Voices (Part Two) . . . .

If you are a Christian who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, or if you know someone who does, this is for you.  In my last post I wrote about learning to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know, those accusing voices that taunt us despite our repentance saying, “You claim Christ but look at you . . . you are never going to change . . . you will never measure up to being a REAL Christian.”  Sometimes those “other voices” can sound quite reasonable, justifying sin, even as we are inwardly convicted by God’s Spirit.  Also, there are those angry, self-righteous voices that declare, “Enough! You don’t deserve to be treated this way!” as they urge us to hold on to bitterness and/or resentment.

DSC02555
“WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.”

To gain insight in discerning the difference between God’s voice and those “other voices”, I included several examples of God’s voice as our Shepherd to compare with those taunting, deceptive voices we hear in our heads.  From James we learned that one of the distinguishing marks between God’s voice and those “other voices”, is that God does indeed test our faith (in order to strengthen and mature us), but He never tempts us to sin.  When we are tempted, that is completely the voice of evil. (James 1:13,14)

This post will include insights into how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that can rob us of the freedom won for us in Christ.  (Galatians 5:1)   They are personal insights, gained in my own battle with depression, that have also been helpful to others.

1.  We all have a history of past sin; Christ Jesus is our only hope.  

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned . . . ,
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:17

2.  God convicts in order to draw us to Himself; He does not torment or abandon His children.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26, 27

3.  So long as we live on this earth, there is an ongoing spiritual battle between God (who is Light) and evil (spiritual darkness).  To forget or be naive about this makes us vulnerable.  The Apostle Paul warned his friends in Ephesus with this admonition:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:10-12

4.  God will provide all that we need to do battle as we stay close to Him.  It strikes me as ironic that in the battle against terrorism, the term “chatter” is used to refer to listening in on Internet conversations between known terrorist organizations to try to figure out where the next attack will be.  In God’s “army”, we are to resist exposing ourselves to the “chatter” of the world as we draw nearer to God:

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

5.  The best way to resist evil, is to persist in offering praises to God.  (James 4:7) I learned this years ago when I was tormented by thoughts that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Initially I was horrified and embarrassed . . . waves of depression hit me hard.  It was as I prayed, asking God to help me in my weakness, that it occurred to me that the last thing the evil one wanted to hear were praises to God–so that is what I started to do:  “Thank you God that you love me; thank You that You died so that I might live to your Glory; thank You that my future is secure in Jesus . . . Lord take these unwanted thoughts away from me (clean out any lingering “garbage” that may be hiding)–that I might give You all honor, praise and glory.”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

6.  Always assume the best of God, especially when we are hurt and life seems unfair.  God’s purposes are always for our ultimate good–that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything” when we meet Him face-to-face.  (James 1:2-4)  We find encouragement in the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:19-20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

The wisdom of John Newton offers blessing as we reflect on God’s voice as our source of light and hope vs the voices of darkness that seek to ensnare us:

“When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them–unbelief.  For what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride than to dare to contradict the express Word of God.  To say that He will not pardon when He declares He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He assures us that He will make none . . . . Be thankful for the past and the present.  Trials no less than comforts are the tokens of His love.  ALL is regulated by infinite wisdom.  You will find cause to praise Him, even for the severe.“*  (Emphasis, mine.)

All to His Glory!

*Letters of John Newton, from The Banner of Truth Trust, written to the Rev. William Howell, pgs. 198 & 201.

Christian Joy Is Not Man-Made . . . .

There is a difference between “joy” as it is experienced in the world and Christian joy.

  • Joy in the world is much like that of happiness contained in a helium balloon.  Such joy can appear to be almost wondrous as it floats high into the sky.  However, the enjoyment is only temporary as it drifts out of sight and ultimately “pops” as circumstances change.
  • Christian joy is not tainted by adverse circumstances or the actions of others.  Christian joy is instead filled with the hope and wisdom of faith in Christ Jesus.  

    Christian Joy is not man-made
    Christian Joy is not man-made

If you are struggling with circumstances that are out of your control, or are trying to make sense of the hateful ugliness being reported in the news, then I encourage you to stop and consider the wisdom of James.*   In his letter directed to, “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,”  James sought to encourage and exhort God’s people living in uncertain times (times similar to our own) to persevere in their faith to discover the “pure joy” of an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.  What is the essence of Christian joy?  Here is what James says:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brethren,
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 (Emphasis mine.)

The first time I read James, I thought his call to “pure joy” was some sort of weird, masochistic invitation to delight in suffering.  (You can bet I kept a wide berth between myself and James for quite some time!)  However, after going through some personal trials of my own, I remembered James and went back to discover the blessing I did not appreciate before. That last bit, about needing to persevere in my faith (trusting in God’s goodness rather than allowing hurt or disappointment to darken my perceptions) hit me like a fresh shot of sunshine that suddenly burst through a massive bank of dark clouds.  As I thought about God’s goal for my life–to work out a mature faith within me–all the defenses I had erected in the past to protect myself crumbled.  I realized then, that the joy James described was what I wanted too.

