Letting Go

It is almost September again, the time of year when mothers and fathers are sending their children off to pre-school, kindergarten or college for the first time. Some children will laugh and run right into their class. Some will hang on tightly to mother’s or father’s hand. Some parents will be celebrating their new freedom; some will be mourning the loss of a childhood. Whatever the scenario, I’ve come to realize that letting go of our children is a natural progression of life.

I remember several years ago when we dropped our son off at college for the first time. We packed all his worldly belongings into a 1995 Ford Taurus and headed for Biola University in La Mirada, California. He was almost 21 at the time and had worked and gone to junior college for several years before transferring to the university. He was ready to go and I felt confident that he would do well there. I was ready for him to go; ready for him to experience life outside of our small town; ready for him to know what it is like to live on his own; ready for him to meet new people and make friends whom he will hopefully have for a lifetime. And yes, ready for him to meet a “nice Christian girl” and settle down. I was ready to let go.

Letting go is a process. Their first step, their first sleep-over, the first day of school, to their first trip without you is a progression of trust for both parent and child. The child trusts that mom and dad will still be there when they return and will joyfully welcome them home. The parents trust that the child will remember what they’ve been taught and wear clean underwear.

Each new adventure our children have tests our parenting skills and our faith in God. It is through the raising of our children that we learn about God and about ourselves. Our children teach us how to live and love like Jesus. We learn what it means to love unconditionally. We learn how to care about someone other than ourselves. We know how it feels to love someone enough to give our life for that person. We learn how to trust God more completely as we must now trust him with our most precious possession. We learn how to pray. 

After my son Joel preached at our church for the first time, I received many compliments. “You have done a great job parenting”, people said. “You have raised him well.” The truth is he has raised me well. He has made me a better parent, a better person.

They say when you become a parent your heart is never again your own. I suppose this is true as it feels that a part of my heart is now at Biola. The humorist Erma Bombeck said children are like kites. “You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless … they crash … you add a longer tail … they hit the rooftop … you pluck them out of the spout. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly. Finally, they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant, and somehow you know that it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar — free and alone. Only then do you know that you did your job.”

I am ready to stand back and watch my son soar to new heights and a new direction knowing that his kite string is still fully in hands of his Heavenly Father.

A few weeks after I dropped my son off at college he called me.  He needed my help, he frantically said. “What is wrong!” I replied. I am already calculating how long it would take me to get to La Mirada. “I’ve gotten a piece of dental floss stuck in my tooth and I can’t get it out!” he exclaimed. As I try to contain my laughter he continued, “It is not funny, Mom! I have class in an hour and this piece of floss is so big you could hang something on it.”

Ever the loving supportive mother, I gave him some tips on removing the floss, but not before I ask him to send me a photo of his predicament with his camera phone. As my cell phones beeps again with the incoming photo, I sighed. “Ah, my son still needs me.”

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Grace In A Desolate Place

flower_dryearthIf you ask most Christians to define grace, they will say “God’s unmerited favor.” Ask them how that impacts their daily walk with Jesus and you are liable to get a blank stare. We know what God’s grace is but how does that flesh out in our daily lives?  One of the most profound examples of God’s grace is told in 2 Samuel 9. It is the story of David and Mephibosheth. David has just been crowned King over all of Israel after 25 years of running from Saul and fighting his enemies. He and his family have moved into the palace at Jerusalem and there is peace in the land, albeit temporary. David is pondering his life and he asks a servant “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive that I may show them kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” The servant replies yes and David bids the servant to go and bring him to the palace.

The servant travels to Lo-debar, “land of the dry pasture”. He finds Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, “the shameful one”, living with a distant relative as he is crippled and cannot provide for his family. Mephibosheth obeys the call of the king and goes to the palace. Most likely he was frightened and uncertain as to his fate. I’m sure he thought, “Oh no. This is it. David has found me and now I will be killed.” It was common practice to kill off the family of your enemies so that they would not try to overthrow the throne.

David, however, extends grace to Mephibosheth. He tells Mephibosheth in front of all at the palace that he will return to him all the lands and wealth of his grandfather Saul. He then instructs the servant, Ziba and his family to farm the land for Mephibosheth and give all the food to Mephibosheth’s family. “But,” David adds, “Mephibosheth will dine at my table.” “From then on Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.” 2 Sam. 9:13

What an incredible picture this is of God’s grace towards us. David sought out Mephibosheth, his enemy (the shameful one), and showed him grace because of his lovingkindness. There is nothing neither lovely nor righteous in Mephibosheth that makes him worthy of David’s love, yet David seeks him out for the sake of another (Jonathan). Mephibosheth is given a room in the palace and a place at the king’s table. David adopts Mephibosheth and makes him part of the royal family. He receives all the benefits that one born into royalty would receive.

In the same way God seeks us out, we do not seek Him nor can we as we are shameful and crippled in our sin. Before we are redeemed we are enemies of God residing in a desert. There is nothing neither lovely nor righteous in us, yet God plucks us out of our sinful, desolate place for the sake of His son Jesus Christ. God gives us a room in His palace and a place at His table. He adopts us and we become part of His royal family

God our Savior showed us how good and kind he is. He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. Titus 3:4

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1: 5

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:10

God cannot love us any more than he does now, and He will not love us any less no matter what we do. Nothing we do can increase or decrease God’s love for us. This is grace.


But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Why would God treat us this way, ill-deserving as we are? 2 Samuel 22 says that God “…reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He led me to a place of safety; because he delights in me.”The Creator of the Universe, the Most High King, delights in us. He wants to spend time with us. What does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? It should mean that we want to spend time with our Father who is loving, kind, generous, and merciful. Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle says this about grace;

“God’s grace and love transforms holiness. We are not trying to be presentable so that we will get picked for adoption. We are the kids that are so well loved that we want to obey our Dad because he’s the best. We want to follow our Dad because we trust him. We want to honor our Dad because he’s been so kind, and since he has already given us his last name, we want to live in such a way as to bring honor to his name. God adopts into his family that is the church. He gives us the name of Christian. He chooses to do us good. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance, and it changes us into different kids.”

God’s grace changes us into kids who obey their Father because they want to not because they have to. Grace transforms our daily walk from one where we check off a to-do-list to a life that freely loves, serves, and gives.

What was Mephibosheth’s reaction to David’s grace? Later on in 2 Samuel, David is forced to flee Jerusalem. Mephibosheth does not come with him and David is told by Ziba the servant that Mephibosheth has betrayed him. Believing this to be true, David gives Ziba, all of Mephibosheth’s wealth. When David finally returns to the palace sometime later, Mephibosheth greets him with dirty, torn clothes and an unkempt appearance, a sign of mourning. David asks him why he did not come with him. Mephibosheth says that Ziba deceived him and that he was unable to leave as he was crippled. David does not know who to believe so he splits the wealth between the two of them. Mephibosheth, however, is as a man who understands grace. “Give him all of it” he says, “it is enough that I get to dine at your table.”

God’s grace allows me to be free from the comparison trap. It does not matter what I have or don’t have. It does not matter if He chooses to gift others with wealth and not me. It is enough that I get to live in the palace with the King and dine at his table.

This is Grace.

A Community of Grace

Jesus came to give us new life; new families, but to also give us a new way of doing community. As Americans, we have a different way of doing community than most of the world. Our country was founded on principles of individuality, and we as Americans are fiercely independent. We do not like other people telling us what to do and when to do it. Although we all live in a society that has rules and morals which are for the greater good; still we value and pride ourselves in our right to be independent free thinkers, as individuals and as a nation. Independence runs deep in our culture and our blood as Americans.

In some ways though our culture of autonomy runs counter-culture to the Bible. Jesus came to give us life and told us to live in relationship with Him and one another. In the book of Acts we see new believers and the church coming together to care for one another, to teach, learn and grow from one another, and to hold one another accountable to walking in the way of the Lord. Believers are called to live grace-filled lives within their families, their church and their community. We often struggle as believers to know what grace looks like, what is it and what it isn’t.

