What’s Your Passion?

Still in a reflective mood in mid-January, an advertising blurb stuck with me this week: “Share Your Passion.”  The ad caught my attention because it was from WordPress–the organization that has published my blog for the past six-and-a-half years.  I immediately thought to myself, “‘Share My Passion’?  Is that what I am doing when I write?”  It caused me to wonder, “What am I passionate about?” and, more to the point, “Why do I write?”

Passion defined:  Ardent in feeling or desire; vehement; warm; as, a passionate friendship. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)

As I reflected on those questions, I had started work on a paint-by-number painting* of a pair of cardinals. I was surprised by how the process of applying the colors of the paints impacted me emotionally as the head of the first bird emerged. As I continued and the contrasting colors around it brought “life” to the canvas, I felt an almost primal urgency–dare I say passion?–as I painted faster to watch the bird and its surroundings emerge.

Refuses to look back . . . .
What’s your passion?

Almost lost in the creative process, I thought about God as Creator.  I wondered, “What level of passion was involved in forming the world around us?”  

God’s response to Job’s misery lends insight into Him as passionate Creator:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angelsa shouted for joy?
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
Job 38:4-11

As we live life on this earth, we can be assured that God was (and continues to be) passionate about all He created:

  • As He fills the skies with drama from sunrise to sunset, and scatters the night with the shining beauty of the cosmos . . .
  • As the seasons He set in motion continue to provide what is needed to sustain life and the loveliness that surrounds us . . .
  • As He endows the heart with wisdom and gives understanding to the mind of those who seek Him (Job 38:36).

There is a difference between passion experienced in day-to-day life that is run by our emotions verses godly passion.  Going still deeper in my thinking, I remembered another passage recorded in Scripture that encourages Christians to emulate God’s passion as evidenced by His Son:

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:1b-3

Godly passion is more than emotional;
Godly passion is intentional as well as sacrificial.
Godly passion perseveres. 

So, what I am passionate about and why do I write my blog?  The answer is mixed:

  • I certainly don’t write for the fun of it–writing is difficult and frustrating for me.  (I’ve been working toward this one since before Christmas and am only now seeing it come together.)
  • Writing is a calling for me.  I write to pass forward some of the things learned while facing personal challenges, as well as from counseling others.

Along the way something changed:
Passion entered when I realized He had things He wanted to teach me
that could only be learned through the process of writing.

With every post I write I learn something new.  The continual meandering along the myriad of ‘bunny trails’ I end up deleting (though still frustrating) have become part of the process of gaining insights into myself, God and the surrounding world.  So what’s my passion?  Pure and simple, it’s wanting to see what God’s going to do next!

Now it’s your turn . . . what’s YOUR passion?

All to His Glory!

*Artistically I am a “wannnabe” painter. Several years ago I discovered paint-by-number kits have improved substantially from the splotchy one I did of Beatle John Lennon in the 60’s.  In recent years I have enjoyed doing several with surprisingly good results!

We Dare Not Turn Our Backs . . . .

After spending hours watching events unfold in the news and listening to the chatter of a myriad of opinions as to how to respond–it was after I finally turned off the television, that I experienced palpable relief from the tug-of-war going on in my mind and heart.  It was then, as the quietness settled within me, that a verse from James ran through my mind like a wafting banner:

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

(James 1:5)

Ah, yes . . . PRAYER!  I was grateful for the reminder that the evil unfolding before us is not merely political or sociological.  It is part of an age-old spiritual battle.  The Apostle Paul gives clarity as to the stakes and the means whereby we must do battle:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up
against the knowledge of God,
and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

II Corinthians 10:3-5

So what are Christians to do?  The best way to stay on course is to depend on the guidance of Scripture and God’s Spirit to provide the wisdom and strength we lack.  The following is a “game plan” that I have found helpful:

A Call To Prayer . . . To be quiet before God who already knows the end from the beginning.  As I bask in the quiet of God’s call, the weight in my heart is lifted as I pray for the displaced millions of men, women and children who, through no fault of their own, have no place to call home.  James 1:27 declares,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

 Bottom line: WE DARE NOT TURN OUR BACKS ON OTHERS IN NEED.

Pray also for our political leaders, that God will convict their hearts as He ultimately works out His Plan through them.

A Call To Face Our Enemies . . . .   

  1. Some call it, “madness . . . sheer madness!”  Be it one individual shooting up a theater full of people or an organized group, it is a calculated, ugly, hate-filled assault on people–seemingly the more innocent the better.  After the killing is done, the descriptions reported by the survivors are similar as they describe the perpetrators as, “emotionless . . . robotic . . . appearing dead except for the merciless shooting.”  The problem is real, it is global and it is not any one group–an angry deadness of the soul.
  2. The second enemy may surprise you, but it must be faced to gain the wisdom we need to face enemy#1: FEAR fueled by what I call, “the court of public opinion.”  It is easy to get sucked into fear, for me it is a constant battle. When fear grips the heart, wisdom and faith are far removed. What keeps us steady is in knowing that FEAR is a ploy the devil uses to deter us.  Here’s what James wrote to Christians facing adversity 2,000 years ago:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

James 4: 7, 8 & 10

 A Call To Faith . . . I have said it to many a Client and learned it long ago:

To be overwhelmed by trials and uncertainty
is an opportunity to trust God more.

God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.
If we claim to have fellowship with Him
and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not live out the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

I John 1:5b-7

Over time I have learned to listen less to my fears as I  have determined to trust God with it all.  These words (also from James) have been a tremendous encouragement to me and to those I counsel facing hardship:

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

James 1:2-4

A Call to Action . . . REFUSE TO TURN YOUR BACK!

 1.  It is easy to hate the perpetrators of evil, but when hating comes easy we are in danger of becoming like them.  Take seriously Jesus command in Matthew 5:43:45:

“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 children of your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:43-45

God knows the heart of everyone.  Pray for the individuals caught up in this evil; that the attitudes and actions of Christians being held will touch the hearts of their captors.  Pray also that fleeing Christians will reflect the love of Christ to those who are also fleeing but do not know Him.

2.  Start looking for ways to help.  If your church has organized a means of reaching out in big and small ways, then by all means support that.  (Last year my church found a way to support Iraqi Christians by sending dental supplies {tooth brushes, toothpaste, etc} through a friend with contacts there.  It was such a small thing but I know it was an encouragement to those who could give as well as those receiving those small gifts.)

There are numerous charities working to help in this global crisis.  The following are some of my favorites:

Samaritan’s Purse
http://www.samaritanspurse.org

Mission to the World
https://www.mtw.org/disaster-response

Open Doors, USA
https://www.opendoorsusa.org/donate/

Voice of the Martyrs
http://www.persecution.com

3.  Watch the news following the stories of those caught up in this crisis and begin to pray for those who touch your heart.  There are several bloggers doing excellent work to help with this.  This post, by Humans of New York, is a good place to start: https://medium.com/@humansofnewyork/humans-of-new-york-refugee-stories-243336f4adeb#.ywdau2x1t

In good times and in bad, God calls us to prayer and to action as we live out our faith.
These are scary times to be sure, but they are potentially growing times
as we entrust ourselves to the One who Saves.  

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea . . . .
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts his voice, the earth melts.”
Psalm 46:1-6

All to His Glory!

Image Source: Google Images

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!

To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“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 . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

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

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 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.

When Storms Bear Down . . . .

I wrote this in my Journey Notes over a year ago when a hurricane was bearing down on our community.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage you as it did me this morning.

“When storms bear down:

“Be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

Remember . . . do not forget . . . teach your children and grandchildren about God’s faithfulness.  Lord, thank You for these reminders to remember and never lose sight of the miracles large and small that I have seen:

  1. The miracle of a changed heart that would have turned to stone if you had not stepped in.
  2. The miracle of three amazing children who love and serve You.  What a joy to see them care for their children and spouses as they honor You.
  3. The blessing of a marriage that has weathered many challenges and served to strengthen our commitment to each other and to You.
  4. The miracle of changed lives through Counseling–Your Spirit and Your Word are sufficient to convict and cleanse the repentant heart to make it whole.

Yes Lord . . . I will remember these things and many more!”

