Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Difficult Counselor

He shall be called Difficult Counselor...

Isaiah 9:6

We have to be fair.  If we're going to use "wonderful" in place of "difficult" in the story of Sarah, let's see if they can be exchanged in a descriptor of Jesus, since as we learned in our last post, they are the same word in Hebrew.

For those who have tasted of the goodness of God's grace and mercy, we quickly and clearly testify that He is a WONDERFUL Counselor.  His words bring healing.  His words bring peace.  His words transform every aspect of our lives.  He is wonderful and we want no other voice in our ears but His.

But it is also true that He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  I would be lying if I did not agree that this statement is true.  But let me be clear on this - His counsel is difficult because of my sin nature.  My sin nature is incredibly self-focused and selfish.  I am totally self-conscious, as in completely conscious of what I want, what I need, what I think will make me happy and what I demand from myself and those around me.  That's my existence because of sin.  

Salvation defeats this nature and gives me a new identity.  My new identity is encapsulated in my Savior.  I want to be like Jesus, because He has given me life.  It's not my flesh that is now ruling my heart, but it's Jesus - He is alive in me and guess what, He's a pretty sacrificial guy.  He's giving and loving and patient and kind and merciful and honest and...well...it goes on and on.  And He's not sinful, fleshly or selfish.  So when my sin nature shows up, and trust me, it does, His counsel is right in my face, telling me to deny my natural tendencies and follow Him.

Therein lies the rub.  This is why He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  His words can be hard to hear, almost like the one on top of the mountain, instructing the struggling climber on what to do next.  But like that instructor, He's been there and He knows.  So listening and acting on His counsel, while it may be hard, it is the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the most rewarding and the most Christlike way to live.  

What are some of the hard things Jesus says as our Counselor?  Glad you asked. Here's a list from one sermon found in Matthew:
  • Anger is murder - 5:21
  • Don't offer anything to the Lord with outstanding issues - go reconcile first -5:23,24
  • Lust is adultery - 5:27
  • Radically amputate whatever causes you to sin - 5:29,30
  • Divorce can lead to adultery in the sight of God - 5:32
  • Be a man of your word - 5:33-37
  • Turn the other cheek, be generous with your enemy- 5:39-42
  • Sacrificially love your enemies - 5:44
  • Give quietly - 6:1-4
  • Be sincere in your prayers - 6:7
  • Be a fantastic forgiver - 6:14,15
  • Fast privately - 6:17,18
  • Serve Jesus, not money - live with an eternal perspective - 6:19-24
  • Do not be worried - 6:25
  • Seek God first in all things - 6:33
  • Don't be judgmental - 7:5
  • Be careful with the gospel - 7:6
  • Pray sincerely - know your Father well - 7:7-11
  • Treat people how you want to be treated - 7:12
  • Be a fruit producer, a fruit inspector and take your calling seriously - 7:13-27

Looking at the list, you might think what He tells us to do isn't that hard.  That tells me that you are not dangling on the line right now.  But you will be and when you are hanging there, struggling, thinking there's no way out of your predicament, your best option is to stop wrestling with your flesh and just do what He says.  Remember, He is not only a difficult counselor but a wonderful one!

As you head into the Christmas holiday, may the words of the old prophet Isaiah ring true in your heart...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Too Wonderful

"Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
Genesis 18:14

This is the question that Jesus asked Sarah and Abraham when Sarah laughed at the declaration that she would have a baby within a year.  She was nearly ninety years old and the promise of a child was dead in her heart. At the sound of the visitor's mention of it, the absurdity of it made her laugh.  We know it was Jesus who was chatting with them, because of the continued story, but that's really not my point today.

Most translations say, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?", but as we learned at church this weekend, that word "difficult" can also be translated as "wonderful."  I love that - is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

What a great question to ask yourself, but I want you to be very careful.  Too often we grab a line from scripture and we cling to it so tightly that we lose sight of the context.  God had made a promise to Abraham and Sarah and in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promise He said, Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?  We must remember this context.

This is not a prosperity gospel support verse.  Your greatest hopes and dreams are not suddenly a possibility because of this verse.  What this verse tells us is that when God promises something, even though we think it's impossible and never going to happen, that nothing is too difficult or too wonderful for the Lord to accomplish. If He said it, it will happen.

Let me give you a few examples:
  • If we search for the Lord, we will find Him (Deut. 4:29)
  • Blessing and growth come from meditating on the Word (Psalm 1)
  • God is working within the circumstances of life for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • God will complete the work He started in us (Phil. 1:6)
  • If we confess our sin, God promises to forgive (I John 1:9)
  • Jesus promised rest from our burdens (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • Jesus promised to come back for us (John 14:2,3)
  • God will supply all our needs (emphasis on needs - Phil. 4:19)
  • God will comfort us in our trials (II Cor. 1:3-4)
  • God will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • We have an inheritance that is eternal (I Peter 1:4)
These are but a few of the many promises of the Lord.  These promises will give you strength and hope when you are going through the difficult times of life, but they won't help you if you don't know them!  So a simple study on the promises of God is a very valuable one.

But the greatest promise of all is the one we see this time of year, lying in the manger.  On the very day that sin entered the world, God promised to send a Savior.  Through the life and death and resurrection of this little baby, we are made completely new. This is a promise that is so wonderful, it's hard to even imagine. According to the first chapter in Ephesians, in Christ we are:
  • chosen
  • holy 
  • blameless
  • adopted 
  • redeemed
  • forgiven
  • enlightened
  • inheritors
  • predestined
  • sealed
How often do we place earthly, temporal desires above the fulfilled promise of restoration that is ours in Christ?  Why do we complain that He is not caring for us or providing for us, when the cross is a completed event? What do we long for that is greater than salvation?  What in our past is so horrific that the Lord is unwilling to cover with His blood? Knowing the past is unchangeable, why can we not choose to give the Lord today and everyday, trusting in His promise that He is making all things new?  

How can we look at that baby in the manger and not shake our head in wonder and whisper, is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

The gift of the promise of a Savior that we see at Christmas is one that is an eternity changer.  The answer to the Lord's question is, "No, nothing is too difficult or too wonderful for the Lord."  I know this is true because of what was accomplished on the cross.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Following Blues

Wives, be subject to your own husbands,
as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22

Have you seen these pictures?  Taken by Russian photographer, Murad Osmann, they have taken social media by storm.  The series named Follow Me are taken from Osmann's perspective of his girlfriend, as they travel the most exotic locations of the world.  They are visually stunning - here's a link if you want to see more: click here

As I look at the photos, I am wondering why women are so drawn to them. Here's what I concluded: the woman in the pictures wears beautiful clothing, has gorgeous hair, a perfect figure, her skin is a flawless bronze tan and...wait for it...she is leading her man.  And women like that.  We like to lead.