I like Mark Driscoll’s definition of grace: Grace is God the Father, in love doing good for ill deserving sinners through God the Son by God the Spirit. Grace is God showing His love to us, his enemies. The very nature of grace is that it works in the midst of conflict. As ill-deserving sinners we are in conflict with God. God’s grace then becomes a model for us on how to live in a grace-filled community with our family and others. Just as God in his grace does not overlook our sin, so we cannot and should not overlook our own nor the sins of others. We like to think that our sinful behavior has no effect on anyone but ourselves. But that is a lie that the world has fed us. Sin breaks relationships; first the individual’s relationship with God, and then their relationship with others.

Because we are all sinners saved by grace, we should not shy away from calling sin what it is: sin. It is not an accident, or a mistake. It is sin in the face of a loving God, sin that breaks His heart.

When my children were young they little they loved to play the “run away from mom” game. You know that game. You tell your child to come here and they run the other way. Living on a busy street, I could not afford to let my young children loose for a second. It was my job to make sure at all costs that my kids did not run out into the street and get possibly hit by a car. Living in community with a body of believers, it is our responsibly at times to warn our family not to run out in street; to warn them of the danger and sometimes to go after them.

Tim Keller said in his book The Prodigal God, “Real grace intercepts destructive behavior. Real grace brings you in freely and then holds your feet to the fire until you become somebody great.”

When the people we care about sin like the prodigal son and decide to go their own way, Jesus expects us to do something about it. Galatians 6:1 says “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” The Prodigal son came home after he “came to his senses” and God uses us the lives of others to help bring others “to their senses” and turn from their sin.

And so grace is gentle but it is also interrupts. “Grace is free in that it is not earned (indeed it is the very opposite of what is deserved), but it is costly as it is given with sacrifice because of love. That is the scandal of what God did for me by the cross and it is His calling for me to do to others to bring glory to His name.”

I like what Wendy Alsup wrote in her blog Practical Theology for Women about Grace in conflict from 2 Tim. 2:22-24.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

1–Grace understands the truth of someone’s condition—they are ensnared by Satan and DECEIVED. They really don’t see things the way you do.

2–Grace is in it for the long haul—it patiently endures evil.

3–Grace corrects (so the truth is not subverted or glossed over) but it corrects gently (with strength well under God’s control).

4–Grace’s goal is not self-acquittal or vindication or that people would come to see things your way. Grace’s goal is repentance with God that leads to knowledge of the truth.

Grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace. The worst thing we can do in conflict is engage in it when we don’t understand grace for ourselves. But once we really understand God’s undeserved favor to ourselves, then we can minister grace to others who have sinned against us in whatever way we can with the prayer that God would draw them to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.

Just as Jesus came in grace and truth, so we are called to represent grace and truth to our families, and one another, and to be willing to hear it from others. We are sinners saved by grace living in a community of grace with other sinners saved by grace.

“Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet, but it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up.”

Two Little Words

Have you ever thought what a difference two little words can make in your life? Martha and Mary were dear friends of Jesus as was their brother, Lazarus. When Lazarus became ill they sent a message to Jesus that the one “whom Jesus loved” was sick. They knew how much Jesus loved their brother and were confident he would come to his aid. However, Jesus did not arrive soon enough and Lazarus died. When Jesus finally arrived at Martha’s home in Bethany, both sisters were despondent. They did not understand why Jesus had not arrived sooner and in their despair they said, “If only you had been here, Jesus, our brother would not have died.”

If Only…If Only. Two little words that can color our world black: two little words that can plunge us into a quicksand of guilt, pulling us deeper and deeper into a pit of despair.
These are the same words that the friends of a blind man used about his disability in John 9. If only he had not sinned, if only his parents had not sinned, he would not have born blind. This blindness was worse than a death sentence for this man. He was and would be forever dependant on others for his basic physical care. Because of his blindness this man could not work, could not marry, and could have a family. He would never be a respected member of society. He would always be dependent on the charity of others for all his basic needs. He would always be an outcast. But the worse than all that, his blindness also prevented him from having access to God! He was considered unclean in the Jewish religion and would never have the opportunity to worship at the temple the same way a physically whole man would. As far as the world was considered, his was a wasted life. His parents would live for years with the guilt that they had done something to cause this to happen to their son. If only….

