But Jesus began to weep

Luke 19:37-44 All of Jesus’ followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen . . . But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, Jesus began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. . . you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.”

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin to walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem. In the liturgical tradition, Lent is a penitential season, a time when we join Jesus in weeping over our own lost opportunities, all the ways we have turned away from the peace he offers us.

At our church today, we will be encouraged to observe a “holy Lent.” That means, in part, that we will set aside time in the weeks before Easter to sit before God and allow him to show us what is true in our lives that grieves him, because it hurts us and others. To the degree we enter into his grief, we have an opportunity for confession, forgiveness, and transformation. A new beginning.

The challenge of Lent is to embrace disciplines that can encourage us in this Spirit-guided self-reflection, that break into our routines and disequilibrate our status quo. Fasting is one of those disciplines that can impact us at gut level (pun intended). “I’m hungry. Oh yeah. Instead of eating today, I’m using that time to be quiet and still before God, with no distracting screens, so that I can hear him speak to me.”

I can’t think about fasting without thinking of the many, many, many days of her life Karis spent feeling hungry, often desperately so. For her, those were imposed fasts because she simply couldn’t eat. But I’ve often wondered how much her spiritual maturity was nourished during those times of physical malnourishment. Day after day, night after night, she had to fight through to peace, baring herself completely in the presence of her Father. As a young teen, Twila Paris’s “The Warrior Is a Child” was one of her favorite songs. I just listened to it again, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkQhGSBXsHI

Lately I’ve been winning
Battles left and right
But even winners can get
Wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that
I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know Who picks me
Up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
Never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at His feet

They don’t know that I go
Running home when I fall down
They don’t know Who picks me
Up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while

‘Cause deep inside this armor

The warrior is a child

Will you join me in letting Karis’s courage encourage me to observe a holy Lent?

Sometimes it’s what UNbalances us that ends up making us strong.

But Jesus touched them

Matthew 17:5-7 But even as Peter spoke [at the Transfiguration of Jesus], a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Last week at dinner with a friend, I found myself telling her a story I’ve seldom shared with anyone, about Jesus touching me at a time when I was deeply discouraged and afraid. A gorgeous blue butterfly figured prominently in this vision. I thought about that butterfly again while absorbing our pastor Jonathan Warren’s thoughts about Jesus’ transfiguration yesterday morning. The whole sermon is worth your time; you can listen here as soon as it’s posted under 02.23.20: https://www.ascensionpittsburgh.org/sermons/

Why a butterfly? The Greek word used in Matthew 17:2, usually translated “transfigured” or “transformed,” is metamorphoo, from which our word metamorphosis is derived. Pastor Jonathan pointed out that Paul used the same word in Romans 12:2, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In the spectacular moment of Jesus’ transfiguration, the revelation of his glory, he cared about and cared for his disciples. Jesus lives in that glory, yet he thinks about us in all our grubbiness, and reaches out to heal, restore, and free us. Have you felt his touch? Sometimes I’m so preoccupied with my own stress, anxiety, or angst that I don’t notice him reaching out to me. When I’m still and pay attention, though, I am overwhelmed by his love. I’m taken right back to the time he played with me and the gorgeous blue butterfly.

I think our transformation starts there, with his healing touch, with feeling his love, not just saying “yeah, yeah” in our heads. We hear all the time that Jesus loves us. But that phrase can be sterile and empty until we feel his touch. That’s what enables and energizes us to stand up and walk forward with him again after we’ve been knocked down by our own fear. It changes the way we think, because compared to his love, the imperfections of other people’s love, and our own, and the world we live in, don’t really matter so very much.

The definition of metamorphosis is “the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form.” Indeed, “transform” in Rom 12:2 is in present continuous tense, indicating a process (the same is true in 2 Corinthians 3:18). We are in a process of transformation of the way we think. And when Paul says God’s will for us is good and pleasing and perfect, the focus is on how pleased God is with the direction of our lives, not necessarily how we interpret our circumstances through our childish shortsighted self-centered desire for what feels good. The word translated perfect, teleios, means complete or mature. God wants us to grow up!

The Phillips translation captures this:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

This challenge faces me today. Will I be willing for Jesus’ love to mature me, showing me how my life can please him? Will I be still long enough to feel his touch? And will I pay attention to his showing me how to pass his love on to others, to the specific people God brings into my life?

Interesting: the expression Jesus used to tell the disciples to get up in Mt 17:7 (“arise,” in the KJV) is the same in Mark 5:41 when he tells the little girl (Talita, in Portuguese) to get up after he touched her! I’ll have many opportunities to remember, through our new little granddaughter Talita, God’s love for me. His loving touch that doesn’t leave me stuck, but invites me to arise and walk forward with him.

Three days old!

