When The World Around You Crumbles . . . .

I saw it in her eyes . . . a glazed fatigue that said she was just barely hanging on.  After stowing her backpack under the seat in front of us, she settled next to me with her 17-month-old daughter and a paper cup filled with a large scoop of ice cream.  Perhaps seeing the concern in my face or . . . just needing to talk, she said softly, “We have been flying for the past thirty-six hours . . . from Kathmandu.”  Having watched many reports of the devastating earthquake all week, the only thing I could think to say was, “Welcome home.”

Popular 200 ft. tower landmark in Nepal, gone in an instant.

As she fed her daughter spoonfuls of ice cream (the only thing the worried mother could get her little one to eat on their long journey) she talked about her experience.  She and her daughter had flown to Nepal to attend her sister’s wedding.  When the quake hit, my seat mate was the only one in the house–the rest of the family (including her daughter) was out in the back garden.  She said several times, “I thought I was going to die,”  before adding,  “My only comfort was in knowing my family would take care of my daughter.”  

Thankfully, she survived.  But I could tell she was still reeling from having seen the world she had known since childhood literally crumble.  She described “the wind that seemed to form with the quake”, filling the air with all sorts of dust particles that made survivors prone to eye and respiratory problems for days after.  Over the next three days, she and her family “camped” (along with countless others) in an open-dirt area with no power, water or even a blanket to form a shelter.   Finally, she and her daughter were admitted to the American Embassy, where they stayed two more days until a flight out was arranged for them.  (Her comment here, “I have never been more grateful to be an American citizen!”)

She spoke softly about the historic sites as well as the majority of the city being flattened.  To help me appreciate the significance of what she had witnessed she said, “Imagine the White House in Washington, DC, being demolished in just a moment . . . that is the magnitude of what has happened in Nepal.”  

How does one respond to a story such as this?  It took some careful thought before I responded with, “During times when I have felt like my life was crumbling, the Bible has provided me with the strength and courage I needed to continue moving forward.  Psalm 139:16b is one of my favorites,

‘All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.'”

A gentleness settled across her face as she said, “I know that what you are saying is true, that God can often bring much blessing out of tragedy.  That is what I am clinging to right now.”  We spoke for some time about the blessings that could come out of the catastrophic shift that had taken place.  Soon, as her little one finally relaxed and fell asleep in her arms, she also closed her eyes and drifted off in exhaustion.

I watched them as they slept, grateful for the privilege of hearing their story as they traveled this final leg home.  I thought about her husband,  waiting at the airport, hungry to see that his wife and daughter were truly alive and safe.  Sitting there I also thought about how “life” can crumble around us in a myriad of ways–relationships broken, dreams squelched, a devastating health reversal, missed opportunities never to return . . . .  The truth is, life on this earth is full of danger.  I remembered the words of Psalm 46, where I have found comfort in the midst of trials:

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.
(Verses 1-3)

There is no tower we can build that will be high enough, nor any wall we erect that will be broad enough to keep trouble away from our door.  Only God can provide the comfort and shelter we need during such storms.  I love how the rest of Psalm 46 draws us ever closer to the God who is our only Hope and Sure Shelter:

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.
(verses 4-11)

When the plane finally landed she opened her eyes and smiled–HOME!  They were finally home!  Doing what I could to help, I gladly held her little one briefly as she gathered their few belongings.   Then, almost in an instant, they were gone.  Only when they were finally out of sight, did I realize that I would never forget her–even though I never learned her name . . . .

All to His Glory!

When Life Gives You Lemons . . . .

“Life is hard, but God is so very, very good . . . .”  It is a saying I have repeated to myself and to others in recent months after witnessing horrific ugliness on the news, while counseling hurting people or absorbing devastating news from friends and family.  In such seasons, when bitterness threatens to overtake us and fear grips our hearts,  it is important to remember that no matter what happens, we have options:

Option One:  The world offers popular sayings such as, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “Grin and bear it!”  According to Wikipedia,  such sayings encourage “optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.”  However well-intended, such sayings lack comfort, wisdom, direction or even a glimmer of hope. When life turns sour, we can no more will ourselves through a mountain of heartache and trouble, than we can will into existence “lemonade” that is palatable from a bowl of lemons!

Compounding the impossibility of making palatable “lemonade”,  the “water” the world offers is tainted with pollution and the artificial sweetness of saccharin can never dissipate bitterness or generate hope.  

I appreciate the the directness of Jeremiah 2:13, where God straightforwardly declares the foolish consequences of living apart from Him:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Option Two: We can look at the same mountain of challenges (“lemons”) through eyes of faith; allowing God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to minister to our brokenness.  There is no substitute for drinking in the sweet water of the Scriptures, where conviction by the Spirit cleanses and  brings nourishment to the soul.  Are you looking for assurance in a dizzying world filled with darkness?  The opening words of Genesis cut through the darkness as it speaks light and truth, assurance and hope with this thunderous proclamation:

“In the beginning GOD . . . . “

No matter how bad life appears, God is in control. Since time began; His design and purposes have continued to be worked out in good times and in tragedy.  When the world proclaimed defeat when God’s Only Son suffered and died on the Cross two thousand years ago, Christ was raised in victory as the Savior of all who would trust in Him. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)  God’s Plan will not be thwarted!

Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee  3 weeks later.
Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee 3 weeks later.

Is life giving you “lemons”?  The Bible is full of wisdom, encouragement and hope for those who seek God in honesty and in faith.  Give thanks to a loving God who has a plan and purpose for your life both now and into eternity with Him.

” . . . but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 
John 4:14

All to His Glory!

 

Spiritual Stepping-Stones . . . .

While thinking about spiritual stepping-stones earlier in the week, I remembered some very special stepping-stones off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Named after a legendary giant named Bedruthan, we took our children to see the rocky formations the giant supposedly used as stepping-stones to cross the bay. The view was spectacular as we stood on a cliff several hundred feet above the Bedruthan Steps–imagining the giant crossing the bay toward us against the setting sun.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England
Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England

The Bible does not mention stepping-stones, but it does talk about running a spiritual race that God has laid out for us.  One of my favorites is found in Hebrews 12:1,

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

Sometimes, particularly when we are feeling “stuck” in a situation, it helps to look back to where we have been to get our bearings.  Looking for a practical way to work this “looking back in order to move forward” idea, it struck me that to prayerfully identify meaningful events in our lives as spiritual stepping-stones, could be very helpful.  Here are some basics to enter into this process:

  • The process must begin and end with prayer to be truly effective.  (It is God who has established “the race marked out for us,” so it is entirely reasonable to look to Him for the practical insight we need.)  Ask Him to help you identify: a) meaningful events that have impacted you; b) the Scripture Marker you remember it by and, c) the Spiritual Stepping-Stone that helped you to move forward.
  • The first spiritual stepping stone marks when we embrace Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.

To help you get started in this process, I am going to share five personal Scripture Markers that influenced my life and the resulting Spiritual Stepping- Stones that brought me to where I am today.  This is a very personal process so your list will look very different from mine–that is the whole point!  So don’t get caught up on what I have listed:

  1. Asked God to take over my life; to save me from myself.  
    • Scripture Marker: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..”  (John 3:3, 5)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: Jesus became my resting place as well as my primary source of strength each and every day.
  2. When overwhelmed by the possibility of losing our third born, God quieted my heart with the assurance that His purpose (no matter what happened) was for our family’s good.  
    • Scripture Marker: Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)  
    • Spiritual Stepping Stone: I found great comfort in God’s goal for me: “to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  I embraced His goal as my own.
  3. When faced with the challenges of being a single mom (back when my husband was away much of the time) the Shepherd blessed me with this verse one Sunday morning:
    • Scripture Marker:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40:11)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I was greatly comforted by the assurance that my Shepherd was watching over me.j
  4. On 9/11/2001 I struggled all day trying to get my spiritual bearings as I watched the tragedy unfold.  I begged God for help that entire day, but it seemed as if Heaven was silent.  Late that night after finally turning off the TV, I went up to go to bed.  As I pulled back the covers to get into bed,  these thoughts ran through my head like an electronic billboard: “Hate what is evil: cling to what is good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”  
    • It was not until several days later that I found the Scripture Marker: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. “ (Romans 12:9)
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I slept peacefully that night despite the grief experienced that awful day.  Since that time, I have learned to major on loving others, while leaning on the Lord to face- off evil in the world.
  5. When frightened because of personal health concerns I found myself gripped by fear as I contemplated my future. 
    • Scripture Marker: “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 . . . .”  (Isaiah 30:15)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: God’s answer calmed my fears as I learned to stop running and intentionally trust Him more. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  I was surprised by how the process came together once I got started.  If a Scripture Marker does not come to you right away, ask God to help you identify one that is meaningful to you.  (You need the Scripture Marker to provide your Spiritual Stepping-Stone to stand on.)  Whether you are facing a difficult situation, have an important decision to make or are at a relatively quiet place in your life, I encourage you to take time to do this for yourself.  Being able to view the Spiritual- Stepping-Stones of your life cannot help but strengthen you to finish the race God has marked out for you!

All to His Glory!

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!

The Problem With Running . . .

Countless times I have witnessed miracles in my office as God’s Spirit and His Word have worked in a hardened heart.  Last week, a young woman walked into my office angry . . . and rightfully so.  Married with two small children she felt:

Taken advantage of . . .

Unappreciated . . .

Disrespected . . .

Worn out.

Rather than argue I empathized . . . I confessed the times when I have wanted to run away too.  We talked about how the decisions made today will impact our lives and the lives of those we are tempted to leave behind.   She was at a crossroads and ready to run.  How did I know?  As I have told many a client, there is little that comes through my office door that I have not had at least a taste of in my own life experience.  I well remember those times when I have been DONE with life .  . . ready to escape the burdens that seemed impossible to bear.  How about you?