Leading is not bad. It's not wrong and it's not sin. Well, let me rephrase that:  Leading is not bad, wrong or sinful in the proper context.  As women, we lead most things we are involved in - leading can include decision making, vision casting, direction planning, organization and execution.  We do all these things every day - at work, in our homes, with our children, even at church.  We decide what's for dinner and what colors look best on our children.  We rearrange the furniture so that there is room for everyone at small group.  We figure out what to put on the pizza and how many to get.  We come up with great ways to streamline our work and make life more efficient for our employers.  As image bearers of God, we are natural born leaders.

The problem is that our sin nature loves to take something that is good and God-given, and twist it into something that is destructive and yes, sinful.  Our consequence of sin in the garden is a struggle with our husband's for authority in the home. So when God tells us as wives to be subject to our husbands, everything inside of us starts to churn and burn, because we think that we are being punished or limited by God and we're not sure why.  We wonder - maybe He likes men more than women?  Maybe He used to think men were better leaders but now that women are educated as well, He's had second thoughts about that?  Maybe He just wants us to suffer because we are sinful? And when we ask these questions, we deny the fact that our very nature is bent on rejecting this authority structure.

The answer to all those maybe-questions is absolutely no.  If anything I think I can make a case that He might love women a little more because of the protection that He places around us!  The leadership of the husband is a protection for the wife - it is not a contest that he automatically wins, but rather, he is in the unenviable position of answering for the family, which is broken and sin-encrusted.   God hasn't changed his mind because He is immutable and never changes, so His decision, which was pre-fall by the way, to have the husband lead the family will not change due to education or social advances.  And finally, Jesus has suffered for our sin.  Any suffering that we bear is due to either the consequences of our own sinful choices or of the brokenness that sin has brought into the world in general. But God is not purposefully punishing us by calling us to humble ourselves and willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority.

So, is that what submission looks like in you life?  Do you follow well?  I often hear from women that their husbands don't want to lead so they have to - I am tired of that argument.  Hand the reins back to him and let him make a decision or two.  I am not talking about having your husband micromanage every detail of the home but he should be involved with the decisions:
  • He doesn't have to make the grocery list but if there are things he likes and doesn't like to eat, that should affect your list
  • He doesn't have to pick the wall colors in the house, but he should be offered the option to have an opinion
  • I had one gal tell me that she signed up for a marriage conference at church by herself because she didn't know if he would want to go - why not ask?  
  • Do you have separate bank accounts?  Do you live within your husband's budget?  Do you discuss these things with him?
  • Do you discipline the children the way your husband asks you?  Are you more worried about being liked by them rather than submitting to your husband?  Do you correct your husband in front of the kids?
I'm going to stop here because I can already hear the push-back:  My husband won't get one bank account....he is too harsh with the kids...if I ask him to go to a conference, he'll think I am leading...Bottom line, ladies, submission is a heart condition first and an action second.  We must wrap our mind around the fact that God has an authority structure for the home and we are not the head of it - and that is for our protection.  

We must stop competing with our husbands and willingly follow his lead. Start with small decisions.  Let him pick a parking space when you are out together.  Let him choose the restaurant and don't second guess his choice once he's made it.  Don't give him two options for a movie and then when he chooses one, try to talk him out of it.  And if you do well with the small decisions, watch what happens when the larger ones arise.

Finally, gals, we must choose to be subject to our husbands as unto the Lord.  Those four little words are the key to all of this. If we wrestle with God as the head of our life, we will struggle with our husbands being the head of our marriage.  But if we trust the Lord in all things, then obedience is much easier because we place the outcome in His hands, including the decisions our husbands make that are hard for us to accept.  If our eyes are on the Lord, then we know we are pleasing Him when we willingly humble ourselves and get into the helper position we were created to fill.  This is not a suggestion in scripture, but rather a command of a loving Father who knows what is best for you.  

Are you willing to work on following your husband today?  Small steps of obedience lead to great life transformation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Worry and Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; 
for His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Psalm 118:1

So what's on your mind today?  Thanksgiving is two days away and I am nervous my bird isn't going to thaw.  There are a lot of bigger things to worry about, but the turkey is one in a long list of worries we can have this time of year:
  • Will the family get along?
  • Will the food be enough?
  • Will my already tight jeans zip up on Friday?
  • Will I have the strength to battle the crowds for the deals on Friday?
  • How can I spend less and keep everyone happy?
And then there are the bigger worries of life:
  • He's filing for divorce
  • I've lost my job
  • My son has a drinking problem
  • The test results should be in on Friday
  • We can't afford a turkey, let alone Christmas gifts
  • The roof is rotting and we have no plan
  • My children are far from me and the Lord
  • I can't find work
  • I found a text on his phone 
  • I've let my parents down again
What we set our mind on will affect everything in our lives - how we feel, what we do, where we go and how we survive the holidays.  Just typing that list was beginning to give me a headache.  The burdens of life are real and for many of us, inescapable.

In honor of the upcoming festivities, may I make a few suggestions today?  Let's start with Psalm 118.  The opening verse instructs us to give thanks to the Lord because He is good.  If God was bad, it would be hard to thank Him, but He's not bad - He's good - therefore, we should thank Him.  

Last night, as I went to bed, my mind was starting to race with anxious thoughts, so I put this verse to the test.  I began a discussion with the Father that looked like this:  Father, I know that you are good because, do you remember when Joshua was supposed to bring Israel into the land and he was pretty unprepared and frightened?  What did You do?  You appeared to him, had several conversations, gave him clear directions and told him to be courageous.  Then you wiped out his enemies.  I know You are good because when I read the story of Ruth, I see Your sovereign hand guiding her footsteps and providing for this foreigner beyond her wildest expectations.  I know You are good because of how gently and kindly your angel approached Mary to tell her she was pregnant - You made sure she wasn't frightened and You calmed her heart.  I know you are good because my life is drenched with Your goodness...and then I went on to list out several ways that He has been good to me.  Then I fell asleep, worries aside, thankfulness in my heart.

When we are instructed to be thankful because God is good, this is not based on a lack of evidence.  My first suggestion is to take time out to think of the goodness of God from the evidence in His word and then the evidence in your own life.  As you think through these examples, thank Him.  Give your heart a break from it's anxiety and set your eyes on Him.  This will nearly always produce thankfulness. Why? Because God really is good and it's easy to be thankful to One who is good.

Second, take your cares to Jesus.  Pray about them. Pray with expectation that He will answer you and lead you.  Pour your heart out and ask Him to give you the strength to do what you need to do.

Next, do what is in your power to do.   Often times we worry about something that we haven't acted on.  So ask yourself, what can I do to solve this problem?  Do I need to fill out more job applications or ask my husband to go to counseling with me or sit down my son and talk about his drinking or confront my husband about his phone?  Whatever is in your strength to do, knowing that the Lord is with you, do it. 

And finally, for those things outside of your control, leave them in the Lord's hands.  YOU CANNOT DO WHAT GOD ALONE CAN DO.  You can't save your children, you can't force someone to hire you, you can't make those medical tests come out fine and you can't change the past.  Sometimes we are truly helpless to change a circumstance, but God is never helpless. And you know what?  God is good.  So again, turn your eyes onto Jesus and leave in His care the things that you cannot change, trusting His goodness and His love for you.  Do you need proof of His love?  Look at the cross.

