We Need To Let Go

Prayer-for-The-Sinner672x345I used to have a dog named Cleo. She had a favorite squeaky toy that had been slobbered on, chewed apart and buried in the backyard. It was her prize possession. If I would try to snatch it from her mouth, she would run in the other direction. Even if I walked into the backyard with a T-bone steak to tantalize and entice her to drop the dirty squeaky, Cleo would still rather have that old toy.  There was simply no reasoning with my canine companion that her favorite thing was a piece of junk.

But aren’t we like that sometimes? Don’t we treat our “stuff” as beautiful when, in fact, it’s banal? We may strut about proudly, like the Emperor in his new (no) clothes, only to discover that our wardrobe is rather threadbare. What we must do instead is exchange our filthy rags for Christ’s robes of righteousness. We must let go of some of our favorite things in order to pursue God’s favorite things–His holy delights. And God has an amazing exchange program. Just look at Isaiah’s prophecy, in which God promises “to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3).

Do you have any junk you’re having difficulty letting go of? One piece of junk I had a hard time letting go of was the need to please. I picked up that powerful compulsion shortly after my parents divorced, during my impressionable elementary school days. That tragedy left me with a sense of responsibility and blame. Perhaps it was my fault that Mom and Dad couldn’t stay together. I mistakenly believed that if I did everything just right, then events in our family life would turn out all right.

The day my mother told us of the separation, I set myself on a crusade to fix broken things through my behavior. I took on the role of the consummate middle child–placing myself in between two disenfranchised parties. If only Mom knew how much we loved Dad, she’d take him back.  Perhaps I could communicate this to her. If only Dad knew how much we needed Mom, he’d apologize and come home. I reasoned that if I wrote him the perfect letter, got better grades in school or dressed like an angel, this tragedy could be reversed.

When my older sister, Suzanne, cried herself to sleep at nights for months in reaction to the divorce, I shifted roles with her. I became like the big sister, thinking that self-will and determination could make things better. Somehow I must fix it. The truth is, no matter how hard we try, we can’t fix people. That is God’s business.

Trying to be perfect only created a façade. What was visible on the outside couldn’t begin to reveal the emptiness on the inside. By the time I was in college, I had developed two insatiable needs: to feel loved and to be unconditionally accepted by a man. The loss of an everyday father figure left me searching to fill a gaping void. If love couldn’t keep my parents together, I believed I would never be capable of loving a man enough to marry one. Since I had no concept of “real love,” I settled for counterfeits, moving from one unhealthy relationship to another.

But I didn’t stop there. I also tried to fill the black hole in my heart by having a “good time”–which included drinking, smoking pot and developing a vulgar sense of humor. Outwardly, I maintained a 3.5 grade-point average, worked part-time in a swank department store and, with a major in fashion merchandising, I dressed like a model on the cover of Seventeen magazine. But these “perfect” trappings couldn’t contain the turmoil I felt inwardly. So, like many others of my generation, I self-medicated to keep up the veneer. I was a walking contradiction.

Something happened my sophomore year that tore off my mask of perfection, exposing my true self just beneath the surface. My father changed radically from atheist doctor and law student to a born-again Christian and disciple of Christ.  One rainy winter day, at Pirate’s Cove in Newport Beach, he was baptized by Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California.

Everything I had embraced in life-including my disbelief in love–including my disbelief in love and my hedonistic lifestyle–was now challenged by Dad’s newfound faith. I began to fall into a downward spiral of depression. The years of living a double life were catching up with me–and none of my “medications” was effective enough to stop the light from shining right through my outer shell into the depths of my soul. These burning questions irritated me: “What if Dad is right and I’m wrong?” “What if there is a God?” “What if heaven and hell truly exist?” As I headed for Southern California on summer break, I was determined to check out Calvary Chapel for myself.

Every Sunday morning, Chuck invited people to come forward for prayer, but I was too ashamed to join the many others making their way to the altar. I couldn’t escape feeling dirty and unacceptable in the eyes of God.  Determined to find the cleansing and closeness I desired with God, I eventually left my seat on a painful journey to the prayer room.  As I walked down the aisle, each step caused my burden to increase to an unbearable degree. I thought everyone present could see behind my façade.

Musician-turned-pastor Malcolm Wild greeted me in the prayer room. This gentle man with the honest gaze was a huge fan of Charles Finney, the great nineteenth-century revivalist who helped to bring godly repentance to thousands of people’s lives and hearts, and it showed. Malcolm asked me a probing question: “Have you repented or of your sins?” At first, I was startled. After all, it was a very bold question. Even more, I was unfamiliar with biblical terms and thought repentance meant wearing a large sign that warned “The end of the world is near!” So I told Malcolm, “I have no idea what that is.”

He responded, “Repentance means to have a change of heart and direction, to turn from sin, and turn toward God. Sin separates us from God but confession brings forgiveness.” Then he quoted Isaiah 1:18: “Let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Through your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’ “And that’s when God’s compelling truth hit me: I had been too ashamed of my past to accept God’s mercy. But this passage declared that God was ready and willing to cleanse anything I might be guilty of!

As Malcolm spoke, my heart began to thaw like an icicle yielding to the sun’s warmth. Tears began to run down my face. My fake, “perfect” veneer was melting. When Malcolm asked, “Would you like to pray now for forgiveness?” all I could do was nod in agreement. With voice wavering and hands shaking, I repeated a prayer that set me free from sin and its destructive companion, shame. At long last I was letting go! Absolute relief and a newfound delight swept over me.

After that experience, my feelings of unworthiness never returned. My heart became like a fresh page, and I had a chance to rewrite the story of my life. The Holy One began making me holy as I made His delights my very own. I soon discovered that God reciprocated by delighting in me! The psalmist proclaimed, “He delivered me because He delighted in me” (Ps. 18:19).

Holy Moments, Inspire

Develop Holy Desires

Bethleham-or-Belen-672x345What would you do with a second chance?  If you could start your life over or change its directions, what would you do and where would you go? Not long after I surrendered my heart to the Lord, my fresh start began with an inkling of a thought dancing in my mind. Perhaps you could describe this as a desire freshly planted in my heart.  You see, never in my life had I experienced such delight and contentment in a pursuit as I had in seeking God.  King David said, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).  I believe that as I worshiped Jesus, and as I learned His ways and obeyed His commands, He began to cultivate desires in my heart that were His very own!

My budding desire was to become a pastor’s wife. What’s so amazing is that this newfound desire seemed so natural, almost second nature, as though I’d always wanted to grow up and marry a pastor. My pastor, Chuck Smith, always said, “God moves supernaturally, naturally.”  In other words, you may not recognize God’s hand of providence in the now, but in hindsight His intervention becomes obvious. So, if you’d told me before I asked the Lord to come into my life that I was destined to become a pastor’s wife, I would have laughed out loud. But after I was born again, I assumed that every good Christian woman wanted to be a pastor’s wife.

One day I told my godly roommate about my little inkling. She looked at me like I was an alien and shouted, “No way! Get thee behind me!” She absolutely couldn’t relate. Apparently this desire was unique to my heart.  Honestly, I’d never met a pastor’s wife and didn’t have the faintest idea what one did. Nonetheless, the hunger increased and prevailed until God providentially brought Skip Heitzig into my life. Then my dream came true!

I wish I could say that everything I’ve ever wished for has been miraculously granted, but I can’t.  And maybe that’s a good thing. Because not everything I’ve wanted has been a good thing. Like the time I longed to become a buyer for a swank department store.  My major in college was fashion merchandising, and I had been voted “best dressed” by my graduating class in high school–I knew how to pull an outfit together and get the designer look for less. But God doesn’t focus on outward appearances; He places importance on the heart (see 1 Sam. 16:7).

I’ve since realized that my desires were shortsighted–God didn’t want me to spend my life playing dress-up.  Instead, God placed a new desire within me to adorn my heart. Peter wrote, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward; arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel–rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:3-4).

Oswald Chambers explains that delighting in God puts us in line with His will. When that delight is disturbed, by a hesitation within our spirit or a sense of caution, perhaps it is God redirecting our path. Chambers said, “When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight; you are God’s will and all your commonsense decisions are his will for you unless he checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong he will always check. When he checks, stop at once.”

If your dreams have been shattered, perhaps it’s for a good reason. God might be trying to direct you on a different path. Maybe He’s opening the door to a fresh start that leads to the holy moment of a lifetime!

Holy Moments, Inspire

Daily Delights

lifeguard-405891_640What brings you delight? In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews’ character and the Von Trapp children sang a happy tune about a few of their favorite things. Remember? They sang about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen, brown paper packages tied up with string…

What are your favorite things? You know, the ones that put a smile on your face or a song in your heart? Depending on who you are and what season of life you’re in, the source of your delight may vary. For example, toys for tots, machines for men, wardrobes for women, tunes for teens, or recreation for the retired.

“Delight” simply describes something that provokes in you a pleasurable emotion, a sense of deep enjoyment or a high degree of satisfaction.

Daily delights are all around us, if we will only look. We often forget that God will use what we take delight in to accomplish His will. I love to share this story about my husband Skip, to illustrate this point.

