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!”

 

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

The Mysterious Love of God

For weeks I had struggled . . . my heart and mind still hearing Dad’s labored breathing as he whispered, “I love you” three thousand miles away.  Wanting to be with him, yet having to wait until the time was right (God’s mysterious love working good things out), it was painful to finally see him face-to-face: changed yet still offering that gentle smile that said, “I love you.”

I left him in the late afternoon, looking like he was feeling better after a breathing treatment had been applied. Yet hours later, we received a call telling us that Dad was being taken to the Emergency Room–struggling to stay alive.  What we saw when we arrived was a Dad we never wanted to see–our Dad silently experiencing a nightmare of unbelievable proportions written all over his face.  We wondered, “Is this the end?” for our gentle Dad who so faithfully tended to his family all of his life?  We waited . . . we prayed and we wondered . . . what would God have us do as death loomed larger than life over this man we are privileged to call “Dad”?  At eighty-six Dad has lived a good life . . . was it to end like this?

I thought of Jeremiah’s hope expressed in Lamentations 3:22-24,

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.” 

It was a long journey through that night . . . Dad hung on and we continued to wait for God’s direction.  When morning arrived we continued to wait, dreading the thought of having to “pull the plug” on the life we held so dear.

Finally, it was as if the heavens opened up when we were told there was an option–to treat the pneumonia that had gotten really bad.  It was only a shot but we decided to try to treat the pneumonia and trust God for the outcome.  Right now I am in ICU with Dad, grateful for the quiet shelter provided us.  As nurses, technicians and doctors come and go, I wait and trust as I listen to his quiet breathing.  What God has in store for us I do not know, but I trust in His mysterious love being worked out in Dad’s life for our good and to His Glory.

Are you in a place where the Journey is rough and you do not know how much more you can take?  Be encouraged as I am, by the wisdom and hope given us by Jeremiah:

“The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” 

All to His Glory!

What Not To Say To Kids . . . .

I never cease to be amazed at the way God can use just about anything to get my attention.  It happened again this week while watching an excellent DVD series, The Reason for God with Tim Keller.  In the six session series, Keller (senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) meets with a group of people to address their doubts and objections to Christianity.  The conversations are interesting, thought-provoking and instructive as Keller and the group talk about the Bible, the exclusive claims of Christianity and about God in relation to rules, homosexuality, suffering, the church and the world at large.   Especially impressive is the way each participant is afforded the opportunity to express their views, ask pointed questions and are treated with respect as Keller moderates the discussion. It was actually one of the discussion participants God used to get my attention–a young man of about 25.   The discussion question was, “What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life?”  The young man talked about his rebellion growing up and how irked he became when he asked “Why?” he had to clean his room, and his parents responded with, “Because I said so.”

 I  later thought about the young man’s struggle, wondering how many times I may have said “Because I said so” to my kids when they were still at home?  Even though it was not a major part of my “parenting arsenal”, I felt convicted at the thought of having said it at all.   I realized how self-centered such a response is!   It occurred me that a much better response to “Why?” might be something like:

“Because God loves you and has a plan for your life . . .
because you need to be able to take care of yourself when you leave home . . .
because I love you and want you to succeed at whatever God has for you!”
I began to wonder:
Be we parent, grandparent, teacher, friend, neighbor or stranger . . .
if the love of God is our motivation in how we respond to kids,
would the world be any different?

I think it would.  Rather than responding in frustration, anger or with the knee-jerk response of protecting our “turf” (isn’t “Because I said so” truly a reflection of our own selfishness?) what a difference is made in any relationship when God’s love is our motivation!

Consider the example given us by God in how He dealt with rebellious Israel after they were taken into captivity in Babylon.  Their rebellion resulted in their loss of every provision God had given them except for one . . . God Himself.  I invite you to consider and learn from God’s loving assurance to Israel in their brokenness:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place.   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.   I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” ( Jeremiah 29:10b-14)

Although our “nest” has been empty for over a decade, I still remember the tension of trying to get it right as a parent and feeling like a failure much of the time.  (In fact, I still feel that tension as a parent, grandparent, neighbor and counselor at times.)  As I reflected on this fresh approach of saying, “Because I love you and God does too” to the age-old question of “Why?” I was struck by how taking the focus off of “I” and interjecting the love of God softens the whole picture.

