But God’s grace is greater

Romans 5:15 There is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

“Please, sir. I want some more.”

The first minute of this scene from “Oliver” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tOkpntQtBM, could be seen as a caricature of an idea of God that some of us grew up believing. At the Bumbles’ orphanage, the best way to survive—to avoid wrath and punishment—was to keep one’s head down, follow the rules, be as invisible as possible, and express neither opinions nor needs. When Oliver drew the short straw in the “more, please” dare, the consequences he suffered were severe.

This picture—thank God! even when toned down—bears no relation to what our Father is like.

One of my friends often says, “Where there’s some, there’s more.” I’ve pondered this idea for years. What does it mean? I’ve noticed my friend using this phrase in two contexts, one in relation to personal need, and the other in relation to others’ needs. In both cases, the phrase expresses a life philosophy of abundance, in contrast with zero-sum, which does make sense if God is not in the picture. She would attribute her view to God’s inexhaustible nature and his openhanded care for his children.

My friend might say, for example, “I can share freely, because I can count on God giving even more abundantly to me.” Or “I can receive with joy, because there’s more where that came from—enough for everyone!” These are revolutionary thoughts for someone who grew up like I did, with a recurring nightmare as a young child of ending my life because there wasn’t “enough” of anything to go around to all eight of us kids.

This weekend I was caught off guard by strong words from several friends. I found myself thinking, “Where there’s some, there’s more. I love these people. Behind my love is God’s amazing, limitless love for them. I don’t need to become reactive. I can draw from the richness and depth of God’s love and respond gently.” A baby step toward living out of his unfailing “More.”

This morning I woke up with the wonderful words of this hymn by Don Moen filling my heart with gratitude https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOhFfSFK7TQ:

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done;
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

              His love has no limit . . .

God’s greatest Gift, the Word made flesh—the precious Child we honor this sixth day of Christmas, visible image of the invisible God—shows us what our Father is like. John says God’s unfailing love and faithfulness come to us through Jesus, grace upon grace (1:16-17).

As I contemplate 2020, my deepest desire is to grow into this grace, to notice and actively embrace what leads to love. Will you join me? Tell me your story.

Alleluia, to us a child is born.

O come, let us adore him.

But God places the lonely in families

Psalm 68:3-6 Let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with his joy. Sing praises to God and to his name! . . . Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God . . . God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

I didn’t want to do Christmas. Grief caught me off guard, because last year was fine. I thought I was past that flood of painful feelings. Instead of “merry and bright,” I wanted to hide away somewhere by myself.

Added to missing Karis and her joy in this season, I’ve been lamenting (that’s not too strong a word) the story of our country, caught up with Nehemiah in confessing and mourning the sins and abuses of my people. Wondering what forgiveness looks like. Wondering what restitution looks like. Wondering what healing looks like.

Into all this sadness, God gave me Psalm 68, and he gives me Advent. Acknowledging our brokenness opens doors to true heart-gladness. (See this article published in the New York Times—Tish Harrison Warren is “author-in-residence” at our church: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/30/opinion/sunday/christmas-season-advent-celebration.html)

And God gave me a special experience of community. I risked sharing my sadness with some friends. Instead of judging me, they said “We’ll help you!” And they did. They laid aside their own busy-ness and came over for an evening to help me get ready for Christmas. Even the husband of one of my friends came! He cheerfully decorated cookies for me. Aren’t they cute?

Somehow my friends’ generosity helped me over my emotional hump. The experience reminded me of my sister Jan’s comment on the ButGod posting Nov 29:

I wondered if Caleb’s quick response to Val’s “you’re OK” was partly due to his already having been attended to by you. . . Maybe he would have responded just as well if Val had spoken to him in the midst of the initial meltdown . . . But it seems like a picture of our role in caring for each other in community. We can sometimes provide the immediate holding that allows the other to then perceive/receive God’s “you’re OK; I’m here.”

Isn’t that lovely? God recognizes our need for each other, not “just” for him.

