Grace to a Foreigner

Having just returned from Spain I have been reminded of all the ways God gives graces every day. It seems though when we are in our own element we often miss these ways He provides, protects and orders. We go about our routines, thinking we are in control, and give little or no thought to the One who holds us in the palm of His hands.

But feeling helpless in a foreign country, unfamiliar with everything and unable to speak the language, it was oh so very clear how God provides. And also so very clear how our unmet desire for control leaves us anxious and stressed. Praise be to God – He draws near to us even so.

A good summazition of our trip!

A good summazition of our trip!

So much so that I listed in my travel journal all the tangible graces we saw while away as a way to remember again His faithfulness. I share some here in hopes we will all be encouraged to look for these daily graces. And no matter how seemingly small or insignificant I hope seeing them leads us to Him with thanksgiving and praise.

God’s Grace to Foreigners in Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and Morocco:

  1. Right off the bat our flight was delayed. Praise God our connecting flight was also delayed or we would’ve lost our whole first day – which happened to be my youngest child’s birthday. 
    We made it just in time for our flight to Madrid.

    We made it just in time for our flight to Madrid.

    Chocolate con Churros for the birthday boy.

    Chocolate con Churros for the birthday boy.

  2. The next morning we went to pick up our rental car and about panicked that our luggage would not fit in the trunk and that it was stick-shift so if anything happened to my husband the rest of us would be stuck!  Praise God our suitcases did fit and though the entire trip was met by stressful driving, bad signs and unending roudabouts we were protected and brought safely back. 

    Back to Madrid in one piece. Good riddance to our little black Leon/"lion".

    Back to Madrid in one piece. Good riddance to our little black Leon/”lion”.

  3. At the time of our first stop in Toledo, Spain we had not yet mastered the parking garage pay stations and mistakenly put our credit card in the slot to discover it only takes cash Euros. Praise God after a couple heart-stopping seconds the machine spit out our main method of payment!

    Happy to be done with the never-ending quest for finding and deailing public parking.

    Happy to be done with the never-ending quest for finding and deailing public parking.

  4. Next on the itinerary – Portugal. With only my Mapquest printouts and no GPS or guarantee we were on the right track, we nearly decided to abandon plans for Portugal. But then the highway sign mentioned in passing by a Toledo museum security officer appeared, confirming we were headed the right way. Praise God the town of Marvao, Portugal that night ended up being one of our very favorite spots of the whole trip and a much needed “oasis” after the long, hot stressful first two days. 

    A view from the enchanting hilltop fortress in Marvao, Portugal.

    A view from the enchanting hilltop fortress in Marvao, Portugal.

  5. Navigating the San Francisco like city of Lisbon is amazing grace in itself. But after not being able to find our hotel and randomly parking just for the sake of not getting ourselves run over we stopped in a shop to ask for help. Praise God we were pointed to a hotel with a name nearly identical directly across the street and the receptionist was able to give us walking directions to ours plus a much needed bathroom!

    Lisbon, the city of seven hills, is truly the San Fran of Europe with the trams, bridge and diversity to go with it.

    Lisbon, the city of seven hills, is truly the San Fran of Europe with the trams, bridge and diversity to go with it.

  6. After all the stress getting into Lisbon we were worried about finding our way out and on to the highway back to Spain. Praise God for the light rain and it being Saturday morning so the streets were much quieter.
  7. The time on our side however was nearly lost when we discovered the parking pay station would not take our larger bills. Needing to make change, we furiously ran out in the empty, shut-down street looking for any passerby. Praise God for the one small open cafe where we were able to buy a coffee, which we desperately needed anyway, and get change. 

    A picture of the typical street scene in Lisbon, Portugal.

    A picture of the typical street scene in Lisbon, Portugal.

  8. Finally thinking we were on our way out we came up on a major traffic jam extending across Lisbon’s big bridge (think Golden Gate Bridge) due to an accident. After 30 minutes of barely inching forward just as we hit the bridge the lanes were cleared and cars flowed freely. Praise God, just in the nick of time, as my husband is totally freaked out by heights and may have had a panic attack if we were stuck indefinitely on it over the river.

    This bridge across the Tagus River leading out of Lisbon.

