Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“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 . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . .
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .

To Be Made Whole . . . .

After first entering Narnia and hearing about Aslan the Lion, one of the main characters, Susan, asked this question, “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

The response of their host, Mr. Beaver, initially brings chills but then generates wary curiosity:

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘
Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”*

To be made whole . . . .

As I write, I am struck by how short-sighted we are when it comes to the things of God. Living in a world that speaks about fulfillment in terms of outward success, we are urged to “follow your dreams” with little to no thought of God’s purposes being worked out in our lives. Very often, if/when success comes, disillusionment soon follows as we wonder, “What now? Is this all there is?”  The fact is, when our dreams become our god, success is fleeting and true fulfillment eludes us.

In the Counseling Room we talk about God and the importance of seeking out His plan and purpose for our lives. Rather than fulfillment in the now–or even in the immediate future–we look to the Scriptures to learn that God thinks longterm, toward our ultimately being made whole in Him. Consider the following verses that speak toward this end:

“For in Him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
and you have been filled in Him,
who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Colossians 2:9-10 ESV

When we receive Christ in repentant faith, the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts to clean out our old ways of thinking and doing through conviction. It is through the Spirit’s working that we are made whole.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,
who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10 ESV

To be restored, confirmed, strengthened and established by God is to be made whole.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:4

Our part of being made whole is succinctly laid out by James as he encourages God’s own to consider trials a “joy”.**  As we rely on God to help us persevere through adversity, we are being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus– which is ultimately, being made whole..

I share the following poem by my good friend, Heidi Viars, that beautifully broadens our vision of God in relation to all that He has made. Heidi wrote her poem in response to a quote from renowned violin maker, Martin Schleske who records his thoughts as he works:

“A religion, in which success and blessing cover the same space,
has nothing to say to the world, because what such a religion could say,
the world is telling itself already.”***

Here is Heidi’s response:

An Instrument of God

Skilled is Your craftsmanship – Your art
With which You hone each part of man
As instruments we’re set apart
Play songs that through the ages span.

Your hand holds tight while chisel cuts
The flaws the world has left within;
You carve Your thoughts in those who trust
The Carpenter to take their sin.

With gentle bow-stroke You can hear
The sound of each vibrating string;
You bend and press Your holy ear
Into the heart and hear it sing.

In ways that I will never know
You craft this instrument of man;
With care design his song to grow
Into Your tune – Your sovereign plan.****

To be made whole requires that we surrender ourselves to the mysterious wonder of a God who continues to work out His wondrous purposes. Consider the words of David that offer hope beyond our human understanding in God’s ultimate purposes being worked out for the good of His faithful ones, to His sovereign glory:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16

It is only as we respond in faith to His question–“Will you trust me in this?”-– that our spiritual eyes are opened to appreciate the beauty of His divine purposes being worked out around us and into eternity. God’s ultimate goal for His own is that we would be made whole . . . conformed into the precious image of His Son.

All to His Glory!

*C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
**“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. And perseverance must finish its work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
James 1:2-4
***Martin Schleske’s book, “The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty” (Der Klang) will be released in English in April 2020
****To receive blessing from more of Heidi’s writing press: https://heidiviars.com/2019/10/01/an-instrument-of-god/

On Reclaiming Hope in Corrupt Times . . . .

One of the many things I appreciate about the Bible is its capacity to speak through the ages. Corruption is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul, knowing his remaining days were probably few, wrote these words to warn and encourage Timothy, a godly young man he regarded as a son:

“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.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

Sound at all familiar? When I first read this passage three decades ago, I was struck by how it mirrored what was happening then. As I read it today . . . I weep.

We see the effects of corruption all around us. In the Counseling Room, many pour out their anger, their fears, their confusion and their regrets in having been caught up in the lies of corruption.  Depression and anxiety are commonplace, as hope appears impossibly distant.  It is my role and privilege to point them to a God who is alive and well and worthy of their trust:

“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.”

Romans 15:13

The question is this

How are Christians to respond when corruption appears to abound?

Are we to cut ourselves off from those who have been caught up in such evil? I think not. I think what Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, is coming under the influence of false teachers who fan corruption into flame through their teaching and actions.

I believe that in times such as these, we are called to be courageous in loving those God puts on our path according to Christ’s teaching:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you . . . .

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:27-28; 36 and 37

When we do this, we reflect the same determination and courage it took for Christ to love us sacrificially.  How are we to do this?

  • By remembering what Christ said to His disciples on the night of His arrest:

In this world you WILL have trouble . . . .”
John 16 :33

We cannot afford to be naive about sin. As we navigate the challenges of living in this fallen world, we all too easily crumble and lose sight of hope as we doubt God’s goodness.

