But God is a solid rock

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

Beloved missionary friends, already retired and living in the U.S., chose to return to northeast Brazil to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary among their dear friends there. They spoke at a conference June 14-16, concluding with a marvelous celebration of God’s faithfulness to them over their fifty years together.

The next day, Sam didn’t feel well. He and Connie traveled to another city, where a friend was concerned. “He arrived here with a bad cold,” came through the grapevine to us. Friday (just last Friday), we began to receive more messages from Brazil: Sam had to be admitted to the hospital. It’s pneumonia. Their daughter is on her way from São Paulo. Sam’s getting worse.

And Saturday: Sam has died.

As is customary in Brazil, his funeral service and burial took place the next day. (Just last Sunday.)

If we are stunned, imagine the people who were with Sam and Connie, celebrating exuberantly one day; shocked and grieving two days later. Imagine their children, who didn’t get to say goodbye. Imagine Connie going back home alone. Imagine the grief of their friends in northeast Brazil who had welcomed them back with such joy.

For all who knew and loved Sam, our world is shaken. But our God is a solid rock. Please pray that we will all hold fast to him.

But God himself will cross over ahead of you

Deuteronomy 31:2-6 Moses said, “I am no longer able to lead you . . . But the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you . . . So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before your enemies. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

When I think about the next few months, I easily feel panicky. I have dedicated the fall to traveling and promoting Karis: All I See Is Grace. Though it’s a lot of work, I don’t mind organizing the trips. I don’t mind the traveling and the speaking. I’m excited about seeing many family members and friends, and meeting new ones. Since I so firmly believe that writing this book was God’s clear direction to me, I am eager to see what he will do with it to bless people’s lives through Karis’s understanding and experience of his love.

What scares me is the emotional challenge of several months of “Karis immersion.” These last years I have walked through complex grief and PTSD. I am in a stable place now, but I still feel fragile. How will I handle an intense focus on all the Karis memories? My enemy is not Karis, not at all. It’s my own emotional vulnerability.

So these verses in Deuteronomy come to me in a very timely way, along with some wonderful words by J. I. Packer in the book Knowing God:

Guidance is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us by showing us His way . . . whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good He is. And our self-distrust, while keeping us humble, must not cloud the joy with which we lean on our faithful covenant God . . .

There is tremendous relief in knowing His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me. No discovery can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

I may be fragile, but God personally goes ahead of me. There is no place the next months will take me that he, my faithful covenant God, is not already there. He will neither fail me nor abandon me.

Thank you, Lord God. May your Holy Spirit make these words come to life inside me, one day at a time.

But God holds me fast, by Becky Kennedy

I’ve struggled with fear ever since getting mugged when I lived in Asia. When it first happened, I didn’t sleep for 6 weeks. Ever since then, it’s been easy for the devil to mess with me about anything he can even remotely tie to that mugging event (which, I might mention was unsuccessful–the mugger didn’t get my bag OR me, and I ran away to safety!).

Recently, I went to the beach by myself to get away with God, as I often do, three or four times a year. I stayed at the beach for three nights, and had a really wonderful time with God. The last night, though, someone came up to my hotel room and BANGED on my door, “BANG BANG BANG!!!” I immediately became afraid and went up to the keyhole to look out. No one was there.

“What the heck?” I said to myself. “Why would someone be banging on my door?” Then, feeling vulnerable because I was there in the hotel alone, I went outside to my balcony and looked around. I questioned, “Should I close my balcony door tonight?  Could someone climb in to my balcony from another balcony?” (I usually sleep with it open so I can hear the waves.) “Yes,” I told myself. So I started to move the balcony furniture around so someone couldn’t use it to step into the balcony.

Then I thought, “Wait. It’s pretty unlikely that that person will be able to actually scale the balconies, and s/he probably wasn’t actually targeting ME…they were probably drunk or high and are very likely now passed out in their room.” And I also knew that if I woke up the next morning with the balcony furniture re-arranged, it would keep me in fear and remind me of the previous night’s fear. I also told myself that I had to drive the next morning and it would be silly to keep myself awake all night in fear. I left my balcony door OPEN like I usually do, because I am protected by God, and IF He would allow something bad to happen to me, there will be a good reason, it will all be part of His plan. But I didn’t truly think something bad would happen. I knew that it was the devil messing with me!!!

I slept really soundly that night.  I am proud of myself for saying NO to the fear and for stepping into God and His peace…and I am encouraged, because if He can heal a fifteen-year-old fear, then He can heal other things too. Of course He can (and He DOES!)!!!  But sometimes, tangible encouragement from God helps to serve as a point of reference.

“Therefore we do not fear, though the mountains give way and the earth falls into the heart of the sea, even there Your right hand will hold me fast.”

“So do not fear–for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am Your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My victorious right hand.”

“He has not given us a spirit of fear, but a Spirit of Love, and of Power, and of Sound Mind.”

“We have the mind of Christ.”

But God’s love remains forever

Psalm 103:17 But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children.

Friday night Dave and I heard Emanuel Ax and the Pittsburgh Symphony play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 5. On this Father’s Day weekend it was the perfect setting for remembering my dad. I heard this concerto dozens of times as a child. Each delicate trill and soaring crescendo and the full-bodied strings evoke for me some of the warmest memories of my childhood.

I realized as I listened to the music that my very presence at that concert was probably due to a decision Dad made before I was born. Somehow he decided to include among the sparse possessions they packed for Guatemala a few records of classical music and a record player. This is more remarkable considering there wasn’t electricity yet in the remote mountain Mayan-Ixil village at the end of a rough dirt track that would become “home.”

My memories begin not in the one room my parents and three older siblings lived in first, but in the one-bedroom adobe house they moved to before I was born. When I was six, a fireplace was built in the living room, adding to the cooking fire in the kitchen another source of heat. The next year, now with seven children, Dad moved his office from an eight by eight foot room to the garage, so that he and Mom could move out of the living room into their own bedroom. They hauled into Nebaj on our luggage trailer an old couch, an armchair, and a rocking chair to replace the double bed that had previously occupied most of that space.

Thus the living room became a gathering place for our family at the end of the day. No matter how cold the mountain chill, except for Christmas Day we only had a fire in the fireplace after supper, and that made those evenings even more appealing. We read books, played games, and made jigsaw puzzles, to the background (when there was electricity) of Dad’s classical records. As if by common consent, we laid aside the conflicts, emotional clutter, and concerns of the day. Somehow Beethoven and Tchaikovsky knit together our frayed affections before we left the warmth for our chilly beds. My youngest sister recalls hearing Dad’s classical music coming through the door from the living room to the bedroom as she fell asleep.

My husband did not receive a classical music heritage. Dave takes me to concerts to please me, and he does often enjoy the music. But for me, it communicates love and security. My siblings confirm this is true for them as well. One of my sisters says, “I’ve often found that turning on classical music brings an immediate release of tension. I close my eyes, give a contented sigh and start to breathe deeply, relax my shoulders and even smile a bit—signs of feeling safe. A treasured heritage.”  Life by day in our home could be stressful, but God used Dad’s impractical choices to provide a safe space for us in the evenings. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Lord.

But Jesus will announce we are his

Revelation 3:5  All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.

Breaking news: My seven-month-old grandson Caleb cut his top two teeth last week. He now has four! Not exactly a headline, you say? But I’ve excitedly told this to several people. Why? Because he is mine.

I watched Caleb on Thursday trying over and over again until by late afternoon he was able to push himself from his tummy into a sitting position. The next morning he performed this new skill with ease, and turned his focus toward mastering forward instead of backward movement when on his hands and knees . . .

Watching Caleb fascinates me. He’s doing normal baby things, but for me each new conquest is cause for celebration. Why? Because he is mine. Is he the cutest and smartest baby ever? Of course! Objectively, that question is irrelevant. Because he is mine.

I watched Caleb more than usual last week because his mom, my daughter Valerie, was studying for and taking her exam for certification as a critical care nurse. She now has more letters after her name: CCRN. She’s the best nurse in the pediatric ICU of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Is that objectively true? It doesn’t matter! Because she is mine.

Last month my son Dan graduated from the Metropolitan Police Academy in DC. He was the most charming and handsome new police officer participating in the graduation ceremonies. Objectively true? It doesn’t matter! I was proud to point out to the people sitting near me which one was my son. Because he is mine.

A woman I met at a church picnic Sunday said, “Oh, is Rachel your daughter? She has been so sweet and helpful to me.” I responded with thanks, but inside I was more than just grateful for the woman’s comment—I was proud to be linked to my daughter. Because she is mine.

This is how Jesus feels about you. And about me. He’s delighted to claim us. Because we are his, in a covenant of belonging and love.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me

Psalm 42:1, 5, 8; 43:2 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God . . . Now I am deeply discouraged . . . But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life . . . For you are God, my only safe haven.

I turned 15 the week before I boarded an airplane to live with a family I didn’t know. Our missionary kids’ boarding school in Guatemala only went through eighth grade, and after a year of doing ninth grade at home, my parents wanted me to experience “normal American high school.”

I recognized my new “foster mom” at the Kansas City airport only because she held a sign with my name on it. On the way to her house she drove me by the 2,000-student high school where my new “brothers” were practicing football. There were more kids on the field, wearing funny helmets and uniforms, than had been in my entire school in Guatemala, grades 1-8, where my class of five had been together for years.

The first evening in my new home, my foster parents explained to me that no one at my new high school knew or cared anything about Guatemala. I was to forget where I had come from, and as quickly as possible transform myself into an American teenager. I had no idea how to do that! How to dress, how to talk, what to talk about since everything I had experienced didn’t matter here, how to carry myself . . . . I didn’t know American music, or slang, or food, or anything about suburban middle class U.S. culture.

A week or so later, my first letter from home described a terrible car accident involving my parents and my four younger siblings. They were OK, but I suddenly realized that everything I knew, everything that made me, me—even my family—could be taken from me.

I went into my room, locked the door, and to the distress of my foster parents, didn’t come out for two days. For those two days I didn’t eat or sleep. I alternated between emotional paralysis and uncontrolled weeping, carefully muffled by my pillow and blankets so the strangers I was living with wouldn’t hear me.