    This bridge across the Tagus River leading out of Lisbon.

  9. Sevilla, Spain was our next stop and the location for reuniting with good friends living in Spain. Praise God, meeting up with them could not have come at a better time.
    Our kids with our friends' girls in Sevilla, Spain.

    Our kids with our friends’ girls in Sevilla, Spain.

    All the girls ready for the Feria in La Linea, Spain.

    All the girls ready for the Feria in La Linea, Spain.

  10. The wild monkeys on the Rock of Gibraltar are evil. We watched one tear into a lady’s purse almost destroying her passport after biting her arm. Another ran down a lady eating a sandwich and it seemed as if they were going to jump into our friends’ stroller. Praise God they didn’t and we got out of there unscathed.
    Enough said.

    Enough said.

    This is happening! He even bit her!

    This is happening! He even bit her!

  11. For various reasons we felt apprehensive about going down to Morocco. Praise God for the fabulous English-speaking tour guide and the comfortable place we stayed. 

    With our travel guide Aziz outside the Kasbah in Tanger overlooking the Meditteranean Sea.

    With our travel guide Aziz outside the Kasbah in Tanger overlooking the Meditteranean Sea.

  12. After ferrying back to Spain we planned to lunch with our friends in a Spanish beach town before going our separate ways. But the “guys” car and “girls” car got separated from one another with her phone in his car and his phone unbeknowst to the girls uncharged. An hour passed and we worried a wreck had happened. Praise God that was not the case and my son’s iTouch charger fit as the only right cord to recharge the drained phone so when we called again using a stranger’s phone we found each other.

    Lunched in Puerto Banus where $20million + yachts of the wealthiest Europeans lined the dock.

    Lunched in Puerto Banus where $20million + yachts of the wealthiest Europeans lined the dock.

  13. Much anxiety came from driving and parking but we were also worn down from lots of sight-seeing, fast-paced days and the late-night schedules the Spanish keep. Praise God our last few days were met by a nice resort near a Mediterranean beach away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. We were able to sleep well and significantly slow our pace.
    Alicante, Spain

    Alicante, Spain

    Los Arenales Del Sol

    Los Arenales Del Sol

  14. Despite the mishaps, Praise God for the many laughs we shared with each other and the memories of spectacular sights and experiences!

    Marvao, Portugal

    Marvao, Portugal

The more I ponder on these trip snippets and others, the more I am moved to gratitude – amazed by my God who gives graces in abundance all the time, even when they go unnoticed.

Not only that, but in giving abundantly He didn’t even hold back his Son. He gave His greatest gift for our greatest need – the righteous life of our Savior for our sin – changing our status as “foreigner” and the unrest that comes with it to naming us His children with all the blessings of undeserved grace, mercy and peace. 

In front of the Old Bridge in Ronda, Spain.

In front of the Old Bridge in Ronda, Spain.

 

Why Do Christians Fake Holiness?

“What does your husband do?”  A very normal making-small-talk kind of question.

Also very normal for the conversation to halt or change course as soon as I answer. As many of you know, my husband is a pastor which unfortunately often means people act extra “spiritual” around us or better yet keep their “mask” on and a safe distance.

So refreshing though was a recent conversation with someone I had just met. My answer to that question did not all of the sudden cause her to tame her tongue, filter her thoughts or pretend to be anyone other than who she is. Instead she preceeded to empathize with what a hard “job” I have and to tell me why she prefers to avoid the church.

I loved it! Not that she doesn’t see the need to be connected to a church body, but the fact no walls hid her true self and thoughts. I mean, how can you get to know someone if all you see is the facade – and you don’t really know who they are? But she was real – real honest – and therefore we could have a meaningful conversation, instead of the superficial fluff that catagorizes far too many of our relationships.

But, back to her reason for being disinterested in church. A reason Christians need to hear because her experience with Christians and the church is far too often felt by way too many.

In essence she said: WHILE GRACE MAY BE PREACHED, WORKS IS WHAT IS PRACTICED.

Guess what?

She is absolutely right and I want no part of that either!

There is a disconnect between what we claim to be true about the gospel and what we really believe. The good news of the gospel gives us a Savior who died a sacrificial death for our sins, but it doesn’t end there. He also credited his perfect, sinless, holy, righteous life to us and that is how God sees His children!

All of our sin – past, present and future – has been dealt with at the cross so there is nothing we must do to earn His favor. We are free to be deeply loved, broken sinners with a never ending flow of grace. And every one of us is in this same boat.

  • If this is true, why then do we pretend otherwise?  
  • Why do we hide our struggles and sin?
  • Why do we want others to think we have it all together and are “better” than we are? 
  • Why do we insist others must live up to a certain standard we impose?
  • Why do we distance ourselves from those who are “messy” and more visibly broken than us?
  • Why do we think our good works and high morals are what matters?
  • Why aren’t we free to fail?
  • Why aren’t we free to confess our sin and seek forgiveness?
  • Why aren’t we captivated by Jesus but stay so self-absorbed?
  • Why do we not see the idols we are worshipping instead of the One true God?
  • Why do we insist on remaining so guarded to others?
  • Why can’t we be honest about what’s going on in our lives and hearts?
  • Why do we live a lie if we’ve been freed by the gospel?

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These questions for self-examination could go on and on. But here is the point: Jesus came for sinners – the broken and messed up – not for those who think they are holy and righeous or in need of no fix.  

So when we sit in church and in our holy huddles and go about our lives thinking our moral behavior and good deeds make us “good” Christians we speak a lie about the gospel. We are acting as the Pharisees did pointing our judgmental noses down at all those “sinners” not seeing the sin and discrepency in own hearts. Inadvertantly instead of witnessing to the gospel grace and freedom Jesus gives, we give off a ‘holier than Thou’ vibe that makes it seem like measuring up to perfection is what God requires.

This is not the gospel of grace. That is the law, done away with when Jesus came. Is there any wonder people aren’t attracted to the church or believers when this is what we seem to be about? And because deep in our hearts we know we also fail to measure up, we are faking our own spirituality!

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For the sake of His kingdom and to the testimony of His grace, know that “Christ has set you free” so you are free to admit your sin, struggles, and pain without fear of condemnation.  “Do not submit again to this yoke of slavery” that lead Christians to believe having it all together and getting better is required.  That is not the gospel and does more to distance others than to attract. (Galatians 5:1 partially paraphrased). See the beauty in taking off the masks and being known, knowing the greater testimony is that we have a God who loves sinners who see their need for forgiveness and grace!

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“That’s Not Fair!”

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How often are those the words that lead to fights between your children?

  • He got more ice cream.
  • She gets to have more friends spend the night.
  • He got to play the Xbox longer.
  • She didn’t help put the laundry away.
  • He has new shoes and didn’t need another new pair.
  • He got a cell phone two years before me!
  • And on and on and on….

These have all been said in my house with one incident occurring just the other night stemming from a discrepency in our parenting decisions between the first-born and the youngest. (Could probably write another post just on that!) But I know if you are a parent you hear these things too – and probably since its summer you hear it way more than you’ld like:)

And what is our typical response – at least mine?

“Life’s not fair!”

Easy to say to our kids, but how do we respond when life is not fair to us?  Not so easy to accept, is it? Sure not an easy pill to swallow in suffering. Or, in experiencing trials or hardship of any kind. What about if we’ve been the victim of injustice or discrimination? Or when someone else’s sin affects us, causing us pain.

“Life’s NOT fair!” And really there are often no answers that aren’t trite or solutions that make us feel any better. In fact the only thing I have to fall back on is the grace of our God who is not fair.

You see, we don’t really want fair. If God was fair, we would all be doomed. If God was fair, we wouldn’t be forgiven. We would be held accountable for all our sins. A punishment deserving death. But, because God is not fair He made a way for us to have eternal life by placing all judgment on His perfectly holy and righteous Son. And then He even credited that holy and righteousness to us!

That means we are viewed by God as He sees His Son – righteous! Even in our sin! No longer is my sin an issue to Him because He has cast His unlimited forgiveness and unconditional grace and love on me. No matter what!

And none of us deserve that! But praise God in His mercy He took “Life is Unfair” to an unfathomable conclusion exacting justice on Jesus and not on us. Therefore, as an innocent man our Savior understands “that’s not fair” because He experienced the ultimate injustice for us!

