But God calls us to wait with faith

Galatians 5:5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us.

I used this Scripture on April 11 of this year, commenting on one of our waiting room experiences, and find myself drawn to it again as we enter Advent, the season when we practice active waiting. Waiting to celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation. And waiting for the glory of his return as King, to rule in justice and love.

This year there’s an added edge to our waiting as we grieve over the impact of raging coronavirus and political, social, and economic distress. In light of this, Elise Massa, leader of Arts and Worship in our church, invited artists to create meditation pieces with the them of “The Waiting Room.” You can see this beautiful collection of original visual art, poetry, and music here:

As a part of this project, Elise invited me to reflect on my waiting room experiences with Karis. The result is a set of vignettes, which I will publish here weekly in connection with themes associated with the candles in our Advent wreath. I hope they will encourage you to look for Jesus in your own circumstances, for Immanuel, God with us, never leaves us, no matter how lonely, frustrated, anxious, or sad we feel. As we wait for him, he waits with us. I pray you will be able to see him with you, as he showed himself to be with me in some of the toughest times of my life with Karis.

The first Advent theme is Faith. Karis age three weeks, Chicago

The phone jarred me awake. Dr. R spoke without preamble. “I don’t like the way Karis looks this morning. I don’t think she’ll make it unless I operate right away. I need your verbal consent, and hospital policy requires you be in the surgical waiting room.”

Frozen by fear, I stared at the phone until my almost-two-year-old son stirred and whimpered in the crib across the room. Hastily, I packed a bag with his clothes and breakfast and carried him in his pajamas down the block and across the street from the Ronald McDonald House to the children’s hospital. My husband was in Bolivia, friends and nearest family over an hour away.

The waiting room was empty, but soon other parents trickled in. Caring for Danny’s needs kept me focused until he fell asleep again in my lap. Then worry swamped me.

A man approached. “Debbie? My name is Harold. I’m a friend of your husband’s, here from Florida for a pastors’ conference.”

How did Harold find me? I have no idea. His concern triggered a flood of tears. I told him what the doctor had said. Then, hesitantly, I admitted, “I don’t know where God has gone. I can’t find him. I think I’m losing my faith.” He looked at me without censure, without judgment. Just these gentle words:

“Then, it’s time for the Body of Christ to have faith for you.”

Danny and Karis six months later

But Jesus calls us to build on rock

Luke 6:46-48 Jesus said, “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.

Psalm 18:31 Who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock?

I love the way Luke tells this story. Digging through the emotional, experiential, societal and cultural muck and debris to find solid rock takes hard work; blood, sweat and tears. The blood of Jesus. Our own part of the sweat (remember Matthew 11:28-30). The tears he shares with us (Psalm 56:8, Acts 20:19, Luke 19:41-44, Romans 12:15).

I’ve written about three of eight bedrock beliefs, a solid foundation to stand on in this post-election. Yesterday I listened (twice!) to a powerful sermon that sums up my other five. I’m excited to share this with you. Whatever else you do this strange Covid Thanksgiving, take an hour to listen, take notes, sit before God with John Mark Comer’s challenge from Bridgetown Church in Portland.

From “Vision Series 2020.” Following the 2020 election, with its disputed result and our divided nation, we offer a pastoral word on how to follow Jesus through the coming season.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bridgetown-audio-podcast/id84246334?i=1000497698479

I’m going to listen again while I make pies!

From Shutterstock by Elena Veselova

But God watches over those who fear him

Psalm 33:17-18, 22 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love . . . Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

Agoraphobia. That’s what Adrian Monk’s brother Ambrose suffers from in Season 2, Episode 11 of the quirky old detective series that Dave and I watched last night. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help might not be available if things go wrong.

It’s just one of many words that migrated to English from the Greek phobos, all of them with fearful (haha) connotations.

I fully expected, when I started researching the Greek words used for fear in the Bible, that fear of the Lord would be a different word. But it’s not. Karis used to say, “pain is pain.” Apparently, from the perspective of the biblical writers, “fear is fear.” It’s a recognition of something stronger than we are, that can impact our lives.