The challenge in counseling this angry young woman was to convict rather than condemn; to help her to realize the grave danger she was in. That is where the beautiful working of God’s Spirit and the Scriptures come in.   I shared a bit of my testimony, how to this day my  children (now grown and with families of their own) are grateful for how God stepped into my life, sparing our family from the tragic consequences of my abandoning them.  When God wakened me to my anger He helped me to see the dangerous possibilities my sin could cause.  The problem with running is that the consequences eventually will catch up with us.

We turned to the Scriptures for the perspective we lacked.  Considered to be the last letter written by Paul, the apostle poured out everything he had left in him because he knew his time was short.  Writing to a young man named Timothy (who Paul thought of as a son) it is a letter that speaks to the very soul of an individual.  I listened as she read:

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

She stopped reading and looked at me wide-eyed saying, “How could God know so well the depth of our depravity?”  She shook her head and continued on:

“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”  (II Timothy 3:1-9)

She spoke quietly as she shared her first impressions ;  “‘Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .’ that is surely me.”  She shuddered as she then whispered, “I don’t want that ‘weak-willed woman’ to be me!”  I watched as the hardness left her countenance and she grabbed a tissue, grateful for a God who saves us from ourselves.

Life experience has taught me that it is far better to run to God with problems than to run away from them (and Him.)   Next Session we will probably turn to God’s Counsel in Isaiah 30:

“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.
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.”
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!
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”  (Verses 15-22)

No matter what difficulty you may be facing, give thanks to God for the clean slate of today.  Run to Him in repentance and faith as you trust Him to help you stay the course you are on.  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy; give thanks that He has not abandoned you.  Then watch, wait and listen for the direction you need . . . in the confidence that He is worthy of your trust.

All to His Glory!

Defeated by Chance?

Recently I experienced what can only be described as a “burning bush” moment– like when God first spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.  What led up to my “burning bush” experience?  Last weekend my husband Marshall and I were away camping.   Marshall is a wonderful man who has the heart of an inventor–he loves to tinker!  He is thoughtful, generous and rarely gets angry at people but when “things” frustrate him . . . look out!  As we were setting up our campsite, Marshall got frustrated and then angry as he was trying to fix something–I honestly do not recall what.  Talking about the incident later, he said that when he gets frustrated, anger builds and is almost always rooted in the thought that he is “being DEFEATED by CHANCE.”  I realized that he had expressed this before but, I had never taken it to heart.  I thought about the times when I have been upset, slamming doors to emphasize my frustration.  Thankfully those instances are rare but still . . . I’m embarrassed to have to admit it at all.  I wondered:

Is the thought of our lives being thrown into disarray and defeated by “chance” at the root of much of our frustration and feeling victimized?

More to the point, the question my heart asked:

 Can Christians be defeated by “chance”?

The next morning, with these questions still on my mind, I thought about how often the Bible talks about the mysterious ways of God.  I thought about how the wisdom and perspective of Psalm 139 was instrumental in helping me appreciate God as Sovereign and Good.  Verse 16 in particular has been a special encouragement to me in my walk with Christ:

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

For many years, when I had to fly (the majority of my family lives 3,000 miles away from where I live) I would board a plane always feeling inwardly defeated by fear.   Verse 16 challenged me to surrender my fear as I embraced the assurance that there was nothing that could happen to me apart from God’s divine will.  The next time I got on an airplane, I thanked God that He was with me and that He was in control.  Since that time I have actually come to a place where I enjoy flying–sort of.  Verse 16 settled the question of my vulnerability to “chance,” as my faith in Christ overtook the fear that had plagued me for so long.

As I continued to ponder the mystery of God’s will, I checked my concordance.  I was dumbfounded when I noticed that myth was listed immediately after mystery–enter the “burning bush” moment!  Intrigued by this, I looked up one of the references to myth in I Timothy 4 and was hit hard as I read:

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourselves to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  (I Timothy 4:7 & 8)

I felt like I had stepped onto holy ground at the realization that “chance” fits into the category of “godless myths.”  There is no place in God’s world for “chance” (or coincidence for that matter!)  To yield to the idea of “chance” is to lose sight of God and to believe a lie.  With the lie exposed I wondered, “Where do I go from here?”   Bad things happen that we can’t make sense of; life often is not fair.   It was then that I remembered the wisdom of James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (1: 2-4)

James assures followers of Christ that God allows trials and suffering to draw us closer to Him.  He is saying that the testing (tempering) of our faith gives opportunity for our  being strengthened into maturity, confident in His loving purpose being worked out in our lives.

So how does this answer our question?  Can Christians be defeated by “chance?”  Not if we keep our focus on what pleases and honors God.  There is no such thing as random chance in God’s Creation, but we certainly are vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the ugliness of sin (our own and the sin of others) when we doubt God’s goodness.   Feeling overwhelmed by life?  Turn to Christ with eyes of faith and give thanks that “today” has not come as a surprise to Him.  Thank Him for His promise that,

“In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Then walk in the confidence that our present and our future are secure in Him.

All to His Glory!