Glory be to God for His Goodness and Grace!

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Our Kid-Free Kamp

Tomorrow we will reunite with our kids after their two-week stay at camp. A daily highlight when they are away is searching for those three precious faces among the sea of kids in the online photos posted each morning by the camps. Here are just a few that made me smile…

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But don’t think for a minute that we’ve just been sitting around waiting for pictures to post. Nope. We have been making our own memories and decided to document it for our kids. What they will see and we needed to remember is:

1. WE ARE FUN (family joke!) In all seriousness, we need to have more fun. This recent Ann Voskamp tweet caught my attention:

“Seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit. Joy is. We need to be about the serious business of joy.”

And you’ve heard quotes like:

“Families (or couples) who have fun together stay together.”

It is so easy to fall into our normal routines, being swept away by the busyness of life, that the spontaneity of activities we once enjoyed no longer happens. Obviously in the stage of life we are in now makes spontaneity hard anyway, so we must then be deliberate about planning fun things to do with each other or the laughter and joy will fade too.

2. With balancing full schedules, often forced to divide and conquer to get everything done, we don’t realize until the kids are gone (perhaps to camp or college or even just a weekend sleepover) that as spouses we may have become more like roommates. It is easy to lose touch with each other and not even know what to talk about.  The reality is the longer you go without investing in one another by learning or relearning who each other is, the harder it is to undo bad patterns and to continue growing together instead of apart. That is why we wanted to capitalize on this time without kids to reconnect.

Plus, one of the greatest ways we can love our kids is to prioritize our communication and time together. Our life does not and should not always be centered on them. And when they see we are on the same page and enjoy being with one another they actually feel more secure.

The two weeks of our own “kamp” was invaluably necessary to our marriage and therefore to our kids. We tried new place, did some fun things and just hung out at home together. We enjoyed some time with friends and each of us had time to work uninterruptedly. I feel refreshed – and ready (I think) to put my mom hat back on! 

Here’s the pictures to show…

Saturday brunch on the day the kids left.

Saturday brunch on the day the kids left.

Dinner out trying new places.

Dinner out trying new places.

Afternoon at the lake biking the hidden trails.

Afternoon at the lake biking the hidden trails.

Lots of painting grace needed for me while helping out friends!

Lots of painting grace needed for me while helping out friends!

Evenig spent at a downtown rooftop bar.

Evenig spent at a downtown rooftop bar.

Now if we can just follow my own advice and not wait until next summer to keep this up!

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Do You Need To Be Encouraged?

You know those days or seasons when it feels like nothing goes right? Nothing is easy or gets accomplished quite like you had intended. You feel like your worthless as a parent, as a spouse or in your job. You feel like a failure and can’t wait to just check out with a glass of wine in front of the TV or maybe just pass out in your bed.

But what if your husband, friend or co-worker walked in and said, “Wow! I saw how you handled XYZ.  You really turned that situation around by the way you spoke with such patience, love and grace?”

Does that change the way you feel? Perhaps a little more energized to make it through the day? Maybe a little more confident or motivated to keep on keepin’ on? Amazing how a little encouragement goes a long way!                                  

If this is true for us, why do fail to give it to others?

Hebrews 3:13 says:

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” 

Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. That is what happens when we are not encouraged! I’ve read this scripture before, but today I get it.

To be very honest we are in a season of needing encouragement. Without it, the deceitfulness of sin is exactly what happens as Satan takes the lies and spins them as truths in our head. Now there are conflicting voices speaking into our hearts and because we struggle and doubt and worry and fear and stop believing He is good and He is near and He is with us, we give ear to Satan. And the more we hear it, the harder it is to fight it with the truth of who Jesus is. There is no denying we are sinners whose hearts are easily hardened.

If this is true for me and this is written in the Word, I know I am not alone. We all need to be encouraged. We all need to know we are loved, we are worthy, we are impacting others, doing a good job, making a difference- and the list goes on.

So my encouragement while it is still today: look for ways to love those God has set in your path, whether a family member, friend or someone that just pops into your head, and encourage them with gospel truths.

You know what I discover in this?