So what’s the difference between Ambrose being afraid to leave his house, and fearing God? The psalmist says it’s God’s unfailing love. It’s his character, his trustworthiness. Agoraphobia, like all other phobias, imprisons, limits, narrows, destroys. Fear of God leads to hope and freedom. Here are just a few of the many other fruits of reverential fear of the Lord in our lives:

Respect and honor

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:14

“Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:32

“Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 25:17

Compassion

“Do not charge interest or make a profit at the expense of one who falls into poverty”. Lev. 25:36

Blessing

“You and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life.” Deut 6:2, 24

Justice

“Fear the Lord and judge with integrity, for the Lord our God does not tolerate perverted justice, partiality, or the taking of bribes.” 2 Chronicles 19:7

Provision

“Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.” Ps 34:9

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.” Isaiah 50:10

Release from other fears

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zeph 3:17

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father . . . together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” Rom 8:15-17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Tim 1:7

Integrity

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. 2 Cor 7:1

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. Phil 2:12

Thankfulness and worship

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. Heb 12:28

“’Fear God,’ he shouted. ‘Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.’” Rev 14:7

And from the throne came a voice that said, “Praise our God, all his servants, all who fear him, from the least to the greatest.” Rev 19:5

From Shutterstock by tomertu

We’re barely scratching the surface of all the benefits Scripture shows us about fearing God!

This leads me to my bedrock belief #3: GOD is my Lord, my “audience of one.” Not politics, not patriotism, not what other people may think of me or whether I’ll be ostracized if I say things outside a certain political box. All of that is temporary, but God’s rule over my life is eternal.

And the benefits of fearing him, the Lord of lords and King of kings, Creator of the universe, Lover of his creation, both human and all else, faithful keeper of all his promises, are immeasurable.

But God says, “Don’t be afraid”

Luke 1:6-8, 11-12, 18-20, 67, 74-75, 78-79 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes . . . They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive . . . One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple . . . While he was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer” . . . Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure?” . . . Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” . . . Then John’s father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: . . . “We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. . . Because of God’s tender mercy, the Morning Light from Heaven is about to visit us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us in the path of peace.”

Fear silences and debilitates. It distorts our vision, twists our thinking and distracts us from right action. It breeds rationalization, mistrust, suspicion, cynicism, anger, even violence.

And it’s ubiquitous. It’s perhaps the weapon our enemy wields most often and most effectively. Maybe that’s why we find the phrase “Don’t be afraid” at least 365 times in Scripture (depending on the wording chosen in a given translation). It’s an exhortation we need every single day.

I so relate to Zechariah. Don’t you? You can read the whole story in Luke 1. I would have been terrified too. I would have questioned God’s word, even with the evidence of a living angel standing before me to back it up. I know that because I have done so. I’ve chosen fear over faith and freedom. I love the fact that God’s work in Zechariah brought him full circle: We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness.

From Shutterstock by Nikki Zalewski

My second bedrock belief for walking through the challenges we face is this: God wants us to live in faith and freedom, not in fear.

My spiritual director will be delighted and maybe a bit surprised I’m saying this. She’s been patiently teaching me this truth for several years, and celebrates every time she sees me choose faith and freedom over fear. So I’m saying it not as a mandate, as if I’ve got this, but as an invitation to join me and grow together.

The thing is, the enemy of our souls plays dirty. He knows our vulnerabilities and doesn’t hesitate to exploit them. He knows what makes me afraid, which may be different from what makes you afraid. He can even throw in the contempt option, dividing us with the idea that your fear is more despicable than mine. Or play the shame card, driving me to hide my fear even though it’s controlling my feelings, perspectives, and actions. The enemy wants to keep us imprisoned and impotent.

More about the freedom and faith side in the next post—but for now I leave you, and myself, this familiar word from Paul:

God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

But God calls us to holiness

1 Peter 1:12-17 Even the angels are eagerly watching . . . So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. . . And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites.

Pearl

From Shutterstock by koryaba

The pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable (Wikipedia).

Rare, fine, admirable and valuable. Like grace. And graciousness.

Here’s something I’ve been wondering: In this post-election transition, will we who follow Christ evidence grace? Will we attract people to God because our graciousness reflects his character?

I’m thinking, as I write this, of two people who model this for me, even though they think differently from me politically. I’ve learned to pay attention to their quiet service and the gracious words they say. Their winsomeness teaches and inspires me to find my center once again in God.

The Scriptures are full of God’s graciousness. And we are called to be like him, to show the world what he is like. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your speech be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone (Colossians 4:6). A tall order? Absolutely. It’s a huge challenge. And a huge opportunity.