A thankful heart is not one that magically appears one day a year at the end of November.  It's a way of living.  Yes, the cares of this life will continue, but we are not alone.  We have a good, good Father who loves us and asks us to cast our cares on Him.  As you head into the holiday season, try starting and ending your day with a few minutes reminding the Father of how good He is, from stories in His word and then examples in your own life.  This is a great place to set your mind as you seek to be a thankful person.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Me + You = ?

It is not good for the man to be alone.  
I will make him a helper suitable for him.

Genesis 2:18

Everything in creation was good until God created man. Man alone was not good yet - he needed a helper and then it was good. Genesis 1 tells us that male and female are created in the image of God, so the creation of woman was not an afterthought, but rather with a primary and a secondary purpose. Primarily, as an image bearer, she was created to bring glory to her Creator.  Secondarily, she was created to make man good. Her role as a helper within marriage is one that brings completeness to man. Even perfect Adam needed help and Eve was created to provide that help.

Now, true completeness can only be found in Jesus Christ, but that doesn't negate the fact that within the context of marriage according to the creation account, ladies, we have a calling.  

David and I adopted our twins from Romania when they were six years old. We brought them home in March and the first morning in our home, they displayed their great displeasure that the three other children in the house were going to school and they were stuck home with mom. Because of the language barrier, with the help of my Romanian/English dictionary, I tried to explain that they had to visit a doctor first and then we could put them in school. Even the prospect of shots did not discourage my girls - they wanted to go to "gradanitza"!  

So I got them to the doctor and then took them to school. The kindergarten teacher was a sweet, elderly gal, who managed her classroom with ease learned from years of experience. But when my two powerhouse, non-english speaking daughters arrived, her world was crashing down, so to bring some stability to that kindergarten class, I attended school with the girls for their first 6 weeks.  

Initially I was there simply to watch my girls. I made them stand when the other children stood and sit when it was time to sit. I worked on alphabet puzzles and helped them color, made them sit still when they didn't understand the story the teacher was reading. Eventually they figured out how to follow instructions, but I stayed in the class. The teacher let me clean out shelves and organize closets. I helped the children with their lunches and cut out displays for her bulletin boards. I think when the six weeks were done, she was sad to see me leave. I was a helper to her.  And trust me, there was not a moment that I was in that class that I wasn't looking around, trying to find a way to make myself useful...helpful.

Is that the attitude you have towards your husband? According to Genesis, having you in your husband's life should make his life better. So if I were to ask your husband, "What does your wife bring to your marriage that makes your life better?", what would he say? Would it be a short list or would I have to finally interrupt him because it was time for me to go? There has to be a benefit to having you around, ladies, and I think that often we focus on what we need from our husbands and forget that we are the ones with the title "helper."

Just as we are called to be our husband's biggest fan, we are called to complete or finish our husbands - make them good. For each man, this is a different need. For some, they are forgetful and need you to keep them on time, on track and organized. For others, they struggle with numbers and they need an accountant. Still others can't remember a name to save their life. Some need clean clothes, a clean house and a good home cooked meal each day. Are you willing to meet those needs?

Oh, but Kristen, my husband is perfectly competent without me.  He doesn't need anything.  We have more of a partnership and we are equals in the home.  We share everything - our paychecks, our responsibilities and our decisions.  Good.  I am happy for you.  But may I remind you that I am not the one who said your husband needs a helper.  God said it and then He gave you to him.

So knock off the excuses, roll up your sleeves and make yourself useful.  Be his biggest fan and make him complete.  Fill in the places where he struggles, make your place in his life priceless.  Cheer him on and be on his team, so that he cannot imagine life without you. And in the hard times, when being his helper isn't glamorous or even appreciated, keep your eyes on Jesus, knowing that obedience to the Lord brings glory to our Creator and our Savior, and He is always worthy.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Biggest Fan

"...and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband." 
Ephesians 5:33

Have you ever seen the movie Misery?  If you have, then when you hear that it is one of my favorite movies ever, you know how twisted I am.  If you haven't, then you might want to rent it, but it's not for the faint of heart.  If you grew up a close friend of my children, odds are I've watched this with you.  I guess I should just say, "Sorry about that..." and get it over with.

In the movie, Annie Wilkes finds author Paul Sheldon severely injured from a car accident and nurses him back to health in her home.  The drama intensifies when Paul finds out that Annie is his number one fan.  She is such a big fan that when she reads his recently finished manuscript for the final installment of his Misery Chastain series in which Misery dies, she burns it and insists he write a different story.  Now this was pre-computer days, so the burned manuscript was quite blow to Paul.  Speaking of blows, there is a sledge hammer in the movie as well, but I don't want to spoil the story.

In her role as number one fan, Annie manipulates, threatens and abuses the one she deeply loves.  She honestly believes it is for his own good, but in the end, Paul is a damaged man.

This post is for my married female readers.  The rest of you can glean some wisdom from it, but you are off the hook today.  Wives, I want you to take a moment and assess how you "fan" your husband. If you have been around me any length of time, you know that I teach that God's word instructs wives to follow their husbands through submission, to complete or finish in the role of helper and be their biggest fan by respecting them.  Follow, finish and fan.

Are you your husband's biggest fan?  How does that play out in your family?  Dave and I taught a marriage conference this weekend and when it was done, some of the participants gave a testimony of what they learned. One gal who has 17 children (all hers and all single births - whoa!) said that she spends the day cheering on her children over the tiniest of things but when her husband gets home, she doesn't delight in his stories or accomplishments.  It made me think about what fanning is all about and how important it is that we, as wives, really work on this.

Respecting our husbands is more than just telling him he's handsome, though that's a start. It's more than being kind, listening when he talks, not rolling our eyes at him or how we talk about him to our friends.  True respect encompasses all those things - how we talk about him, how we talk to him, how we touch him and care for him, but it starts in our minds, how we think about him.

If we want our actions and words to be respectful, we have to think properly about our husbands.  In counseling, Dave and I often say, "Do the things that love does and you'll feel the things that love feels."  Well, when it comes to respect, "Think the things that are respectful and you'll do and say the things that are respectful."  It starts in our heads.

What do you think about all day?  When your husband comes to mind, what image do you form?  Are you thinking kind, grateful, lovely thoughts about your husband or are you critical in your mind?  Are you like Annie from our movie, wanting to shape and mold your husband into the person you want him to be? If that's what you are thinking, then when he gets home, the criticism and manipulation will begin to flow from your mouth.  It's a heavy weight to live under, unmet expectations, and trust me, your husband knows when you are sugar-coating criticism.

