To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”  

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013.

When Storms Bear Down . . . .

I wrote this in my Journey Notes over a year ago when a hurricane was bearing down on our community.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage you as it did me this morning.

“When storms bear down:

“Be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

Remember . . . do not forget . . . teach your children and grandchildren about God’s faithfulness.  Lord, thank You for these reminders to remember and never lose sight of the miracles large and small that I have seen:

  1. The miracle of a changed heart that would have turned to stone if you had not stepped in.
  2. The miracle of three amazing children who love and serve You.  What a joy to see them care for their children and spouses as they honor You.
  3. The blessing of a marriage that has weathered many challenges and served to strengthen our commitment to each other and to You.
  4. The miracle of changed lives through Counseling–Your Spirit and Your Word are sufficient to convict and cleanse the repentant heart to make it whole.

Yes Lord . . . I will remember these things and many more!”

My praises for that day were:

  1. Haven’t lost power
  2. Marshall (my husband) is home.
  3. Joy in Your Presence

~~~~~

The sad thing is that on clear, sunny days I forget the blessings cherished in those tougher seasons.  I get sloppily complacent in my day-to-day living as I take God’s presence and provision for granted.  I hate that about myself but do I hate it enough to change–or to be changed?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15

Storms that bear down can be good  because they heighten our awareness of our frailty . . . our vulnerability . . . our need for protection from on High.

Storms that bear down help us keep our priorities straight . . .
as we refuse to “sweat the small stuff,”
giving thanks that we . . .
are not . . .
alone . . . ..   

Today, the weather forecast is for rain and cloudy skies, colder temperatures but no big storms threaten . . . for now.  Should I pray for storms to shed my complacency and guilt?  Or, perhaps beat myself up for my failures and life’s unfairness and continue living as if I am alone (even though He is with me?)

What is the key to resolving this dilemma, when storms are no longer bearing down and we have lost our way?  I offer this to you, not as a Counselor but as a friend who has failed many times and known God’s faithful forgiveness:

  1. Prepentance offered on the basis of God’s character rather than focusing on ourselves is the important first step.
  2. Remember that every day is a spiritual battle and is therefore a storm that bears down one way or another.
  3. Give thanks to God for the miracles large and small witnessed in the past, as you meet the challenges/storms of each day in His strength and to His Glory.

“Be careful . . . watch yourselves . . . DO NOT FORGET!”

All to His Glory!

“Quality of Life?” It’s All In How You Look At It ~

 
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build . . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

As I sit in Intensive Care watching my dad breathe on his own, I am overflowing with gratitude for God’s merciful love–no more tubes! .  It has been  six days since he was rushed to the Emergency Room; six days since my brother and I were confronted with making a life or death choice.  The options my brother and I faced were to treat the pneumonia or watch our father die within a few hours. The question we were asked was, “What is his quality of life?'”  Certainly, at eighty-six Dad has slowed down considerably and on some days demonstrates signs of dementia.  But just six hours before, as I left him at his assisted-living apartment, he winked at me and said, “I love you” when I knew he was feeling lousy.

It is funny how the mind works during times of crisis.  As I watched Dad struggle to breathe through the night, I saw flashbacks of him in my mind–black and white photos of him marched through my mind as a much younger man playing his trumpet . . . as a machine gunner in Korea . . . and as a hard working husband and father,  Losing Mom eight months ago was hard, but he had responded well to the outreach of others and seemed to be doing well until he got sick three weeks ago.  He had been using a walker but became so sick and weak he had been using a wheel chair the previous week.  “Quality of life?”  It’s all in how you look at it.

I also thought about my friend and fellow blogger Bill, at Unshakable Hope.  Bill was diagnosed with ALS sixteen years ago.  Through his illness God has used Bill to love and encourage his family, friends and countless people around the world with a message that underscores God’s faithfulness.  In his most recent post he wrote a wonderful tribute to his wife Mary as the greatest Christian he has ever known.  “Quality of life” for Bill?  I cannot presume to answer for him, but I believe it would be safe to say that Bill’s courage and determination to trust in the God he loves has made an incredible difference.

As night turned into morning, even as Dad’s numbers improved on the myriad of machines that surrounded him and he began to respond to the antibiotics–we struggled–were we doing the right thing?  Prayer kept us moving forward but we worried, “What if he ends up needing oxygen for the rest of his life . . . or worse?”  It was at that point when I wondered, “How did we get to the place where death has become the preferred option in the name of ‘quality of life?'”   

Still in ICU but making great progress!
Still in ICU but making great progress!

In our cultural preference for youth and all things material, it seems we have lost sight of God’s orderly plan for the seasons of our lives.  That long dark night with my dad, when I fretted about making the wrong decision, I lost sight of God’s perfect plan being worked out for our family.  Even so, God continued to work despite my fears and doubts, bringing us to a deeper appreciation for His faithfulness.  This morning, as I reflect on the past week I have regained that strength and confidence that rests in His Sovereign Goodness.  Psalm 46 is a Psalm that ministers to those in crisis as it directs us to find rest for our souls in Him:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
 
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
 
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
 
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

“Quality of life?”  It’s all in how you look at it!

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! 

Running Scared~

I do not come from a family of runners.  In fact, in my extended family if anyone said they were “going to run to the store,” it was understood that they were driving the car to get there!  That is why when my oldest decided to take up running I was incredulous.  “Running . . . really?!!!”  It has been several years and she is still at it.  In fact, we are vacationing together and this morning when I found my way upstairs for some coffee Kara came in from running “just under five miles . . . .”  Am I proud of her (and ever so slightly jealous?)  You bet!

