Scripture
and the ultimate, “Me too” of Christ on the Cross is received,
a new dawn speaks light, hope and ultimate joy
into the darkness of brokenness.  

This is why I urge Clients to enter into the Journey Notes process, to discover God has so much more to say to them personally.  As they do, I am always profoundly touched as I watch God’s peace pushing back the darkness.

“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

So my question to you, no matter what your past history is: “What are you waiting for?!!”

All to His Glory!

*Part of a movement on social media, meant to expose the problem of sexual harassment and assault in our culture.  “Me too” was a quote taken from a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano.