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!

Me Too . . . .

After hearing their stories, I have told countless new Clients,

“I won’t pretend to say that I know exactly how you feel,
but there is little that comes through my office door
that I haven’t had at least a taste of.”

It’s true . . . and most seem to know it, as I look them in the eye with as much tenderness and compassion as I can muster.

I thought about this as I scrolled down my Facebook timeline last week and noticed several “Me Too”* posts entered by people I care about. Knowing personally the powerlessness of being a victim of abuse (sin imposed by others), and having listened to countless stories in the Counseling Room, I was deeply saddened by the dark reminder that such evil continues.

While a sympathetic, “Me too”, may offer temporary comfort, the larger question remains, “Where do I go from here?” 

Christ Jesus–the Ultimate “Me too” . . . .

That is the question we face in the Counseling Room, and the answer is always the same:

“We go to God and the Scriptures,
for the wisdom and perspective we lack.”

Why?  Because, while the world offers theories that change with the seasons; God calls us to trust Him as He speaks to the heart of our problems in every season:

Genesis 4:6,7 (the first counsel offered in Scripture):

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?
Why is your face downcast?

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

Isaiah 30:15,19:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength’,
but you would have none of it . . . .

Yet 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!”

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, 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.

Of the many places we visit in the Scriptures, Psalm 139 is one that speaks light and hope to every possible challenge we face:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your Presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.”
(Verses :7-10)

To those who isolate themselves from the world to avoid further pain or heartache, Psalm 139 reminds us, there’s nowhere to hide from a Sovereign and Good God:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
(Verses 7-12)

Truly, when the whole of Scripture
and the ultimate, “Me too” of Christ on the Cross is received,
a new dawn speaks light, hope and ultimate joy
into the darkness of brokenness.  

This is why I urge Clients to enter into the Journey Notes process, to discover God has so much more to say to them personally.  As they do, I am always profoundly touched as I watch God’s peace pushing back the darkness.

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His Name,
He gave the right to become Children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision
or a husband’s will, but
born of God.”
John 1:11-13

So my question to you, no matter what your past history is: “What are you waiting for?!!”

All to His Glory!

*Part of a movement on social media, meant to expose the problem of sexual harassment and assault in our culture.  “Me too” was a quote taken from a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano.

Principle #4: The Bible Is Not A Cookbook . . . .

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to help others–myself included–is to use the Bible as if it were a cookbook. You know . . . having a handy list of Bible verses to fix problems such as fear, anger, depression, anxiety, and the loss of a loved one with a Bible verse or two.  Oh, there are times when hearing the right verse at the right time, can do wonders to give Light and even Hope to someone in trouble.  But to use the Bible to fix problems, rather than to minister to the heart is JUST PLAIN WRONG!

Principle #4:

Rejoice Always!

The Bible is not a cookbook meant to fix problems,
but is God’s means of extending Endurance and Encouragement
and Hope to the hurting,
as well equipping us to do good works. 

I confess that when I began counseling I looked for verses that hit problems head-on with answers that would get my Clients up and going.  Over time, however, I realized that using the Scripture as if it were a bandaid, rarely penetrated the remaining infection lurking deep inside.

As I prayed for wisdom, I discovered blessing through the example of the Apostle Paul:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11b-13

It was Paul’s testimony of living a life full of heartache and disappointment (as well as blessing), that changed my approach to helping others.  Instead of looking to the Scriptures for answers, I looked for the light of God’s perspective that ultimately yielded an unflagging faith.  Romans 15:4 speaks well to how God intends the Scriptures to be used:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,
so that through the Endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the Encouragement they provide we might have Hope.”

Romans 15:4

Instead of immediate answers, I learned to:

  • Admit that I don’t know why God allows hurt to enter our lives.
  • Offer the kindness of listening as God has done for me when I have been in dark places
  • Extend meaningful Scripture passages (rather than a single verse) knowing that God uses what He will in ministering to the broken heart.

Are you in a hurting place today, looking for answers to your problems?
Do you know someone you want to help, but don’t know how?

We live in a culture  focused on self-esteem yet we are miserable. It may seem counter-intuitive to address problems as God calls us to, but might I suggest that:

It takes far more courage and determination to live out a Faith
that yields an Eternal Hope in Someone outside of our ourselves.  

As we shift our focus from viewing the Bible as a cookbook, we find Endurance, Encouragement and Hope in a faithful God who Shepherds our hearts.   With that discovery, we can gratefully yield to the gift God means for Scripture to be:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”
II Timothy 3:16

All to His Glory!

A Passion to Build Upon . . . .

 

In my last post I asked this question, “What’s Your Passion?”  It is a question that has been on my heart since entering 2017. Figuring out what I am passionate about (and the motivation behind that passion) has been a healthy challenge for me.  I decided to pass it on to you–What are YOU passionate about?– in the hope that you also would be challenged to identify your own passions.

In that post I wrote about a developing passion of mine: writing.  I say, “developing” because I really don’t think of myself as a writer at all.  For me, writing is difficult, often frustrating work that continually morphs from one idea to another.  I keep at it (and all of its frustrations) because of a mysterious “something” that happens when all those thoughts–those bunny trails of ideas–finally begin to tie together and I can finish my post. I write because it’s a calling–it is what I know God would have me do.  It has become a “developing passion” as He has opened my mind and heart to the thoughts and ideas I am privileged to pass on to you. 

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . ."
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . .

After publishing that post, I was forced to dig deeper into why I am passionate about certain things.  

Finally I asked God to help me
not only to identify my own passions,
but also to grasp the influences that drive them.
That is when I gained the wisdom and perspective
I was looking for.

It was as if He opened a gate into new insights that go far deeper than I imagined, fulfilling what King Solomon was referring to when he wrote about relationships:

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12

God has given us relationships so we can help one another through life.  Two are better than one!  But, when it comes to facing difficulty, we need God’s strength and perspective to provide the wisdom we lack. I share these insights into my personal passions, in the hope that it will encourage you to go deeper in understanding your own.  I am passionate about (not necessarily in this order):

  1. PEOPLE–People matter.  I am passionate about listening to people, especially when they are hurting, because I know it helps to be heard.
  2. GOD–God saved me from myself for Himself–He heard my cry for help!  In the nearly 50 years since then, He has proven to me His faithfulness in difficulty as well as in times of ease.
  3. SCRIPTURE–Probably my deepest passion is connecting hurting people to a faithful, caring God, with the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures.  I see miracles all the time as God faithfully ministers to the hearts and minds of those who seek Him.  It is an addiction that I hope will never leave me.

Only now am I beginning to see, that the foundation of my passion for writing
has been built upon my love and passion for people, God and Scripture.

But there’s a problem with passion; it can lead us into darkness when left unchecked.  I have known such darkness many times, times when it appeared there was no hope remaining . . . when despair ruled and sickened me with fear and anger.  So how are we to avoid the passions of others that swirl around us without getting pulled down with them?  Many times we are tempted to distance ourselves . . . to turn our backs for whatever reason.  But when we do that, we lose the window of opportunity God has opened for us–“to love as He has loved us.”

Instead of abandoning others in distress, God calls us to submit ourselves to Him as we first examine our own hearts.  This passage in James chills me to the bone with it’s truthfulness, yet it reminds me to keep my own passion in check as I love others by following God’s lead:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires
(your passions) 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.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason
that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us?
That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.'”
James 4:1-6

To listen and act in the love and humility of Jesus is what Christians are called to.  In these times of uncertainty I am saddened when I see blind passion assuming the worst of others with differing views.  Whatever your passion, I urge you to:

  1. Go to God with thanksgiving for His love and mercy extended on the Cross through His Son.
  2. Give thanks that His plans ARE being worked out in these uncertain times as you confess our own struggle with fear.
  3. Ask Him to help you look for the good that is being accomplished despite the turmoil–sometimes even because of the turmoil!  (Believe me, there are amazing things God is doing if you take time to look!)

So dear friend . . . what’s YOUR passion?

All to His Glory!

Dark and Stormy Nights: Hope For You and Me . . . .

A medium-sized, square black plate rests on the corner of my desk in the Counseling Room.  Most of the year the plate holds a smallish arrangement of flowers that I change with the seasons.  Along with the flowers there is a framed cross-stitch that says, “Tears Welcome Here”– words of assurance extended to Clients looking for hope and a safe place to work on their problems.  

During Advent and into Epiphany, the plate becomes a stage.  The stitchery and flowers are replaced, first with a solitary manger in front of a plaque that declares:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things . . . .”
I Corinthians 13:7

Waiting . . . .
Waiting . . . .

Last week, Mary and Joseph were added.  With Joseph standing and Mary kneeling near the empty manger, the parents-to-be appear to be wondering about the Child, uniquely conceived, soon to be born– the Son of God Most High. Were they nervous?  Perhaps scared?  The Scriptures do not tell us.  What we do know, is they remained faithful as they waited . . . .

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee . . .
to Bethlehem the town of David,
because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary. . .
pledged to be married . . . expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came . . .
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger,
because there was no room available for them.”