But, how exactly is Christian joy to be worked out?  Is it just a matter of “keeping a stiff upper lip” and trusting that everything will somehow work out?  Thankfully, I kept reading James and found the answer to my question:

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

James 1:5-7

So, what is the essence of Christian joy and how is it even possible in the world we live in?

  • To rejoice in trial means that we refuse to doubt God’s Goodness as we seek His wisdom by faith.
  • Christian joy refuses to give way to fear but is strengthened as we resolve to stand in faith.
  • Christian joy is not naive but rests in knowing that the things of this world are only temporary, that our Hope (and therefore our joy in Christ) is eternal.

Christian joy is about going deeper in your faith to gain maturity.
It stretches beyond mere ascent to belief in Christ,
as it determines to embrace the benefits of maturity God affords under trial.  

No matter what you may be facing, James directs us to rejoice in the sure knowledge that this is not all there is.  In essence, James is calling you and I to step out of ourselves (like Peter stepped out of the boat so long ago) to gain a maturity of faith that is out of this world.  So-o-o-o-o, what are you waiting for?  Give thanks to God for His Goodness as a mature faith is worked out in you . . . .

All to His Glory!

*An  interesting side note: James was a half-brother to Jesus yet only refers to himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (James 1:1)

Lost and Found . . . .

 

Yesterday I received a phone call that I hoped to never hear: “Hey Kath . . . are you sitting down?  Dad died this morning . . . .”  

How does one prepare for the pain of losing someone you love?  I have faced that question with many a Client; searched the Scriptures for glimmers of hope when darkness threatened.  When feeling lost in a sea of emotion, my thoughts inevitably run to the wisdom of Scripture,

My sweet dad . . . three weeks ago.
My sweet dad on “Mustache Day”. . . three weeks ago.

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and death shall be no more,
nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more,
for the former things are passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

My mind ran in snippets yesterday as I remembered my dad as a much younger man.  He was number five in a line of six children, grew up during the Depression on a farm in Pixley, California.  He was loyal, dedicated to loving his family, and was never afraid of hard work.  My first “real” memory of Dad goes back to when I was three years old, after he returned from the fight in Korea.  I remember the strength of his arms when he picked me up and held me close.  The following years are a blur of Dad working hard to care for our family–even as he struggled with the aftereffects of war.  A memory I especially cherish, is of walking down the church aisle on his arm, to marry my husband of (now) forty-four years.  Even sweeter were the decades that followed, when he embraced his role as, “Grandpa Clyde”. . . priceless!

While desiring to find a a resting place for all the thoughts and memories that whirled through my mind, I could not come to terms with the harsh reality of being separated by his death.  This morning, God’s shepherding hand touched my mind and heart through a post written by Heidi Viars.   In her post, Heidi describes a scene that took place in a parking lot on a freezing cold day.  After coming out of a store, she noticed a store worker, standing out in the cold without a coat.  After loading her packages into her car and seeing the woman still standing there, this conversation ensued:

 “‘Are you OK?’, I asked.

She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, just cold.’

I realized she was watching the car next to us. A man in his eighties, maybe nineties, was occupying the passenger seat. His eyes were sad and his head nervously moving back and forth.

‘I saw him wandering in the parking lot. He was lost and I helped him get back in his car. I think he has dementia. I am just waiting for someone to return for him.’ the woman said.”

I was struck by how the lost elderly man reminded me of my dad in recent years.  Age definitely took a toll on Dad as he fought to retain his independence.  It was hard when he had to admit that he could no longer take care of Mom by himself.  I wanted them to move closer to where I live.  Dad rightly refused the offer, citing his desire to stay closer to his sisters and the rest of the family. The move proved to be a good one.  Mom and Dad benefited from getting their medications on time, eating healthier food and enjoying visits from family.  Even so, the bitter reality of dementia robbed him of the joy of being able to drive when he became hopelessly lost in what had been familiar places.  When Mom died two years ago, Dad’s lostness increased.  “I miss Mama,” were the words he most frequently uttered when anyone tried to talk to him.  Even so, we noticed a sweet gentleness emerge, more in keeping with the farm boy he was when he gave his heart to Jesus at age thirteen.

Time has slipped away all too fast for our family, but the words of the woman standing watch over the elderly man in the parking lot brought a comforting perspective, “I am just waiting for someone to return for him.”  In a sense, that is exactly what has happened these past two years with Dad.  We have enjoyed him as Dad has waited in hope for the return of His Savior.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.
He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”

I Peter 3:18
(New Living Translation)

Of the snippets that continue to run around in my head, the words from John Newton’s, Amazing Grace, come continually to the forefront,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Feeling lost?  Desiring to be found?  There is no one greater than the Good Shepherd of our hearts, to lead us safely HOME.

All to His Glory!

The Danger of Boredom . . . .

 

This week I enjoyed the positive slant of blogger Bunmi Laditan in her post, “Dear Kids: It’s OK to Be Bored,”  

“Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It is an itch to scratch. Boredom is the dawn of ideas. Boredom is curiosity knocking gently at your mind, asking to play.  Being bored is like sitting in front of a blank canvas. Boredom is infinite possibility. You are the captain of your own ship and before you lies an expanse of dark blue ocean and clear skies.”

I have never been able to figure out what people are trying to express when they say, “I’m bored.”  When our children were still at home and they made such a complaint, I took it to mean that they were inviting me to entertain them.  My response curtailed such complaints–“Bored people are boring people. We have plenty of radiators to wipe down . . . let me know and I will be happy to set you up!”  Funny thing, our radiators never did get wiped down (my children found better things to do) and they grew into amazing adults!

But as much as I might want to wallow in the positive perspective of Laditan, I remain convicted that there is a darker side of boredom . . . a dangerous aspect that warns us not to think of boredom as merely a phase people go through.  Webster’s 1913 dictionary affirms my conviction with this definition:

BORED: adj. 1. tired of the world; bored with life.
2. uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence. Opposite of interested.

Is it sinful to be bored?  Going by Webster’s definition . . . YES . . . ABSOLUTELY!

Certainly, God did not put us on this earth to be bored.  In fact, God’s plan was simple and rooted in blessing.  From the beginning of Creation, God deemed all that He had made to be “good”; we can infer from Genesis 3:8, 9 that God fellowshipped with Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin entered and spoiled everything.  I wonder if, at the root of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, was boredom to blame?  Had they forgotten the blessing of fellowshipping with God as they entertained doubts about God’s goodness?

What about when boredom morphs into depression as described in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6?

“This is what the Lord says:
 ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.'”  

(Verses 5, 6)

I must clarify here that not all depression is sin; much that happens in this world is depressing!  However, when we embrace boredom as “cool”; when we become disinterested or we disengage ourselves from relating to others . . . that is a definite indication of sin.  As I watch the news, I wonder if a souless-boredom is at the root of much of the senseless brutality being reported?  I ache for the victims of such evil as well as for their families. Yet I also mourn for the perpetrators living in the hell of dark hatred. Many times, when I see pictures of those who have committed such horrific crimes, the words of Jesus on the Cross flood my mind, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .
Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .

We live in a world where “bored” is “cool”, where the concept of God as a loving Redeemer is increasingly unknown, and where love and simple kindness are thought to be archaic.  So what are Christians to do?  As we press into the New Year, I offer the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who, while living in horrific, uncertain times, encouraged his friends to follow his example,

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13, 14

Powerful stuff, right?  So get going!

All to His Glory!

Simple Questions . . . .

Are you looking to encourage someone in their faith right now?  Sometimes it is more helpful to ask simple questions that encourage a thoughtful response, than it is to offer pat answers.  That is how Jesus ministered to countless people from every imaginable background–He asked questions to start a conversation, to respond to those questioning His authority or to help individuals think more broadly.*  Here are a few examples:

  • He opened up a conversation with the socially rejected Samaritan woman at the well with, “Will you give me drink?” before delivering insights on the necessity of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.(John 4:7b-26)
  • Speaking to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)
  • When He saw a great crowd coming toward Him, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” before feeding the five thousand. (John 6:5b)
  • In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”  (Verses 15, 16)  

All were ordinary questions that led to powerful, one-on-one shepherding opportunities.   What is amazing is that those same questions continue to challenge hearts and minds in a multitude of ways.  It is at the feet of Jesus that we learn that,

A thoughtfully crafted question can make far greater mileage toward helping others than a pat answer.  

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers
Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Be you a caring friend, a neighbor or a family member, to ask simple questions can be an important part of building courage and character in others.  Well put questions not only provide helpful information and understanding for the listener, but often can help the one in need to examine their heart.

But what about when we are the ones asking God questions?  Do our questions impact how God responds to us?  ABSOLUTELY!  Personal experience has taught me,

  • When we ask God, “Why?” because we doubt His goodness, very often His response is to ask another rather disconcerting question:  “Will you trust Me in this?”   
  • During those times when He calls us to forgive, but we are fearful (or just plain resistant) and ask Him, “What if it happens again?”  We may feel stonewalled when things get quiet, or be tempted to think He has not heard us or does not care as that same disconcerting question hangs in the air--“Will you trust Me in this?”

Several years ago I found myself in turmoil over God’s call to trust Him after experiencing deep hurt.  For weeks I begged for answers to my, “Why did you allow this to happen?” I dug my heels into the ground when called to forgive as I demanded, “What if it happens again?”  The silence from the Throne was deafening . . . .

Yet, I can still remember the day everything changed . . . the moment when I let go of my demanding “whys” and “what ifs” and instead asked the simple question, “HOW” was I to trust again?  The answer was delivered to me so quickly when I opened my Bible, that it took my breath away! Here is what I read,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

 That day I learned that the attitude of the heart very much determines God’s answer to us.  Indeed, simple questions asked in the love and humility of Christ Jesus, can open up fresh insights that are not of this world.

All to His Glory!

* Check out 135 Questions Jesus Asked for an interesting list of His questions.