While I do not come from a family of runners, I do know about another kind of running:  Running Scared.  How about you?  There are times in life when most of us have been run by fear or doubt.  But how we handle fear is what makes Christians distinctive in facing the dangers of a fallen world.  The Scriptures counsel that the only healthy fear in life is “the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 9:10)  Otherwise, while the Bible recognizes that we live in a scary world, God’s own are admonished throughout the Old and the New Testaments to not give way to fear.   So how are we to react when we’re facing trials or are suddenly overwhelmed by fear?

  1. Recognize there is a problem.  Life is full of all sorts of problems, large and small.  The problem with running scared is that it is so one-sided.  When we run scared, we’re mostly running from what frightens us, but  rarely do we have a place we are running to.
  2. Remember that you are not alone.  Jesus urges, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Pray . . . thank Him that you are not alone and that He loves you.
  3. Run to the One who cares about you and will help you with your problem. Whatever you may be facing it is no surprise to God.  He encourages us as He tends to our hearts saying, “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 11:29)
  4. Resolve to handle the problem with His wisdom and encouragement.  

It was in a trying situation, when I wanted to run scared, that I discovered the wisdom and encouragement of Isaiah 30:15-18.  At the time, I felt like I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; when her Auntie Em’s house was ripped from its foundation and was flying through the air.  Like Dorothy, everything that flew around me took on a bizarre twist until the house finally landed with an almost imperceptible “thunk.” Verse 15 served as the “thunk” that set my mind and heart straight:  

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 . . .”

There it is, God’s prescription for just about every problem we face.  Our response to such wisdom?  Sadly, a total mess-up:

” . . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”

There I was, feeling totally alone . . . convicted about my foolish desire to run.   As I reflected on God’s call to  “repentance and rest . . . quietness and trust . . . salvation . . . strength . . .” I felt my soul being tended to like nothing else could.  A quietness of mind and heart settled over me as I took my focus off myself and was honest with God.  “Yes Lord, my sin is great but You are greater still.  Help me to trust and honor you rather than run away.”

It is in that place of loneliness that we recognize the pit of despair where no one wants to live. It is a place fraught with anxiety and without hope.  Even so, it is a place where redemption is near for all who cry out to God for the help they need.  He waits ready and willing:

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!  (v. 18)

Tired of running?  Not sure where to go from here?  Take it from someone who has faced fear at many levels and can say with complete confidence . . . He is worthy of your trust!  So, what are you waiting for?!!

All to His Glory!

Avoid The Path Of The Grumbler: Cry Out To God In Faith

I woke up this morning hearing the sobs of our #6 grandboy in my dream.  Micah is very much related to Max in “Where the Wild Things Are.”  At age two, when asked his age he would respond, “Chicken cat!” as he stomped his feet and performed a sort of Indian dance.   Now five, his mother describes him as “loving and sacrificial . . . quirky . . . eager to learn new things.  He quivers when he gets excited.” He is funny and at times oblivious to what is going on around him in his passionate creativity.  But in the face of injustice, Micah sobs crocodile tears as the pain and confusion deep in his heart pour out.  Micah is a model of living life to the fullest.  He embraces all that is good and laments the pain and sorrow that are also part of living in this place.  There are times when his motives are not entirely pure, when his howl is aimed at getting a sibling punished or at the denial of a demand he made.  Drama King?  At times . . . yes.  But waking up to the ring of Micah’s sobs in my head  reminded me that, when our world is rocked by things large and small, to lament sorrow to our holy and passionate God is always appropriate.  However, our challenge is to avoid the path of the grumbler which, I am learning, has everything to do with the motivation of our hearts.

In a previous post, I wrote about finishing well before God by learning to trust more in His Sovereign Goodness.  Writing that post inspired me to make a commitment that has been a good challenge.  Philippians 2:14-16a paved the way to making that commitment,

“Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”

I vowed to avoid grumbling and making excuses for myself.  By nature, I am a mostly upbeat individual.  But, when I run into what I perceive to be unfairness or when fear grips my heart, I inwardly (and yes, sometimes outwardly) grumble and complain. Having made such a commitment, I imagined that I would periodically write about the challenges and lessons learned as I sought to keep my promise before God.  What I did not expect was a struggle within that convicted my heart.  Yes . . . grumbling can lead us on a disastrous course before God so avoiding it is wise.  But life on this earth can be painful and grim, what ARE we to do when bad things happen?  That is a question faced in the Counseling Room all the time.  In my role as a Counselor, I know that when someone calls to make an appointment they are looking for help with problems that have either been:

  • Thrust upon them by circumstances beyond their control
  • Inflicted on them by others or
  • They are suffering the consequences of poor choices they brought upon themselves.  

It is true that many come initially to complain and grumble about the unfairness of God and life.  Humanly, that is entirely understandable.  But no matter what the source of their pain may be, I see my role as Counselor is to encourage them to avoid the path of the grumbler as they cry out to God in faith.  The fourth chapter of James lends valuable insight into why checking the motivation of our hearts is crucial: 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?   You want something but don’t get it. You kill and  covet, but you cannot have what you want.  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.”  (verses 1-3)

Checking the motives of our hearts and understanding that when our world is rocked, God cares and is worthy of our trust, is the key to avoiding the path of the grumbler.    Romans 8:31 gives us our incentive:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” To assume the best of our Creator will always keep us on the path of wisdom and result in a deepened faith.   The reason we go to Jeremiah 17:5-10 in the Counseling Room first session, is because the passage underscores the blessing of trusting in God above all else.  Verses 7 and 8 provide a meaningful reminder:

 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
  He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Like Micah, our motives are not always pure.  But it is right to cry out to God at the pain and injustice of this world.  Just make sure that you assume the best of God no matter what you may be facing. Truly, He will prove Himself faithful . . . every . . . single . . . time.  

All to His Glory!