Luke 2:4-7

As I look at the figures of Mary, Joseph and the waiting manger, I find hope and comfort at the gentle reminder: “Love bears all . . . . believes all . . . hopes . . . endures.”  Such was the point of Christ’s coming, LOVE CAME DOWN. 

The young couple’s lives had been turned upside down less than a year before.  Far from home, they had likely endured much societal rejection because of Mary’s pregnancy.  As they waited for the Birth, they were clueless about the drama that was about to ensue:

  • Shepherds paying them a visit to see what an angel had pronounced–“A Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord . . . a baby wrapped in clothes  and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11,12)
  • Magi from the East, following a star, would come bearing gifts to worship, “the one who has been born King of the Jews.”(Matthew 2:)
  • They would flee to Egypt, after an angel’s warning, before King Herod began his search to kill the Child–only able to return home to Israel after Herod’s death.
  • They would end up in obscure Nazareth (apparently not their first choice) to stay out of range of Herod’s son:

“So he (Joseph) got up, took the Child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream,
he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and . . . lived in a town called Nazareth.
So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets,
that He
(Jesus) would be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:21-23

So what can you and I learn from Mary and Joseph’s story?

  1. That when (not if) those dark and stormy seasons hit us, God is faithful to direct the steps and shepherd the hearts of those who rely on Him.
  2.  To honor God in the dailyness of our lives--faith is not something to be turned ‘on and off’ with a switch.
  3. To trust in God’s Sovereign Goodness to get us where He wants us when He wants us there–God’s timing is perfect.

For twenty-five years I have seen miracles happen as I have watched Clients, overwhelmed by their circumstances, make one of three choices– to trust in God, to trust in themselves or in someone (or something) else.  Those who cho0se to trust God:

  1. Look to Him in the Scriptures for the wisdom they need,
  2. Pray for the courage they lack to either move forward or to wait, and
  3. Give thanks to God that He was with them every step of the way.

It is nothing short of miraculous to watch as their outward countenance slowly begins to reflect a deepened, mature faith that affirms the truth of what is written in Hebrews 6:19,20,

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,
where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.
He has become a high priest forever . . . . “

On Christmas Eve I will return to my office one last time: to place Baby Jesus in the manger and add the Shepherds who came to see Him.  You and I are invited to enter the Holiness of that wondrous season as we celebrate God’s Perfect Provision–unto us a Child is born; a Son is given–Merry Christmas!

All to His Glory!

On Giving Thanks In All Things . . . .

God has proved Himself faithful through the ages and continues to speak to those who seek Him.  That is why, I encourage every Client I serve to get into the Scriptures for themselves through Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  One of my favorite passages we visit is recorded in Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God offers hope to a generation that had forgotten Him:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13

In these weeks and months, as our family has journeyed the cancer trail with our son Luke and then our beautiful Shannon, the challenges have been many.  Certainly, fear has been a constant threat–the thought of losing either (or both) of them have weighed heavily on our hearts.  Yet our faith has been strengthened as we have watched them persevere in trusting God at every juncture.  Since Shannon’s surgery, nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago, we have watched as Luke has gained strength daily but not knowing what was in store for Shannon.

As we have waited for the results of Shannon’s tests, I have thought about the faith of three men who lived long ago, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.   When ordered to bow down to an image of gold or perish in a fiery furnace, they refused to obey the king.  Their response to the kings order, before being thrown into the fiery furnace, bore testimony to a faith in God that saw beyond this world:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  
Daniel 3:16-18

Shannon and Luke--in all things giving thanks!
Shannon and Luke–Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Yesterday we rejoiced at the wonderful news from Shannon’s pathology report.  Her cancer has been determined to be at “stage one”, so she will remain under observation, but will not have to receive further treatment.  You can bet that many tears of relief fell as the dread of further treatment was lifted from our shoulders!  We are certainly grateful for God’s gracious answer to all of our prayers and yet . . . I pray that we never lose sight of His continued faithfulness to us throughout this trial.

This season of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) has drawn us closer together as a family and to the Shepherd of our hearts.  Many have entered in to bless us with countless prayers, acts of sacrifice and kindness that humbled us all.  Reflecting on all of this, Shannon asked this question a few weeks ago: “If all of this hadn’t happened, what would we be doing?”  The answer chilled us–we would probably be busy and worried about things that really have little significance in the greater scheme of things.

As we move into the New Year, my prayer is that we never lose sight of the lessons learned through this trial.  Certainly, cancer is ugly, horrible stuff.  Yet, in the midst of such ugliness, we have learned to count our many blessings as God has proven Himself to be faithful.  I extend my prayer for those of you who read this.  No matter what you are facing, give thanks to God for the opportunity to deepen your faith; with every breath He grants you, give thanks for His glorious grace!

“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

All to His Glory!