Any family gaining a second child is amazed at how big and competent their older child suddenly becomes, compared to the new baby. Two-year-old maturity is impressive–but we wouldn’t want even Caleb to stay where he is!

Lord Jesus, in your amazing love, please touch each one of us, today, in our places of fear and wounding and brokenness and loss. Reveal to us your light, your glory. And transform us to be like you.

But God gives us love

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

I was exhausted. Fed up. Done.

Wounded, angry, and frustrated.

I had run out of hope.

And I was both fearful and timid, afraid of irreparable damage to our family if I took initiative to break up our marriage.

Finally, about six and a half years ago, I expressed some of this to Dave, after feeling it deeply for at least twice that long. I had been raised to believe that if I had problems, they were my fault, and my own responsibility to fix. Especially when the context was a marriage in which we were both dedicated to caring for other people, not for ourselves.

There were two big issues: caring for Karis intensively for almost thirty years without much support (especially emotional support) from Dave. And secondly, the reason he was not stepping up as a husband even when he did so as a father: his true love, his idolatry of his ministry. I had long since concluded that I couldn’t compete and was no longer going to try. Though Dave taught the “right” order of priorities (marriage and family before ministry), his way of living it did not make me feel valued or loved. He admitted that when he traveled to Pittsburgh from Brazil, his entire focus was Karis. It never crossed his radar that I might have needs. (Yes. I told even myself she was all that mattered.)

I’m writing this today, Valentine’s Day, to publicly give credit to Dave for his response to what I told him six and a half years ago. As passionately as he always did anything, he committed himself to do what he could to save our marriage. I was skeptical, but he was determined. And he followed through, taking our counselor’s direction seriously, giving the time, energy, and attention we needed to repair what had been broken between us for a long time. It was not a simple fix—it took years. During that time Karis died, and I started struggling with PTSD, and what our counselor described as “complex grief.” No, there was nothing simple about our challenges. But Dave stuck it out and saw it through.

We’ve come to recognize clearly our faults and weaknesses, and how they dovetail to create what Dave calls the “perfect storm.” We’ve blown our strategies, made mistakes, fallen on our faces more times than we can count. But now we know what to do next when those things happen. Dave faces into the storm, rather than running away. I gather my courage to say what’s going on with me. We admit our faults and wrongdoing. We are learning what forgiveness means for us. Both of us open our hearts to confess our fear and timidity (yes—that was a big surprise: learning that Dave was fearful and timid too, in relation to me, of all things!) and receive the power, love and self-discipline God offers us.

Our counselor used to say, “Love is offering who you are, and receiving the gift of who the other person is. It requires taking off your masks, even the sweet “Christian” ones you think please God, and telling it like it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because God loves the real, messy us, not what we try to make ourselves into. No pretending!

This morning, this Valentine’s Day, I woke up feeling grateful to God for this man beside me. A man with many faults, as he would be the first to tell you. Married to a woman with many faults, as I have learned at the expense of my pride over these last six and a half years. But we’ve made the choice to love each other as we are. And we’ve been rewarded by steady growth in God’s grace. It’s humbling. But incredibly freeing. Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetheart.

But God rescues

2 Timothy 3:11, 4:6-7 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. . . But the Lord rescued me from all of it. . . As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

Many of us have read about Dr. Li, the doctor in China who first alerted authorities about the coronavirus and was censored for it. But I didn’t know until I received the following email, forwarded by another mission teammate, that Dr. Li was a believer! I am quite sure this will encourage you, as it has me. I have left the Chinese intact because the script is so lovely.

All across China, people are talking about Dr Li Wen Liang. He was the doctor who discovered the coronavirus and in the early morning of 7 Feb, 2:58 a.m., he was promoted into glory and went home to be with our Father in heaven. 

Back in December last year, he was arrested for being a whistle blower ‘spreading rumors’ about a mysterious pneumonia like virus. This morning we found out he was in fact a fellow brother in Christ. Our hearts are deeply moved by his sacrificial choice to spread awareness about the virus despite the risks he faced, especially to his reputation and to his own health. 

He continued to care for patients up until he was infected himself. What a legacy to leave behind of what it means to be like Jesus to those hurting in a time of crisis. He chose to be an example of Immanuel, ‘God with us’ to the people of Wuhan. Can you imagine the joy he must have felt as he entered into eternity and heard the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”? 

So today, please pray for his family, especially his wife who is also infected and 8 months pregnant with their second child. May God heal them supernaturally and give them grace, peace, strength and comfort during this time.

