To Feel God’s Pleasure . . . .

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire–the true story about Scotsman Eric Liddell.  Born in China to missionary parents, Liddell became famous as a runner and rugby player across Great Britain in the 1920’s.  Chariots of Fire focuses on Liddell’s journey to the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.  What made Liddell famous around the world, was when he refused to run the 100 meter race he had trained for because of a conflict with his religious convictions–the heats were scheduled to be run on a Sunday.  Eric ended up winning an Olympic gold medal when he ran the 400 meter race and a bronze medal for the 200 meter race instead.  One of the lines in the film that stands out in my mind, is Eric’s response to his sister Jenny when she expressed concern that he was investing too much of his time running.  Eric, looking tenderly into his sister’s face, reassured her as he said, “Jenny, Jenny . . . I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”   

Being confident in knowing that God has a plan and purpose for our lives is what compels us as Christians to move forward in challenging times.  I believe that, “to feel God’s pleasure . . .” is more illusive but ties in with our desire to honor God.

We feel God’s pleasure when we use the gifts and abilities He has given us to love our neighbor and to glorify Him. 

Speaking from experience, God has gifted me with the ability to help people dig into the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  In the Counseling Room, I feel God’s pleasure when working with a Client who is in a whole lot of trouble and thinks God has abandoned them.  Many times when I listen to their stories my heart breaks for them.   Over time, I have learned that while empathy is nice, what they need is the strength and perspective the Scriptures offer.  There is nothing more powerful than God speaking truth and hope into the lives of hurting people.  I especially feel His pleasure when He leads us to two, three and sometimes four passages of Scripture–glorious fare for the hungry soul!

There are other instances when I have recently felt God’s pleasure.  One that especially stands out to me has been in witnessing the next generation take on responsibilities serving in my Church.  This summer several young men who have grown up in our church have blessed the musical aspects of worship with their humble leadership. To witness the Spirit of God working in their lives has given me hope for the future.

We feel God’s pleasure when we are broken yet choose to give Him thanks.
His pleasure becomes ours when we are awed by all He has made . . . 
when we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Ephesians 1:9-10 provides a much broader picture of the working out of God’s pleasure across His universe:

With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect
when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16

After the Olympics Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary.  Throughout his life I trust that he felt God’s pleasure many times as he married, had children and served the Chinese people with the Good News of Christ.  His wife and children left China when the Japanese were taking over in WWII.  Eric chose to remain and was ultimately interred by the Japanese in a detainee camp with 1,800 men, women and children in 1943.  There he continued to honor Christ by serving others until he died of a brain tumor in 1945 at age 43.

Liddell was a man after God’s heart, who lived out his life like he ran his races: with patient dedication he honored Christ at every turn.  When he fell, Eric got up and ran harder to follow the path God laid out for him until he finished his race.

To trust God more than our instincts or the opinions of others, moves us in the direction of feeling God’s pleasure as we walk/run in obedience to His Spirit and His Word. 

So what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory! 

The Beauty and Blessing of Christian Discipline

 
“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

It was such a small thing . . . I am not even sure why it so strongly got my attention . . . it just DID.  I was watching the television “reality” program, Nineteen Kids and Counting– documenting the daily activities of a Christian family of nineteen children.  In the clip the youngest Duggar, four-year-old Josie, had refused to share a ball with her siblings.  When her mother (Michelle Duggar) realized what was happening, she stooped down to look Josie in the eye as she gently but firmly said, “Josie . . .the world does not revolve around Josie!”  Appearing slightly embarrassed, little Josie handed the ball over to her mother as the timer was set to mark when it would be her turn to play with the ball again.  I was awestruck by the beauty and blessing of Christian discipline played out so sweetly!

I wonder if that little exchange between parent and child has stayed with me because it was such a sharp contrast to what I see around me–children who are out-of-control, who disrespect their parents and all other authority.  Sadly, we live in an increasingly godless culture where children are taught that the world DOES revolve around them.  Many parents, having abdicated their responsibility of teaching “right from wrong,” prefer instead to be “friends” with their kids.  The outcome?  With Christ out of the picture and no responsible adult in charge: such things as discipline, respect for authority, love for God and love for neighbor have become foreign concepts.  The fruit of raising such overindulged, undisciplined children?  All too often they become joyless, angry and unproductive adults.

I thought about this two days ago when the latest school shooting was being reported on the news.  We continue to be stunned by such events as they take place in just about any setting across the US.  Looking for reasons as to why they happen “experts” point to such things as abuse in childhood, parental divorce, mental illnessthe influence of violent movies and video gamesease of access to guns as reasons for our cultural toxicity.  Although such factors may indeed have some merit, I wonder if the problem goes far deeper . . . if perhaps it is a reflection of the spiritual darkness that has become so pervasive in the minds and hearts of people?  Thinking back to little Josie and her mom, it would seem that in separating ourselves from God and rejecting Christ, the wisdom needed to raise secure, healthy children through loving discipline has been lost.