So, ladies, we need to be our husband's biggest fan.  He needs to know that you are on his team, supporting him, cheering him on - that you want him to be successful in all he does, that you're proud of him and that you love him above all others.  But you will not be convincing unless you truly believe these things.  What flows from your mouth begins in your mind.  Do you believe that God is working in your husband's life?  Then start there.  Trust that God is shaping him into the man He wants him to be and you are simply along for the ride.  In a world that beats on our husbands each day, we have the privilege to be the ones God has chosen to build up, cheer on and love these men.  Let's not take this call lightly.  Let's think kindly about our husbands and see how it changes our words and actions towards them. 

Two final questions - if you are not your husband's biggest fan, then who is?  And how do you like that answer?  Let's get on this, ladies...

Monday, October 31, 2016

How Big is Your God?

"In whirlwind and storm is His way, 
and clouds are the dust beneath His feet..."
Nahum 1:3b

My God is pretty big.  In general, "big" is not even close to describing my God.  You know how when you walk, sometimes dust gets kicked up by your feet?  Yeah, that's what the clouds are in comparison to my God.  He's super big.

The book of Nahum is a short and to-the-point kind of prophecy. Not much is known about the actual man, Nahum, but his message was not only clearly laid out in four simple chapters, but it's already fulfilled in the destruction of Nineveh in 612 bc.  Just 150 years after Nineveh repented before the Lord when an acid-washed Jonah unwillingly declared God's pending judgment, we find the little gem.

So why do you like this book, Kristen?  To be honest, (which is really how we all should live our lives), I haven't delved into the depths of the riches of this book, but I did stumble upon it's first chapter and was captivated by its description of God.  So, let's just take a read of it's first 8 verses:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.  
The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
and He reserves wrath for His enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
and clouds are the dust of His feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the blossoms of Lebanon wither.
Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve;
indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence,
the world and all the inhabitants in it.
Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
and the rocks are broken up by Him.
The Lord is good, 
a stronghold in the day of trouble,
and He knows those who take refuge in Him.
But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of its site, 
and will pursue His enemies into darkness.

What a description of our God!  It would be a mistake to think that only the words in blue are for the believer.  Yes, I love the words in blue, but the full description is needed to understand the beauty of the blue words.  God is jealous, avenging, slow to anger in the context of waiting to bring judgment, powerful, in control, and no one can stand before Him.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that He is good and He is protection for those who take refuge in Him.

That refuge that we take in Him is pretty important.  Often we look to different saviors, ones that aren't big at all and have no power - who can't stand before God.  In the midst of the storm, even when God is destroying a nation because of their wickedness, God, in His grace, still promises to care for His faithful.  Kind of like that message, don't we?

So here's the question for today:  Not now big is your God but who are you taking refuge in?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grace and Holiness

And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either.  
Go. From now on sin no more."

John 8:11

The story is familiar.  A woman, caught in adultery is brought before Jesus.  The pharisees ask Him what they should do with her, thinking they have trapped Him.  If He instructs them to stone her, He will be arrested by the Romans for usurping their law, but if He instructs them to release her, He will be violating the Law of  Moses.  Jesus' response is, of course, brilliant, as He states, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  One by one the quieted pharisees walk away and the only One who was truly sinless extends forgiveness to the woman. And then He tells her to "sin no more."

How exactly was she supposed to do this?  She wasn't suddenly perfect because of an encounter with Jesus, was she?  Was Jesus implying by His command that she had a choice of how she lived her life?

It is in this one command of Jesus that we see grace and holiness meet.  Grace and holiness are strange partners.  Holiness demands justice, which in this woman's case meant stoning.  But grace displays the gospel, giving her life back to her.  So does grace nullify holiness? How in the world do those two get along because grace wins every time, doesn't it?

I think many of us live our lives believing that the grace of God, given to us through Jesus and His sacrifice, has nullified the holiness of God.  Grace has turned a Master/Slave relationship into a Father/Child one, which is more casual, more accepting, more forgiving.  Here's how we rationalize it:  God is holy and we cannot meet His standards.  Therefore Jesus stepped into our place, took on our sin and paid the price.  We are helpless because of sin, but since God loves us and chooses to shower us with grace upon grace, He no longer expects us to live up to His standards.  He knows that in heaven we will be free of our sin nature but until then, He's willing to extend grace to us to get us to eternity. After all, His grace is greater than all our sin, right?

Paul asked and answered it this way in Romans 6:  "Are we to continue in sin so that grace should increase?  May it never be!"  A casual attitude toward sin comes from a misunderstanding of grace and holiness. It comes from an entitled mindset that says, sin is no longer that big of a deal to God because I'm covered by Jesus.  Wrong.

Let's jump back to the scene of Jesus and the woman.  He tells her that He will not condemn her and then He says, "Go. From now on sin no more."  Her actions that brought her to that point were sinful. He was instructing her to walk away from her sin.  To choose righteousness.  To not identify herself by the sin of her past, to not embrace the brokenness of her sinful choices, but to walk in the newness of life which is basically choosing God's way over her way.  Holiness.

In Leviticus, over and over God instructs His people to be holy, because He is holy. He wants us to set our eyes on Him, to imitate Him, to walk in His footsteps and to abandon our sin.  How can we possibly do that, you ask.  We can walk in holiness because of God's grace.  

We are able to walk in holiness because of the payment Jesus made before the Holy God of the universe.  The truth of the gospel is life transforming because it empowers us to choose righteousness and holiness over sin...and God expects us to make this choice.  Not only has He cleared your account, but He has given you His Word to instruct you through life and His Spirit to help you understand.  You should not remain, crawling through life as a caterpillar, but rather He is transforming you into something way more beautiful.  

God's holiness brings us to our knees for salvation.  But His grace does not nullify His holiness - it is His holiness that transforms us.  Let us not forget the holiness of our God when we approach the throne of grace.  Let us choose to present ourselves holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. Let us choose to go and sin no more because living within that instruction is the fastest way to see true transformation in our lives.  And let us commit to remember God in His holiness on a daily basis, as a constant reminder of the grace that has been showered upon us and the call to a better life. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Strange Things That We Do

For the word of the cross is foolishness 
to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved, 
is is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18

One of the things that the world can't understand is the church's obsession for the cross and with good reason.  There's nothing glamorous about a cross.  As a matter of fact, the words "horrific, torture, humiliation and cursed" are better descriptors.  I never understood why Madonna (the singer, not the...well, you know...) always wanted to wear crosses, since she was not a Christian and her religion of choice was an offshoot of Judaism, which rejects Jesus as the Messiah. Why is wearing a cross fashionable for her? Why is it fashionable for anyone outside of Christianity?  It's not a symbol of beauty or honor, but rather, to the world it is a symbol of humiliation and punishment.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians, for those who are dying, the cross is foolishness.  For believers, however, the cross is the power of God.  The depth of the riches of the truth of the cross are impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit. The world doesn't stand a chance in trying to figure it out on their own, and yet they will still wear them around their necks, tattoo them on their bodies, dangle them from their ears and make dresses out of them.

But the church...we love the cross.  We get the cross.  We understand our need for the cross.  And we are so thankful for the cross.  

Last winter, we were planning out the Good Friday and Easter services, including talking about staging. We had an apple theme, drawing a connect to the death that came from the disobedience in the garden, to the new life we have in Christ through the cross, so we put this huge cross in the center of the stage and filled it, first with apple cores from the walk-thru, and then with fresh, whole green apples.  Do you remember?  

On the morning of Good Friday, I called our worship pastor and threw out a suggestion.  We have this white sash that hangs on the cross on Easter, but this past year, we didn't take it down, so it had hung there for a year.  I had an idea to enhance the cross for Easter morning.  So we took down the sash, and after the Good Friday walk-thru was finished, we decorated the cross.  When I say "we", I mean Pastor Chris and the ladder.  

As I stepped back to see the finished product, it struck me how Christians do the strangest things.  Wrapping vines and flowers on a 14 foot cross, a symbol of suffering and death, risking life and limb, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  But then Easter morning came and the gasps that were heard when the body of Christ entered the sanctuary were actually audible.  And trust me, at that moment, it made sense.  

I know the things we do as believers are foolishness to the world and I'm okay with that. Every time I get a strange look because of what I am saying or what I am reading or humming or giving or wearing or choosing to do with my life, it is a reminder that I am an alien in this world, that my home is with the Lord.  I am also so thankful for the church, not the building but the people. It makes being strange not so lonely.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Treasure Hunt

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:34

Jesus said this.  

He also said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it."  That pearl stole his heart and he gave up everything for it.

Often we think that our heart is our emotions - our hearts are moved and we act in compassion.  Our hearts are filled with love for our children or grandchildren - we can't imagine life without them.  But do we really want to live by our emotions?  Do our emotions drive our decisions?  This is a dangerous way to live.

In truth, the heart of man is driven by the mind.  We do what we do and feel what we feel because we THINK what we THINK.  When we act in compassion, it is because of a thought process, not a mere emotional response.  We love our family because they occupy our minds.  So when Jesus says that your heart and your treasure are intrinsically linked, we might actually have a treasure box filled with things that surprise us.

Let's try to flesh this out.  Jesus is saying that what we set our minds on is what we treasure.  So if we set our mind on Jesus, it is because He is our treasure.  Like the man who set his mind on that pearl, when we put our focus on Jesus, it is because He has great value.  Within that context, it is possible to set our minds on our families, our work, our homes, our hobbies because we see them as opportunities to serve the Lord, our great treasure.  We can also set our minds on these things, above Jesus, turning our treasures into idols.  It is a line easily and often crossed.  But deep within, when Jesus is our greatest treasure, the object of our constant thoughts, hopes and dreams, then the blessings of family and home, work and fun will fall into it's proper position.

Okay, all that makes sense, but what happens when our minds are not set on blessings and good things?  What happens when we are consumed with sadness, bitterness or hurt?  Is is possible that the struggles of our past which consume our minds actually are...what did Jesus call them...treasures?  Here's the hard truth - yes, they can be your treasures.  And what you are treasuring, is to your destruction, not to your joy.

When we are consumed with our past, overwhelmed with our trials and with the consequences of our choices, when our minds are filled with angry memories that produce bitterness, then we can conclude that that is where you are setting your mind, therefore it is something you treasure.

That sounds terrible, doesn't it?  But how many of us find our identity in our hurt?  The things people have done to us or said about us or the pain of our current circumstance, as well as past, have become obstacles we cannot overcome.  So if your treasure holds your heart, your thoughts, it is possible that you have a pretty rotten treasure box of junk.

So, it's time to clean out that box and fill it with a treasure of great price.  How do we do this?  It's as simple as selling everything you have to buy one pearl.  What???  Okay, how about having a real heart to heart with yourself on what you want most in life.  I chatted with a gal recently and I began to realize that there was a relationship she treasured above all, so I asked her what she wanted more, Jesus or this other person.  She shook her head and sadly said the name of the other person.  Her treasure was something that could not bring her joy or make her whole and until she surrendered that treasure and replaced it with Jesus, One who can truly transform her life and bring eternal joy, she was going to continue to struggle.  

What is on your mind?  What consumes your thoughts?  Today, as you think of where you set your mind, remember that the same location is where your treasure is found.  When you truly surrender your life to Christ, He gets your mind as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eternal Perspective

Teach us to number our days, 
that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Maybe you've had someone you know die recently. Maybe you are overwhelmed with the political mess that is in our face 24/7.  Or maybe you are just restless over life in general.  

There are all sorts of reasons that we number our days, that we sit and think through what life has been and where life is going.  I think it's popular to talk with men about "legacy."  What are you leaving here on earth after you are gone?  How will history remember you, if it remembers you at all?  I am not sure that's a woman's perspective on life.  Instead of terms like "legacy," I think we think of memories.  How will our children and grandchildren remember us?  Will I be remembered for my weaknesses or my strengths?  Is it too late to make changes that they will remember?

Did you notice why God wants to number our days?  It's because we have an appointment in our future, all of us.  Now I am not saying that legacy and memories are bad to focus on, but I do think that shifting our perspective to see things the way God sees them is a healthy shift.  We get so swept up in the drama of this world that we forget that from an eternal perspective, what we leave behind pales in comparison to what lies ahead. 

God gives us time here on earth to develop a heart of wisdom.  Some of us have had longer than others based on several factors - how old we were when we surrendered our lives to the Lord and how long we get to live here on earth.  But length of time isn't as big a factor as value of time. 

You can do the church thing your whole life and not develop a heart of wisdom.  You remember our definition of wisdom - that it comes from experience, knowledge and good judgment.  We all have plenty of experience, but are we applying God's word to our every day lives?  This produces good judgment, when we act on what we know is good, true and right.  

And we do these things so that we have a heart of wisdom to present to the Lord in the future.  If not a heart of wisdom, what else can we offer?  A heart of anxiety?  A heart of pride? A heart of weakness or laziness?  The Lord gives us each new day to know Him more, to act on that knowledge and because a day is coming where we present to the Lord our hearts.

What can we possibly give the One who gave all for us?  The Lord desires a heart of wisdom.  So let's number our days, let's think through where we have been and where we are going, with our eyes set on seeing the Lord as He ushers us into eternity.  

Friday, October 7, 2016


How blessed are those whose way is blameless,  
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
Psalm 119:1

Boundaries are good.  Boundaries are important.  Boundaries are especially good and important when God sets them.  

So why do we constantly test the boundaries?  Why do we push the limits?  Why do we feel restricted by boundaries?  Aren't we free in Christ?

Freedom in Christ is not freedom from boundaries but rather freedom from the bondage of sin.  When your life is completely surrendered to the Lord, you are now free to live within God's good boundaries.  And like any good parent, our Heavenly Father knows that boundaries are for protection, not for limitation.

For example, we live within physical boundaries every day:  speed limits control traffic for the safety of the public, stop lights keep order, crosswalks and sidewalks are safe ways pedestrians can coexist with vehicles, guardrails warn of water and drop-offs, and construction signs protect the ones fixing our roads.  

And that's just traffic boundaries. We set boundaries around our children all the time.  We keep our dogs on a leash.  We live on a budget.  We fill out time cards for work.  We follow recipes.  We brush our teeth.  We pay our taxes and our monthly bills.  We don't mow or landscape across our property line.  We stand in line to pay at the grocery store.  We wait our turn. 

Boundaries, rules are for the protection of the rule keeper.  Living within the boundaries is the safest place to be.  When we don't speed, we don't run the risk of a ticket or losing control of the car around a turn or in a busy traffic jam.  When we live within our means, using a budget, paying bills on time, not amassing credit card debt, we sleep much easier without fear of eviction or collection agency calls.  When we put our children in a carseat, we have confidence that they are safe during the ride, even if there is an accident.

So why do we buck against God's law?  Why do we not consider the instruction or boundaries of the Lord to be the safest place to dwell?  The answer is simple:  it's not in our nature to trust the Lord.  Our sin nature is bent against the Lord and toward our self.  Even after salvation, the struggle to obey is still very real, however, with the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to walk by faith.

The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 and do you know what the whole chapter is about?  The joy and value of not only knowing the law of the Lord but living within it - all 176 verses of it!  The psalmist clearly understood that living within the boundaries of the Lord is the safest, most blessed place to be.  

As believers, we need to stop trying to get around God's boundaries.  We need to stop making excuses why the instruction in God's word is fine for most people but in our specific circumstance it doesn't apply.  We need to run to the Lord and be quick to act on His word.  We need to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, honest, patient and faithful in all we do. We need to work for unjust bosses for God's glory.  We need to submit to unreasonable husbands for God's glory.  We need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily for God's glory.  

And we can do all these things because we have the ability to set our minds on the things above, to live with an eternal perspective and not put the hope of our joy in the circumstances of life, but rather in the restored relationship of the One who is preparing a home for me in eternity and coming back for me.  (Wow...that's super close to a Pauline run-on sentence!)

This is the role of the church - to point the body of Christ to the loving boundaries that the good, good Father has set around us as being the safest place to live and the place that brings our Savior the most glory.  Are you in a church that does this?  Are you in a small group that encourages you to live within in God's boundaries?  Are you pouring into someone's life who needs to hear this message?  And finally, what boundary are you pushing?  Will you willingly step back or would you rather jump that wall and find out what's on the other side?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Repentance vs. Penance

Whether, then, you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, 
do all to the glory of God.

I Corinthians 10:31

We often confuse repentance with penance.  

We do it all the time, that's why I chose the word "often."

There are things that we love, that we worship, that we know are idols and sin.  So when we withhold these things from ourselves while inwardly still longing for them, we think we are repenting and that God is happy about it.  We have convinced ourselves that abstaining from that activity is causing suffering that earns God's favor.  But our hearts haven't changed, our desires haven't changed, our thoughts haven't changed.  

Let's look at a few examples.  The woman who is struggling with her weight will look at the choice of an apple and a cupcake as a choice of pleasing God or pleasing her flesh.  So she chooses the apple so that God is happy, though everything in her wants the cupcake.  The man who secretly engages with pornography sees his choice as either pleasing the Lord or pleasing himself, so he walks away from the computer.  The teenager who can't stand the sound of his mother's voice but knows God wants him to obey will choose to live within her boundaries and count down the days till he can leave home.

Are these people this pleasing to God?  Are these people repentant?  Do their choices bring God glory?  Or are they self-inflicting a punishment, are they taking away something they truly desire, in order to make God happy?

True repentance is more than behavior modification.  True repentance flows from the heart.  Penance is more about behavior modification because it is suffering based, which implies personal sacrifice, and trust me, friends, God isn't looking for you to sacrifice and suffer for your sin.  He wants your heart.  He wants you to agree that your sin is hurting you.  He wants you to live within His boundaries because you know He is good and loves you, and that His ways are holy, righteous and true.  He wants true transformation that comes from giving up what you thought would make you happy in exchange for deep, eternal joy.

So the woman who looks at the apple now sees a healthy choice instead of suffering.  The man sees the destruction of his sin, and chooses purity and a clean conscience over the weight of secret lust.  The teenager willingly obeys his mother because he truly believes that she is a protection for him until he can be on his own and that God is working through her to shape and change him.  Ultimately, repentance flows from agreeing with God that our sin is not only an offense to Him but bad for us, as well.  The change that comes through repentance, while it is the best place for us to be, also brings immense glory to God because obedience produces lives that shine in a dark world, lives that point to something much greater, lives that reveal the love of a perfect Savior and Father.

"Repentance, as we know, is basically not moaning and remorse, but turning and change." J.I. Packer

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ears to Hear

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.
Matthew 11:15
Mark 4:9
Mark 4:23
Mark 7:16
Luke 8:8
Luke 14:35

See all those references?  Apparently Jesus said this a lot, but He wasn't talking about simply listening. He was assuming that hearing caused an action.  

In James 1:19,20 it says, "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."  There is a logical progression in this instruction.  James is assuming that you're listening to something, it apparently is offensive to you that makes you speak and makes you angry.  But instead of simply reacting to what is being said, he wants you to slow things down.  Be quick to listen - actually hear what is being said to you, but then slow to speak - think through your response or even better, think through what has just been said to you.  Is there truth in it?  Are you being defensive because it hits too close to home?  And then, be slow to anger.  Don't let things rile you up quickly.  Make sure your anger is righteous, not selfish.  

All of this goes back to the premise that when you really hear something, it causes an action.  Jesus, in all His above quotes, wanted His audience to pay attention and hear, so that they can act on what they are being told.  Unfortunately we tend to hear all day but not act. Or when we do act, we REACT rather than purposefully ACT in righteousness. So maybe we don't really have ears to hear?

Do you have someone in your life who constantly wants your advice? They come to you with their struggles, wanting you to clearly understand the difficult situation they are in, and then ask you what to do?  Then, after you give your words of wisdom, they either defend why they can't do what you have suggested or they leave and never put into practice what you instructed?  Come on, you know those people.  As a matter of fact, you can watch the interest in their eyes disappear as soon as you begin to speak. It's as if they have their hands over their ears while you are speaking. So why are they even coming to you in the first place?  Perhaps a better question is this:  are you one of those people who constantly comes to Jesus with your hands over your ears?

There's not much we can do about friends who don't listen, but Jesus isn't instructing us to encourage others to hear - He's telling us, if you have ears, then listen to what I am saying...and act on it.  Just two verses later in James 1, it says, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."  We delude ourselves by thinking we have sought out counsel for our problems but are still struggling.  We've cried out to the Lord and He's just not answering.  We've listened to sermons and Christian radio and nothing in our lives has changed.

Just because you have ears doesn't mean you're hearing.  When you act on the Word, in faith, doing what is right rather than what feels right, then there is evidence that you are actually hearing.  So today is a Monday.  Most of us heard something yesterday at church or read something this morning in our devotions.  Let's make the choice today to prove our hearing works just fine and put what we have heard into action.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Context, Context, Context

I can do all things through Him 
who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

Great verse.  Great motivator.  When it seems like you are in the midst of a storm, or at the base of a mountain, or at the edge of a canyon, this verse can give you the resolve to overcome.

But do you know that this verse is talking about contentment?

Hmmmm...really, Kristen?

Yep.  Want to know how I know?  I read the context. 

Paul is ending his letter to the church at Philippi, and he explains to them that he had..."learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Paul's ability to survive whatever circumstance he found himself in was grounded in contentment.  That contentment was accomplished through strength given to him from the Lord.  

So, yes, in storms or when you have a mountain in front of you or a canyon to cross, Jesus is the power source to accomplish anything, but is Jesus your power source to be content?  By definition, contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction.  Is Jesus your source of happiness (I like the word joy better) and satisfaction?  If the answer to that is yes, then why aren't you content?

We are a very discontented people:
  • we don't like our jobs and our co-workers
  • we don't like our homes and our communities
  • we don't like our hair color or our body shape
  • we don't like our spouse, for that matter
  • we don't like our options for president
  • we don't like the weather
  • we don't like our options in our closet
  • we don't like our options for dinner
  • and we can hardly tolerate what's on tv
In a world of unhappy and unsatisfied people, the child of God should stick out like a sore thumb - or should I say a content thumb.  We should be a light that points to true, deep joy and satisfaction, but if we are riding on the complaint train, no one will ever see the light within us.

So how do we turn this around?  How do we find contentment when life is hard?  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  The answer is clear - our contentment has to come from our relationship with Jesus:
  • He knows where you work
  • He knows where you live
  • He knows you inside and out
  • He knows your spouse better than you do
  • He knows where He is steering the world
  • He knows what what weather He sent your way today
  • He knows what's in your closet and your fridge
  • And I'm pretty sure He's not into tv either
All of these things are a part of life, but knowing the sovereign God of the universe should be what calms your heart.  He wants you to call Him Father.  He wants you to trust that He is intimately involved in your life.  And He wants you to stop whining and complaining and be content where you are, because your lack of contentment is evidence of your lack of trust in Him.  

You can survive the storm, the mountain and the canyon because you are fully known and fully loved.  You can get through another day at work and another day of marriage because you are held in the palm of your Savior's hand.  What could possibly make you more satisfied or joyful than Jesus? Has He not invested enough into you?  You have been completely restored and your future is secure in Christ, so run to Him, walk closely to Him and choose a life of gratitude and contentment because He personally is strengthening you.

Somehow this blog turned into a "Momma Wisen Talk" - sorry about that. It was not my intent.  Dear friend, may I encourage you that it is the things in life that we don't like that push us to our Lord. Why would He calm the winds if those very winds force you to cling to Him?  Rather than long for a life you don't have, find your contentment, find your joy and satisfaction in Jesus.  Then your circumstances will simply be opportunities for you to shine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

4 Pertinent Questions

"And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity;
 the tongue is set among our members 
as that which defiles the entire body, 
and sets on fire the course of our life, 
and is set on fire by hell."
James 3:6

Whoa.  Did you read that verse? Rough.

It's rough because we all have a tongue, don't we?  In the spirit of learning not to poke the bear, I have another tongue post.  As I was driving to church on Sunday, I was listening to a sermon on the radio and the preacher was in James 3, speaking on the power of the tongue.  As I drove, I was like, "Really, Lord? I thought I had a good week and this is what you want me to hear?" (I tend to personalize sermons on a regular basis - that's what happens when you're the pastor's wife and you never know how you're going to inspire a message or how you're going to be used in an illustration).  

It ended up being a really good message, with a very powerful and practical application which is now being turned into my blog.  And so, I now have some guidelines for conversation.  Yes, I still believe that our words need to edify and build up each other, which I mentioned in my bear poking blog.  Let's just build on that premise by adding 4 pertinent questions to ask yourself before you talk:

1. Is this true?

The first question is just common sense.  Is the thing that I want to share or talk about - is it true?  Philippians 4:8 tells us to set our mind on things that are true, lovely, pure, righteous - it is important that our words drip with truth and it starts with setting our minds on truth.  So, ask yourself, is this true?  If it's not or your not sure, then zip it. 

2.  Is this confidential?

Am I talking about something that was told to me in confidence? Why is it that we love to share a juicy story?  We must be trustworthy, and if we're told something in confidence, then we must not share it or pass it along.  This is especially true in the small group settings - we have to be able to share our requests and concerns with the confidence that they won't be passed around outside of the group.  It's an integrity thing. If it was told to you in confidence, then zip it. 

3.  Is this necessary?

Why am I talking right now?  Why am I sharing this? Does it add to the conversation?  Is it important that I share this?  I am starting to think that a high percentage of what I talk about is not necessary conversation...hmmm...zip, zip, zip.

4.  Is this kind?

So what I am saying is true, it is not confidential and it's possibly necessary - but is it kind?  Am I being kind, are my words kind, is the subject matter kind?  This is the one that will change most of our conversation.  It will stop the bear poking dead in its' tracks.   For some reason we don't like to communicate kind things.  We like to communicate judgments and negativity, rumors and gossip that tend to be unkind by nature.  So if it's not kind, then...well, you know.

True, confidential, necessary and kind.  

These are four great boundaries to put around your speech.  Remind me again why we are doing this?  Because poking the bear is costly?  No, it's bigger than that.  It's because the tongue is a powerful tool in life - a tool that can be used for God's glory or a tool that can start a fire and burn down a forest in the blink of an eye.  James 3 warns us of the dangers of an unbridled tongue and any restrictions that we can put on our tongues are a help in life.  Ultimately if we change how we think, we will change how we talk.  If our desire is to build up and edify, then naturally our speech will be true and kind.  We won't be breaking anyone's confidence and our speech will be necessary, as edification is always necessary!  

Poor Dave, it's getting mighty quiet around the house...but maybe it's a refreshing change!  Of course, he won't have as many sermon illustrations, so that might become a problem.  How's the noise level in your house?


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Are You a Counselor?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies and God of all COMFORT,
who COMFORTS us in all our affliction
so that we will be able to COMFORT
those who are in any affliction 
with the COMFORT with which we
ourselves are COMFORTED by God.

II Corinthians 1:3,4

I'm just going to say it.

If you are in Christ Jesus, you are qualified to counsel.

Ugh.  I can hear your resistance already. "I can't counsel!  What do I know about anything? It's not my calling.  There are others who are way more qualified than me to counsel!"

Personally, I don't even like the word "counsel" - I'd rather call it "disciple" but no matter what you call it, if you know Jesus, you are qualified to comfort those in affliction.

There is a mindset in the church that in order to walk through a valley with someone, you need to have walked there before.  Now, I am not going to de-value the wealth of knowledge that comes from  experience, but  experience alone does not qualify you to counsel.  