Late one night, before Skip had become a pastor, heard the pounding surf echoing in his ears and decided to follow Pacific Coast Highway to the Huntington Beach pier. Being a typical Southern Californian beach boy, the salt and sand were a few of his daily delights. As he drove past the oil wells lazily nodding offshore, a sign posted on an apartment window, “Available Now,” caught his attention. For some time Skip had believed that God was calling him to become a pastor.  However, he was uncertain of where and how he should minister. Yet at that instant, he remembered something his pastor had said the previous evening; “God is more likely to use people who are available now than those who are waiting for a thunderous voice from heaven to direct them sometime in the future.”

While pondering this, Skip parked his car and headed out barefoot onto the empty beach to pray. His destination was one of the many orange lifeguard stations. He scanned the horizon as he climbed the ladder–not another soul in sight. Perched atop the wooden structure with the ocean breeze blowing through his hair, Skip prayed out loud, “Here I am. Send me wherever you’d like. Use me as you see fit. I’m available now!” Then he waited to hear God’s still small voice. Instead, his brief prayer was interrupted by a peculiar sound coming from the base of the guardhouse; crunch, crunch, crunch. Skip peered over the edge of his lofty perch, surprised to discover a scruffy-looking boy eating a bag of Cheetos. Skip quickly thought, Perhaps God wants to use me right here and now. “Hey, dude,” Skip called out, completely startling the guy noisily munching beneath him. After a few introductory comments, Skip steered their conversation to the One who’d created the roaring ocean. The two beach boys began discussing life and death sin and salvation. By the end of their conversation, Skip led his fellow surfer in a prayer of salvation. In the shadow of a moonlit night, just by Skip’s being “available now,” God had been able to use him. Just by spending time delighting in his favorite place while praying to the Holy One, Skip stumbled quite naturally upon his own holy moment. Humanity and divinity had intersected at a unique point and time, and two lives were changed forever. As a result, Skip became more convinced that God wanted him to pursue full-time ministry: “That situation taught me that God doesn’t merely use those with ability, but availability.” Many people assume that an encounter with God can only be experienced through pain and suffering. But there’s good news; while trials do teach Christians a great deal, they are not the only catalysts God uses to accomplish His will in our lives.  Are you looking for God? If so, He can be found in a valley or on a mountaintop–and in every place in between.

Psalm 37:4 reveals that the Lord speaks as powerfully through pleasure as He does through pain. So, don’t make the mistake of only listening for God’s voice when disaster hits, or finally reaching out for His hand when there’s no place else to turn. Instead, begin to recognize God’s still, small voice in the midst of your daily duties and learn to sense His holy presence in places you routinely visit. Like Jacob, you may be journeying along a familiar road, not realizing that “the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Gen. 28:16, NIV). Or like Elijah, you might be listening for God’s voice in a violent windstorm, a tumultuous earthquake or a ferocious fire only to discover it in  “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12, NIV).  One of the most important truths of the Christian faith is that we must not only be open to God’s surprises, but also ready and eager to embrace them.

Bible Study and Teaching, Inspire

Birds in Flight

Bird iStock_000002531168LargeI enjoyed a “pre-saved” holy moment that gave me a glimpse of God as the author of life.  Raised an aetheist, as a sophomore in college, I was bothered by the conversion of my skeptical father to Christianity.  Billy Graham’s book How to Be Born Again was a best-seller that year, so I decided to purchase a copy to gain insight into my father’s newfound faith.  Spreading out a blanket on the shores of Lake Michigan, I pulled out my book for a leisurely read.  An excerpt from chapter 3, “Does God Really Speak to Us?” made me blurt out loud, “Yeah, right!” Graham proposed that God was the Creator who speaks to His creatures through creation; “In its own language, nature speaks of God’s existence, whether it is the cry of a baby or the song of a meadowlark…the instincts of a bird within his plans.”

Arrogantly, I decided to put creator God to a test, challenging, “If you formed the instincts within a bird and want to show me that You are sovereign over all, then influence the bird tweeting in the distance to sing a little song for me by landing upon the tree I’m sitting under.”  Fluttering out of the distance, a small gray swallow came into view.  Then he lit upon the branch above my head and chirped a happy melody.  Closing the book ceremoniously, I thought, Maybe God really does exist and has created me for a purpose.

Just like that, in a holy moment, God had sprung the lock on a college coed’s closed mind with His unseen hand of providence.  I began attending Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, and two months later I offered my heart to the Lord.  My experience is evidence that holy moments are designed to draw us closer to the Holy One.