I’m listening to Chris Tomlin’s “This Is Our God.” Yes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwfHkZOU1_o

But Jesus’s Kingdom is not of this world

John 18:33-38 Pilate called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him. Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

I thought of this intriguing passage when I read this opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday morning: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/us/politics/lies-damned-lies-and-washington.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_191210?campaign_id=2&instance_id=14319&segment_id=19468&user_id=4c581b5e2a85dc7aee8f698dd30213e0&regi_id=609579281210

The question “What is truth?” matters now as much as it did two thousand years ago. Jesus wasn’t afraid to address it boldly, despite strong reactions. See, for example, John 8:42-47 and Matthew 15:10-20. He clearly believed objective truth existed, and that it mattered. In fact, in his conversation with Pilate, Jesus made what seems like a leap in logic, from the question of being a king to this bald statement: “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth.”

Here are some questions I’m thinking about:

  • Is it possible to exercise political authority in this world while speaking only truth?
  • Do we have any examples of absolute integrity among our political leaders, past or present?
  • Was it possible for Jesus to speak only truth because his Kingdom is not of this world?
  • If truth was so important to Jesus, yet so hard to find in our political arena, dare I align myself and the name of my holy Lord to ANY specific politician or political persuasion?

While I ponder, I do know for sure that God wants me to think and speak truth, as faithfully as I am able to discern what that is.

But God commanded the skies to open

Psalm 78:17-25 Yet they [God’s people] kept on rebelling against the Most High in the desert. . . They even spoke against God himself, saying “God can’t give us food in the wilderness. Yes, he can strike a rock so water gushes out, but he can’t give his people bread and meat.” . . . For they did not believe God or trust him to care for them. But he commanded the skies to open; he rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven . . . God gave them all they could hold.

Sometimes it’s easier for me to trust God with big things than with smaller, ongoing, daily challenges. Do you find that true?

I’ve been remembering the fall of 2004, when after setting records for her recovery from intestinal transplant, Karis’s body rejected her graft and nothing the doctors could do was successful in turning that around. She received every medication available to reverse the rejection, which meant her immune system was wiped out. I was able to trust God through the ensuing Legionnaire’s Disease, which took her to the ICU for 75 days. God did AMAZING things to save her life. Big time miracles! (See story posted on 2/4/19.)

In mid-January 2005 Karis was released from the ICU. She was too weak even to push the call bell to request help from the nurses. She was told she might never walk again. She had ongoing horrible nightmares from the high levels of fentanyl she had required in the ICU. I was the only person she trusted. She had no intestine, since her bleeding, disintegrating graft had been removed. Her daily “bread from heaven” was called TPN, nutrition directly into her veins. She bounced back and forth from the rehab hospital to the “regular” hospital as she developed chronic pancreatitis, liver failure, and multiple episodes of sepsis.

Karis DID learn to walk again, and travel to Brazil, where she met a darling little girl named after her.

One day I received an email from a friend telling me she knew someone “like Karis” who had been cured through a special diet. If Karis would only follow this diet, she would be fine. Umm . . . I guess my friend had missed the fact that Karis had NO INTESTINE. Therefore, she couldn’t eat ANYTHING. For some reason, that email made me inordinately angry. I guess it triggered the frustration that was building up in me day after difficult day. And I felt hurt. If my friend didn’t understand the basic realities of our situation, she really hadn’t been tracking with us at all. I told myself never to offer advice unless I had taken the time to be sure I correctly grasped what was going on in a given situation. (Good to be reminded of this again!)

Every single day of 2005 challenged me to trust God for what Karis and I needed for that day. Jesus’ words stood out in bold relief: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). And God provided the manna, one day at a time. Faithfulness to our needs for each day (Lam 3:23). Thank you, Lord.

Karis on Christmas Day 2005, shortly before her second five-organ transplant.
Docs later told us they estimated she had three weeks to live at that point, due to liver failure.
BUT GOD commanded the skies to open . . .