I also want to add, I say "in the church" because in the world, you need degrees.  In the church, you need experience.  If you've had an abortion, then you are qualified to counsel women who are post-abortive.  If you have been divorced, you are qualified to counsel women who are in the throes of divorce.  If you have had addictions, then you are qualified to work with the addicted.  This is what seems to open doors in counseling in the church - what is your past sin and who can you reach out and touch?  What this produces in the mind of the counselee is,  "I can listen to them because they know what I am going through."  

All of this makes sense in a very limiting way.  Past experience does open the door for great testimony of God's love and provision, and when someone who has walked through a divorce can come alongside someone who is currently entering this experience, it is a blessing to have that knowledge and past to identify with the pain.  The problem is that valleys aren't identical.  If we rely on common circumstances as our foundation for understanding, then we are limiting the call of counseling to those who have very specific past sin to share.

Then there's the problem with God.  You see, God says that if you are in Christ, then you understand the brokenness that sin produces and you have experienced the grace that all men need, therefore you are qualified to extend compassion and comfort because you have been comforted.  That's what II Corinthians 1:3,4 tells us.  Because God has comforted us in our affliction (which is the condition that brought us to Jesus), then we are able to comfort those in ANY affliction (because what they need is the grace and mercy that has already been extended to you.)

You are qualified because you have experienced the mercy and comfort of God.


The great commission is to go and make disciples.  This is the call of every believer.  Counseling is simply disciple-making.  Is life hard?  What does God say about it?  Are you depressed? What does God say about it?  Are you suffering? What does God say about it?  Are you angry? Are you lonely?  Are you frustrated?  Are you sorrowful?  Are you lost?  Tired? Hopeless? Addicted? You name it, what does God say about it?

This is basic discipleship:  taking the troubles of today and bringing them to a loving God, who has given His Son so that we can know Him and have life.  It doesn't matter where you have come from - if you have come to Jesus, you can bring others.

You know the way.

You are qualified.

So who are you discipling?  Who are you walking through the valley with?  To do this, you must know God's Word, so keep studying and ask the Father to bring someone who needs help into your life.  Then watch what He does next!

(((By the way, I haven't poked the bear in a couple of weeks and life is so much better!!!)))

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September Love

For everything there is a season, 
and a time for everything under heaven...
Ecclesiastes 3:1

How much do we love September?  Why do you think that is?

I think it's for several reasons:
  • Kids go back to school (this can be the cause for rejoicing or tears, but either way, it means a full day to get the house clean, laundry done, groceries bought, closets organized, bills paid, grass mowed, garden weeded, pets vetted, hair done, car washed, Christmas shopping done - yes, I went there - or a thousand other errands with uninterupted focus) 
  • Orange is back...(just in general, isn't orange great?)
  • ...and so are pumpkin lattes - if you're into that sort of thing, I hear they're the bomb.  But even if you're not a coffee drinker, pumpkin recipes are the best when the air gets crisp
  • Speaking of crisp, Honey Crisp Apples are back, too!
  • Fall sign-ups at church are in full swing - bible studies, conferences, men's meetings, small groups - you just walk into the foyer and the whole world is calling you to write your name on the sign-up sheet
September is a new start, a new opportunity to get back on top of things and spiritually, it's a new season to delve into the Word and grow.  No wonder everyone is so fired up in September.  The problem is that the energy of September flows into October but starts to wane in November.  There is a second wind that kicks into gear in December, probably because of all those Christmas cookies sitting around but then January hits.  Then February.  By March you basically say to yourself, "I'll commit to Bible study next September.  I'm just worn out and need some sunshine for the time being."

This is the pattern of the year, and friends, it's time to break the pattern.  I love September because I love routine.  Yes, the fun of summer is great - late night walks under the bright stars with a warm breeze on your face and an ice cream cone in your hand is all good, but faithful routines are what wins the race in the long run.  And we're in a race that needs a good steady pace, including your spiritual growth.

So, let's not jump in with both feet, knowing that you historically haven't finished well.  Let's actually commit and follow through.  There's nothing that feels better than a finished commitment.  Sign up for small group, do the homework, pray for the members, make your pan brownies and be transparent...for the WHOLE year.  Jump into the ladies study at church and when the urge to sleep in or watch online, hose it off in the shower, put on some clean clothes and get to study.  Attend a conference or two and actually put into practice what you have learned.  Be faithful in your service at church and on the Sundays you don't serve, show up early, have a doughnut and make a new friend.  Invite people to have lunch with you after church and tell them what the Lord is doing in your life - not just in September but all the way through to June.  

Then when the kids are back home again, spend the summer longing for September when it starts all over again.  Yes, there is a season and a time for everything.  Let's make September, 2016, the time when we committed to growth and then put in the effort necessary to experience said growth!

You are loved!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Notes from the Margins

Do you write in your Bible?  

I was flipping through the pages of my Bible today, reading some of the margin notes and decided that today would be a "Notes-from-the-Margin" kind of day.  What I love about the margin notes is that they cause me to read the passage they are next to, so that I can remember why I wrote what I wrote.  So the margin notes, while not inspired, are pushing me to the Word, causing me to remember and praise the Lord for what He has taught me and continues to do in my life.   Here are some of the margin notes, mostly from sermons at Harvest, from my Bible. Feel free to look up the passages...

  • Elohim - plural word that uses singular verbs (hmmm...evidence of the Trinity in the grammar...Genesis 41:16)
  • Religion without obedience is worthless (I Samuel 15:22)
  • At the precise moment you are in the trial, God is present (Isaiah 43:2)
  • Fear is believing that something is stronger than Jesus (Luke 8:22-25)
  • Sanctification is the process of forgetting about ourselves (Luke 10:25-37)
  • Greed says, What you give me, God is not enough and it's not good enough (Luke 12:13-34)
  • Jesus is found innocent and condemned to die - if He was found guilty He would not have been worthy (Luke 23:13-25)
  • The way I live reflects the One I follow (John 3)
  • Fellowship is common participation in God (Acts 2:42)
  • Commitment plus the Holy Spirit equals boldness (Acts 4:31)
  • Holiness is the best thing God has to offer and the #1 tool He uses to accomplish holiness is suffering (Acts 12)
  • Justified - declared innocent despite guilt (Romans 5:1)
  • Repent - Stop, turn around, head in the opposite direction (Mark 1:15)
  • To the Pharisees - I am a new way of thinking - you can't just incorporate me into your old way of thinking! (Mark 2:21,22)
  • To know the scriptures is to know the power of God (Mark 12:24)
  • Failure to invest what I have entrusted to you is a great wickedness (Luke 19:26)
  • Repentant people recognize sin for what it is! (Psalm 51)
  • You don't need to forgive yourself, you need to believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1)

Okay, so the list could go on and on but here's the point: there are some pretty brilliant truths that come from the teaching of God's Word.  When they come out of your pastor's mouth, write them in the margins...they will continue to bless and encourage you way beyond any particular Sunday morning...

You are loved!