God is creator of heaven and Earth, sovereign over all He has made. And his creations, from the stars at night to the birds in flight, are evidence of His divine nature. Paul tells us, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, NIV).  Nothing, not even the fall or the flight of a sparrow, escapes God’s all-seeing eye. And He uses the intricacies of nature to get the attention of his ultimate creation, humanity. People like you and me are much more valuable to God than a flock of sparrows (see Luke 12:7).


Late for Practice


When I was a brand-new Christian, I loved hearing about the extraordinary events that happened in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.  One of my favorite real-life tales took place in Beatrice, Nebraska.  The story begins in a little church called West Side Baptist that was known for its choir.  Like clockwork, the choir members practiced at church every Wednesday night at precisely 7:20 P.M.  But on March 1, 1950, everyone had an excuse for being late, from the sopranos to the basses.

Marilyn Paul, the church pianist, fell asleep after dinner, so she and her mother were late.  Ladonna Vandergrift, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with her homework, so she ran behind schedule.  Slowed down by car trouble, a married couple that provided transportation for several other members of the choir meant that a whole carload would be delayed.  Amazingly, 20 people, including every singer, the choir director, Reverend Walter Klempel and his wife, were all late.  And all of them had excellent excuses.  At precisely 7:25 P.M., the time when chorus rehearsal should have begun, not one soul was in the choir loft-and that had never happened before.

That peculiar night the church furnace ignited a gas leak in the basement of the west Side Baptist Church and the whole building burst into a blaze.  The furnace room was right below the choir loft-where the choir should have been singing!  The walls collapsed outward while the heavy roof crashed straight down in a deadfall.  The blast forced a nearby radio station off the air and shattered windows in surrounding homes.

If Marilyn had been the only survivor, she might have assumed that there was nothing uncommon about an after-dinner snooze. (And personally, I’ve never thought car trouble constituted a miraculous turn of events).  No high school student in his or her right mind would consider homework the handiwork of God.  But on May 1, 1950, if you belonged to the choir at the West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska, the most ordinary excuse became extraordinary evidence of God’s using everyday circumstance to accomplish His will.  Perhaps statisticians could calculate the exact odds of all these random events occurring simultaneously, yet it seems safe to say that chances are one in a million that the entire choir would arrive late on the same evening!  All these years later, the still-surviving members believe that their ordinary circumstances were an act of God.

Perhaps you’ve always assumed that supernatural surprises only happen to old, dead saints.  That’s not true!  Holy moments take place in everyone’s life-because holy moments are meant to point us to the Holy One.  They are God’s way of drawing back the curtains in heaven so that we can see Him moving behind the scenes and moving all the scenes that He’s behind.  When unbelievers experience holy moments, it is God’s way of getting their attention too.  He’s showing them that he’s in on the act and longs to be Director of all their tomorrows.


Heaven Sent

iStock_000006748253MediumNothing seemed out of the ordinary that bright Sunday morning as I jogged down the same route I had taken the previous six days of my vacation in Honolulu. It was a picture-postcard day in paradise. As I ran, I passed surfers catching blue-green waves tht would eventually crash and subside on the sandy shores of Waikiki. I followed a course past touristy Kalakaua Avenue, through exotic Kapiolani Park and up the stark volcanic slopes of Diamond Head.

Suddenly, trouble in paradise hit hard. Ouch! At the halfway point of a five-mile excursion, I stopped dead in my tracks. The mother of all charley horses gripped my left calf – I was paralyzed with pain. Stumbling, then fumbling for a nearby wall, I did every conceivable stretch in a desperate attempt to loosen the unrelenting cramp. Nothing worked. I was two-and-a-half miles away from my hotel with no money for a taxi, so I began hobbling toward my final destination.
After navigating several blocks in agonizing discomfort, God tapped me on the shoulder-or should I say, spoke to my heart: Lenya,why don’t you pray? Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Then I asked Him, “Lord, help! I can’t make it back without damaging my leg further. Please send me help or heal me. What should I do?”

Through the park, strewn with palm trees and fragrant plumeria blossoms, I spotted a bright banner stretched across a minibus: Heaven Sent. I smiled at God’s sense of humor and His impeccable timing. What was the minibus doing smack-dab in my path? Should I limp up and knock on the window? Then the rest of the sign came into focus: Heaven Sent Mobile Massage Therapy. “This is too good to be true,” I mumbled. Then I wondered, could this be a holy moment orchestrated by God’s good hand?