Speaking from experience:

  • Remember that we cannot manufacture Christ’s love in and of ourselves. (When we do, we are doomed to failure.) It is only as we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Scriptures, that we receive the strength and courage needed to love others as Christ loved us. Such love is found only in the peace offered to us by Christ:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
John 14: 27 

Reflecting the call of Jesus to not let trouble or fear weaken us, Paul offers the mechanics of how we are to move forward in the love and mercy of Christ as we encourage each other:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Romans 12:9-12, 17-21

All too often, when fear strikes we doubt God’s goodness.
We feel vulnerable . . . trapped . . . without hope.
Paul is saying, YOU HAVE OPTIONS
in how you respond to what is happening–
DO NOT LET FEAR OR ANGER GET IN THE WAY!

So what are our choices when faced with adversity in this very broken, screwed-up world?  It boils down to two:

  1. We refuse to allow fear to hold us captive in corrupt times.
  2. We instead trust God to help us offer the HOPE of Scripture.

Jesus continues to call:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
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 11:28, 29

The truth is, as we remember Christ’s call
and reclaim HOPE in corrupt times,
His light will shine through us to a desperately needy world.

All to His Glory!

 

More Than Words: On Being Christ In An Angry World . . . .

Living in a world where anger comes increasingly easy and words are used as weapons rather than a means of blessing, can be frightening. It is tempting to get angry and play the child’s game of, “tit for tat”. But as followers of Christ, called to be in the world but not of the world, we are instructed to love and forgive in the mercy granted to us because of Christ..

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I write this with Christ’s call to peace in mind:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27

This week I gained insight into our penchant to hate when anger or fear take control   The wisdom of James, half-brother to Jesus, written over two thousand years ago, rings truth today::

“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..
You adulterous people, don’t you know that
friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”

James 4:1-4

Our word choices matter.
They reflect how we view ourselves,
how we relate to the world around us and, most importantly,
how we perceive God.

But God’s concern for His people is less about words
and more about attitude and action.
When hate comes easy, we distance ourselves from the One we are called to serve.

So how can we make things right?

Step One: Pray through the words of James and ask God to check the motives of your heart. Are you right with Him or are there areas that need to be confessed and made right?  Don’t put it off! Take care of it now and I guarantee your heart will feel a lot lighter.

Step Two: Ask God for the names of three people you would otherwise never pray for.  Jesus said we are to love and pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) so start praying and be faithful to watch for miracles large and small.

Step Three: Take your focus off of yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can love the people in your life better as you choose to trust Him more.

In recent weeks I have been encouraged and found direction from the Apostles who faced every sort of difficulty we face–and much more. I invite you to consider the wisdom of Peter and Paul:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you
to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage . . . .”
Philippians 2:3-6

Humility is beautiful in God’s eyes, something we fail to see. Ask God to embrace humility as you determine to trust Him in every area of your life..

Do you yearn for authentic relationships? Then take your focus off yourself and look to being a blessing in the lives of others as Christ leads.

This is one I go to often:

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud . . .
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9, 12-21

Looking for wisdom and direction in times such as these?  Look no further than the Scripture as you love others, not because they deserve it, but because it reflects Christ’s  love poured out on you.  Life is more than words . . . much, much more!

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause
righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:11

All to His Glory!

Principle #2: The Battle is Real . . . .

Much of our decision-making is based on how we perceive God.  That is why we focus a large percentage of time in the Counseling Room on God’s character.   Steadfast belief in the good and  faithful character of God–as modeled when Christ walked on the earth–is what grows an enduring faith.  Just as Jesus sought to calm the hearts of His disciples as He prepared them for what was about to happen, we also find comfort and, yes–peace in Him–no matter what we may experience:

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.
In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

In my last post, Principle #1: God Convicts/He Does Not “Guilt”, I wrote about the importance of being able to distinguish between the voice of God as our Shepherd, and the voice(s) of the world that promote doubt in God’s faithfulness.  That post focused on God as the Shepherd of our hearts and the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin to:

  1. Call us to repentance before God and
  2. To deepen our faith as we give thanks to God for His love and mercy
The Battle is Real . . . .

In this post, we will enlarge our view of the very real spiritual battle that will continue until Christ’s return:

Principle #2:

The Battle is real.
While Satan intends us harm,
God uses it for our good–
to promote spiritual maturity as we learn to trust Him more.

The Battle is not new.  To doubt God’s goodness (which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden) is to play Satan’s game.  In fact, when you read Adam’s response to God when hiding from his Creator, Adam compounded their sin with this response:

“The woman YOU PUT HERE WITH ME—
she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Genesis 3:12

To besmirch God’s character, by blaming Him for our sin,
is a practice as old as time itself, and
is something we continue to be very, very good at.

In the Counseling Room we go to Ephesians 6:10-13 for clarity regarding The Battle and our call to rely on Him:

“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.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that WHEN the day of evil comes,
you may be able to STAND YOUR GROUND, and
after you have done everything,
to STAND.”
 

