Spiritual Windows . . . .

Although it is the smallest room in our home–long and narrow, with windows lining two sides–our den has always been my favorite room in our home.  It is a wonderful place to observe squirrels running and birds of all sorts swooping between the trees and feeders in our backyard.  I especially love watching the first snow of the season quietly sift down and the contrasting scarlet beauty of cardinals against the sparkling whiteness–it leaves me breathless every single time.  Best of all, our den has been a quiet place to reflect, read, write or to spend time with a friend.

Windows change everything . . . .
Windows change everything . . . .

But what if there were no windows in that room?  Would the den have the same appeal? Humanly, I tend to think not . . . especially as I peruse a small bird book left by the previous owners of our home.  In that book, the visits of unusual birds sighted through our den windows have been recorded since the 1950’s.  Over the thirty years we have lived here, our family has excitedly added to that little book, our own sightings of various rare visitors.

Yet, I am challenged by the wisdom of John Newton*, who wrote about windows and light from a spiritual perspective more than two hundred years ago:

“All houses from the king’s to the laborer’s,
however they differ to other circumstances, agree in this:
that they must have windows whereby they may receive the light.
A palace without a window would be little better than a dungeon;
and a man would almost think himself buried alive in it.
Many splendid houses are dungeons with respect to spiritual light.
A believer would not bear the thoughts of living in any situation,
unless he enjoyed the light of the Sun of Righteousness,
and with this any situation is tolerable.”
(From Letters of Newton, pg. 138)

Where we tend to think about windows and light from a purely surface perspective, Newton urges us to go deeper by thinking in spiritual realities.

Indeed, apart from the blessing of a faith that sees beyond the immediate to the eternal,we are all short-sighted as to recognizing the blessings being worked out by God in this day of uncertainty.

 The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote his second letter to his friends in Corinth:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory
displayed in the face of Christ. . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Now comes what is the “to do” part of opening up those spiritual windows:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

II Corinthians 4:6, 15-18

There have been seasons when I have looked out our den windows and saw nothing but a dark hopelessness because of the heaviness of my heart–perhaps you have been there too?  Indeed, in such times when Christ seems furthest away, we all experience that spiritual dungeon Newton referred to in his letter.  Yet is has been during such times of despair, when I have opened my Bible–determined to focus not on my despair but on His Face–that the spiritual light and comfort of hope have ultimately prevailed.  It has been during such seasons that our den has provided,

  • A shelter to prayerfully confront the various storms that have threatened
  • It has served as a place to receive comfort and ultimate healing as God’s light has strengthened me in my brokenness.

Best of all, our den has been a place of celebration, as God’s Divine Will has been worked out though those storms, to draw me and those I love closer to Him.

Having suffered through the perils of facing cancer among family and friends during the past year, and still suffering the loss of several of them, I was grateful for John Newton’s wisdom as it opened up the windows of my mind and heart to appreciate the spiritual realities of  God’s Sovereign Goodness.  The good news is that you do not need a special room to open the windows of your mind and heart.  The light and hope found only through faith in Jesus, will open wide those spiritual windows as you determine to trust in Him.

Romans 15:13 is one of those windows in Scripture that saved me out of a season of darkness and fear; I pray that it will do the same for you:

“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.”

All to His Glory!

*John Newton, author of the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace” wrote his letter in 1774.

Voices (Part Two) . . . .

If you are a Christian who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, or if you know someone who does, this is for you.  In my last post I wrote about learning to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know, those accusing voices that taunt us despite our repentance saying, “You claim Christ but look at you . . . you are never going to change . . . you will never measure up to being a REAL Christian.”  Sometimes those “other voices” can sound quite reasonable, justifying sin, even as we are inwardly convicted by God’s Spirit.  Also, there are those angry, self-righteous voices that declare, “Enough! You don’t deserve to be treated this way!” as they urge us to hold on to bitterness and/or resentment.

DSC02555
“WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.”

To gain insight in discerning the difference between God’s voice and those “other voices”, I included several examples of God’s voice as our Shepherd to compare with those taunting, deceptive voices we hear in our heads.  From James we learned that one of the distinguishing marks between God’s voice and those “other voices”, is that God does indeed test our faith (in order to strengthen and mature us), but He never tempts us to sin.  When we are tempted, that is completely the voice of evil. (James 1:13,14)

This post will include insights into how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that can rob us of the freedom won for us in Christ.  (Galatians 5:1)   They are personal insights, gained in my own battle with depression, that have also been helpful to others.

1.  We all have a history of past sin; Christ Jesus is our only hope.  

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned . . . ,
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:17

2.  God convicts in order to draw us to Himself; He does not torment or abandon His children.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26, 27

3.  So long as we live on this earth, there is an ongoing spiritual battle between God (who is Light) and evil (spiritual darkness).  To forget or be naive about this makes us vulnerable.  The Apostle Paul warned his friends in Ephesus with this admonition:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:10-12

4.  God will provide all that we need to do battle as we stay close to Him.  It strikes me as ironic that in the battle against terrorism, the term “chatter” is used to refer to listening in on Internet conversations between known terrorist organizations to try to figure out where the next attack will be.  In God’s “army”, we are to resist exposing ourselves to the “chatter” of the world as we draw nearer to God:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up
against the knowledge of God, and
WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT
TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.” 

II Corinthians 10:3-5

5.  The best way to resist evil, is to persist in offering praises to God.  (James 4:7) I learned this years ago when I was tormented by thoughts that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Initially I was horrified and embarrassed . . . waves of depression hit me hard.  It was as I prayed, asking God to help me in my weakness, that it occurred to me that the last thing the evil one wanted to hear were praises to God–so that is what I started to do:  “Thank you God that you love me; thank You that You died so that I might live to your Glory; thank You that my future is secure in Jesus . . . Lord take these unwanted thoughts away from me (clean out any lingering “garbage” that may be hiding)–that I might give You all honor, praise and glory.”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

6.  Always assume the best of God, especially when we are hurt and life seems unfair.  God’s purposes are always for our ultimate good–that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything” when we meet Him face-to-face.  (James 1:2-4)  We find encouragement in the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:19-20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

The wisdom of John Newton offers blessing as we reflect on God’s voice as our source of light and hope vs the voices of darkness that seek to ensnare us:

“When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them–unbelief.  For what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride than to dare to contradict the express Word of God.  To say that He will not pardon when He declares He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He assures us that He will make none . . . . Be thankful for the past and the present.  Trials no less than comforts are the tokens of His love.  ALL is regulated by infinite wisdom.  You will find cause to praise Him, even for the severe.“*  (Emphasis, mine.)

All to His Glory!

*Letters of John Newton, from The Banner of Truth Trust, written to the Rev. William Howell, pgs. 198 & 201.

A Simple Faith: Connecting-the-Dots As God Intends . . . .

A pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better.  Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying.  Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness.  If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.

Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure.  When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated.  I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my Client perceives their problem(s).  What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.

It is our response to what God says, that determines
how accurately we “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.

Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways.  It was a book containing a collection of letters about faith, written in the 1700’s by John Newton*.  Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:DSC02073

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .

The wisdom of Newton’s Amazing Grace has continued to resonate from generation to generation.  What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God.  It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:

 “Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance. (p.116)

Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied.  It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith.  These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,

  1. “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness.  Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
  2. “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .”  I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .”  I  must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.”  However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason.  Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God. 
  3. The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.”  When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God.  There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart. 

The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people:

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.”   As we continue to walk in simple faith we discover rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.  

All to His Glory!

 *Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.