When Hate Comes Easy: The Danger Of Playing The Blame Game . . . .

Living in a time when hatred and shifting blame have become the “new normal”, the world has become an increasingly dark and scary place. The effect in the Counseling Room has been a marked increase of Clients struggling with anxiety coupled with hopelessness.  Many who come say, “The Bible tells us, ‘Do not be anxious,’ but how can I NOT be anxious in such perilous times?”

The following are some of the things we discuss in the Counseling Room to address this very timely question:

1. We talk about how the world can be a dangerous place and how Jesus had first-hand knowledge of that. The writer of Hebrews 12:2,3 helps us appreciate this:

“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.”

We need to acknowledge that the world CAN BE a very frightening place. God calls us not to be naive about the dangers around us, but to walk daily in obedient faith. As we do He enables us live for, love and serve Him in trusting obedience.

2. We talk about how God calls His children to come to Him with our fears as our Shepherd and God of Hope.

“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden.
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

 3. Living in a time when there is a lot of anger and finger pointing as to who’s responsible for the explosion of hatred being manifested around us, it is tempting to become caught up in shifting blame. But as followers of Jesus, we have an obligation to resist blame shifting (be it in our personal relationships or in the world around us) as we determine to follow Him:

“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.
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:43-45

The commitment to honor Christ as we pray for our enemies  is what insulates us from being overwhelmed by anger and hatred ourselves. Such a practice (speaking from personal experience), is both humbling and freeing as we are helped to look at ourselves and the world around us with His eyes.  Only then do we become teachable and experience His peace–even in the midst of trials:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 1:18-20 (ESV)

 How can we put all of this into practice? Here is a two-part answer::

A. By maintaining the discipline of giving thanks to God through the process of doing their Journey Notes:**

“Thank You God that, no matter how I feel, I am never alone.
Thank You for Your love and mercy.
Thank You for the hope of spending eternity with You . . .
THANK YOU!”

As one Client said this week, “Doing my praises helps me  keep fear from taking over my thoughts.” It is as we give thanks to God to for His loving provision despite our fears, that humility and hope lighten our hearts.

B. By asking God to help us guard our hearts using this simple tool: The Triangle Illustration.**  (I know it’s an odd name but when you look at it you will understand.) It helps to identify who (or what) is influencing our perceptions.  Is it fear or anger? Personal desires or a desire to please others?

If it is anything less than God,
it is an Idol and needs to be confessed as sin.

The blessing is that when we put God in His rightful place,
He strengthens and guides our every step.

No matter what you may be facing, give thanks to God that you are not alone. Give thanks for His love and mercy displayed on the Cross as you follow His lead every step of the way . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 4:23
**See top of this post to access.

 

To Live a Fulfilled Life . . . .

“I have come that they may have LIFE,
and have it to the FULL.
John 10:10

To live a fulfilled life . . . isn’t that what most of us desire?  Yet, living in a culture where money and fame are held as the ultimate markers of success/ fulfillment, it is often a shock when people who appear to “have it all” take their own lives. The question that invariably comes to mind is, “Why?”

While researching this question, thinking specifically of notables Robin Williams and Kate Spade, I was struck by this observation posted on Millionaire Before 50:*:

“That they may have LIFE, and have it to the FULL.” John 10:10

“You can have all the money in the world,
but you’re still a failure
if you’re not fulfilled.

Success without fulfillment is worthless.”*

As that last sentence wound around in my mind, I wondered, “So what is true fulfillment?” 

Fulfillment can be many things for many people. According to WordNet Dictionary fulfillment is:

  1. A feeling of satisfaction at having achieved your desires.
  2. The act of consummating something (a desire or promise.)

The tricky thing about fulfillment, is the challenge of maintaining satisfaction. Typically, once we achieve what we set out to do–no matter how many accolades are received, or how much the bank account swells–our human penchant for “more” kicks in and we become dissatisfied. Because of this:

Fulfillment is elusive
because satisfaction is often fleeting.

There is no resting place when it comes to holding onto fulfillment in the world around us. When Jesus proclaimed, “I have come that they may have LIFE, and have it to the FULL, He was offering fulfillment that can never be found apart from Him. 

The Apostle Paul shared the secret to holding onto authentic fulfillment in a letter he wrote from a Roman prison cell:

“I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4: 12, 13

Fulfillment is not found by living a problem-free life and traveling the world. Jesus said, “In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
So how can the fullness of life promised by Jesus become ours? We uncover such fulfillment when we: answer His call to “come” to Him in our brokenness and disappointment.

“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 11:28-19

Authentic fulfillment becomes ours when we take our focus off of ourselves and cultivate a thankful heart–no matter what our circumstance.

Remembering to thank God for His love and mercy
extended to us through His Son,
helps foster humility and
quiets the ugliness of dissatisfaction.

We discover true fulfillment when we are intentional in loving our neighbor and pray for our enemies–in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial love extended to you and to me.

The Bible is full of direction and insight when it comes to living a fulfilled life.  In a letter written to encourage a young man he regarded as a son,  Paul wrote about accessing “life that is truly life:

“Command those who are rich in this present world
not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth . . .
but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us
with everything for our enjoyment.
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,
and to be generous and willing to share.
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves
as a firm foundation for the coming age,
so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life
I Timothy 6:17-19

Ultimately, it is through our willingness to share with others (a reflection of Christ’s sacrifice for us), that we take hold of “life that is truly LIFE”authentic fulfillment.

