Post-Christmas Musing: The Essentials of The Way-Faith, Hope & Love

My mind has been going back and forth over what to write in relation to the Christmas Holiday this year.  The celebration has come and gone.  Now I recognize that the Christmas season is definitely a mix. By tradition and works of Church we celebrate the Incarnation alongside the celebrations of the world.  Boundaries get blurred, things get mixed, and perspective can shift from God’s Holy work to that which is of self and our own desires.  In fact at times, the season can be about getting what we want. The reality is that the focus should be to grow more and more in alignment with walking in what God wants, living in surrender.

As previously stated, this Christmas season has been a strange one for me and my family. There is an ongoing mix of grief and hope.  My sister-in-law suffered the loss of her mother in the past year.  My step-mother is quickly slipping away while hope remains that God will bring restoration of her health.   My mother continues to cope with her loss of vision, which continues to fade. My wife hopes to receive word on Monday of being promoted to a Service Manager position at her employer but prepared for the potential disappointment. And for me, there is my ongoing care and love for all of the above as well as thoughts, plans, dreams to transition to a functioning private practice.  In all these circumstances God is bringing the three essential elements of the Way to mind: Faith, Hope, and Love. 

It is worth noting that these essential elements are NOT about having desires met. Rather, it is about growing in each aspect through God-centered surrender.  It is always all about God, yet we can easily make it all about self. In each of the essential elements there is a risk, much like this season, can be a mix. There can be self-focused or Christ-focused faith, hope, and love. The key difference is where is the attention drawn, the actions or acts or benefit to self or the ongoing pointing to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now that being said, let us examine each element of The Way a little closer. 

Faith: It is a word quickly spoken and easy misused.  There are many who make proclamations that faith is some self-actuated behavior that if the right words or thoughts are engage in, then what want will happen.  However, such thoughts are more about self-assurance and gratification then about growing in dependence on God.  Rather, Godly faith is faith that remains when all seems darkest. Godly faith is such that  “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him:” Job 13:15a (KJV).  Faith is keeping focus on God and His ways knowing that “He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23b (ESV). Faith is always keeping focus on what God has laid forth at all costs and without any visible evidence. Recently on December 21st there was a solar eclipse on the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere.) Now we know that the darkness will fade and morning comes but if we did not know that fact when the darkness comes and light is blocked, there would be much fear.  The struggle here is always to be focused on what God says even when things look worst, or things are very difficult.  Walking in faith is having full assurance in God, that no matter what the appearance, He will remain faithful.  And His faithfulness are not about the appearance in certain results or turning things to our desires in our time or fashion. Rather, it is always about His way, His time, and His actions that bring glory to Him. 

Hope: We all have hopes and dreams. We have desires. However, these hopes, dreams and desires can be for much apart from God and His will.  The true hope is when our hope is focused on the things of God.  Such hope is not easily swayed by the vagaries of life. Rather, such hope rests on the knowledge and surety of who God is.  Yet, we are always torn between having the hope  “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” and hope that all will fall in line with our desires while at the same time knowing we don’t always get what we want. Yet, when there is true hope, hope that is founded on Jesus blood and righteousness, hope that is based on the surety of God and his promises and plans, the hope always is right.  For God and his hope and faithfulness are not based on what is visible, what is seen as many have gone to their graves without seeing the fullness of God’s promise yet received and walked in it daily.  There is a great could of witnesses. So our hope, when in God never disappointments even if things to not appear to match how we think it will work out. As God does things His way which more often than not does not match what is expected, for what He does is far greater than any of our expectations for His ways are perfect.  So, the key is to have more and more our desires and our hopes to match what God is doing which is always about untangling the twists that come from a sinful world and being shaped and restored back to what God intends.  Ultimately, the true hope is to be fully restored and in line with God.  And, true hope is resting in knowing that God meet our desires and needs in his way. He knows us intimately so our hope can be sure that God will give from His abundance, in accordance with His will, as we walk His path.  And His ultimate gift, the ultimate hope, the ultimate gift is that which endures: His love.  In His love is all, and in His love is life everlasting. So whatever we hope for, whatever we want, whatever we desire the point of it all in God’s time and frame is drawing us closer to Him. For with God, all things are possible and He moves us ever toward that which is beneficial and draws us in alignment with Him.  And it is resting in the hope based on Him that can carry us through the dark times, knowing that God keeps His promises in His way and that His ways are not our ways.  True hope is hope in who God is and that regardless of circumstances for good or bad, God has the best in mind.

