A Season To Remember . . . .

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to familyfood and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.

 I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring.  As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!

When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat! Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝

This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty.  I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,

So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::

“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

  • Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
  • Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
  • Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
  • Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.

How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts  to help make this years celebration, is a season to remember:

  1. To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
  2. Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
  3. Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
  4. Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
  5. I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)

This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19-26

Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.

What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

The Lord Is Close . . . .

For months, perhaps even over a year, I tried to ignore what was happening to my body. Thinking that the physical pain I was experiencing had to do with getting older,* I tried to keep going until I couldn’t any more.  Bent sideways in pain like a lower-case “c”, a cane became a friend, helping me to and from the bathroom and to the downstairs couch. I struggled to think beyond the pain, often thinking about my grandparents–they seemed to age so much more gracefully than I was at this point in their lives.  I also thought about the day I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm to marry my husband, never dreaming that almost fifty years later I would be so needy of his patience and support.

I became homebound, dreading the excruciating pain of having to get into and out of our car to go doctor appointments. You may well ask, where was God in all of this? I confess, at times I wondered too. My fear was not of dying–I know my eternal future is secure in Christ Jesus.  No, my fear was of living out my life as a burden to my husband. I wondered: How was I going to honor Christ in the state I was in?

When we met with the pain specialist, she described my condition as “a train wreck”. She said that there were four pieces that contributed to my condition, but that she thought she could help me.  When we left her office, my husband commented that my condition was like, The Perfect Storm, referring to the movie about how three raging weather fronts collided to produce the greatest, fiercest storm in modern history.  Although he spoke of it in a negative sense, I found encouragement and smiled as I thought about God’s PERFECT plan being worked out in my life. It was then that I gained clarity on what I had experienced up to that moment and what was to come. The question was:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . . .
  • Would I trust Him in my present situation–as well as in what my future held for me?  
  • Was I going to look at where I found myself as being in the center of God’s PERFECT will?

It was then that the light of HOPE flooded my mind and heart. A verse I have clung to through many a difficult season came to mind:

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

Psalm 139:16b

It was in that moment, that I gladly embraced whatever God has in mind for my future on this earth. Since then the beauty of this truth as deepened as He has ministered to me through the Scriptures with hope-filled words such as these:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18

As I write this, I do so especially for those of you who are suffering–be it the loss of your health, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a dream.  I write to attest to God’s faithfulness in the midst of uncertainty and pain. No matter what the storm you are facing, He is only a prayer away. If you are feeling lost or uncertain about your future, run to Him through the Scriptures to discover the wisdom and help you need. (If you’re not sure where to begin, look up “hope” in the Bible to help you get started.)

I offer all of this in the love, humility and grace of a faithful God who is absolutely worthy of our trust . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*I am in my seventh decade–😊

Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix 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 hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

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

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .

Those “Aha!” Moments . . . .

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary refers to the times when we experience, “a sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension” as,“Aha!” moments. When they happen, they typically grab our attention as we realize an adjustment needs to be made in our perspective.

My first, “Aha!”moment. as a young adult took place when I was 19. I was talking to a customer at my dad’s dry cleaners while waiting for his order to be put together. Mr. White was a postman who had watched my brother and I grow up serving customers for many years. As we waited for his last pair of pants to be pressed, Mr.White and I were enjoying a jovial conversation about the qualities I was looking for in the man I would consider marrying.  Mr. White laughed as I chattered, quite enjoying the mostly one-sided conversation. It wasn’t until there was a lull in my chattering that Mr. White spoke these words: “Those are amazing qualities you’re looking for, Kathie. But have you ever thought about what you have to offer such a man?” I can remember feeling my inflated ego burst like a balloon, as I inwardly realized that I had a lot more to think about (and work on!), if marriage was to ever be in my future!

“Beautiful possibilities to be worked out over time . . . .”

For Christians committed to living an intentional faith, “Aha!” moments can be important markers of spiritual growth and maturity. They happen fairly frequently working in the Counseling Room, as each Session is opened with a prayer asking God to, “Direct the path of our conversation.” He continually proves Himself faithful, by leading us to Scripture that lends insight and direction to navigate through the problem(s) the Client is facing.

Here is an example of such a moment that happened a few weeks ago:

As I watched and listened to an already stressed Client list the things that contribute to her anxiety, I could see an expanding mountain of guilt threaten to overwhelm her. As I listened, a verse from Proverbs came to the forefront of my mind:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; 
she can laugh at the days to come.”
Proverbs 31:25

It is a beautiful picture of a godly woman who trusts and honors God with her life.  Even so, I tried to ignore the verse because I knew that it is part of the description of “The Wife of Noble Character.”* Thought by many as being a guilt-inducing, daily “to-do” list–myself included-the passage exalts a woman who buys fields, plants vineyards, manages her household and feeds the poor while her husband spends his time sitting at the city gate! (As one already depressed and anxious Client asked me years ago–“Does this woman ever sleep?!!!”) When viewed as an impossible “to do” list, the passage can be overwhelming!

However, trusting that the Holy Spirit had brought the verse to my mind for my Client, I felt convicted that we should at least go to the passage. When we did, my heart softened as I saw the passage with fresh eyes. Rather than being a daily”to-do” list, I saw the Proverbs 31 passage as a picture of a life dedicated to trusting and honoring God over time. To be clothed with strength and dignity, and to no longer be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, is to rely on God every moment of every day.

