To Speak Truth In Love . . . .

WORDS TO GROW BY:

“Then we will no longer be infants,
tossed back and forth by  . . . every wind of teaching
and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
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.”

Ephesians 4:14-15

When the miraculous working of God’s Spirit changes a human heart, it is no less meaningful than when the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land.  Yesterday, I was privileged to witness such a miracle.  I share it here to demonstrate the beauty that is possible when truth is spoken in love:

We speak truth in love

When she walked into my office, there was no hint of the struggle that had been ongoing in her mind and heart for a very long time.  I saw relief on her face, as I explained how we would be looking to the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective needed to help her.  She responded by saying that was exactly what she wanted but hadn’t known where to turn.  She expressed her fear of receiving counsel that would urge her to follow her heart, knowing how doing so would devastate her family.

As she talked and I began to ask questions, her struggle touched my heart.  Married and with children, she confessed her unhappiness . . . her “discontent” that weighed so heavy on her.  Though tempted, she expressed her conviction–“In my gut, I know it would be wrong to leave.”

My heart quickened as I remembered a similar time in my life:

Feeling like a complete failure as a wife and mother . . . thinking they wouldn’t miss me, I had prayed: “Lord, help . . . .”

I remember, the deep silence that surrounded me before His voice spoke truth into my heart:

“Kathie, if your critical spirit would get out of the way,
my Holy Spirit would work a lot faster in their hearts and lives.”

In a split second, the pain of truth, spoken by God in love, seared deep within me . . . even as it’s light offered HOPE.  It was true, MY critical spirit had been a roadblock in countless ways, but I hadn’t seen it.  I thought of the prodigal son* who, “came to his senses” and returned home to the father he had forsaken.  In that moment I was both humbled and grateful to God, for opening my eyes to my blindness.

As I told my story, I anxiously watched her countenance, hoping that the truth spoken to me so long ago would minister to her heart.  As I watched, her face softened for the first time.  She was so absorbed in her thoughts, that she did not look up until after she wrote the words on her notepad–“CRITICAL SPIRIT”.  Only then did she look at me with a softened smile and (dare I say it?) a slight glimmer of hope on her face.  In that moment I knew that God’s words had pierced her heart and the possibilities to move forward were limitless.

To speak truth in love is a skill that does not come naturally but is worth cultivating:

  • It involves risk–that of being rejected by the one it is offered to.
  • It is a God-thing that can only be cultivated by investing quality time with Him.
  • It is evidence of a mature faith–bent on replacing old ways of relating to others with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

The Bible talks about “putting off” old ways of thinking and behaving as we “put on” new ways that are pleasing to God. In the Counseling Room we look to Colossians 3 to gain insight into the process;

“Rid yourselves of all such things as these (put off):
anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
and have PUT ON the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
(Verses 8-10)

To put off our old ways of relating to others, the Apostle Paul urges us to check our motives:

  • Manipulation
  • Fear of rejection
  • Saying what others want to hear at the expense of truth,

have no place in how we love others.  Instead, Paul encourages us on the basis of our identity in Christ (verse 12) as, “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved . . .” to, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” 

Paul says further in verses 13 and 14:

“Bear with each other and forgive. . . forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

So how can you develop spiritual maturity by speaking truth in love?

  1. Keep Christ central in how you respond to others.
  2. Prioritize personal time to be spent in Scripture and prayer to get to know Him better.  (The Journey Notes process is an excellent way to do this.)
  3. Join a Bible-teaching church for worship and fellowship with other Christians.
  4. Attend a solid Bible study that will encourage you to go deeper in your faith.  (Community Bible Study (CBS) has been a personal encouragement to walking my faith for over 35 years, but there are many others out there.)
  5. Prayerfully watch for ways to honor Christ, by loving and serving others in your community.

Paul affirms this in the rest of the passage:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
And be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Colossians 3:15-17

All to His Glory!

*Luke 15:17, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

 

The Bitter With The Sweet . . . .