Love: Ultimately, we all long for pure love. We want to be valued, be safe, and secure. We want to know we matter.  Yet, in this life we can often focus on our lack of being loved. Fact is none of us live up to God’s standard of loving, and we all want to be loved as God loves us.  We all have hurts and pains that get us twisted up and in turn we act in ways that hurt others, in turn twisting them up. We lack being loved wholly, leaving us not only broken but resistant even to true love, for the pain results in fear.  So we grasp on to what we know. God’s love is beyond that which he grasp. God’s love is greater than the “something other than” love to which we cling.   God’s love always brings us to restoration and wholeness.  God’s love never changes.  God’s love endures forever. Yet, we often fail to grasp God’s love, twisted by the varied bits of harm that comes, concluding that love falters, but not grasping true love.  We exchange our limited love for limited love; self for self.  Yet, the love of God is shown in love for others.  The love of God is shown in giving up that which is adored and valued for the benefit of others.  True love comes with great cost.   True love is found in surrender to the point of surrendering our very lives.  Living in love is working to the good of others and pointing them to the truth, so the sins of self and others caused wounds and twists and distortions, can be made right.    Now it is important to note, that while our love is faulty and frail, every action we take that reflects God’s love results in lasting reverberations that have long lasting impact. However, that impact has it limits as our love in not ever enduring, but it lasts far beyond our scope or vision.  He action of moving beyond self, of considering others better than self points to the one True way which is Jesus.  He that set aside his divinity, became a servant and suffered in every way yet remained untwisted and whole, and set aside His life so that all who come may live.  Oh, what marvelous love that is beyond our perception in every way for we only really know limited, self-focused love that falters.  We can taste God’s love, know that it is good but our experienced is distorted and partial for God’s love is far greater than comprehension. 

Now taking these thoughts back to reality, back to life on this earth as currently know it.  Again pointing to surrender as watch those I love hope, struggle, heal, slip away, suffer, grow, and live whatever God has come their way.  There is one sure foundation in all, that no matter what happens and however what happens is perceived, that God is working to draw me into ever deeper understanding of Him and growing my ability to walk in true faith, hope, and love. And this is the essence of “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13 (ESV) which is that God the enables what we are unable, so in all these circumstance the possibilities and direction belong to God and God alone.  Whether blessing or sorrow; mourning or dancing, it is all in His hands and for His will for no matter what, He is faithful and His love endures forever, blessed be His name. All Glory to the King of Kings! Hallelujah! Amen

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Musings on the Incarnation: God’s Divine Empathy

Lately God has brought to my mind a growing awareness of the depth of God’s empathy. Perhaps it is related to the gifts of empathy he has given me and the ongoing awareness of deepening levels of pain. As thinking about empathy and God in relation to this season where we celebrate the Incarnation, of God stepping down and taking on flesh, being God with us it cross my mind that the Incarnation really is a visible demonstration of God’s empathy. God became flesh, experienced life in a world twisted by sin and filled with pain and suffering. Jesus ultimately suffered greatly, dying a gruesome death in order to set us free and opening the door for God to be truly with us.  Emmanuel, God with us is all about divine empathy.

Divine empathy is a difficult concept to fully grasp for often times we fail to even grasp simple human empathy.  We have difficulty at times putting ourselves in the place of others.  Yet, God is constantly aware fully of others.  He knows our depth.  God daily is aware of the pain of all.  He knew from the moment of the first choice to go against His will the depth of pain, the twists it caused.  God is in constant awareness of the whole of pain. He is constantly filled with empathy. Then He took that empathy, came to earth and entered into the physical reality of the fallen and twisted world.  He moved beyond the emotional awareness to the physical experience. He does not just know of the pain, does not just feel the pain, but experienced the depth of the pain.  God’s awareness of the pain of sin, God’s empathy, really helps us understand even God’s wrath and actions that cause many to suggest wrath in inconsistent with love. Well if one begins to understand divine empathy the reason for divine justice and wrath is clear.  God is not capricious in His actions, there is purpose and that purpose pertains to the pain and twists caused being outside God’s will, plan, and order. 