As I reflect on this passage, what strikes me is that God does not call us to be Super Heroes.
HE is meant to be the SUPER HERO and our part is to TRUST IN HIM!
KA-POW*!!!

A faith-filled life is what God wants for us.  He knows we will fall down/doubt Him in our journey; but He encourages us to turn to Him in repentant faith as He enables us to stand.

Broadening our understanding of God’s character is the major part of our work in the Counseling Room.  This is not to say that we don’t talk about and mourn the impact problems have on life–because we DO.  But to look at ourselves, at God and the challenges we face through the lens of Scripture is what ultimately helps us make sense of the craziness around us.  II Corinthians 4 is one of my favorite places to gain perspective when feeling overwhelmed by challenges or loss:

“Therefore we do not lose heart . . . . For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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.

(Verses 16-18)

As to God’s character, one of my favorites is the description of God’s response to our running away from problems (and Him):

“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!”
Isaiah 30:18

Yes, The Battle is REAL and the stakes are high.  But with every step we take in faith, the tumult and fear of the world drops away as we learn to trust the Shepherd of our hearts.  Are you feeling stuck in a dark place in your life right now?  This invitation given by Christ was especially engraved with YOUR name on it:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
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 11:28-29

All to His Glory!

* A “ka-pow” describes the moment when the  color patterns in a kaleidoscope shift and a new pattern falls into place that takes your breath away.  A “ka-pow” moment describes when the ordinary suddenly becomes cosmic . . . when the everyday shifts to the sublime . . . Ka-Pow! 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson on Trust . . . .

From the beginning of our relationship, God used my marriage and three children to convict and speak truth to my heart.  Believing that some of those lessons might encourage you, I asked for (and received) permission from my family to write a series of posts featuring a few of those lessons.
I offer them in the hope that God’s loving faithfulness
will speak encouragement to your hearts. 

It took me a while to learn that when God’s Spirit works conviction in a Believers heart, His intent is blessing. Jesus confirmed this as He spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit:

“But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.
He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears,
and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you.”

John 16:13, 14

Once we have repented of our sins and embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior,
God’s Spirit convicts our hearts to free us from the plague of sin that pulls us down.
God does not “guilt” His kids into submission,
but convicts us to free us to serve Him well.

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I Corinthians 13:7, 8

It had been a rough couple of years.  Ever fearful of the potential harm that could come down on our firstborn’s penchant for excitement, I had become a roadblock to almost everything she wanted to do.  Much of the time I felt as if I was a single mom with my husband, then a pilot for the US military, being away more than he was home.  My lifetime dream of being a mother had become a nightmare as fear and resentment grew in my heart.

Then one day it happened: I became convicted that I had lost sight of loving my daughter.  I realized that I was so busy roadblocking her every move, that I had forgotten to lean on God for the wisdom and perspective I lacked.  I was horrified and embarrassed at myself as I wondered: how I had fallen into such a trap?  Part of me was tempted to beat myself up at my failure.   Instead, I opened up my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter.  Intent on making things right with God’s help, I read each piece of instruction aloud as I committed to apply it to my daughter:

“Love is patient” . . . “Yes Lord, I can be more patient with Kara.”
“Love is kind” . . . “Yes, Father, I certainly can be kinder than I’ve been lately.
Love . . . is not proud . . . is not easily angered . . . keeps no record of wrongs . . . .” I responded without flinching, “Yes Lord, I am willing to do all of those things.”  

I continued until I got to verses 7 and 8,

Love–“always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I started to choke (literally!) and confessed in a panic, “But Lord, I CAN’T trust her right now . . . we have a track record . . . she’s 15!”

It was then that I heard what is referred to in the Bible as, “that still, small voice”, speak softly but firmly:“But you CAN trust ME!”

It took a moment to process what had been spoken to my heart.  Then suddenly, the burden I had carried far too long, rolled from my shoulders as I thought, “Yes Lord . . . YES!  I can and DO trust You!”

Looking back it is still amazing how easy it was to love my daughter again.  Once I handed that burden over to Him I was FREE!  Oh, there were still challenges that came up, but when I responded with loving kindness and refused to keep that record of wrongs, I was freed to love and even enjoy my daughter.

Several months later a friend mentioned something Kara had done that I knew nothing about.  I decided to mention it when she arrived home from school, not so much to accuse her, but to ask if she’d really done it?  When she came in we chatted about school before I asked, “Kara, did you . . . ?”  (Don’t ask me what it was, I’ve totally forgotten.)

Kara stood quietly looking at me for several minutes before pounding her fist on the table, “Doggone it Mom–I give up!  Every time I try to get away with anything, God totally rats on me.  I give up!”

Stunned, I started laughing as Kara grinned back at me.

Lesson learned:
Conviction by the Holy Spirit + Humble Repentance = Opportunity to TRUST God more.

No matter what you may be facing, run to Him and to the Scriptures for the help you need.  He is totally worthy of your trust.

All to His Glory!