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!

God Moves In Mysterious Ways: Thanksgiving

I went to sleep last night thinking about all that had to be done this Thanksgiving morning:

  • My precious husband getting our barbecue started at 6:30 to start smoking the turkey–he’s done this for over 20 years so we all can enjoy the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth turkey you ever experienced!
  • Pull out the gluten-free pie crust a friend made (thank you Ellen!) to be turned into a Kentucky Pecan Pie to share with another friend who will be joining us later in the day with her husband Bill–(love you Stephanie!)
  • Cut up 4 loaves of bread, onions and celery to make our very traditional Bread Stuffing that has more butter in it than anyone will ever get me to admit–thank you Betty Crocker!
  • Tidy up the messes I left last night (I ran out of steam!) before family and friends join us for dinner–can’t wait to for the fun to begin Steve, Kara, Matt, James, Jack, Tom and Dona!

I woke up this morning with those thoughts still on my mind but they were in the far distance.  I woke up this morning with the words to a very old hymn on my mind: “Now Thank We All Our God!”  (Written in the 1600’s by Martin Rinkart to minister to the sick and dying during the German Thirty Years War.)  What changed between last night and this morning?  My perspective.  Last night I watched a television special on the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that hit just north of us.  This morning I was hit by the full impact of God’s grace this Thanksgiving Day:

  • Praying for so many who are still suffering major losses from the storm
  • Grateful for a home to welcome family and friends to . . . a husband to fix our turkey . . . for being spared but not sure why . . . .

I woke up this morning replacing “Turkey Day” with Thanksgiving: to a God who works in mysterious ways.  Savor the words dear friends and be blessed:

Now Thank We All Our God 

Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns,
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

All to His Glory!

More Than A Dash ~

Etched on a Boot Hill grave marker in Tombstone, Arizona:

“In memory of Frank Bowles
 Born August 5, 1828-Died August 26, 1880.
As you pass by, remember that as you are, so once was I, and as I am, you soon will be. 
Remember me.”

Some things never change. The epitaph on the grave of Frank Bowles blatantly reminds us of the brevity of life as we know it.  We tend to celebrate birth dates with relish but dread the thought of dying.  We mostly ignore what is to come by filling our lives with busyness and an occasional tick on our “bucket lists.”    Looking at the marker, Frank’s lifetime of fifty-two years and twenty-one days is represented by a mere dash between his birth and death dates.  In the end, is that all a lifetime amounts to . . . one singular dash?

If we only look at life as a superficial existence to be filled by our busyness of going and doing, then perhaps a singular dash is a fair representation.  But a life lived in wisdom and faith in relationship with a loving Creator has the potential of adding up to so much more!  How so?  Because of the price God paid for our redemption:  

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”  John 3:16,17

Think about the value of gold.  There are many positive attributes we can ascribe to gold, but its value is only established by how much someone is willing to pay for it.  The same can be said of your life and mine.  We may be gifted with certain attributes and even accomplish great deeds.  On the flip side, we may live with a litany of regrets about choices we have made that we would give anything to undo.   In either case, such things do not give us value. Our value was very publicly established through the bloody and torturous sacrifice of God’s Son.  The basis of that sacrifice?  “For God so loved the world . . . .”

It is the outpouring of God’s love that sets in place an opportunity of cosmic proportions.  The question is . . . what is our response?

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

We do not know anything about Frank Bowles response to God’s offer– yay or nay.  What we do know is that whatever choice he made would have absolutely effected his dash.

The Bible speaks about the transformation that takes place in every mind and heart of those who accept God’s valuable offer:

 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)

The transformation that takes place in the mind and heart is the result of a change of focus.  I believe that as we are no longer consumed by a penchant to please ourselves or others, we are then freed to live for, love and serve God because of the value He has given us.  As this occurs, our dash takes on an out-of-this-world beauty as it is lived out to honor and glorify our Creator.

Rather than live in fear or dread, Hebrews 12 offers a powerful perspective as it speaks to how we can make the most of our dash:

” . . . 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,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Verses 1,2)

It is an amazing picture that comes to mind as we think about being cheered on by those who have dashed before us.  But it doesn’t stop there!  What we have been referring to as a dash is transformed into a life of value and meaning as we press to honor the example and attitude of Jesus.  From the stands the author of Hebrews cheers us on in verse 3:

 “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

A phrase that I often use in the Counseling Room is,  “Life is hard but God is good.”  It is His goodness that places unfathomable value on you and me.  The question is, will you (will I) honor such an amazing Giver by trusting Him to make our lives into so much more than a dash?  

All to His Glory!

Spiritual Gold in “Desert Times” ~ Journey Notes

The first time I read Proverbs 2:1-6 I was blown away by its apt description of my experience with Scripture.  Here is what Solomon wrote:

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

 I was attending my first Bible study and was continually amazed at how God’s Spirit showed me something new every time I read the Scriptures.  (I had tried to read the Bible for myself before this and found only discouragement, so I knew it was not me.)   I regarded every new insight or piece of wisdom gained as a “nugget” because, for me, it was like discovering pure spiritual gold after having lived in a desert for most of my life. To this day, I still get chills when I reflect on this portion of Proverbs.

Last week I was reminded of how Journey Notes Praise Journaling stimulates the excitement of discovery of such spiritual gold.   I had not seen one of my newer clients for several weeks, so I was very anxious to find out how she was doing.   She reported that she had done her Journey Notes almost every day and was amazed by how writing out her daily praises to God combined with her prayer concerns made it next to impossible to get as anxious or depressed.  Combining that with gaining God’s perspective on her and her circumstance through reading the Scriptures resulted in giving her an enduring peace.  She also reported an added bonus:

  • When we set up her Journey Notes Praise Journaling in our first Session, I asked her to evaluate each day on a scale of “one to ten” with “ten” being the best and “one” being the worst.   I asked her to do this to see if the negativity about her daily life I observed made her think things were worse than they actually were.
  • During this last Session she beamed when she told me, “You were right!  When I actually evaluated each day I had mostly eights and nines!  After writing out my praises and concerns along with reading Scripture, God helped me to see that things were not nearly as bad as I thought they were!”
 Since our meeting that conversation has blessed me repeatedly which is why I to pass it on to you.  I don’t know what you are facing right now or if you are concerned about a friend or loved one who you can see is struggling with anxiety or depression.   If you already do Journey Notes Praise Journaling (or have something similar in place)  then why not evaluate your day the way my client did as an added encouragement?  If you have not actually tried doing Journey Notes then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying it out now for your self.  Truly, it can make an incredible difference between just “getting through” life and discovering the spiritual gold that God has for you.  Go for it!