After much training, ready to run the race!
After much training, ready to run the race!

The Bible likens discipline to preparing to run a race.  Several months ago our grandson Jack agreed to start running with his mom–our oldest daughter Kara.  For months they trained. Knowing not to push too hard, Kara sought to help Jack build his endurance.  There were discouraging times, but they kept to a disciplined plan and finally were ready to enter Jack’s first 5-K run.  The morning of the run, a large crowd showed up to compete.  Kara and Jack ran the course and it ended up with Jack taking second place in his category of runners.  He was one proud, happy guy and his mama was quite pleased also!

As I think about the blessing of loving discipline being worked out in Josie’s and Jack’s lives–two very different examples–I have come to value Christian discipline as truly unique.  Remembering that the root word in discipline is disciple,  we can learn much about meaningful discipline by studying Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith as He disciplined His disciples–preparing them for what was ahead.

  1. Although Jesus got frustrated with His disciples spiritual denseness, it was love that motivated how He taught and challenged their minds and hearts.
  2. Jesus knew His time to prepare them for what was coming was limited–there was no time to waste.  
  3. Jesus’ focus was never solely on changing the outward behavior of His disciples; His words penetrated their minds and hearts to bless them with an eternal perspective.
The reward for finishing well . . . confidence to face the next challenge!
The reward for staying the course? Confidence to face the next challenge!

Having walked with Christ for over half of my life, I have come to appreciate the connection between love and discipline as the two essential parts of Christian discipline.  When we talk about this in the Counseling Room I demonstrate the unique strength of Christian discipline by bringing my fingers together (representing love on one hand and discipline on the other) to form a uniform mesh of strength.  It is the resulting strength of combining love with discipline that builds solid character in the heart of the receiver. 

No matter where you are in life–young or old, married or single, rich or struggling financially–if you are a Christian then it is important to appreciate and apply the beauty and blessings of Christian discipline in your relationships.  True Christian discipline seeks to honor Christ as it is:

  1. Motivated by love, Christian discipline seeks to challenge (and in the long-run strengthen) the mind and heart of the receiver.
  2. It does not waste time but uses it wisely and prayerfully because it is precious.
  3. Its focus is never just about changing behavior, true Christian discipline seeks to penetrate the mind and heart of the receiver for eternity with the love of Jesus.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by Him.
 For the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
    and chastises every son whom He receives . . .
He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”
Hebrews 12:5, 6 & 10 

All to His Glory!

 

 

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

When she walked into the Counseling Room yesterday, I could see the discouragement and disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders.  Knowing how far she has come in recent months, I ached for her.  Angie has been a pleasure to work with–a living, breathing miracle of God!

From our first Session, after listening to her story I told her, “Perspective is everything . . . you need to draw closer to God.”  I introduced Journey Notes Praise Journaling to help her but, still reeling from a recent divorce and a lifetime of hurt and rejection, the suggestion of journaling held no appeal for her.   Angie tried to resist but in the end she agreed to try–it was a last resort:

“I am so not a writer . . .
 I believe in God . . .
that Jesus was who He said He was but . . .
God never has had much to say to me.”

Even so, she started to write.  It was awkward . . . coming up with three praises to God “was like pulling teeth.”  The first week she wrote one entry and reported, “I’m not sure if I am doing it right, my writing goes all over the place . . . it makes no sense.” 

Still, she continued to write . . .
one more week,
then the next . . .
and has kept it up until now. 

In the weeks between “then” and “now” a light dawned in her mind and heart that became visible in her eyes as the tension left her face.  Angie discovered that God has much to say to her . . . HOPE was rekindled and LIFE burned brightly in her countenance.  The evidence of God’s faithfulness became a reality for all to see:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” 
Psalm 40:2

As a result, Angie came to love doing her Journey Notes; the coffee-splattered pages of her notebook began to fill with the miracle of a conversation between her and her Maker.  As she interfaced with God through her Journey Notes, Angie started to look at herself and at “life” from God’s point of view–rightly concluding, “Perspective is everything!”

Yesterday, Angie reported she had had a “rough week.”  She talked about how seeing her ex-husband twice during the week had brought back old memories of his abuse.   Angie mentioned a broad shelf of books she read over twenty years while trying to save their marriage.  But, despite her efforts, her husband continually made it plain that he did not love her and did everything he could to get her to leave.   In desperation she finally did leave, but always with the hope that they would get the help they needed to save their marriage.  Instead, he filed the papers to obtain a divorce and it was a done deal.  Angie admitted that it was hard to see, that even now, he took no responsibility for the demise of their marriage– placing the blame fully on her. The question that pounded in her mind and heart: “Why didn’t God save our marriage?!!!” 

Isn’t it interesting how, when we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and disappointments, 
our initial response is often to blame God–I have done it and I trust you have too? 

The problem we have when we begin to doubt God’s goodness, is that we close ourselves off to the One who knows us and can best help us.  When we do that, our perceptions darken and we lose hope.  Isaiah 30:15-18 offers a prescription to address our tendency to run from God:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength . . .” as it also encourages us to turn back to Him:

 ” . . . 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!

To help Angie stop being run by her feelings, we opened the One Book that has carried and changed her these many months– Ephesians 5:21-33 says in part,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body,
of which He is the Savior. 
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .  
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies . . . 
each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I reminded her . . . “Perspective is everything!”  As we reflected on all Angie saw and felt during the previous week, we began to see God’s faithfulness emerge from where the darkness sought to overtake her.  We thanked God for His mercy and love in providing for her needs and for His plan and purposes for her life.  To help Angie avoid another hard fall we talked about the following:

  1. Her husband has no power to “make” her carry the blame she felt heaped upon her; better to give it to God with thanksgiving and in faith.
  2. Rather than fall into the trap of doubting God’s goodness, resolve to run to Him–assuming the best of God as Creator and King.
  3. It takes two to make a marriage and two to break it apart.  It is right to mourn the demise of her marriage–to continue to pray for conviction and repentance on both sides; for healing and eventual reconciliation for their entire family.
  4. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said divorce was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts.    I encouraged Angie to give thanks to God for His mercy in bringing her out of an abusive marriage; for protecting and watching over her as He has faithfully done.
  5. Continue interfacing with God through the Journey Notes process to help stay on track.  (Angie admitted that in the previous week she avoided reading her Bible and suffered the consequences of it–No Peace!)

Are you facing an unexpected challenge that you never expected to face?  Whatever it is, large or small, God is worthy of your trust.  Truly . . . Perspective is Everything!

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 
II Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part Two

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Sorting Out Facts From Feelings

The first time I saw tears in my dad’s eyes I was seventeen.  I am not sure why Dad decided to teach me to drive “stick shift” that morning, but we were about seven miles into my “lesson”–grinding the gears of our old Volkswagen van and stalling at every intersection–when I made a left turn in front of an oncoming car!    Thankfully, the driver of the other car managed to avoid us, but as soon as I could I steered the van to the side of the road where the engine ground to a stop.  It was then, when I looked at my dad, that I saw his tears.  Not a word was said as we each got out of the van, exchanged places and Dad re-started the engine to drive us the rest of the way to work.  Years later, I learned to drive “stick shift” without grinding the gears or stalling, but it took a while before I was even willing to try again!

There are times in our Christian walk when we can grind to a halt spiritually and find ourselves stuck for a variety of reasons.  I learned early in my walk with Christ that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth we would never otherwise have gained.  Remembering this in no way negates our suffering, but it does keep the light of hope shining during those dark days.

People who are spiritually stuck often have:

  • Experienced deep hurt inflicted by someone else and the problem never resolved
  • Become discouraged by the direction their lives have taken and lost sight of hope
  • Witnessed someone else suffer unjustly and their abuser appears to go unpunished,
Humanly speaking, becoming spiritually stuck is understandable.  
However, the danger of  remaining in such a state is that the more we fixate on the problem, 
the more distant God appears to us and the more we doubt His goodness. 
When we perceive ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victory that is ours in Christ. 

So is there a way to get unstuck?  Yes.  But it often requires the same concentration and finis as it takes to learn to drive a “stick shift” vehicle.  To learn to shift those gears takes practice and determination not to give up. It calls for accepting that mistakes will be made along the way, but chooses to learn from those mistakes rather than giving way to defeat.  In my last post, I wrote about switching gears by putting off old ways of responding and putting on new attitudes and actions that reflect Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I wrote about switching spiritual gears by replacing our  “self-talk” with “God-talk” (prayer).

In this post I will write about another aspect of switching spiritual gears:

Learning to stand on the facts of what Scripture teaches, rather than allowing feelings to run us and weaken our faith.

Fact number one: This is not heaven!!!  Jesus said in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

All too often we crumble when bad things happen or our efforts are thwarted. We forget that life on planet earth is temporary, that eternity is yet to come.  Rather than giving way to discouragement when hurt or believing God has abandoned us, it is at such times we are given the opportunity to switch gears by going back to the basics of Scripture:

“Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for,
it means being certain of things we cannot see.”  
Hebrews 11:1

Faith is not static or dormant.  Faith, according to its biblical definition, is practiced and lived out on a daily basis.   Over time, as faith is practiced it is strengthened and tempered to reflect the beauty of Christ’s presence in the heart and mind of the believer.  Faith trusts increasingly in God’s character for our future and is the basis for enduring hope.

