Window Shopping

I love living on the Westside of Paso Robles. With the renovation of the downtown area, Paso has been able to keep the small town atmosphere alive and well on the Westside. This is a great time of the year to stroll along the streets of downtown. The shopkeepers are all busy decorating their store fronts for the holidays. I love window shopping at the furniture and decorator stores. The displays of their living areas are warm and inviting. The rooms are always accessorized perfectly. There is never anything out of place. As I gaze longing into the windows, I imagine myself sitting on one of the cozy sofas with a cup of coffee and having a long chat with a dear friend.

It is entertaining to imagine living in that perfect room in the window, but reality soon creeps in. I live on the other side of the window in a world where life is not perfect, where my living room is not accessorized perfectly. Dirty cups reside on the table and stray socks hide under the sofa.

So it is with our spiritual lives. My heart longs to live in a perfect world with a perfect family, perfect friends, and a perfect church. I desire to be a perfect wife, mother and friend. But I am a sinner living in a world marred by sin where perfection is an illusion. I am thankful that my family and friends love me enough to forgive me of my sin and imperfections. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father uses this imperfect world to refine me and smooth out my rough edges. I am thankful that Jesus challenges me to live out the Sermon on the Mount, causing me to struggle with the same questions; “who is my neighbor; how many times must I forgive; what does it mean to be light to the world?”

My heart also longs for God. David cried out in Psalm 63, “My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David could not quench his thirst for God. Often I try to fill my hunger for God with other things, other enticements, but they never satisfy. They are only temporary distractions. Perhaps our longing for God is not meant to be satisfied until we reach heaven. The prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 26:8, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.”

C.S. Lewis said in his book, The Weight of Glory

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
We are on the outside of the world, strangers in a strange land. But it will not also be so. Jesus promised the disciples and us in John 14 that someday we would dwell with Him in our Father’s house. I long for the day when I shall get IN, when I can mingle with the splendor. When that day arrives, I will no longer be on the outside of the window looking in. I will be sitting on a cozy sofa having a long chat with a Dear Friend.

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Love And Marriage

I recently attended the wedding of my nephew to a wonderful Godly young woman. It was a grand, celebratory occasion. I gathered with two of my kids, and their spouses, my sisters and their husbands, and my brothers and their wives. We sat around our table laughing and remembering the crazy things that happened at our own weddings.  I reveled in the fact that all us are on our first and only marriages and all lasting many years (from my little brother at 18 to my oldest sister at 48 years). During a lull in the conversation I glanced over at the bride and groom and smiled at the look of promise, hope, and love in their eyes.

Thirty-seven years ago this July 1, I was one of those brides. Looking back I realize how little I knew about marriage. Not long after our wedding, I came to realize that marriage is not all romance and flowers, and my husband realized that I would not always be at the door when he came home with dinner on the table and slippers in hand.

Both my husband and I have had to adjust our expectations of marriage and our life together. I thought he would always pick up his own clothes, he thought I would always put the cap back on the toothpaste. We both thought our spouses would always put our needs above their own. Somewhere is the process of the “Will you marry me?” and the “I dos” we forgot we each were marrying sinners. Fortunately, we are sinners saved and sanctified by a longsuffering God who refines us continually.

I wince at the line in so many movies where two people are seeking their soul mates. I am not sure we marry our soul mates, but I know that we can become those soul mates for one another.

God’s plan for marriage is to use us and our spouses to sanctify each other. Like sandpaper on wood, we rub, scrub and scour one another within the most intimate of relationships this side of heaven.  We chafe, we irritate, we sin, we repent, we reconcile, we are changed. And it is all part of God’s plan.

I think we have bought into the false notion that marriage will be comfortable, easy and we will always get along and agree. I’ve heard friends say, “it shouldn’t be this hard!” In his book, What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp says “God has designed marriage to be one of his most effective tools toward personal holiness. Your differences and difficulties that they place you in are not a sign that God has forgotten you…they are not an interruption of his plan; they are part of his plan. “

Paul also says “when viewing our differences in marriage it is important to remember that these things are not to be viewed as the potholes to be avoided on the road to a good marriage but as effective instruments of change in the hands of a loving, wise and faithful Redeemer. “

When I came to see God’s true purpose for me in my marriage, it changed my point of view drastically. I stopped trying to be a better wife and mother and focused instead on becoming a woman of God pursuing holiness, which made me a better wife and mother. It became not about what I was trying to do, but what God was doing in me. Because God loves me, I then want to respect and love my husband and live out the gospel in my marriage on a daily basis.