All to His Glory!

*From a blog article posted on, Millionaire Before 50 titled, Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Be Thankful For What You Have.

 

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!

Dark and Stormy Nights: Hope For You and Me . . . .

A medium-sized, square black plate rests on the corner of my desk in the Counseling Room.  Most of the year the plate holds a smallish arrangement of flowers that I change with the seasons.  Along with the flowers there is a framed cross-stitch that says, “Tears Welcome Here”– words of assurance extended to Clients looking for hope and a safe place to work on their problems.  

During Advent and into Epiphany, the plate becomes a stage.  The stitchery and flowers are replaced, first with a solitary manger in front of a plaque that declares:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things . . . .”
I Corinthians 13:7

Waiting . . . .
Waiting . . . .

Last week, Mary and Joseph were added.  With Joseph standing and Mary kneeling near the empty manger, the parents-to-be appear to be wondering about the Child, uniquely conceived, soon to be born– the Son of God Most High. Were they nervous?  Perhaps scared?  The Scriptures do not tell us.  What we do know, is they remained faithful as they waited . . . .

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee . . .
to Bethlehem the town of David,
because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary. . .
pledged to be married . . . expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came . . .
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger,
because there was no room available for them.”

Luke 2:4-7

As I look at the figures of Mary, Joseph and the waiting manger, I find hope and comfort at the gentle reminder: “Love bears all . . . . believes all . . . hopes . . . endures.”  Such was the point of Christ’s coming, LOVE CAME DOWN. 

The young couple’s lives had been turned upside down less than a year before.  Far from home, they had likely endured much societal rejection because of Mary’s pregnancy.  As they waited for the Birth, they were clueless about the drama that was about to ensue:

  • Shepherds paying them a visit to see what an angel had pronounced–“A Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord . . . a baby wrapped in clothes  and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11,12)
  • Magi from the East, following a star, would come bearing gifts to worship, “the one who has been born King of the Jews.”(Matthew 2:)
  • They would flee to Egypt, after an angel’s warning, before King Herod began his search to kill the Child–only able to return home to Israel after Herod’s death.
  • They would end up in obscure Nazareth (apparently not their first choice) to stay out of range of Herod’s son:

“So he (Joseph) got up, took the Child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream,
he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and . . . lived in a town called Nazareth.
So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets,
that He
(Jesus) would be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:21-23

So what can you and I learn from Mary and Joseph’s story?

  1. That when (not if) those dark and stormy seasons hit us, God is faithful to direct the steps and shepherd the hearts of those who rely on Him.
  2.  To honor God in the dailyness of our lives--faith is not something to be turned ‘on and off’ with a switch.
  3. To trust in God’s Sovereign Goodness to get us where He wants us when He wants us there–God’s timing is perfect.

For twenty-five years I have seen miracles happen as I have watched Clients, overwhelmed by their circumstances, make one of three choices– to trust in God, to trust in themselves or in someone (or something) else.  Those who cho0se to trust God:

  1. Look to Him in the Scriptures for the wisdom they need,
  2. Pray for the courage they lack to either move forward or to wait, and
  3. Give thanks to God that He was with them every step of the way.

It is nothing short of miraculous to watch as their outward countenance slowly begins to reflect a deepened, mature faith that affirms the truth of what is written in Hebrews 6:19,20,

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,
where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.
He has become a high priest forever . . . . “

On Christmas Eve I will return to my office one last time: to place Baby Jesus in the manger and add the Shepherds who came to see Him.  You and I are invited to enter the Holiness of that wondrous season as we celebrate God’s Perfect Provision–unto us a Child is born; a Son is given–Merry Christmas!

All to His Glory!

True Thanksgiving . . . .

When Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day in 1863, he was not thinking about feasting or relationships between Pilgrims and Indians.  At the time Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, this nation was in the middle of a bloody Civil War that would last another year and a half.  The Battle at Gettysburg– the largest and most devastating of that war–with total casualties numbering over 50,000–had been fought. Three months later, when this Proclamation was declared, the process of reburying the thousands of bodies that had been shallowly interred on the battlefield had begun but was not yet complete.  Even so, Lincoln recognized the blessings bestowed on the United States while in peril. In a time filled with uncertainty, we can learn much from President Lincoln’s perspective as he recognized God’s hand of grace and mercy during the perilous times of a country at war with itself.  That Proclamation included the following:dsc03086

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added . . . (so) that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed . . . to invite and to provoke . . . aggression (from other nations), peace has been preserved . . . order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship . . . . Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field . . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union . . . .”*

There is much that can applied to our own times as we contemplate Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

  • True thanksgiving is not about what we are thankful for but WHO we are thankful to.
  • True thanksgiving remembers God’s grace and mercy extended in countless ways despite our sin or our circumstances.
  • True thanksgiving is meant to be a lifestyle rather than a yearly occasion.

While writing this post the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, came to mind.  Written more than two centuries before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, it captures the essence of what true thanksgiving is meant to be about to this day:

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has 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,
to keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Words: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), 1636
trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), 1858

As President Lincoln said, we have much to give thanks to God for.  We also have much to repent of–fear, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lack of mercy for the suffering of others.  As we observe Thanksgiving in repentant faith, we can look to the future with the same confidence and hope as the Apostle Paul:

“Now to Him who is able
to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

Ephesians 3:20-21

All to His Glory!

*To read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in full see:      http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm