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Romans Eight Twenty Eight

Last night was my Bible Study group and we were studying this great chapter 8 of the book of Romans.  One of my friends asked me the question about how I interpret the verse that God works all things together for good in light of the death of Jim.  I gave a brief off-the-cuff answer but thought about the verse all the way home and late into the night.

My answer was that I have questioned God about taking Jim from this life so early but that I believe the promise of the verse with all my heart; “And I know that all things…” Like Joseph, I really believe that what was meant for evil, God makes it good.  Our present sufferings cannot be compared to God’s glory

Here is a longer answer (although not complete either!)

First: Paul uses the phrase “those who LOVE God”.  Isn’t that interesting?!  He is talking about people who love, rather than those who trust, follow or believe, God. The Holy Spirit delivers us from hostility to God in verse 7 and replaces it with the opposite, which is love.  We cry Daddy and we want to please Him because we love him! God works it all together for good for those who know and love him, who are called according to his purpose and are predestined as daughters and sons! I love because He first loved me!

Second: What is good?  It clearly means something besides prosperity, health, comfort or “happily-ever-after”.  When Paul refers to all things, he means all, whether or not it is painful, happy, positive or negative (every groaning) are for His glory and my best interest.  His goal for me is holiness and that I am conformed to the image of His son! Eph.1 says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will is for our good! Not only that,  it could be argued that God is good!  It is one of his attributes so when he works all things together it is for his glory alone!

Next: Salt flavors food and contributes to health and life but the sodium and chloride that make up salt are both poisonous chemicals. The chemistry of the cross means that God takes things that are in and of themselves bad and mixes them to make something that is healing!

Ultimately, my greatest good is being swept up into God as I am conformed into the image of His Son!  Joni E. Tada says, “He allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves”. God is able to redeem and restore all of my life for His glory because I love Him, even the bad stuff! He is that powerful to give me victory over my circumstances! People will always try to reconcile God’s sovereignty with humanity’s suffering but this verse is a reminder that no suffering is wasted and I can rest in the fact that God is in control.

Hank Plow

Jim has several cousins on both sides of his family, but some on his mom’s side were also friends!

Richard Howard lived in Scottsdale, walking distance to us when we lived there. He grew up in Arizona, so his parents and brother were also nearby.  When we moved to the state, he was very excited.  In the ten years that followed our families became close and for the first time I saw people related to Jim that shared his humor, his creativity, and his musical abilities! It was our privilege to share life, holidays, birth of our kids and faith and church.

There are few people who are as talented and creative as Rich Howard.  He was the quintessential entertainer and his personality was captivating and charismatic.  I loved living near the Howards.  Even after we moved away, the relationship continued.  When Jim got sick, Rich came to spend time with him. He even did a magic trick at Jim’s celebration of life.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9th, Rich passed away, leaving a tsunami of grief for all those who knew and loved him.  He was outwardly funny, kind, thoughtful, and full of love and joy.  He was definitely an original. He cherished life, loved nature, and was proud of his kids!  I will miss him everyday until we meet again in heaven.  (I am sure Jim was excited to greet him!)

 

Earl Degrafft

One of the amazing and greatest blessings of living across the street from Downey First Baptist was the family that moved into the house in front of ours.  Earl and Connie Degrafft, who went to church with us, who were almost empty nesters (Susan was in high school, but the older 4 were grown), who very quickly became our family. We shared a yard and a washer, but we shared more than that.  We shared meals.  We played games. We shared laughter and music and even our cat! We learned so much; it was really lopsided to receive so much more than we ever gave. In a word we became family! My kids know them as Grandpa and grandma De!

Last Saturday I got the word that Earl’s health was failing.  I drove down to visit my heroic friend and pray with him. He went home to heaven Tuesday morning. There are so many things I can say about this man but I am so overwhelmed with grief and gratitude that I barely know where to begin.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Earl (and Connie) Degrafft. Thank you for the impact on my life, my marriage and ministry.  Please comfort Connie and give her peace as she enters this dark valley of grief. Grant her sleep and hope for the rest of her journey home. Amen.