To help myself in taking advantage of the new opportunity we have post-election to honor God, I wrote down eight bedrock beliefs that can undergird graciousness, allowing me to speak gently from a position of confidence. The first is this: My trust is in God. Anyone, anything less will disappoint me.

Scripture tells me what to call my misplaced trust: idolatry. And it tells me what to do about idolatry in my life: repent, and turn back to God, who in his grace runs to meet me. And restore me.

The enemy of our souls, the accuser, wants to hijack us into behaving like him, rather than like God. He plays dirty. He does his work subtly, making use of even the noblest of causes (like concern to protect the unborn) to push us into speaking and acting in unholy ways that hurt others, divide us, and most importantly, hurt our chances of communicating God’s grace clearly to those already born.

All the while, God loves. He loves the people of this world. He calls us to love even (or especially) those we’ve been taught to consider “enemies” his Beloved. I MUST be careful about how I think and how I talk to and about these precious ones whom God loves. With Calvary love, as great a love as he has for me.

Even the angels are watching.

Karis, todo lo que veo es gracia

¡Ahora está en vivo! La edición en español del libro sobre nuestra hija Karis, disponible en rústica y e-book. Lo puedes encontrar en Amazon.com como Karis, Todo lo que veo es gracia. ¡Disfrútalo, escribe un comentario y cuéntaselo a tu familia y amigos! Y ore, que sea una bendición y un estímulo para todos los que lo lean.

Todos enfrentamos tiempos difíciles. Con sus propias palabras, Karis nos abre un camino hacia la gracia.

The Karis book in Spanish is live! Please share this news with everyone you know who speaks Spanish. It’s available on Amazon as paperback and e-book, Karis, todo lo que veo es gracia.

Please pray this book in Spanish will bless and encourage many people. We all face tough times. Through her own words, Karis opens for us a pathway to grace.

COMING SOON: The Karis book in Portuguese, by Betânia Publishers in Brazil.

Chegando logo: O livro Karis em português, pela Editora Betânia.

But God fights for us

2 Chronicles 20:15, 20-21 This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s…Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm…After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him in the beauty of holiness. This is what they sang: “Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!”

1 Chronicles 16:29, Psalm 29:2, 96:9 Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Hebrews 12:10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.

From Shutterstock by Elina Leonova

Even the costliest gems are not beautiful when they are dug from the earth. It takes vision to discern their worth. They must be scrubbed, examined under bright light, cut, ground, and polished. They may bounce around for hours in a tumbler.

Is it worth all that, to make a stone shine? Thousands of years of history say yes.

Is it worth all that, to make the Body of Christ shine? His treasure, for whom he gave his very life? Thousands of years of history say yes.

She is soiled, broken, fragile when she was meant to be strong. She has squirmed away from his discipline and committed wrongs, from grievous to mundane. She seldom shines.

Yet God sees her beauty, her preciousness. He has staked his reputation on her victory over darkness. The Lord only disciplines those he loves.

This is God’s word to me today: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. Praise the Lord in the beauty of his holiness, which he wants to share with us. Give him thanks, for his faithful love endures forever.

But God encourages

2 Corinthians 7:5-6 When we [Paul and his team] arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

Amethyst

Up until the 18th century, amethyst was included in the cardinal, or most valuable, gemstones (along with diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald). However, since the discovery of extensive deposits in locations such as Brazil, it has lost most of its value. The highest-grade amethyst is exceptionally rare. (Wikipedia)

From Shutterstock by olpo

I grew up in a remote village in the highlands of Guatemala. American visitors were rare. When I was four, a family traveled the rough mountain road to visit us. The mother of this family—I’ll call her Mrs. B—fascinated me. She was gentle and soft-spoken, with a ready smile and laugh. Her eyes sparkled. She had kind words for everyone and seemed to radiate happiness. She gave me a glimpse of another world, another way of living, a possible different future. I found myself thinking, When I grow up, I want to be like her.

That’s still true. I’m intrigued and challenged when I encounter graciousness, the word I later assigned to my memory of Mrs. B. She encouraged me with new possibilities. With hope. Not because she related to me in any particular way during her brief time in our home, but simply by her manner of being.

When I read the history of the amethyst, I remembered Mrs. B. At four, she sparkled for me like a precious gem. As I grew up, I discovered Mrs. B’s qualities in many people: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness . . . all the gifts of the Spirit. No less lovely for being more common than rare.