Do you live under a cloud of “if onlys”? If only you had not made that business deal. If only you had not bought that house. If only that disease had not robbed you of your normal life. If only you had avoided that car accident.

God is a sovereign and good God. He turns our “if onlys’ into “so that’s”. That is what he did for the blind man. When asked who sinned to cause this man’s blindness, Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3) And then Jesus, the light of world, removed this man’s darkness forever and restored his sight. This man was born blind so that God’s glory could be displayed in his life.

And how about Jesus’ friend Lazarus? When told of his illness, Jesus’ said to the disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus had died that he might perform the greatest miracle of all; the raising of a dead man.

Sufferings come to all us. Dwelling on the “if onlys” in our life will cause only discouragement and defeat. When we focus in on the “so thats” of our suffering, God is glorified through our sufferings. He uses us and our lives to display his magnificent glory, and we can persevere through our trials knowing they are not without purpose. Praise God today for the “so that’s”  he has brought into your life, and revel in the knowledge that you are a masterpiece of God’s glory.

The Letter

A few months ago I was thanking God and praising Him for how wonderful my life was going.  My son who had been out of work had just gotten a great job that combines two things he loves; computer technology and missions. My two daughters were at school in Spokane, Washington and loving it. My job was going great and I enjoyed the people I work with. My marriage was stronger than ever as my husband and I were enjoying some refreshment at Hume Lake Christian Camp. When friends I had not seen in a while asked how I was doing I replied, “Wonderful. Life is good.” We no sooner got down from the mountain from Hume Lake when our cell phone rang. My father-in-law was in the hospital with heart failure and the diagnosis was not good.

My “life is good” bubble quickly burst as we hurriedly made plans to travel to Washington State to visit him and assess the situation for ourselves. Within the next several days more trials came our way and I knew that I was living the book of James chapter 1. I was being tried and tested in all areas of my life and I did not like it. I did not like it one little bit.

Like most people when the storms of life hit I turn to God with my bag of emotions.  Frustration, anger, denial, sorrows, bargaining, and strong desires to flee from the troubles bombard my mind and heart.  It takes me several days spent in prayer and deep thought to process all that is happening in my life.  At some point, I usually turn to a dear friend and mentor to help me sort through the mess of my emotions and thoughts.  For the first time in 18 years I could not do that as she was in the midst of her own storm.

When I returned to the office after visiting my in-laws in Washington, my office space was in chaos as the office rooms were being rearranged.  The chaos seemed to symbolize my life at that moment and I had to resist the urge to sit down in the middle of my floor and weep.  I was not navigating this storm well. Just when I felt as if my boat was about to capsize, the letter appeared.

My husband found it when we were organizing the office. It had been mailed almost 7 years ago to the day. It was written in longhand from another dear friend and mentor who has been with Jesus now for many years.  I wept as I read it.  It was healing and refreshment  to my soul. I read it again. I was stunned at how accurately it spoke to the very season of life I was now in.  I was reminded of how wise this dear woman was, also a pastor’s wife. How well she understood the life my husband and I had been called to.  She spent her life encouraging others and her ministry is still impacting my life.

I read that letter over and over that day and one part stood out among the rest.

“Where is your faith? Why don’t you shout victory in the very face of the storm, and say to the raging winds and rolling waves, you can do no harm, for Christ the Mighty Savior is on         board!”  

And in her wonderful southern humor she also wrote, “remember Christ said, ‘Let us go to the other side’-not the middle of the lake to be drowned.”

What a great gift that letter was; the first time that she sent it and the second time that God sent it. How good of God to send us the letter again to remind us that when our boat is rocking and rolling there is no need to fear; for Christ the Mighty Savior is on board.  Life is indeed good for I have a Savior who not only directs the storms in my life but gets in the boat with me to see me safely to the other side.