DFB is 150

Downey First Baptist is 150 years old.  Today was a celebration.  Dennie led the challenge from Philippians 3 to forget what lies behind and press on to the goal to win the prize. There were many friends, former staff members and memories to share.  It was fun to stop and remember the importance and the history of this local expression of the church over the years.  It is important to remember and thank God for ministry there and for the opportunities and friendships that have shaped who I/we have become. We are commanded to remember so often because we are such a forgetful people.

At the same time it is also important to not stay focused on the past.  Nostalgia is dangerous.  When we look to the good old days we run the risk of of several things. For one thing, the good old days were not all good!  Additionally, looking backward is often unfair to the church today. Such a focus can be myopic, deceptive and pessimistic.

I think it is so easy to look backward because the church has had such a rich history and the relationships are so deep. And it is hard to not compare ministry then and now, and it is inappropriate to reduce that comparison to numbers and finances.  I know it is easy to look backward because we don’t know what is going on there anymore.  And from our vantage point it does not look so good.  The attendance is small, there are no pastors and the socioeconomics of the community have changed. There are so many things which were successful methods that would never work in today’s culture, but that does not mean that what is being done now is inferior in any way!  But for me it begs the question, how many of those who made decisions to live for Jesus no longer are?  How can we do better at creating disciples who run the race to the finish line?  How do he keep pressing on?

The church is still alive and God is still using the church to accomplish his purposes. My prayer is that Downey First, among others, will not give up,  that they will faithfully run with endurance the race set before them, as I thank God for the rich history and the people who have impacted my life for His glory! Amen.

 

I channeled Jim as Buford.  That was an honor!  Doug Roller was Ralph.

Tomorrow (in one minute from when this will post) I turn 59!  The last year in my 50’s.  I figured turning the same age as the year you were born was some kind of thing and so I looked it up!  It is called a Platinum year or a Bedian year (named after some NY fireman). When I think about this number, the first thing that comes to mind is the song by Simon and Garfunkel, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) and Interstate 59 that runs through Gadsden, AL Both are happy thoughts for me! (Additionally – I am a 5 or a 9 on the enneagram)

There are 2 other ideas running around in my head as I turn 59: Bucket Lists and Procrastinating  (aka. the last second!)

I realize that many of the things I had planned to do with my life are never going to happen!  I have actually known that for some time but birthdays are the time to reflect, dream and set new goals. I am torn by the idea of bucket lists. On the one hand there are things I would love to do, but the older I get, the shorter my list gets, partly because I am no longer interested and partly because I don’t think I will ever be able to accomplish them due to age, ability and finances! But, I am now finally getting to the age where a bucket list can really be a thing! Bucket lists don’t count when a person is a teenager or young parent and yet the list also seem a bit like a consolation prize for a boring life.  If I still have a long list of things I want to do at this age, then it raises the question of what I have been doing all this time! Ha!

Ultimately, I don’t want my bucket list to have things on it that are less impressive than the life I have already lived, which has been pretty fantastic!* So as I look forward do I really want a list of things to accomplish? I think that there are many of places I would love to go, foods I would like to eat, pounds I would like to lose, books I want to write; but mostly, I would like to make the most of every opportunity each day to look a little more like Jesus. I want to laugh more, pray better, memorize verses, worship with abandon, listen and love fervently.  I want to share my faith, give generously, forgive always.

My life goal for this year is to get out of debt, get the piano in the house, and shrink my stuff and my pant size! I can do it but hopefully I won’t wait until the last minute! Putting things off is a normal phenomenon but procrastination is not a spiritual gift! So as I set my “to do list” (instead of a bucket list) I am looking at my most productive seasons and times, starting with baby steps, giving myself grace and space and learn to strategize better.