BITTERSWEET is a word is we grow into over time.  It speaks to the disappointments and heartache that are part of life, yet refuses to let go of the vestiges of sweetness remembered.  The dictionary defines bittersweet as:

  • Arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain
  • Being at once bitter and sweet; pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret

Such is the definition of a life lived out fully.
Bittersweetness acknowledges the harshness of things broken or lost,
as it retains the memory of sweeter images past.

 Christmas is one of those seasons where bittersweetness abounds:

The Light of Hope shines through.

The Light of Hope shines through the darkness . . . .

  • Childhood memories of hope and excitement as the Big Day approached and family gathered together.
  • The shadows of candlelight playing against the walls during Christmas Eve Services as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.
  • The joy of giving sacrificially out of love for the Savior.

Christmas is also is a season of reflection and remembrance of things lost or broken: relationships . . . people . . . health . . . hopes . . . and, yes, dreams never realized.

This past year was especially hard for my family and friends . . . tears still come easy as we remember those who are no longer with us.  Many dread the approach of Christmas, unsure of how to get through the bitter pain of loss:

  1. Some may choose to ignore Christmas–with hearts bitter toward God..
  2. Others will go through the motions of Christmas–not wanting to disappoint others, but find themselves numb within.
  3. Still others will choose to lean into the Hope of the Christmas Story-realizing that it was written especially for them.

Is there a way to navigate the pain of loss at Christmas?

Through personal experience I know that the third option is by far the best.  To ignore Christmas altogether, or to numb ones-self to the Celebration, too often leads to an ever-spiraling, dark despair that tends to rub-off on those closest to us.

The wisest choice is that of entering into the Light of Christ’s coming,
while embracing the Hope of His return.

After ministering to people struggling with brokenness and loss of every sort and in every season, it is always those who entrust their brokenness to the One who saves, who realize the blessing of a deepened faith that moves them forward:

“The people living in darkness
have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a Light has dawned.”
Matthew 4:16

This past week my burden was lightened by the sweetness of a video put out by Southland Christian Church in Kentucky.  I offer it to you as we navigate this Season of Celebration, in the hope that leaning into this retelling of the Christmas Story will sweeten your perspective as it has mine:

 

All to His Glory!

 

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!

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.

True Freedom

What do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

On a recent trip, my husband and I saw numerous signs along highways and on large and small businesses proclaiming this simple message: Freedom Is Not Free.”  As a military family (my husband and brother are retired Air Force and my dad served as a Marine in the Korean War) it was touching to see so many reminders not to take freedom for granted. 

Since returning home, I have continued to think and pray about the costliness of freedom.   It has been disheartening to watch the nightly news reports of political upheaval around the globe–lives shattered by the greed, hatred and arrogance of others–but I have come to see an ironic twist: 

While it is true that freedom is not free,
it is also true that freedom cannot be bought, legislated or bartered for.
Diplomacy is not the answer to securing True Freedom. 

Manmade freedom on this earth will remain costly and will continue to be (at best) tenuous because of sinful hearts.  We find affirmation of this in the wisdom of Scripture:

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 4:1-3

By nature, our motives are impure because of the sinful war that wages within our hearts–so a manmade freedom can never last.  Yet we find hope in the words of Christ Jesus:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31,32
 
 “I am the way, the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
John 14:6

As I have thought and prayed about the costliness of freedom I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. True Freedom is a God-thing.  God sent His Son to be a living sacrifice–holy and pleasing to Himself–to free us from sins bondage so that we may worship Him into Eternity.
  2. True Freedom is an impossibility apart from Christ.  Man’s arrogance in parting himself from God as his Creator resulted in the twentieth-century being recorded as the bloodiest of all time.
  3. True Freedom has no room for fear or doubt.  We cannot retain True Freedom when fear or doubt rule our hearts.
  4. True Freedom has little to do with our circumstances and everything to do with faith in the Gospel of Christ.  
  5. True Freedom is manifested when we love God above all (surrendering ourselves to His Sovereign Goodness) and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters around the globe

Did you know that over one-hundred million followers of Christ suffer persecution and even death?  Watch this and be blessed by their example:

Now . . . what do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1

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!

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!