When The Season is Dry

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The dry season has arrived on the Central Coast.  Temperatures are high, the hills are dry-ground18brown and dry, and water is scarce. The deer are out at all times of the day looking to quench their thirst. The lush green hills are a distant memory and will be for several more months.

Dry seasons can happen to us as well. It is not uncommon for us to experience a season of dryness in our relationship with God. Most Christians will go through a spiritual desert experience some time in their life, but few will talk about it. Our spiritual desert can leave us confused, bewildered, frustrated, and wondering what we have done wrong.

Sometimes we do go through a dry season because of sin as David did in Psalm 3.  However the Psalmist shows us in Psalm 42 that often a dry season will come upon us for no reason.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-3

The Psalmist paints a picture of a deer that is so thirsty that he is panting, yet there is no water to relieve its thirst. He compares this deer’s unquenchable thirst to his own desire to see God, to meet with God. He is going through a spiritual drought which has left him wondering where God is. This can happen and will happen to most of us. We can be doing everything right and suddenly a drought will come upon us and take us by surprise. We might find ourselves alone in the desert with no place to go and no idea how we got there. Lonely, depressed, fighting the darkness, we may flounder there for some time if we do not turn to the very God whom we feel has deserted us.

We must first take heart in the knowledge that we are not alone in that desert experience. Many a dear saint has been there before, and many will come after us. The writer of Psalm 42 (where is some debate whether it was David or someone else) was there and God thought it was important to chronicle his experience for future generations. God wanted to use the turmoil of this writer to minister to us and take away any guilt or shame we may carry.

I had my own a spiritual desert some years ago. I remember being stunned to find myself in that place. I knew no one who had ever gone through the drought and the darkness I was experiencing. The God I loved and served for so many years, was now silent. I questioned everything I knew and had been taught about Him.   Fortunately, I picked up a book from my husband’s library written by Sinclair Ferguson titled, “Deserted by God.”  The book opened up Psalm 42 for me and many other Psalms of lament, and I knew that I was not alone. I was also assured that somehow I would get through it.

Second we need to be honest with ourselves in our emotions and honest with God. We must pour out our soul as the Psalmist did. All of Psalm 42 and 43 is a confession of all that the writer is feeling and experiencing. Expressing our emotions both privately to God in prayer and with a trusted friend can help us process what we are facing. Be open in this process to what the Holy Spirit may expose in you as idols of the heart. God used my desert time to expose some false beliefs I had about Him and myself. I came out of that experience knowing  God more intimately and trusting Him more fully.

Third, we need to continue to do in the dark what we learned to do in the light. In other words, we must continue to pray, read our Bible, attend our small groups, go to church and worship corporately.  We will not feel like doing these things. We may think they are a waste of time. Even if we do not “feel” like doing the things that God has commanded of us, we need to be more disciplined than ever. Talk to the absent God about His absence. Read the songs of lament that other saints have written in His Word. Attend weekly church services not only for the preaching but to be around other believers. We tend to isolate ourselves from other believers when we are discouraged.

When I went through a desert experience the last thing I wanted to do was go to church. My husband was between ministries at the time and I had been deeply wounded by leaders and people in our previous church. My husband insisted that we get back into church right away. We attended a friend’s church during that time and though my body was obedient, my heart was not.  Still as the weeks went by I felt myself warming up to this church and the people who loved me so well.

Fourth, we need to remember the grace of God. The Psalmist says

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

He remembers the goodness of God and His abundant grace towards him.

Fifth, we need to hang onto hope and preach the Word of God to ourselves.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

What we know to be true in the scripture often stays in our head instead of trickling down into our hearts. So we preach to ourselves the truth of God’s word over and over again until that trickling becomes a river of life to our soul. And we remember that there is One who was abandoned by God so that we would not be. We remember there is one who experienced utter separation from God so that God could say to us, “I am with you always.”  We remember there is One who died that we might live.

Just as the deer waits and hopes for Spring when the grass is lush and water is abundant, so we wait and hope for our own season to change, and Spring to arrive.

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God