Sometimes there are unavoidable consequences that must come into play when rebellion is at the heart of the matter, but even so . . . responding with “Because I said so” is never going to accomplish anything good in the angry heart.   Having the courage to respond wisely with the love of Christ however has all sorts of possibilities!

All to His Glory! 

When It Hurts So Bad That It’s Hard To Breathe . . .

“On a scale from one to ten (with ten being the worst)- how painful is this?”  It is a generic but surprisingly helpful question asked in medical situations.   Asking such a question helps to bridge the gap between the individual in distress and the helper.  For the patient, it helps take a small step away to make a more objective evaluation of their physical pain.  It also is a practical means of communicating the pain level to the caregiver; information that can be very valuable in prioritizing treatment.

But what about measuring emotional pain?  Can we use the same scale?  I thought about this after talking on the phone to a woman calling to make a counseling appointment.  When I asked her the nature of her problem she said, “I just found out my husband has been having an affair and is leaving me.”  My heart went out to her; I could hear the pain in her voice.  It was what she said next though that really touched me, “I don’t think anything in my life has ever hurt me so deeply.”  Somehow the clinical question, “On a scale of one to ten . . .” misses the mark completely when it comes to measuring pain experienced in the human heart and mind.  

For me, the ultimate “ten” on the emotionally wounded scale is when it hurts so bad that it’s hard to breathe.  That depth of wounding almost always is tied to a broken relationship or loss.

Such pain often tempts the wounded one to build barriers of protection (hardening the heart)to avoid being hurt again.   Sadly, the fruit of such action complicates matters, as those emotional barriers isolate us from other people and from God.  The better way to deal with the emotional “tens” of life is to run to God through prayer and the comfort and perspective of the Scriptures.

Joseph is an example of someone who was hurt so bad it was hard to breathe numerous times in his life.  (To read about Joseph’s life see Genesis 37,39-50, it will be well worth your time)  Joseph was number eleven of twelve sons and the doted-on favorite of their father.  His jealous older brothers sold 17-year-old Joseph into slavery and let their father believe he had been eaten by wild animals for over twenty years.  The interesting thing about the Genesis account of Joseph’s life is that it says little about his emotional ups and downs of being sold into slavery, of being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and then winding up in an Egyptian prison for the next thirteen years of his life.  What the Bible does speak of is God’s faithfulness to Joseph during his years of suffering and how Joseph was eventually released from prison and made second in command over all of Egypt. Eventually God sees fit to reunite Joseph with his family.  Joseph forgave his brothers and blessed them and their families by bringing them out of the famine to the shelter of Egypt to settle.  In the final chapter of Genesis we are given one last look at the relationship between Joseph and his brothers:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  (50:15-17)

Where did this emotional “ten” come from?  Why do you think Joseph wept?  The Bible does not tell us, but my thought is that after choosing to be a blessing to his brothers and their families for so many years, it hurt him to realize that his brothers believed the worst of him.  God had blessed Joseph with a heart willing to forgive and love his brothers, but his brothers never changed.  It was a painful revelation for Joseph.  Here is the final account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers:

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.  (16-21)

In a letter written after 9/11, Queen Elizabeth of England wrote, “Grief is the price we pay for love . . . “.  Joseph grieved for his brothers but chose to trust God by continuing to forgive and love them all of his days.  Are you hurting so bad that it’s hard to breathe because of what someone has said or done to you?  Perhaps there are barriers you put up long ago that need to come down?  Or, are you still suffering the loss of someone you held dear and you do not have the strength to move forward?  Believe me when I say that I understand on all counts!  Yet, I write to encourage you to learn from Joseph’s example to trust and honor God even in your grief.  Life IS hard, but God is always good when we choose to trust and honor Him.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”  
I John 4:9

All to His Glory!

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!