In my novel Horse Thief 1898, I modeled Cathleen, and at a younger stage in life, Aisling, after Mrs. B. Cathleen and Aisling (and doubtless Mrs. B) have faults, weaknesses, struggles. They are capable of hurting those they love. Yet they embody graciousness.

When I grow up, I want to be like them.

God’s faithful love remains

Isaiah 54:10 “The mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

Topaz

Topaz is one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals,

yet it must be treated with greater care than some other minerals of similar hardness.

Wikipedia

From Shutterstock by Sararwut Jaimassiri

My dad would be 96 today. Do they celebrate birthdays in Heaven?

In choosing topaz to honor Dad, I’m interpreting its hardness as toughness. He endured so much, age 84 seemed too young for him to die. We weren’t prepared. He was diagnosed with metastatic cancer on his birthday and died just 23 days later, on Nov. 12, 2008. Not long enough for us, his eight children, to extend the care to him we wanted to give.

There were other reasons too that it seemed Dad was taken from us too soon. For twenty years, he shepherded our mother through the tangle of Alzheimer’s. When forced by his own health to admit her to a care facility, though, he came alive again. He traveled to visit his children. He participated in family gatherings. He played with great-grandchildren and indulged his neglected hobbies: music, photography, woodworking, and needlepoint, to name a few. But while we were just starting to know our father again, after his long absence, God took him Home.

Dad learned to be tough early on. His family home was foreclosed during the Depression because his parents were unable to handle one mortgage payment—of less than $100. His baby sister died. His father worked on the railroad and spent most of his sparse times at home sleeping.

A Wycliffe Bible translator in a remote highland village of Guatemala, Dad built our furniture, figured out how we could have hot water (by running pipes through our wood-burning stove) and weathered rejection from the people he had gone to serve. Over many frustrating years, he showed kindness to the people around us and rejoiced when some finally began to understand God’s faithful love.

I’m just scratching the surface of Dad’s creativity, resourcefulness, his love of making God’s Word make sense in another culture and his linguistic skills. Through difficulties that might have broken other men, he never lost his sense of humor. We rolled our eyes at his puns, but his jokes lightened the stresses of life. He told me Mom having Alzheimers was an advantage in that he could tell the same joke repeatedly and she laughed every time. Here are a couple out of many, many favorites:

  • “I love exercise. I could watch it for hours.”
  • “I love the beach. The only things about it I can’t stand are the sun and sand and salty water.”
  • “I was watching a fight on TV and a hockey game broke out!”

Miss you, Dad. Happy birthday. Thanks for sharing with us God’s faithful, merciful love.

But God is our strong arm

Isaiah 33:2, 5-6 But Lord, be merciful to us, for we have waited for you. Be our strong arm each day, and our salvation in times of trouble. . . Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven, he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure.

Opal

“Precious opal shows a variable interplay of internal colors.” Wikipedia

From Shutterstock, by LTY

Dr. P retired. Retired! Irrationally, I found myself thinking, How could he?

We lived a continent away. We depended on Dr. P’s counsel, and lately Karis had been sick more often than not. Maybe his partner will care for Karis. Nope. His partner said, “I’ve watched Dr. P care for Karis for years. But I have no idea what to do for her.”

Finding a doctor for Karis in São Paulo took months. Months of frustration as one lead after another led to a “no”; months of worry as Karis’s symptoms worsened; months of questioning whether God noticed our need.

Finally, a chain of contacts led us to Dr. Garcia. Karis fell in love on our first visit, for his first questions were not about her health, but about herself: her interests, her hopes and dreams. As he examined her, they talked about the Spanish poets. By the time he called me into the room, they were on to existential philosophers. “I have so much I need to read before I see him again!” Karis exclaimed on our way home. “In the original languages?” I teased.

Karis’s life was tough. Treatment was often painful and costly. But Dr. Garcia saw her; for him the practice of medicine was art as much as science. He helped her believe her life was worth fighting for. He set firm boundaries when Karis tested her limits. But he also advocated for her freedom when others wanted to keep her in too narrow a box. He paid attention to her heart and mind, not just her physical distress.

How does a mom say an adequate thank you for such blessing in her daughter’s life? There will be time, yes, in eternity, to express the wonder of a God who loves so much, in such variable and inter-reflecting colors. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Dr. Garcia, a man free to love his patients with wisdom as well as knowledge.