*my Accomplished list (incomplete):

married my best friend~gave birth to 2 amazing people~learned a foreign language~went to college, seminary and started a PhD~taught college~ordained~shared the gospel~traveled to 49 states~met Shirley Temple~married and buried~parasailed~owned a home~surfed~learned to read music~learned to sew, cook, ski on water and snow, ride a bike, snorkel and scuba, shovel snow~owned a pet~ate haggis and flying fish~went on mission trips~made friends~finished projects~collected stuff~write calligraphy~started a business~acted in a play~marched in a band~learned to say things backward~read the whole bible~wrote curriculum~worked at a camp~learned to whistle~watched the sunrise over Haleakala~watched the sun set in a field of sunflowers in Spain~gained a son-in-law~watched countless hours of soccer….

Emily at 26

26 years old is an age that seems different than 25.  I am not sure why.  You have been married for 3 1/2 years and you are making your way in the world.  I guess for me, when I turned 26, even though I had been an adult for 7 years, 25 feels young, but turning 26 means that somehow the expectations magically change.  People expect you to start having babies or have some shift financially, socially or emotionally.  Maybe it is the fact that there are now only 4 years left in your 20s and instead of having a long time until you turn 30, there is a mental shift in the time left to be “immature and carefree”.  Maybe it is because you are supposed to be setting off on a career path. Perhaps it is because 26 is the “new” number for being an adult in our country: You are no longer on your parent’s medical insurance.  You are not charged an exorbitant fee to rent a car.  Your auto insurance drops in price and gains in coverage. I don’t know  – but I do know that somehow it feels different!

I know that most people feel old every year when their birthday comes. I also know that most people feel they should have it all together and they don’t, but everyone else does (or at least seems to).  I think it feels sort of like new year’s day with new commitments and beginnings. The fact is that most people have some trouble adjusting to the new normal and the new number that defines the time they have lived on earth.  Em, you have never been 26 before and you do not get a do-over! EVER! So you can’t expect to have it all figured out! I remember being your age…It was not easy.  That was the year we moved to Arizona.

As a person gets older, there seems to be increasing pressure to “figure it out”.  The further away you get from college age and move further in to adult married life, the harder it will be to finish goals because of time and shifting priorities; Some goals will change and old plans will feel awkward because you are in a different life stage. When you watch sports, and movies it is weird to realize how much younger some people are that seem way more successful at finishing their goals (and figuring it out) than you are, as well as how unlikely it is that you will realize some of those kinds of dreams! Some opportunities disappear and others may take their place. I personally have found that even though I have had regrets for the many dumb things I have done, they have not lasted long. However, I tend to regret the things I didn’t do for a longer period of time. It is like asking the question, “If you could do anything differently what would you do?” I usually think of the things I wish I had done and regret not acting when I had the chance. I think it is because the choices I have made, even the poor ones, have taught me something and I have worked the results into my life story. Decisions help create meaning in our lives. What I am trying to say is that I want you to pay attention to your goals in life and go for it! If there is something you don’t want to miss, figure out how to make it happen. Ignoring the opportunity or putting it off may very well be your biggest regret!

One thing I remember as you were growing up is talking about the future and what you wanted to be when you grew up.  Your answer changed over time, as it is supposed to.  Of course, the idea of being a breakfast short order cook who wears pajamas as she cooks is more serious when you are ten than when you get older because dreams change and morph and grow. I know you have been asked the question, “What do you want to be?” many times and every time it seems to add additional pressure; but, of course, your goals and dreams and plans will continue to change those answers (I think that is why people change their major so many times in college!).  If it helps, I am still not sure what I want to be when I grow up! My point is that this is your life!… and you are allowed to explore your options. You are allowed to pursue a path, to fail, to reverse course, to change your mind.  You are NOT allowed to sit around and do nothing. You areNOT free to make decisions that are selfish because your marriage and the Lord  are commitments you have already made. I want you to know that there is NOT pressure to have it all figured out, except from society and people who really don’t matter anyway! And added to that pressure is the fact that you are a woman and so you will be judged for many decisions you will make about your career path, whether or not you have children and then how you raise those children! (this is not even bringing up the facts about gender inequality).