My praises for that day were:

  1. Haven’t lost power
  2. Marshall (my husband) is home.
  3. Joy in Your Presence

~~~~~

The sad thing is that on clear, sunny days I forget the blessings cherished in those tougher seasons.  I get sloppily complacent in my day-to-day living as I take God’s presence and provision for granted.  I hate that about myself but do I hate it enough to change–or to be changed?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15

Storms that bear down can be good  because they heighten our awareness of our frailty . . . our vulnerability . . . our need for protection from on High.

Storms that bear down help us keep our priorities straight . . .
as we refuse to “sweat the small stuff,”
giving thanks that we . . .
are not . . .
alone . . . ..   

Today, the weather forecast is for rain and cloudy skies, colder temperatures but no big storms threaten . . . for now.  Should I pray for storms to shed my complacency and guilt?  Or, perhaps beat myself up for my failures and life’s unfairness and continue living as if I am alone (even though He is with me?)

What is the key to resolving this dilemma, when storms are no longer bearing down and we have lost our way?  I offer this to you, not as a Counselor but as a friend who has failed many times and known God’s faithful forgiveness:

  1. Prepentance offered on the basis of God’s character rather than focusing on ourselves is the important first step.
  2. Remember that every day is a spiritual battle and is therefore a storm that bears down one way or another.
  3. Give thanks to God for the miracles large and small witnessed in the past, as you meet the challenges/storms of each day in His strength and to His Glory.

“Be careful . . . watch yourselves . . . DO NOT FORGET!”

All to His Glory!

Defeated by Chance?

Recently I experienced what can only be described as a “burning bush” moment– like when God first spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.  What led up to my “burning bush” experience?  Last weekend my husband Marshall and I were away camping.   Marshall is a wonderful man who has the heart of an inventor–he loves to tinker!  He is thoughtful, generous and rarely gets angry at people but when “things” frustrate him . . . look out!  As we were setting up our campsite, Marshall got frustrated and then angry as he was trying to fix something–I honestly do not recall what.  Talking about the incident later, he said that when he gets frustrated, anger builds and is almost always rooted in the thought that he is “being DEFEATED by CHANCE.”  I realized that he had expressed this before but, I had never taken it to heart.  I thought about the times when I have been upset, slamming doors to emphasize my frustration.  Thankfully those instances are rare but still . . . I’m embarrassed to have to admit it at all.  I wondered:

Is the thought of our lives being thrown into disarray and defeated by “chance” at the root of much of our frustration and feeling victimized?

More to the point, the question my heart asked:

 Can Christians be defeated by “chance”?

The next morning, with these questions still on my mind, I thought about how often the Bible talks about the mysterious ways of God.  I thought about how the wisdom and perspective of Psalm 139 was instrumental in helping me appreciate God as Sovereign and Good.  Verse 16 in particular has been a special encouragement to me in my walk with Christ:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book before one of them came to be.”

For many years, when I had to fly (the majority of my family lives 3,000 miles away from where I live) I would board a plane always feeling inwardly defeated by fear.   Verse 16 challenged me to surrender my fear as I embraced the assurance that there was nothing that could happen to me apart from God’s divine will.  The next time I got on an airplane, I thanked God that He was with me and that He was in control.  Since that time I have actually come to a place where I enjoy flying–sort of.  Verse 16 settled the question of my vulnerability to “chance,” as my faith in Christ overtook the fear that had plagued me for so long.

As I continued to ponder the mystery of God’s will, I checked my concordance.  I was dumbfounded when I noticed that myth was listed immediately after mystery–enter the “burning bush” moment!  Intrigued by this, I looked up one of the references to myth in I Timothy 4 and was hit hard as I read:

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourselves to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  (I Timothy 4:7 & 8)

I felt like I had stepped onto holy ground at the realization that “chance” fits into the category of “godless myths.”  There is no place in God’s world for “chance” (or coincidence for that matter!)  To yield to the idea of “chance” is to lose sight of God and to believe a lie.  With the lie exposed I wondered, “Where do I go from here?”   Bad things happen that we can’t make sense of; life often is not fair.   It was then that I remembered the wisdom of James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials 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.”  (1: 2-4)

James assures followers of Christ that God allows trials and suffering to draw us closer to Him.  He is saying that the testing (tempering) of our faith gives opportunity for our  being strengthened into maturity, confident in His loving purpose being worked out in our lives.

So how does this answer our question?  Can Christians be defeated by “chance?”  Not if we keep our focus on what pleases and honors God.  There is no such thing as random chance in God’s Creation, but we certainly are vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the ugliness of sin (our own and the sin of others) when we doubt God’s goodness.   Feeling overwhelmed by life?  Turn to Christ with eyes of faith and give thanks that “today” has not come as a surprise to Him.  Thank Him for His promise that,

“In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Then walk in the confidence that our present and our future are secure in Him.

All to His Glory!