A Season of Waiting

Winter is a season when the whole earth is in a waiting period. The grapes have been harvested and the vines are bare. The almond trees are void of leaves and buds. The summer wheat has been baled and stored in the barns. It is as if the world is asleep waiting to be awakened in spring.

Winter is a time of waiting for us as well. Children await the arrival of Christmas day and the promise of gifts galore. Adults anticipate time with family and friends, warmed by the joy of Christmas.

Waiting is something we do not do well in the 21st century. We are used to getting what we want as soon as we want it. We can get in touch with people instantly through email, cell phone, and text messaging. We feel that by waiting we are wasting time and being unproductive.

God is in the waiting business. His waiting is an active waiting not passive. The earth externally appears to be dormant, but internally it is being revitalized and reborn. Like His creation in winter which patiently, eagerly waits for the warmth and new life of spring, we wait for God to do His work in us. But this waiting takes patience.The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.” Waiting often feels like suffering to us, but it means to suffer through the present moment, in order to experience the joy and fulfillment of the future.

Winter is the perfect time for Advent, a time of waiting in expectation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Messiah. With awe and wonder we wait for His arrival with great longing. We marvel at the mystery of the incarnation; God becoming man in a baby. The miracle of the incarnation made possible the miracle of salvation.

Yet we should also marvel at how God could love us so much that He would leave His heavenly throne to become like us. The miracle of Christmas is not just that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” but that God chose to love us at all. The ancient scholar Irenaeus wrote, “The word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

Advent is also a time to reflect on the promise of Jesus’ second coming as well. Hebrews says Jesus “will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This waiting actively anticipates the return of Christ. As believers we are to wait with expectation. Just as our children wait for the good gifts their parents give them, we eagerly await the good gifts God has for us at His return. While we wait we are to be busy preparing the fertile soil of our hearts for His return. We are to be sowing seeds of the Gospel message in the hearts of others. We are to be busy in our waiting.

God beckons us to a place of stillness, quiet, and reflection during the Christmas season, for it is in the stillness that we most clearly see His presence and hear His voice. May you experience the intimate, amazing love and overwhelming grace of our Heavenly Father through the celebration of the birth of his Son, Jesus, this Advent season.

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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.

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.”

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.