Psalms 42 and 43 (originally a single psalm) were the words God used to bring me out of this crisis. “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5). Over those two days I realized clearly that what I had not lost was God. He was my safe haven. I determined I would put my hope in him.

During the next days and weeks of confusion and culture shock,  I learned what to do when “day and night I had only tears for food” (42:3): return to my safe haven; sing his songs through the dark nights. My theme song was “You are my hiding place . . . what time I am afraid, I will trust in you” (not Carol Cymbala’s song, which was written later). Again and again I cried, “Lord, I don’t know how to trust you! Teach me to trust you!”

God began building a habit in me at 15 that would literally save my life in the challenges of the years to come. His love poured out to me daily became a vital part of his covenant with me.

But God remembered

Genesis 7:24-8:1 And the floodwaters covered the earth for 150 days. But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and livestock with him in the boat.

I’m intrigued by this phrase. How can we use the phrase “remembered” to describe someone who never forgets?

“The Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering. Yet they say, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” “Never!” [says the Lord]. “Can a mother forget her nursing child? . . . But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:13-16

I bet, though, that during those 150 days trapped in that boat, Noah had moments of forgetting God’s faithfulness. I’ve been there.

In 2009 I needed to know God remembered me. Out of all the millions and billions of people who have walked this earth down through the centuries, if God didn’t remember me, I was toast.

I felt alone in 2009, as trapped as Noah must have felt inside that boat. I hit a wall; I had nothing left to give. Whipped. Done in. At the end of my rope.

Feeling desperate, I did something desperate. I left Karis with inadequate care. I patched together a Karis-care team without sufficient training or supervision or communication with each other. I got on a plane and flew a continent away from hospitals and IVs and meds and therapies and little sleep and relentless setbacks and crises.

In the confusion, Karis almost died. Could have died. And I lost a precious friendship.

But God remembered me, and the people under my care. In his mercy he preserved not only Karis’s life but mine as well. He gave me some rest, and a glimmer of new hope. The ability to come back and start again. To face what I had done, how I got to that place, and what I had to do next.

This is one of the promises that is part of God’s covenant with me, and with you:

He does not forget me.

But God will confirm his covenant with us

Genesis 6:17-18 [God said to Noah] “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes . . . but I will confirm my covenant with you.

When she was 16, Karis believed God made a covenant with her. It consisted of a promise and a prophecy. From then on she viewed her life through that lens. She called it “being in cahoots with God.” She made decisions and indulged in what many of us who loved her and cared about her safety considered recklessness. She seemed to have no fear.

I didn’t know about the promise and the prophecy. When I learned about them and their influence on Karis’s life through reading her journals, I finally understood the bedrock of Karis’s choices and attitudes.

As time went by, though, the circumstances of Karis’s life seemed to contradict the promise and the prophecy. Nothing worked out as she anticipated. She experienced one loss after another after another. It seemed God was destroying everything she cared about and hoped for. Had she really understood God? Or were the promise and the prophecy products of her romantic teenage imagination?

To find out, read Karis: All I See Is Grace when it comes out in August!

(That was a shameless plug for my book!)

But I am challenged to think: What is God’s covenant with me? How have I seen him confirm it, even when circumstances seemed contrary? More about that in another post, because I want to give you time to think about these questions for yourself.

Jesus mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises . . . Hebrews 8:6

But God is incredibly patient, by David Kornfield

I haven’t slept well for many years. My mind doesn’t turn off. I go through the night in a mix of dreams and partially awake trying to solve problems or make things happen in my dreams. I’m usually unsuccessful in the problem solving, sometimes losing control of the most simple things. I’m sure psychologists would have fun diagnosing all kinds of things about me based on my dreams!

Along with that, I’ve gotten into a habit of playing games on my laptop in bed as I go to sleep. Life doesn’t always work out the way I’d like during the day. Ha! So playing games that I can usually win is a nice way to wrap up the day. When I’m too tired to keep playing, I go to sleep.

I think there’s a connection between the games and the difficult nights. And a lack of connection with Debbie and with God.

So, over-all not finishing my days well and not sleeping well.

BUT GOD!

He’s so incredibly patient! Normally, he seems to wait until I’m ready for change before he steps in. Another way of putting it is that he seems to limit stepping into my life until I ask.

Last Monday I asked some dear friends for prayer ministry. I listed a number of areas they could pray for related to ministry and other good things, along with my need for deliverance from the above. They focused on the latter. God took me into a place of resting, pretty much synonymous with abiding and with waiting on him. It was a precious time! It included laying on of hands and anointing with oil.

Four nights have passed. Blessed nights. Nights of rest. No computer games before bed. I have both a conscious and an unconscious sense of resting. Of being at rest. Each night has been quite different, but all of them have been characterized by resting and by enjoying God. My dreams have been blessed, even sometimes humorously lighthearted, encouraging.

I am incredibly grateful for God stepping into my life in such a tangible way, meeting me where I need him, bringing Psalm 23 to life yet once again. Thank You, Lord!