Just then a local named Bunny Gabaylo stepped out to ask if I needed help. A pleading request tumbled out of my mouth. I’ve just injured myself running. I’ve got two more miles to go. Could you work out the knot in my calf? The problem is, I’m not carrying any money to pay you.” He simply handed me a flyer, and said in Pidgin English, “It your lucky day. I offering two-minute massage free to first-time customer.” Bunny, a licensed massage therapist, worked on my calf for nearly 20 minutes applying shiatsu acupressure, deep-tissue massage and Tiger Balm. While I lay on the padded exam table, listening to Julio Iglesias over the high-tech sound system, Bunny graciously offered his healing touch. When I noticed a picture of Jesus on the wall of his minibus, I said, “Are you a Christian?”

He affirmed that he was and added, “I should be at church, since it Sunday. But a friend invite me to Kapiolani Park for race that end here today.” When I stood up, I was overjoyed to discover that my gait had straightened out and my leg was greatly improved. I thanked him and offered to send a check in payment for his services. But Bunny refused, saying, “This is my calling. No charge for you.”

The next two miles seemed more like two blocks as I delighted myself in the Lord who had granted me the desires of my heart by answering my prayer the precise moment it was uttered. I asked God for help during a time of need and He provided an answer that was truly heaven-sent!

The divinely appointed meeting with Bunny was not my first holy moment, and God has showered me with many others such moments since then. All these events have convinced me that they are available to anyone, from unbelievers to those who are passionate about following God-and He can send holy moments to many people simultaneously. Holy moments are God’s subtle way of getting our attention. They serve as a sweet reminder that he is near. I am not more special than anyone else-our heavenly Father doesn’t play favorites. However, I’ve developed a sensitivity to holy moments because of a scripture that became my life’s verse many years ago.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:4-5)

Meditating upon Psalm 37:4-5 opened my eyes to the ways that God moves among us. He longs to intersect our paths with his heavenly interruptions.

Church Body, Inspire

One Way

For the 60’s generation that dropped out, turned on, and tuned in Chuck Smith pointed them to Jesus with an contagious smile and a finger pointed heavenward.


Society marginalized the long-haired, hippie freaks, but Pastor Chuck opened his heart and church doors to their exuberant, alternate music and groovy way of dressing. While experimenting with “free love” they discovered authentic love in the pages of a little black book. For God is love. The combination of unconditional love and Smith’s magnetic presentation of the Bible launched the first wave of the “Jesus Movement.”


Pastor Chuck Smith moved to heaven today. Because of his ministry, I went from bartender to Bible study leader. I left drug use and promiscuity to become spirit filled and experience incredible intimacy in Christ. May I suggest that we bring back a favorite gesture of those days? In honor of Chuck’s new residence in heaven, let’s point others to Jesus with the “one way” sign! 👆



Be Still

Sitting still requires relinquishing your chaos to a God who cares and is in control. Take time to climb onto His lap. Rest your whirling head on His chest. As your heart beat and breathing begins to mimic His calming rhythm, hear His gentle voice say: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)


My Pampered Pooch


Which kind of pet owner are you? The first type treats their animals, well, like they’re animals. You provide the basics of kibbles and water. They must serve a function like guard dog, egg layer, or milk producer. You don’t abuse or neglect them. However, they stay where pets belong-outside! My stepfather held this austere philosophy. Suffice it to say, as long as I lived in his house, I never owned a pet. As a tweener girl, I envisioned Lassie, Flipper, or Black Beauty. Why, these pets where your BFF’s.

The second kind of pet owner treats their animal like Paris Hilton. They travel in designer handbags; have encrusted collars; and enjoy pet play dates. They bear touchy-feely titles like “sweetie pie,” “snuggles,” and “mama’s little baby.” Table food? Oh, they eat like royalty. Sleeping arrangements? Right on their master’s bed with matching silk jammies. That’s how I treat our Welsh terrier, Mack. He gets a fresh latte every morning; a walk along the bosque at noon; and biscuits in bed as a nightcap. Go ahead, you can judge me. I’m that kind of dog owner.

Honestly, if you were a pet, which kind of owner would you prefer? Me? I’d be Hotel Tycoon, Leona Helmsley’s, Maltese lap dog named “Trouble” who inherited $12 million at her owner’s death. Believe it or not, as a Christian, that’s exactly the kind of care you receive from Jesus, your Shepherd. His flock never lacks a thing. They drink from still waters the likes of Perrier. They take naps in pastures as idyllic as the English countrysides. When predators appear, He stands guard.Best of all, He restores their soul. In other words, He cares about their deepest, emotional needs.

Take a minute to read Psalm 23. Get to know this Good Shepherd. Follow Him wherever He goes. Even in the deepest valley, He’ll make sure that goodness and mercy follow right behind you. One day you will live in His house forever.