Balancing family, an outside, job, and ministry life as a young woman was difficult for me for many years. I often felt cheated out of “me time”; resentment would grow, and I would neglect nurturing the one earthly relationship that God views as “holy.”  I am thankful for God and my husband helping me to root out my sin, thankful for confession, repentance and reconciliation. I am thankful that because of their patience and love I now see a bit more of Jesus in me.

I am very fortunate and blessed that I married a man who was also committed to allowing God to refine him. Confession, repentance, and reconciliation have become a part of our relationship. He is committed to loving me as Christ loved the church, and I am committed to respecting him, both out of obedience to God. We have learned to major on the majors and not on the minors. We have learned that our differences are often a matter of tastes and preferences.  If the clothes do not make it into the hamper it is ok. It is not a statement on our relationship.

I Corinthians has often been called the “love chapter” and is read at many weddings. I love the way it is worded in The Message Bible,

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

You can hear many statistics on the divorce rate in America both in and out of church. I don’t know why some marriages fail and others succeed. I only know why mine has and it is summed up in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13…

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly ( I Cor 13:13).  Now that’s great marriage advice.

The Power of Words

Words. Words can bring great joy.
“Will you marry me?” “It’s a boy!”
Or great sorrow. “It’s cancer.” “I’m sorry. He didn’t make it.”
Words have begun wars and ended them. Words can hurt or words can heal. Words make the world go round. Consider these facts. There are over 55 million newspapers delivered in the United States on a daily basis. Over 300 talk radio shows air on a daily basis. No one has accurate number of websites currently on the World Wide Web but it is estimated at 100 million. Facebook and MySpace, social utility sites for connecting individuals, both have over 110 million users. Words are vital to our daily lives and yet we often toss them around carelessly. The Bible has a great deal to say about our words and the use of our tongue. James says in James 1:26, If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
Jesus himself says that we will give account for every careless word we say. “Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:35-36 (The Message)
The Lord has been working on me lately about my words, how I use them, how I say them, and what I say. One of my greatest desires is to be a mature believer, one who glorifies the Lord. James says in his epistle that a mature believer is one who can control his tongue. James goes on in chapter 3 of his epistle to tell us how difficult that it is to control the tongue and the words that proceed from it.
James 3:7-8. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer.
I grew up in a family where sarcasm was our family sport. We teased and poked fun at one another often, but it was always in love. However, when I became an adult and used this tactic with others it sometimes went very wrong. I have had to learn to control my sarcasm and my tongue and it has not been easy. Proverbs 12:18 says, Speaking recklessly is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words of the wise bring healing. I regret to say that I have used my words like a sword to cut and wound others.
Reading the book of James, I wonder if the writer also had this problem. James was the half brother of Jesus. Did he ever use his tongue sarcastically to belittle his older brother? Can you imagine growing up in the shadow of a “perfect” brother? Talk about a family being ripe for sibling rivalry! Yet James writes this about the power of words:
James 3: 3-5. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
Did James write these words from experience, I wonder? Did he know what it was like to throw out a careless or wrongly placed word? Proverbs says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. All of us at one time have been the recipients of words which have felt like death to us.
James 3: 9, Sometimes our mouths praise our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
With the invention of the personal computer, the internet, and email have come another way we abuse one another with our words. How easy it is to fire off an angry email at someone saying things and using words we might never say face to face. We think that email is impersonal and less confrontive when actually it is more harmful. There is no way of knowing the “tone” of an email and so we tend to read our own bias into it. We curse those “made in the image of God” through our words in an email. 
What are we to do, then, to control this tongue? Shall we remain mute to keep from sinning? Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If we wish to change our speech, we must first change our hearts. This is something we cannot do but through the power of the Word of God. We must pour the Word of God into our hearts and let it change us from inside out.

My husband used to love to visit a restaurant called Cahoots. He would go every Thursday and order the Thai Chicken Salad for lunch. When I came home on Thursdays, I knew what he had for lunch because of the “fragrance” of garlic around him. Our lives are to give off the fragrance of Christ. What we put into our lives is what will come out. James tells us that our outward lives should reflect our inward beliefs.

Oh how I desire words of blessing to come from my mouth; words that might bring life to another. The prayer of my heart is found in Psalm 19:14. I hope it is your prayer too. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD,my rock and my Redeemer. Proverbs 17: 27

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue, keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 10:11

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.

“Let my words be sweet for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”


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.”

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.

Why Can’t We Just All Get Along?