Yet, even greater than understanding God’s wrath, is if we understand part of God’s character as divine empathy then we understand better the relational nature of the Holy God.  Personally, one of my struggles with God is truly entering and engaging God relationally.  God often has felt distant and far off.  Now there are certainly experiences in my life that helped shape that faulty perception but really grasping God as one who embodies true and pure empathy lets me grasp deeper the love and know that God is far beyond one that is distant.  He is always aware of every ounce of my pain and knows full well the pain of my own choices.  Each and every self-centered action is aware of.  In fact, God’s empathy stretches beyond humanity to the whole of Creation. He knows how it was twisted. He knows the pain of each living creature.  Divine empathy is beyond understanding.  And grasping God as divinely empathetic gives a grasp of His love and awakens me that there is not a moment, not a speck that God does not know and understand.  He knows my pains, my hurts, my pains, my fears intimately not just at the “awareness” left but also at experiential and felt level. 

Takes some time during this season of celebrating the incarnation and God’s carrying out His plan of salvation. His plan displayed divine empathy and enables God with us, enable God in us, and makes it so we can approach God, as no longer any barrier for the sin and pain and twist of actions outside of God’s will is more than He could bear in His Holy empathy for our sins cause God great pain.   God’s love and empathy and immeasurable, ever enduring.  Praise the Most Holy One who is beyond our ability to grasp, for who can measure the love of immeasurable empathy that bore all so that we may be made right.  Hallelujah!

Musings from AACC National Conference: Reviewed Foundations and Drawing Deeper

On this blog the articles of late have been touching on understanding repentance. The articles the next couple of days will be taking a slight break from that concerted focus on the subject. However, it is worth noting that the articles being right are related to that subject matter.  Currently I am attending the American Association of Christian Counselors National Conference.   Seeing how repentance is about change and a counselor is a change agent thus the relationship.  The articles being written though are reflecting my thought process at the end of the day.

The conference this year is being held in Branson Missouri at the resort Chateau on the Lake.  Branson is in the midst of the Ozarks and the meeting place is by a nice sized lake.  For me the symbolism is clear at what God is working in me.  The rock is reminder of our rock and foundation in Jesus the Messiah.  It is the source of life.  The lake to me points me to the depths of living water that Jesus provides and being brought to greater depths.  Today at the conference both elements were central.

The day started with a day long conferences that really examined the foundation of sound Biblical Counseling Psychology. It was a reminder of the Biblical view of how God has me interacting in the lives of others.  It also built upon the foundation further.  Even in reviewing what are essential basic elements of the work of coming along aside others to aide, there was growth and depth in learning others perspective even so far as understanding some church history and foundations.  There was much stirred within my heart and mind which may well be observed in shaping the writing of blog articles to come.  For now though, it refreshed awareness of the foundation and provided exhortation for building up and going deeper in what God has been doing in and through me.

The other element of the day that sticks in my mind is the large group session where Dr. Larry Crabb spoke. Dr. Larry Crabb is a man who God has used to challenge me to look and grow since first came across his writings in college.  Today, at the conference while pointing to the basics of God’s Word, he challenged with words and thoughts that pushed for a deeper grasp and growth in God.  He brought up the concept of relational Holiness, which starts with the relationship of the Godhead being perfect relationally. In other words, God is relationally set apart and whole.   God is relationally Holy. So then it becomes that an element of growth and freedom from sin is the ongoing process of becoming more and more relationally Holy.  It is take the foundation of relating to God, others, and self in love and truth and bringing it to  deeper level.  A deeper level of every fiber of every action pours out to reflect the Love of Jesus and evidences death of self.  It is the core of contentment, the seeds of His peace, the elements of His joy.  It is being at the center of what God is doing through love in truth. 

So today is a day of examining the rock, the foundation, which at the core is Jesus and then being brought to examine deeper what God is doing in my life and in turn how God enables me to touch the lives He brings to me to receive love and care.  It is a privilege to serve God and others where God has me and look forward to how God enables further impact on others, even deeper than before.