What Truly Counts in the Heavenly Realms~

When it comes to relationships, how are you at keeping score?  More to the point, how do you think God is at keeping score?  Humanly speaking, we all have the potential to be expert players at the game of “tit for tat.” Yet the Bible warns against score keeping in our relationships because doing so taints our motives:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (James 4:1,2)

While there is a human tendency that pictures God as a sort of giant score keeper in the sky, nothing could be further from the truth!  Jesus challenged the thinking of His disciples (then and now) in Luke 6 as He established what truly counts in the heavenly realms:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (vs.32-34)

Three times the question is asked, “What credit is that to you?” for doing something “even sinners” do.  The answer . . . NONE!  Certainly we benefit from doing what is right, but expecting extra credit is downright silly.  God is far more interested in our spiritual growth and character reflecting His goodness; He very generously rewards us when we integrate Jesus’ teaching in our more difficult (seemingly impossible) relationships:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (vs 35, 36)

True followers of Jesus aim to emulate Him as He reflected His Father.  Our actions should reflect what He so graciously has granted each of us:  Kindness and Mercy.

In my last post I shared a verse from Galatians 5 that I find particularly inspiring:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (vs.1)  Actually, the entire chapter would be well worth memorizing as it clarifies what truly counts in the mind and heart of our Creator when it comes to relationships.  Consider verse 6:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

 When the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Galatia false teachers had infiltrated the church.  The lie that many had embraced was that circumcision, in addition to Christ, was necessary to secure their salvation.  Sick and angry at the awfulness of what was being embraced Paul’s outrage was plainly expressed when he wrote, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (v.12)

It is entirely appropriate to hate sin, but where we think in terms of keeping score God watches and waits to see the motives of our hearts demonstrate His Love, His Kindness and His Mercy to a dark and needy world.  I must confess that it is more than a little tempting to dish back to the world what has been given.  But if we are bent on reflecting what truly counts in the heavenly realms, we will demonstrate our faith in the One who has saved us by looking for ways to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us.  Whatever you may be facing today, resist the temptation to dish back what has been given.  Instead, prayerfully choose to delight God’s heart by demonstrating His love and forgiveness today.

All to His Glory!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

Freed to Love God

 

What comes to your mind when you hear the word freedom?  No matter how many times I read the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:1 a chill runs down my spine:

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  STAND FIRM then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” 

Freedom!  It is a precious commodity we often foolishly take for granted.  Perhaps that is why Paul follows his proclamation with a warning to protect our Christ-won freedom by “standing firm” in our faith.

Opening up to Galatians 5 in the Counseling Room provides a great opportunity to expand some spiritual basics.  We talk about how the challenges that are part of life, can be a powerful source of blessing as we rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to help us make right choices.  Our discussion often goes something like this:

  • Since, according to Paul, Christ’s goal in coming to this earth was to win our freedom, we talk about the two sides of freedom:
    • Christ freed us from the burden of sin that plagues the world, perpetual fear, eternal death, condemnation to hell.  When we invite Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit moves in to help begin cleaning out the old garbage patterns of our former lives.  As this occurs, new patterns of thinking and living will begin to reflect outwardly the work that began on the inside.  (Amazing grace in action!)
    • Secondly, we talk about what Christ freed us for.   Christ freed us for Himself.  Once we are no longer in bondage to our old sinful ways (including serving ourselves), we are then entirely free to live for, love and serve God with glad hearts!  
  • We then talk about “standing firm” in our faith to protect such amazing freedom.   This is where our discussion of idols comes into play.  Unless we deal with our problems by identifying the idols that want to rule our hearts, we can never truly be free.

What is an idol?  An idol is anything that we allow to get in the way of living out our Christ-won freedom.  Fear, anger, bitterness, lust for status and a myriad of other idols that I put in the “if only” category are problem areas we talk about.  To think, “If only I had ____, then I would be happy” or, “If only ____ would happen, then life would be good” is to serve an idol as well as to believe a lie.

This past week I met a young woman who faced a most unusual idol: DUTY.   I have never thought of duty as anything but a virtue until, as she shared her story, I could see her suffering.  In her desire to honor God by loving her neighbor, whenever she had a moment to herself (she is a busy wife and mom) she admitted a long history of compulsively calling people who are very needy out of a sense of duty.   I could see her struggle as she admitted that what she really longed to do some of those times was to enjoy her God-given gifts of painting and writing.

As she spoke I remembered the wisdom of a young Scot named Eric Liddel who faced a similar challenge.  Eric was born into a family dedicated to foreign missions in China.  There was no doubt of Eric’s love for God, but his sister Jenny worried that Eric, as he became famous as an Olympic runner, was forgetting his duty.  A critical scene in the movie, Chariots of Fire, retells their conversation (very roughly paraphrased here.)  Eric spoke tenderly but firmly saying, “Jenny, Jenny!  There will always be China and I certainly will be going back.  But Jenny, God made me fast and when I run, I feel His Pleasure!”

It struck me that what has been missing in the life of my client is balance.  Her desire to honor God’s command to love her neighbor was certainly a good thing, except that it got in the way of loving God Himself with all her mind, heart, soul and strength.   I recommended that she build in time to “feel God’s pleasure” as she paints and writes to His glory.  My prayer is that as she loves God first, she will be energized to love those around her more freely with the love she has received from God.

Is there a problem you are facing that is getting in the way of your Christ-won freedom to live for, love and serve God with a grateful heart?  Then I encourage you to turn to God in prayer; confess your sin and admit your need of more of His Presence in your life.   Then give thanks for His loving provision of His Spirit and His Word to strengthen and help you to stay closer to Him as you face challenges together.   The latter part of verse 6 in Galatians 5 reflects how duty becomes  joy as the love of Christ fills and frees our hearts:  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

All to His Glory!