But God says, “Don’t weep any longer”

Jeremiah 31:16-17 [Crying is heard.] But now this is what the Lord says: “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you,” says the Lord . . . “There is hope for your future,” says the Lord.

I had several adventures yesterday as I cared for my grandson Caleb. At ten months, he is into everything. He managed to pull over on himself a gallon of water, just room temperature but still a surprise.

Once I changed Caleb’s clothes, I turned to cleaning up the water running all over my kitchen floor. I tried to interest Caleb in his toys in the next room, but within about thirty seconds, wanting to be where I was, he had crawled back into the water.

I couldn’t think of anything to do except put the baby in his playpen in my bedroom. Despite the toys I gave him to play with, he was outraged. It was clearly not nap time, the only reason I usually use the pack n play. Separated and unable to see me, he screamed the entire time I was mopping the kitchen floor.

As I dried things out, I had time to reflect that Caleb probably felt I had treated him unjustly; that I was punishing him. Hmm. How often do I feel like circumstances I don’t understand are some kind of injustice or punishment? And how often is God compelled to restrain me in some fashion while he cleans up a mess I’ve made?

Caleb had no way to understand that his confinement would be very brief. For the time he was there, he had no concept of hope for his future. The only way to console him was to take him out of the playpen, cuddle him close and speak reassuringly to him. He doubtless understood few of my words, just like I don’t always understand what God is saying to me. But his underlying trust in me, built over many hours of companionship since he was born, soon soothed his hurt feelings.

Perhaps one day I’ll tell Caleb this story, in a conversation about injustice and the hope we can have for our future because God’s love for us continues rock solid, even when we can’t understand our circumstances!

Caleb selfie 9.27.18

A Caleb selfie from yesterday. I was trying to take his picture, but he crawled over and pushed the button himself. I still don’t know how he switched it to selfie mode, because I don’t know how to do that myself yet on my new phone!

But God allowed

1 Kings 15:3-4, 11 King Abijam committed the same sins as his father before him, and he was not faithful to the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had been. But for David’s sake, the Lord his God allowed his descendants to continue ruling, shining like a lamp, and he gave Abijam a son [Asa] to rule after him. . . Asa did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight.

I know several people who are deeply involved with exploring their family’s genealogies. And on our family vacation a couple of weeks ago our daughter asked Dave and me questions about our parents’ and grandparents’ stories. Beyond curiosity, do these stories matter? Yes. Whether we know it or not, our lives are impacted, for good or ill, by the thousands of choices made by those who came before us in our family tree.

What I love about this Scripture passage is the reminder that each of us can make our own choices. We can change our family story, as King Asa did.

This summer and fall as I’ve been privileged to visit many of my extended family members, I am rejoicing to see all the wonderful ways each one is choosing to change our family’s story—for good! Shining like a lamp . . .

But God had good plans, by Gene and Susan Coleman, Italy

Cristina’s road to Jesus began about eleven years ago when she came in contact with the people of Il Faro, our church. She had enrolled her son to attend the Push The Rock summer basketball camp. She was very interested in the testimonies the basketball coaches gave during the camp. The lives of the church members intrigued her. “All that time,” she said, “we watched the people of Il Faro and appreciated what you were doing and what kind of people you were.”

Then the unthinkable happened. Her husband, who had a good job and was a hard worker, had a stroke. But the Lord had good plans through it all. He ended up in a hospital room in the bed next to a relative of one of the believers in our church. At this point, both husband and wife were more open to the gospel. When her husband left the hospital they began to meet with a couple from the church. They also started to attend our Sunday services. Yet, they still wondered. There were so many questions, so many doubts. Was this church a cult? Was it out to brainwash them?

Slowly they began to participate regularly in all of our church activities. For all intents and purposes they appeared to be believers. We all rejoiced! It took them seven years to trust us enough to join us. However, the husband eventually lost interest and drifted away. Cristina as well, but she kept in touch with us as her job schedule permitted. But in spite of the many Bible studies she had with different members of the church, the many conversations, face-to-face and through WhatsApp, a black cloud of doubt and frustration hung over her. And it just intensified. She would say “I wish I could pray like you pray.” Or, “I wish I could believe the verses you share with one another, and share them with the same conviction.”

The church loved Cristina, reached out to her, tried to encourage her, answered her questions, and counseled her to surrender to God. Susan spent months of Bible studies with her, praying that God would open her eyes with the truth. But all to no avail. During most studies with Susan she would end up weeping. Something was wrong! She simply could not understand what we were saying.

Then during our Sunday service, this past Sept 2, God broke through. During the service she broke down under the weight of her frustration and lack of peace. When someone said she did not have the Holy Spirit, she said it was like a slap in the face. And she realized she was like the Pharisees. Pretending to be a Christian, trying to be a Christian, when she was not.

That evening, after the service, she talked with one of the missionary ladies, and surrendered her life to God. What a difference Christ made in her life. As soon as she went home she told her husband, expecting him to laugh in her face. Instead he cried. She called her son and daughter and shared with them. They want to hear more of what happened. She shared with her friends, and they thought she was crazy. What a joy to see her radiant with the love and peace of Christ, and know for certain she is forgiven. Her hunger for knowing Scripture has increased by leaps and bounds.

Will you pray for Cristina as she grows and witnesses to her friends? The battle will be fierce, but greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

But God said, “You are not the one”

1 Chronicles 17:1-4 “Look,” David said [to Nathan the prophet], “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant is out there under a tent!” Nathan replied to David, “Do whatever you have in mind, for God is with you.” But that same night God said to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘You are not the one to build a house for me to live in.’”

There was a time while I lived in Brazil that I thought God was asking me to build a ministry there for survivors of sexual abuse. But in October, 2012, at a conference in southern Brazil, God said to me clearly, “You are not the one to build this ministry in Brazil. You have other battles to fight.”

The occasion was the launching of the new edition of my book Vítima, Sobrevivente, Vencedor (Victim, Survivor, Victor). Thus in my talk to the participants gathered from around Brazil, I told them I was offering this book as a resource, but they would be the ones to actually build and carry out this ministry. A large number of people came forward indicating they felt God was calling them to this work.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, my daughter Karis had a terrible accident resulting in wounds that prevented her attending her sister’s wedding in Brazil the next month. And another family member was experiencing a crisis which resulted in my cancelling my participation in another conference in northeast Brazil.

Yes. I had other battles to fight.

“You are not the one.” They can be hard words to hear. But I’m glad God spoke to me so clearly that I knew where he was deploying me. And that he showed me he was deploying others for the work in Brazil. Like David, my part was (and continues to be) supplying resources for those who, like Solomon, do the actual building.

This has been an interesting reflection for me during these weeks when I am trying to communicate what God did through Karis’s life, so that people can be encouraged through understanding him better. He is still active, always has been and always will be, in restoration and transformation. He still wants to pour out his grace on each one of us, in whatever ways we each need his healing touch. I pray this will be the experience of all who read Karis, All I See Is Grace just as much as for those who read Vítima, Sobrevivente, Vencedor. God is the source of healing. To him all praise.

But God spoke with a mighty voice

1 Samuel 7:9-12 Samuel pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him . . . the Philistines arrived to attack Israel, but the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven and the Philistines were thrown into confusion . . . Samuel then took a large stone and named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

Yesterday this passage was used at a gathering of prayer ministers at our church. It fits nicely with the “Stones of Remembrance” I use for the Karis book parties. After telling three stories of how God intervened in our lives, and specifically Karis’s life, I invite the participants to also collect a basket of stones, number them, and write a story associated with each one that tells what God has done in his or her own life or family’s life.

Stones of Remembrance

When I read Bible stories like this one, I like to imagine the types of “enemies” Karis fought. Infections. Rejection. Injuries from falls. Side effects from medications. All kinds of limitations and losses. Emotional challenges. Temptations to discouragement and despair . . .

I find it interesting that in this story God speaks with a mighty voice against Israel’s enemies. But when he speaks with us, he usually uses a quiet, gentle voice. We need to be still and listen to his voice, speaking love, and wisdom, and encouragement. Speaking healing into our bruised and battered souls. Speaking truth to the lies we have believed. Speaking freedom from the shackles we have allowed the enemy to fasten around us. Speaking hope, and joy, and peace to our fears and our anxieties and our despair. Speaking comfort and compassion to our grief and neediness.

Today, as I prepare to leave tomorrow for another “Stones of Remembrance” trip, I am hearing the Lord say to me “Don’t be afraid . . . the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out . . . Take your position; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17).

Be still. Let him be God.

But God also gives wealth

2 Chronicles 1:12 [God said to Solomon] “I will certainly give you what you requested. But I will also give you wealth.”

My request of the Lord? That he use Karis’s story to encourage someone today. But he offers me even more.

Thursday night I got home after midnight from speaking at Notre Dame’s student-led campus fellowship, Iron Sharpens Iron. Home to my precious friends’ home, which so often in the past they have made mine as well. Home to a sweet note and hot tea beside my bed. Wealth.

The students at ND were so kind and welcoming and generous with their attention. Wealth.

I got to see an old friend after many, many years and felt like we could just pick up where we left off. Wealth.

At the book brunch on Saturday, the table was so lovely and the food so delicious we had a taste of Heaven. Old friends and new ones rejoiced with me over God’s goodness to Karis and to our family. Wealth.

On the way to South Bend I had several hours in the car with another precious friend. Yesterday I spent with my niece and her family in Holland. Now I’m enjoying a day and a night with generous friends in Grand Haven. We’ve been remembering fun and funny things our children did together when they were small and we all lived in Port Huron. Tomorrow on my way home I’ll have breakfast in Kalamazoo and lunch in Fort Wayne with other friends I seldom see. Such a wealth of kindness.

Thank you for your generosity to me, Lord!

For you are good, and your faithful love endures forever. (2 Chronicles 5:13)