I have to take my eyes off myself and my own needs in order to see someone else who needs encouragement – which is probably exactly the answer to why we don’t give it.  We are often just so self-consumed that we don’t think about others. 

So, Lord, with my eyes fixed on you help me to be mindful of those who need encouragement and to remember that even when I’m not encouraged – You still delight in me and never will You forsake me. And if that’s all I have to hang on to for now, Lord, help that be all I need!

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Three Free Sins

5On Monday nights for six weeks this summer I am gathering with other women to discuss our free sins.  That’s right – Three Free Sins is the name of the book – and it is absolutely FREEING!

You are probably thinking one of two things. Either what three do I get a free pass on or why just three if all were paid for by Jesus on the cross?

The truth is as a believer you do get a free pass and not just on three. It’s unlimited forgiveness and undeserved righteousness credited to your account. There is no limit, meaning you can not exhaust Jesus’ smile upon you no matter how many times you fall into sin.

Does this mean Jesus is okay with your sin?

It means He has forgiven you and paid the price. He absorbed the cost and does not hold it against you. This means you are FREE to not be perfect. You are FREE to fail. You are FREE to stop hiding. You are FREE to take off the masks. You are FREE be broken and vulnerable and used by God just as you are. It means you are FREE to stop pretending you aren’t a sinner and see how great a Savior you have.

Practically speaking and borrowing some from the book’s author, Steve Brown, this is what FREEDOM would look like…

  • When you are confronted in your sin instead of making excuses for yourself, passing it off, blame shifting or denying you can say, “Bingo! You are right. I did that. Please forgive me.” You are FREE to confess because you are not ruled by fear of what the other person will think of you if you admit to sinning. You are FREE to confess because you know God already knows your sin and loves you anyway. Imagine in an exchange like this how much more willing the one you offended would be to forgive? Ironically instead of them thinking worse of you in your attempt to cover-up, your humble confession actually makes you more lovable!                                                                                 
  • What about when someone sins against you? When you know how deeply you need a Savior because of your sins, you are more compassionate to others in their sin. You are FREE to be a grace-giver because you know the grace you have been given.
  • When you know you are a broken sinner – a cracked-pot or Crack Pot, as we laughed about on Monday – and everyone else is too, you are FREE to stop pretending otherwise. Now when you are struggling in your marriage, having a hard time with your kids, giving into sinful temptations, dealing with depression, doubt or discontentment, you are FREE to admit it and confide in other broken, but safe sinners without fear of judgment or condemnation.
  • When you know you have unlimited forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness covering you, you are FREE in your sin to run to Him in repentance instead of trying to hide, working to clean yourself up or striving to be better. He knows the sinful inner working and motives of your heart and loves you anyway so stop thinking you have to be perfect. Rest knowing that only by His perfect life given for you are you FREE.
  • When you know this FREEDOM, you won’t have to fear what others think of you. You won’t have to do things to make yourself look better. You won’t have to worry about messing up your witness if you sin. Afterall, are we witnessing to how perfect we are or that we have a perfect Savior because we are not?

I cannot recommend this book enough! Go order it and read it on your own or start your own group discussion. Find FREEDOM in knowing this present-tense reality:

“God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

He came not for the righteous, but sinners. And He pours out His grace and mercy on us in that same condition. By this gospel truth, may you be FREE in your brokenness to live honestly with one another.

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15 Years a Father

For fifteen (well, just about 16) years, you have been a father. Since they were babies all you had to do was walk into the room and your presence lit up their faces. Your laugh: contagious and love: secure.

To this day they turn to see the approval in your eyes. They are “filled” by the time you invest in them – whether it be “messin’ with JBird time,” throwing the lacrosse ball with Big D or getting your steps in with your daughter.  Their hearts being shaped by the spiritual truths you pour into them and their understanding of God – their eternal, perfect Father – more fully seen because of who you are.

Thank you for this gift not just to them, but to me. Thank you for loving us well. In your honor, a timeline through the ages highlighting the fabulous (fun and caring) father you are.

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IMG_5314Goofy hats

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Bike ride Daddy and David

3-D glasses

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Love to you and to my own Dad- who created just as many memories and secured me in his love. And as seen in this pic from circa 1973 this little girl wanted to be just like her Daddy, too:)

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