So I want to tell you how proud of you I am, more than I could ever say. I am in awe of how stunning you are – both your appearance and your heart. You are the most extraordinary girl and you are so loved. Every time I am with you I am brought to my knees in awe of the woman you have become from the verbal toddler to the artistic and musical child to the big hearted teenager to a creatively talented woman. You are a blessing.  Happy Birthday to my sweet girl and always remember that whatever you become in this life,  that the most important thing to be is godly. kind. generous. grateful. courageous.

I love you Emily Ruth!

your mom<+><

PS (I think you have enough tattoos and cats and striped shirts…)

38th Anniversary

Thank You God for

Immeasurable

Happy memories and

Ripples from

Thirty

Years of ministry & marriage.

Everyday

Imagining and

Gratefully

Hoping for Heaven I am

Tuned to Sing your Praise

Aug. 23, 1980 I married Jim Mohler at Downey First Baptist Church at 4 in the afternoon. I can remember many details clearly! It was hot and I was recovering from strep throat. I accidentally burned my sister with a hot iron and Wil Triggs drove us to Huntington Beach for a second party before we headed off on our honeymoon. We wrote our own vows. Harold Adams and Jerry Martin married us and there was a sea of people who loved us almost as much as we loved all of them. That was 38 years ago.

Again I am reminded of the difference one decision can make. If a stone is dropped into water along a quiet lake, a ripple forms that becomes larger and larger. The ripples are so much greater than the original impact of that single stone. The water ripples are like the impact of a single decision. When we made the decision to marry each other, we did it out of hopeful love. We had no clue what impact that decision would make on either of our lives; how could we?! But that decision created 2 human beings who are creating their own ripple effects. It impacted the trajectory of our lives and ministry.  It created waves of blessing and friendship.

My takeaway on this 38th anniversary of that single decision is that everything matters and has an impact on someone, somewhere, even those I don’t know. What the world needs is those who will make some mighty waves. The students we have loved, the colleagues we have ministered with, the friends we have played with, the children we have raised all have been part of the ripple effect initiated by that first decision as we were part of other ripples before and beside us! It is not a question or whether or not any single decision will make a difference, rather it is what kind of difference will that one decision makes? It is my prayer that the ripples of our marriage will continue to send out immeasurable waves of grace, loving-kindness, joy, hope and Christlike forgiveness.

Lord, I thank you for the privilege of making a splash with Jim for the Kingdom. What a joyful and refreshing ride it has been. Amen.

Lacey’s Benediction

Dear Lacey.

So every year I have someone to say goodbye to here on staff. I hate that! But it is what it is and I have learned how to say “goodbye” while looking forward to the day when there are no more goodbyes!

I remember when I first met you. I actually heard you first! Your contagious laugh and your enthusiasm rang out from Joel’s office and I was excited to meet the person that came with the voice! Our friendship was soon to be a blessing for me as we shared ideas, meals, prayers and our hearts. It was not long until we realized we have many common interests: we both are Biola grads, we love lettering, we root for the Dodgers, and we don’t like the idea of driving a bus (among other things)! Then we had the privilege of watching the sunrise over the lowest place on earth and walking the streets of Jerusalem together. What an amazing memory to be traveling partners and “roomies” in the Holy Land!

Even though it is not the pattern at EvFree, for many years the churches I have been part of have included a tradition at the end of each worship service called a benediction. Sometimes it was a prayer, sometimes it was a blessing with eyes open and the pastor’s hand raised over the congregation similar to what the Old Testament priests were instructed to do (Lev. 9:22).

