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.

Advertisements

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.”


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.”

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.

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.

Interrupted By God

Mark 15:20-22
After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

Simon, a Cyrenian, traveled from his home country in Northern Africa to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday. It was a long and arduous journey for him, about 800 miles. A large Jewish community had settled in Cyrene some 300 years earlier. They had an established synagogue and often traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival.

Simon planned for months to make this journey and it was going to be a costly one for him in both time and money. He traveled in a Roman ship from Alexandria to Joppa to land in time to reach Jerusalem for the Passover.

How excited he would have been to be traveling to the Holy City to celebrate one of the holiest of days with Jews from all over the world. He walked at a brisk pace as his mind was on getting to the city in time to find a lamb to purchase for his Passover meal and sacrifice. He made his way into the crowded city and was unaware of the events that had taken place that day. He looks up ahead as he walks along the road into Jerusalem and notices a throng of people coming towards him out of the city. He hears shouting, screaming, and crying from the people coming his way. He sees a bloodied man with a cross slowly making his way along the dusty road. The man is surrounded by Roman soldiers who whip him whenever he stumbles. A crowd of people are following; women wailing in grief, men shouting obscenities, and others looking on with curiosity. Someone calls the man Jesus and says he is a criminal.

As Simon tries to pass through the crowds he stops near Jesus who is having difficulty walking. Jesus had already been beaten multiple times, flogged, had his beard pulled out, spat upon, clothes torn off, and a crown of thorns place on his head. Extremely emaciated from the torture he received at the hands of the Roman soldiers, Jesus struggles under the weight of the cross. The procession moves too slow for the Roman soldiers and they grab Simon as he passes by and “press” him into service, assisting Jesus with carrying the cross.

Simon wants to protest but cannot. The Roman soldiers have the authority to compel anyone into service they wish. Simon was simply passing through. He does not know this criminal and has nothing to do with the events which have transpired this day. We would say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.'” Luke 9:23

Simon had the privilege of being the first one to bear the cross of Jesus. He walked in the footsteps of Jesus as he made his way to place where he would be crucified. Simon carried the cross of the one who would bear his sins for him; the Lamb of God.

Simon was not looking for a Savior that day. He was merely heading into the Holy City to do “religion” as usual. For Simon religion meant following the rules and regulations passed onto him through the Old Testament scriptures and his family. But Jesus interrupted his life and he found himself heading in the opposite direction and face to face with the Messiah. He looked into the eyes of his fellow sufferer and saw the face of God; not the God of rules and regulations, but the God of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

We do not know what happened to Simon after that day. There is no other mention of him in the Scripture. Tradition tells us that after his life was interrupted by the Lamb of God he became a devoted follower of Jesus.

Has Jesus interrupted your life or is it “religion” as usual for you this Easter season? The cross that Simon bore should have been his own; the death that Jesus died should have been ours. Simon looked into the eyes of Jesus, altered his direction and became a changed man. Have you?


Divine Detours

       A few weeks ago I flew to Spokane Washington to retrieve my eldest daughter from college. We packed her car with her belongings and left early on a Saturday morning for the 20 plus hour drive back to Paso Robles CA., maps in hand. I needed to make the 1200 mile drive in two days so I was on a tight time schedule. We were scheduled to spend the first night in Yreka, California, 700 miles south. It would be a long day but I knew we could make it.

     I had hoped to have time to visit a few friends on the way home but due to my constricted schedule that was not going to be possible. I called my college friend Terry in Yakima and told him we would have to see him another time.

     About two hours into the trip I saw my turn off for Portland and took it. I remembered how beautiful this section of Oregon was as it runs along the Hood River west toward Portland. Twenty minutes after turning onto the highway  however I became concerned. The river was nowhere in sight and I kept seeing signs for Yakima. After another 15 minutes it became apparent that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and despite my plans I had indeed arrived in Yakima. I stopped at a Starbucks and pulled out the map.  I mistakenly had taken 82 West when I should have taken 82 East which would have led me to 84 West and Portland. I had gone almost 50 miles out of the way and it cost me both time and money.  It was going to take more than caffeine to ease my exasperation with myself.

     “Lord, why did you have me make such a long detour? You know I am on a strict time schedule!” God’s answer in my frustration: “Call Terry.”

     “Terry, I am in Yakima. Can you meet for coffee?”   “I will be there in 10 minutes,” he replied. Terry is dear friend and a pastor at Wiley Union Church in Yakima. He has been there for almost 30 years faithful preaching God’s Word every Sunday. Our visit that day was a wonderful gift from the Lord for both of us. We had not seen each other in many years and it was good to hug and talk and reminisce. We said our goodbyes too soon and my daughter and I were back on the road again. That was not the only detour that trip but we made it to Yreka that night, tired but glad to be back in California.  During the long drive I had a lot of time to ponder the detours God takes us on.

     The truth is there are no detours on God’s road map for us. He has every highway, every turn, every bump and pothole planned out before we are even conceived. God knows the exact course of our lives for He is the one who has carefully planned out our days. “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” Psalm 139:16.

     When we keep our internal GPS system focused on the Lord he will guide and direct us.    Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”  Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

     My Yakima detour was a good lesson for me. Too often I get intent on my destination and I do not take time to enjoy the journey and the people along the way. God made it clear to me that day that His plan was for me to reconnect with Terry for encouragement and affirmation for both of us. Sweet moments of connecting with a friend, soul to soul and heart to heart, are too few in my life. I am glad that I had those precious moments with Terry that day even though God had to detour my plans to make it happen. I have had many detours in my life, some were more extreme than others, but all were        unexpected. In those times I can rest on God’s promises such as Romans 8:28; “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”   God takes all the events in our lives and works them out for our good and His glory. He is a good and faithful God, worthy of our trust and sovereign even in the detours.