BOLD TRUST . . . .

How do you respond when the unexpected becomes a reality . . . when people disappoint you and what means most is taken away? Me? By nature, I shy away from conflict. I tend to be a runner, especially when fear grips my heart.  When forced to face my fears, I have been known to come out fighting–like a bulldog on steroids–angry because I feel very alone and trapped.  That is why I find this passage in Isaiah so meaningful:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

Courage to trust . . . .

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

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.”
Isaiah 30:15-17

Yep, setting aside any thought of turning to God to confess my fears and trust in Him, that’s me . . . or at least is was me.  How about you?

It would be devastating if the passage ended there.  Thankfully it doesn’t:

“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!
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.'”

(Isaiah 30:18, 21)

Over time God has given me a boldness to trust Him despite my fears.
It is a gift that I treasure and is what I endeavor to pass on to my clients–
a deeper appreciation for God as Sovereign and Good.

I was captivated when I heard the testimony of Lynsi Snyder, America’s youngest female billionaire.  Lynsi was also a runner and bears testimony to the Sovereign Goodness of God.  Watch and listen to her story of how her decision to stop running and boldly trust in God changed everything:

In Psalm 30:11 & 12 King David declared,

“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”

Because He is faithful . . . He is worthy of your trust!

ALL To His Glory!

*Lynsi Snyder, a White Chair Film – I Am Second®

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

A favorite 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 (or inaccurately) we will “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 written in the 1700’s by John Newton* about faith.  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 through a simple faith:

 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 find 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.

Simple Questions . . . .

Are you looking to encourage someone in their faith right now?  Sometimes it is more helpful to ask simple questions that encourage a thoughtful response, than it is to offer pat answers.  That is how Jesus ministered to countless people from every imaginable background–He asked questions to start a conversation, to respond to those questioning His authority or to help individuals think more broadly.*  Here are a few examples:

  • He opened up a conversation with the socially rejected Samaritan woman at the well with, “Will you give me drink?” before delivering insights on the necessity of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.(John 4:7b-26)
  • Speaking to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)
  • When He saw a great crowd coming toward Him, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” before feeding the five thousand. (John 6:5b)
  • In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”  (Verses 15, 16)  

All were ordinary questions that led to powerful, one-on-one shepherding opportunities.   What is amazing is that those same questions continue to challenge hearts and minds in a multitude of ways.  It is at the feet of Jesus that we learn that,

A thoughtfully crafted question can make far greater mileage toward helping others than a pat answer.  

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Be you a caring friend, a neighbor or a family member, to ask simple questions can be an important part of building courage and character in others.  Well put questions not only provide helpful information and understanding for the listener, but often can help the one in need to examine their heart.

But what about when we are the ones asking God questions?  Do our questions impact how God responds to us?  ABSOLUTELY!  Personal experience has taught me,

  • When we ask God, “Why?” because we doubt His goodness, very often His response is to ask another rather disconcerting question:  “Will you trust Me in this?”   
  • During those times when He calls us to forgive, but we are fearful (or just plain resistant) and ask Him, “What if it happens again?”  We may feel stonewalled when things get quiet, or be tempted to think He has not heard us or does not care as that same disconcerting question hangs in the air--“Will you trust Me in this?”

Several years ago I found myself in turmoil over God’s call to trust Him after experiencing deep hurt.  For weeks I begged for answers to my, “Why did you allow this to happen?” I dug my heels into the ground when called to forgive as I demanded, “What if it happens again?”  The silence from the Throne was deafening . . . .

Yet, I can still remember the day everything changed . . . the moment when I let go of my demanding “whys” and “what ifs” and instead asked the simple question, “HOW” was I to trust again?  The answer was delivered to me so quickly when I opened my Bible, that it took my breath away! Here is what I read,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

 That day I learned that the attitude of the heart very much determines God’s answer to us.  Indeed, simple questions asked in the love and humility of Christ Jesus, can open up fresh insights that are not of this world.

All to His Glory!

* Check out 135 Questions Jesus Asked for an interesting list of His questions.

There’s No Place Like Home . . . .

Call it what you will–

Utopia . . .

Heaven on Earth . . .

Paradise . . . .

There is a longing in the human heart to regain what was lost at the Fall when sin entered the world.  Humanly, we go to great efforts to construct our own version of “home”, but it can never last apart from being reconciled to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I have had to break this news to many a struggling Client (and have reminded myself when dismayed by the attitudes and/or actions of myself and/or others): “This is not heaven!”  