Anyway, the value and importance of benedictions for me is huge! Pronouncing a blessing over a gathering as a means of dismissal is more that just specially crafted words that boost one’s spirit. A benediction is a way to show that God really is the blesser. In Numbers 6:27 it says, “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in My name, I myself will bless them.” When sending God’s people forth, a benediction tells believers that God has not only made His presence known to them while they are gathered for worship, but that He will care for them and sustain them as they go – no matter what the task is to come. Even more, it seals the time the people have spent together in worship and service.

So, at the end of this amazing 2 and a half years of worship and service side by side, I send you forth with this benediction, knowing that God will continue to make His presence known to you and Jordan – until we meet again!

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.

 

May your past be a pleasant memory

May your future be filled with delight and mystery

May your today be filled with amazing moments

That fill your cup to overflowing contentment and joy.

Never forget that “Whenever there is an ending, there is also a beginning. And there is always hope!”

 I love you “roomie” – With overwhelming gratitude,

Miriam

This is part of the devotional I shared at Lacey’s Bridal shower on Aug. 19

There seem to be 2 kinds of people in the world – people who love fairy tales and who love happy endings and people who can’t stand them! The people in the latter group feel that fairy tales are fake and set people up for disappointment

So should we side with the sentimentalists or the cynics? Cynics are right of course – the world is hard. Love is complicated and it will break your heart and your back. It is harder than anyone realizes. But that should not imply that love isn’t worth it! While it is important to be realistic such a negative outlook leads to despair. It really is self-protection: Lower your expectations and no one gets hurt.

The best fairy tales are not naïve. They are not cheap escapes and are not just sappy. Tolkien wrote one of the most powerful tales ever when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. When asked about his view on fairy stories he said that the fairy tale story does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure, rather it is necessary to the joy of deliverance. Fairy tales don’t deny the realities of life. If anything they lean into those realities and acknowledge the genuine fight against defeat and death in the midst of life. Fairy tales breathe the oxygen of hope and bank on the idea that victory can always be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Lacey, I pray that your marriage will be a fairy tale and that your friendship and romance with Mr. Galbraith will continue to be the amazing and romantic tale it has been up to this point! In fact, finding and catching a mate is usually the whole story in a Disney tale. It ends with “happily ever after”. But the point is missed that this is when the real story begins; the real drama and the more interesting part is the adventure of a life together! This is why I love UP where we see the happily-ever-after of Ellie and Carl’s story at the beginning!

Proverbs 12:4 states that the excellent wife is the crown of her husband. See crowns are for royalty and Jordan will enjoy you as his arm candy when you enter the room together for some years to come, because you are beautiful inside and out, but it is when you leave the room that people will be reminded of his crown: his excellent wife who works hard at the relationship and in her home.

Another thought is that many people get married believing a myth that marriage is a beautiful treasure chest full of all the things they have longed for (Companionship, intimacy, friendship and the like). But the truth is that marriage is at the start of the empty chest; you must put something into it before you can take anything out. The pages of your story are blank! Remember that there is no love in marriage until you put it in; love is in people and people put love into marriage. There is no romance in marriage, you have to infuse it into your story as you learn the art and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, praising and of letting God write your love story, of keeping your treasure chest full. Remember, if you take out more than you put in the chest will be empty; the story will be a sad tale indeed.

You are about to make the biggest promises you will ever make. They are bold. It is like writing a blank check: better/worse richer/poorer sickness/health…. stating your commitment to each other no matter whatever comes. Whatever will come and it will surprise you. This is one of the mercies of an unwritten story, one of the blessings of marriage is that you will not know of the difficulties or the joys to come. What I mean is that young love is fun but it knows nothing of the quiet warmth of old love. It does not know the love on the other side of forgiveness and failure.

Marriage is the best example of the relationship of Trinity. And the promises made in a marriage are meant to reflect the greatest promise maker and keeper of All – God himself!