Growing up in a large family I saw my fair share of fighting. With three sisters and two Picture1brothers, we did not lack for sibling rivalry especially  during our teenage years. Most of the quarrels were about our “stuff.” “She is wearing my stuff, using my stuff, has her stuff all over my stuff, etc.”  Fortunately we grew out of that stage and get along quite well now. I  wish I could say that my life is now conflict free. Even though I have been    redeemed by Jesus, the remnant of my sinful nature still resides in me and because of this conflict arises. The good news is that Jesus has given me a remedy for conflict in His Word.

 The secret to avoiding conflict is to first identity it and the reasons behind it. This task is easier than you might think.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:1-2

When I get in an argument with someone, I immediately blame the other person for the quarrel. “We just don’t get along. We aren’t wired the same way. Our personalities clash. We have issues. They are hard to get along with.” C. J. Mahaney says, “It’s our sinful tendency to minimize the seriousness of relational conflict. Often, we have a very        flattering assessment of ourselves, and we assume the other participant is primarily to blame. We’re quite comfortable describing conflict with superficial, morally neutral generalities.”

 But James tells us straight up that the root of our conflict is ourselves; our own passions which are at war within us. Conflict isn’t the other person’s fault, or the result of unfortunate circumstances–as James reiterates several times: “Your passions are at war within you. You desire and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain.” Each and every conflict reveals a strong desire for something we want so much that we’re willing to quarrel and fight, to sin against others and dishonor God in order to get. Notice how the passage in James escalates; a quarrel becomes a fight which turns into war and leads to murder. This is often how our conflicts progress as well.  We may not physically murder anyone but we murder them in our thoughts.

 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Sinful cravings within our hearts are the root cause of    quarrels and fights. When my children would be home from school during school holidays, the state of the house often deteriorated. I would leave them a list of chores to do while I was at work. If I came home from work to find the chores not done, I would immediately get angry and the fighting would be begin.

 You might be thinking; “Well of course you got angry! They did not do their chores! It’s their fault.” 

 But James says the root of my anger is me and the sinful cravings of my heart. So I must examine my heart to understand what I am craving. A clean house, obedient children, a hassle free evening were at the top of list. When I delved deeper into my motives, I realized that my comfort was the real craving of my heart. I wanted to come home to a clean house, relax after a hard day and not be bothered by  anyone. Yes my children were disobedient but they were not the cause of my anger. The moment my feelings turned into anger I was in sin.

 The root of our conflicts is cravings and our cravings can sometimes be hidden issues, even from ourselves. Over 85% of an iceberg is below the surface and cannot be seen. The same is true for the deeper issues of our soul.  Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

God wants us to understand ourselves first and foremost and rid our heart of sinful cravings. As followers of Jesus we sometimes think of sinful cravings as wanting material things.  But sinful cravings are often more than the obvious.  Cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life can be at the root of our conflict.  The need for attention and power is often at the root of our church conflicts. We can get off track and can be more interested in building our own kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.

 As the pastor’s wife at my church, women often come to me for counsel when they are in conflict. The majority of women I see are in conflict with their adult children. The issue: control. The mothers have not learned to let go of their adult children and allow them to make their own decisions. They give  advice that is not wanted nor asked for and it eventually causes conflict within the family. As moms we think we know better than our children and that may be the case. But when our craving for control over the lives of our children, or spouse, or other family members come into play, conflict is inevitable.  I have seen many a family shattered because of sinful cravings.

 So what is the cure? First we must call conflict what it is, SIN. It hurts the heart of God and brings  disgrace to his name. Second we look to James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

We humble ourselves by confessing our sin and repenting of it. Conflict with others is at the core  conflict with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all  unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9.) When we humble ourselves before the Lord, he will forgive, and he will exalt us.

Third we humble ourselves before those we have hurt and offended by going to them, confessing our sin, and asking for forgiveness. C.J. Mahaney says “When you have contributed sinfully to a conflict,    return to that individual with a confession that is sincere, specific, and–in most cases–brief. Just as   specific confession is vital when repenting before God, it is also important to identify specific sinful   cravings when confessing to others. We must also guard against a lengthy confession, which can   sometimes be a front to excuse sin instead of requesting forgiveness. Only when your confession is    sincere and specific will you be able to help your wife, child, friend, church member, or fellow employee.”

 It all sounds so easy and in some ways it is. Because Jesus has done the hard work of going to the Cross to take on our sins, past, present and future, we have forgiveness now and the power to love others as He has loved us.