Feelings are not static or dormant either.  However, there is a problem with feelings because they can tend to run counter to biblical faith.  Instead of being God-focused, feelings are run by our emotions and tend to be self-absorbed.

Facts stand alone for all time and are not subject to “interpretation.”  The Scriptures are the major resource Christians have to identify the facts that faith is build upon.  It is as we rely on the truth/facts given us through the Bible, that our faith is verified and strengthened.

Faith lived out greases the gears of a healthy, vibrant relationship with Christ in good times and in difficulty. That is why I encourage Clients to begin to move forward spiritually by encouraging them to do their daily praises and acquainting them with the character of God in Scripture.  God’s purposes are accomplished in us when we rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us.  II Timothy 3:16,17 says it best,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 Whatever you may be struggling with the one thing you can be confident in, is God’s call to shift your spiritual gears in Isaiah 30:15,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation;
in quietness and trust is your strength.”

 Repentance . . . rest . . . quietness . . . trust . . . an opportunity for personal growth and a relationship that is out of this world–so what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory!

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part One

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Resist “Self-Talk”; Switch Gears to “God-Talk”

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” 
Ephesians 4:22-24

Problems have a way of sucking hope from our perspective and can weaken the faith of even the hardiest believer.  To make matters worse, our responses to problems can complicate them even further.  Even so, I have come to appreciate that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth that could not be accomplished in any other way.

Some examples of responses to problems that can take us down the “old self” path all too quickly are:

“I don’t have to put up with that!” 
“It’s MY way or the highway!”   
“I’m just not feelin’ it any more . . . I want out! “

Actually, the problem is not with any of those “old self” responses–they happen!  We get into trouble when we continue the “conversation” with ourselves, feeding our anger, frustration or what-have-you.  Years ago a friend of mine made this observation, “If you find yourself talking to yourself for any amount of time–you’re probably sinning!  She was so right!

In the Counseling Room, we refer to the process of “putting off” our old selfish attitudes and behaviors and “putting on” attitudes and actions more honoring to Christ as, “switching gears.”  As we reflect on various Scriptures (appropriate to the special needs of each Client) much time is spent talking about the difference between “self-talk” and “God-talk” when it comes to dealing with problems.

  • “Self-talk” refers to when we get upset and have that intense conversation in our head about what we “should” have said, how “unfair”  someone is and . . . well, I think you can take it from there!
  • “God-talk” takes place when we realize we have embarked on the “self-talk” path and decide to “switch gears” by bringing God into the conversation–“God-talk” is PRAYER.

“Self-talk” almost always leads to sin and the downward spiral of spiritual darkness that overwhelms us.  The miraculous thing about “God-talk” is that when we focus on God in the midst of dealing with problems and disappointments, HOPE lights the way to move us forward.  As we spend time reflecting on the Scriptures we recognize our need for God’s help in the process of “switching gears.”  The warning in James 4:1,2b &3 speaks of the war within the human heart:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
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.

So how do we switch from “self-talk” to “God-talk?”

  1. When you catch yourself talking to yourself–take a deep breath and STOP!
  2. Reflect on the “conversation” you have been having with yourself as you turn to God, knowing He is fully aware of what has just occurred.  Embarrassed?  Tell Him without making excuses for yourself–repent!
  3. Then thank Him for His love and mercy granted you through His Son . . . thank Him that He is in charge and will bring blessing out of whatever challenge you are facing.
  4. Ask Him for the wisdom you lack as you look to the Scriptures for guidance.
  5. Commit each day to the Lord as you follow the Spirit’s lead.

 The Apostle Paul wrote to warn his friends in Ephesus of the danger they were in as, “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (4:14)

God used Paul to nurture the body of Christ toward a robustness of a faith lived well:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” 
(4:15)

God wants no less for you and me.  To be run by our “old selves” makes us vulnerable to all sorts of evil that can compound our problems.  To trust God by talking to Him about every aspect of your life in the “newness” of Christ, is to grow a faith worthy of His Name.  Also, it is to take advantage of growing through the trials of adversity . . . indeed, taking advantage of the opportunities afforded us in the midst of trouble, is one of the hallmarks of a mature faith.  I like the way The Message presents the benefits of “switching gears” as we learn to consistently walk and talk with God in Colossians 2:2,3,

I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God.
Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.
All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else.
 

All to His Glory!

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!