So your fairy tale begins. May you joyfully take up the call to journey together even on the difficult days, the dark days and the days when you would rather walk alone! On those days and every day may God grant you fleeting glimpses of joy. May you be reminded of the One who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despised the shame and is now seated at the right hand of God. Jesus is the story teller in the grandest fairy tale of all! It is a real life adventure story in which our hero fights the fiercest foes (sin, death, Satan) to save the one he loves!

If the story of Jesus is a fairy tale—and it sure seems to fit the pattern—then we can safely say that fairy tales aren’t for sentimental saps after all. Here’s what it took for this greatest of tales to end in happily ever after: The God who made the world, and who made it good, had to become part of that world. Not only did he become a part of the world he created, he endured the worst it had to offer. Though he was blameless, merciful, truthful, wise, courageous, he was mocked, misunderstood, and maligned, bullied, beaten, and betrayed—and, finally, hung from a tree and killed. This was the end. Only it wasn’t. In the greatest reversal ever known, the God who made the world and then was killed by that same world rose from the dead. Death could not contain the Living One, nor will it be able to contain those who find life in the resurrected Christ, for he promises to give life to all who come to him.

The Bible describes Jesus’ people as his “bride.” And so you see, the greatest fairy tale is itself the story of a marriage. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him—the joy of meeting his bride on their wedding day and living happily ever after. My Lacey, may the joy of belonging to Jesus fortify you in the years to come to love Jordan all the way to the end, all the way to that final wedding day when you gather together at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Ready or Not!

My dad has always been interested in prophecy and the study of last things, which means I grew up in a state of urgency.

My dad is convinced that God is painting a picture through the heavens with a blood red moon over Jerusalem on July 27th, aka the 15th of Av, the day that Israel left the wilderness for the promised land.  It is exactly 7 years after the last blood moon over Jerusalem, which was on the celebration of Pentecost.

Anyway, I was thinking about it all last night.  I am grateful that I do not know the date and time of the Lord’s return just as I am glad I did not know the day and time that Jim would go to heaven. Something happens inside my head to play mind games with me. It is almost like I am equating the return of Jesus with the natural disaster category of events.  Readiness is about being prepared for a future event and different events require different types of readiness. To  prepare for  earthquakes and storms, etc. it is important to purchase insurance, prepare a kit, secure bookshelves and create an evacuation plan. The point is that there are things that can be done to be ready and you don’t become unready!  Once the checklist is completed life goes on and you just live knowing that whenever disaster strikes you will be ready to go! Maybe because I am a list kind of girl that I would rather think about the end of this life as we know it in the natural disaster category. This kind of preparation does not apply to every kind of event, however, especially Jesus’ return. That is where the rub is!

Another category of events, which does include things like Jesus’ return, cannot be prepared for in the same way.  What does it take to be ready?  To be ready to compete in the Olympics or the World Cup means continued training and ongoing rehearsals. Practice daily. There is no check list to complete; rather, the best way to be ready is to keep busy. These kinds of events involve tasks that must continually be performed until the event occurs!  The job is never completed.  You cannot rest.  There is no point where you can say, “I have done all I can do. I’m finished.” Even more, if you stop working and preparing, then you stop being ready! This kind of event requires vigilance like being ready for a terrorist attack. While certain tasks can be implemented and completed, ultimately security requires round-the-clock watchmen to be responsible and alert. Jesus said that his return would be this kind of event, not a natural disaster type.  (Mark 13) It would require constant watchfulness and diligence. We are to keep working, keep praying and always be watching, staying constantly on guard. To be ready means to persevere to the end. And that does not mean that we need to squeeze in as much playtime beforehand, or have a nice list of past experiences to refer back to, or complete a personal bucket list.  We are supposed to grow in righteousness until the day we die or until he returns. We are to live holy lives until the very end. (2 Peter 3). I need to train my mind to this state of readiness. May this be my reminder to keep on keeping on and not give up or grow weary. Amen!

 

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