With that insight, the passage became a picture of beautiful possibilities to be worked out–as God guides His own through the challenges that WILL come.

In reading verse 25 as God’s goal for His children and then looking at the passage as being worked out over a lifetime, both my Client and I experienced the refreshment of an “Aha!” moment. Suddenly, wisdom and hope replaced guilt and anxiety as we understood that we are to no longer rely on ourselves but look to God as our faithful Shepherd.

Weeks later, that insight continues to inspire and encourage me and several other Clients I have shared it with.

Do you have an “Aha!” moment you can share that God gave you? Here’s your opportunity to pass the blessing you received on, by writing it in the comments below.

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 31:10-31.

On Reclaiming Hope in Corrupt Times . . . .

One of the many things I appreciate about the Bible is its capacity to speak through the ages. Corruption is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul, knowing his remaining days were probably few, wrote these words to warn and encourage Timothy, a godly young man he regarded as a son:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,
ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous,
without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure
rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

Sound at all familiar? When I first read this passage three decades ago, I was struck by how it mirrored what was happening then. As I read it today . . . I weep.

We see the effects of corruption all around us. In the Counseling Room, many pour out their anger, their fears, their confusion and their regrets in having been caught up in the lies of corruption.  Depression and anxiety are commonplace, as hope appears impossibly distant.  It is my role and privilege to point them to a God who is alive and well and worthy of their trust:

“May the God of HOPE
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

The question is this

How are Christians to respond when corruption appears to abound?

Are we to cut ourselves off from those who have been caught up in such evil? I think not. I think what Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, is coming under the influence of false teachers who fan corruption into flame through their teaching and actions.

I believe that in times such as these, we are called to be courageous in loving those God puts on our path according to Christ’s teaching:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you . . . .

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:27-28; 36 and 37

When we do this, we reflect the same determination and courage it took for Christ to love us sacrificially.  How are we to do this?

  • By remembering what Christ said to His disciples on the night of His arrest:

In this world you WILL have trouble . . . .”
John 16 :33

We cannot afford to be naive about sin. As we navigate the challenges of living in this fallen world, we all too easily crumble and lose sight of hope as we doubt God’s goodness.

Speaking from experience:

  • Remember that we cannot manufacture Christ’s love in and of ourselves. (When we do, we are doomed to failure.) It is only as we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Scriptures, that we receive the strength and courage needed to love others as Christ loved us. Such love is found only in the peace offered to us by Christ:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
John 14: 27 

Reflecting the call of Jesus to not let trouble or fear weaken us, Paul offers the mechanics of how we are to move forward in the love and mercy of Christ as we encourage each other:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Romans 12:9-12, 17-21

All too often, when fear strikes we doubt God’s goodness.
We feel vulnerable . . . trapped . . . without hope.
Paul is saying, YOU HAVE OPTIONS
in how you respond to what is happening–
DO NOT LET FEAR OR ANGER GET IN THE WAY!

So what are our choices when faced with adversity in this very broken, screwed-up world?  It boils down to two:

  1. We refuse to allow fear to hold us captive in corrupt times.
  2. We instead trust God to help us offer the HOPE of Scripture.

Jesus continues to call:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28, 29

The truth is, as we remember Christ’s call
and reclaim HOPE in corrupt times,
His light will shine through us to a desperately needy world.

All to His Glory!

 

More Than Words: On Being Christ In An Angry World . . . .

Living in a world where anger comes increasingly easy and words are used as weapons rather than a means of blessing, can be frightening. It is tempting to get angry and play the child’s game of, “tit for tat”. But as followers of Christ, called to be in the world but not of the world, we are instructed to love and forgive in the mercy granted to us because of Christ..

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I write this with Christ’s call to peace in mind:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27

This week I gained insight into our penchant to hate when anger or fear take control   The wisdom of James, half-brother to Jesus, written over two thousand years ago, rings truth today::

“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..
You adulterous people, don’t you know that
friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”

James 4:1-4

Our word choices matter.
They reflect how we view ourselves,
how we relate to the world around us and, most importantly,
how we perceive God.

But God’s concern for His people is less about words
and more about attitude and action.
When hate comes easy, we distance ourselves from the One we are called to serve.

So how can we make things right?

Step One: Pray through the words of James and ask God to check the motives of your heart. Are you right with Him or are there areas that need to be confessed and made right?  Don’t put it off! Take care of it now and I guarantee your heart will feel a lot lighter.

Step Two: Ask God for the names of three people you would otherwise never pray for.  Jesus said we are to love and pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) so start praying and be faithful to watch for miracles large and small.

Step Three: Take your focus off of yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can love the people in your life better as you choose to trust Him more.

In recent weeks I have been encouraged and found direction from the Apostles who faced every sort of difficulty we face–and much more. I invite you to consider the wisdom of Peter and Paul:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you
to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage . . . .”
Philippians 2:3-6

Humility is beautiful in God’s eyes, something we fail to see. Ask God to embrace humility as you determine to trust Him in every area of your life..

Do you yearn for authentic relationships? Then take your focus off yourself and look to being a blessing in the lives of others as Christ leads.

This is one I go to often:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud . . .
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9, 12-21

Looking for wisdom and direction in times such as these?  Look no further than the Scripture as you love others, not because they deserve it, but because it reflects Christ’s  love poured out on you.  Life is more than words . . . much, much more!

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause
righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:11

All to His Glory!