In the final hours before His arrest, Jesus talked to His disciples about HOME in John 14:1-3.  Knowing He would soon be leaving them and the world He had dwelled in for thirty-three years, Jesus encouraged them with these words:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
My Father’s house has many rooms;
if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

It is our hope of heaven that gives us peace in trying times . . .

In Christ we look forward to what, one day, will be our Forever Home

Truly . . . there’s no place like HOME!

But what about now?  How are we to respond to the pain and suffering of those we love brought on by disease?  What are we to do when men blatantly commit unspeakable acts that overwhelm our human sensibilities? It is scary to face the realities of pain and heartache in this world; to think about evil and the end times,  Yet the Bible speaks of such things to encourage and strengthen God’s people.  I found comfort in the words of Jesus that in previous days have made me uncomfortable.  Jesus sought to enlarge the vision of His disciples’ thinking about HOME in Matthew 24:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (verses 7-14)

There's no place like HOME!

There’s no place like HOME!

The Apostle Paul underscored the temporariness of our earthly bodies by referring to them as “tents.”  In II Corinthians 5, verses 1 and 5, Paul ministered to the hearts and minds of his fellow-servants of Jesus Christ with these words about our Forever Home:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. . . . God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit.

No matter what you are facing or may face in the future, hold fast to the faithful provision given us by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Truly, there’s no place like HOME! 

All to His Glory!

 

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!

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”

Beware the Thorns of Bitterness ~

 “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.  ~Voltaire~

I enjoy working in our garden as the seasons change and delight in seeing the deep red of cardinals contrast against the glistening white of a first snow.  There have been times, when I have been lost in thought while clearing a spot for something new to be planted, that I have been surprised to hear the hungry ‘peep, peep, peep’ of newly hatched chicks coming from a nest that I did not know was even there!  In recent years, we have had several families of robins raised in amongst the thorns of a climbing rose that grows against the back of our garage.  The amazing thing is that the thorns on that climbing rose are absolutely wicked! Even when I wear my leather gardening gloves to cut some of its crimson blooms, I still often suffer a painful jab or stinging prick despite my precautions.  For a long time l wondered at the placement of the nest among those nasty thorns, but have realized that while nests in other parts of our garden have been raided by bigger birds, the robin’s nest remains unscathed.  It would appear, that those wicked thorns actually have shielded several generations of robins in our garden from outside predators! .

Yet, where the rose thorns serve to protect our robin fledglings, when people give reign to the prickly thorns of bitterness in the “garden” of their lives for self-protection, the opposite is true.  Instead of protection, such self-reliance often ends up becoming a prison of isolation as depression and loss of hope darken the senses.  The chilling result of depending on any resource other than God for protection is well expressed in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6,

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.”

Having battled depression several times in my life, I have experienced the awfulness of that lonely wasteland.   I know what it is to be blind to any provision of kindness from God as I have been overwhelmed by bitter despair.  I also know the blessing of His forgiveness as I have confessed my foolish sin and sought His help in dealing with my problems.  Indeed, I have learned to heed the warning to guard our hearts from serving idols given in I John 5:21 (The New Living Translation):

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

Idols can take a variety of forms, many of them appearing quite reasonable.   When we serve idols such as self-justification, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts.  Ultimately they lead us to doubt God’s goodness, when it is we who have abandoned Him!  I ache for Clients who come in with wounds that have never healed because bitterness had held sway far too long.  The truth is that the thorns of bitterness are at the root of much of depression.  Bitterness deepens scars rather than bringing about healing.

So is there a remedy?  Yes . . . and no.  It all depends on who we choose to trust–Ourselves or God?  If you are looking to go deeper in your faith and desire to be healed of the bitterness that has been a damaging influence in the “garden” of your life for all too long:

  1. Go to God in humility and faith; confess your sin of handling past hurts and disappointments in your strength instead of HIS.
  2. Ask Him to touch your mind and heart to begin the healing process that has been put off far too long.
  3. Give thanks daily for His forgiveness and His faithfulness as you move forward in obedience and faith.
  4. Enjoy His Presence and Peace daily as you stay close to Him through prayer and reading the Scripture.*

Consider these Scriptures for the help you to move forward:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:43-45a)

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  Hebrews 12:15

And finally, Roman’s 12:17-21 assures us that when we forgive God’s justice will none-the-less prevail against those who remain unrepentant:

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.”

Be encouraged and enjoy the light of His love . . . .

All to His Glory!

*The Journey Notes Praise Journaling process was designed to help Clients get back on the right path–check it out!