Dr Li Wen Liang penned a deeply touching Chinese poem below of how he would miss his family, his beloved Wuhan and quoted 2 Tim 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

#jiayouwuhan

我不想當英雄。

我還有爹娘,

還有孩子,

還有懷孕臨產的妻,

還有許多的病人在病房。

盡管正直換不來善良,

盡管䢛途迷茫,

可還是要繼續進行,

誰讓我選擇了這國這家,

多少委屈,

等打完這仗,

垂淚如雨仰天遠望。

“I don’t want to be a hero.

I still have my parents,

And my children,

And my pregnant wife who’s about to give birth,

And many of my patients in the ward.

Though my integrity cannot be exchanged for the goodness of others,

Despite my loss and confusion,

I should proceed anyway.

Who let me choose this country and this family?

How many grievances do I have?

When this battle is over,

I will look up to the sky,

With tears like rain.”

我不想當英雄。

只是做為醫生,

我不能眼看著這不明的病毒,

傷害著我的同行。

還有那多無辜的人們,

他們盡管已奄奄一息,

可眼睛裏總望著我,

帶著生命的希望。

“I don’t want to be a hero.

But as a doctor,

I cannot just see this unknown virus

Hurting my peers

And so many innocent people.

Though they are dying,

They are always looking at me in their eyes,

With their hope of life.”

誰成想我競死了!

我的靈魂分明在天上,

望著那張白色的病床,

床上分明是我的軀體,

軀體上還是那熟悉的臉龐。

我的父親母親在哪?

還有我親愛的妻子,

那當年我苦苦追求的姑娘。

“Who would have ever realised that I was going to die?

My soul is in heaven,

Looking at the white bed,

On which lies my own body,

With the same familiar face.

Where are my parents?

And my dear wife,

The lady I once had a hard time chasing?”

天上有一道光!

那光的盡頭是人們時常說起的天堂。

我寧願不去哪裏,

我寧願回到武漢我的家鄉。

那裏有我新買的房子,

每月還要還貸的賬。

我怎能舍得,

我怎能舍得!

沒有兒子的爹娘,

該有多麽悲傷;

沒有了丈夫的寶貝,

該如何面對這未來的滄桑。

“There is a light in the sky!

At the end of that light is the heaven that people often talk about.

But I’d rather not go there.

I’d rather go back to my hometown in Wuhan.

I have my new house there,

For which I still have to pay off the loan every month.

How can I give up?

How can I give up?

For my parents without their son,

How sad must it be?

For my sweetheart without her husband, 

How can she face the vicissitudes in her future?”

我分明死了。

我看見他們把我的軀殼,

裝進一個袋子。

在袋子的近傍

有許多死去的同胞,

象我一樣,

在黎明時分,

被推進火的爐堂。

“I am already gone.

I see them taking my body,

Putting it into a bag,

With which lie many compatriots

Gone like me,

Being pushed into the fire in the hearth

At dawn.”

再見了,難舍的親人。

永別了,武漢我的故鄉。

但願你們在災難過後,

還記得曾經有人,

努力地讓你們盡早知道真相。

但願你們在災難過後,

學會正直,

不再讓善良的人們,

遭受著無盡的恐懼,

和無奈的悲傷。

“Goodbye, my dear ones.

Farewell, Wuhan, my hometown.

Hopefully, after the disaster,

You’ll remember someone once

Tried to let you know the truth as soon as possible.

Hopefully, after the disaster,

You’ll learn what it means to be righteous.

No more good people

Should suffer from endless fear,

And helpless sadness.”

“那美好的仗我已經打完了,

應行的路我已行盡了,

當守的道我守住了。 

從此以後,

有公義的冠冕為我留存。”

《聖經》提摩太後書4.7

“I have fought the good fight. 

I have finished the race.

I have kept the faith.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”

2 Timothy 4:7, Holy Bible

But Jesus overcame the world

John 16:27, 33 The Father himself loves you dearly . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

I woke up this morning to the headline “New Report on 138 Coronavirus Cases Reveals Disturbing Details.” And to an email forwarded by our mission team leader, from a pastor in Wuhan requesting intercession from the global church. Here are excerpts:

Brothers and sisters, peace:

During these past days the Wuhan pneumonia has been at the center of my thoughts and life, always seeking the latest news, always thinking of how our family and the church should face this.

The situation is so critical, yet we trust in the Lord’s promises, that his thoughts toward us are of peace, and not evil (Jer. 29:11). He allows a time of testing, not to destroy us, but to establish us. Therefore, Christians are not only to suffer with the people of this city, but we have a responsibility to pray for the fearful people of this city, and to bring to them the peace of Christ.

Firstly, we are to seek the peace of Christ to reign in their hearts (Heb. 3:15). Christ has already given us his peace, not to remove us from disaster and death, but rather to have peace in the midst of disaster and death, because Christ has already overcome these things (John 14:27, 16:33). Otherwise we have not believed in the gospel of peace (Phil. 6:15), and with the world will be terrified of pestilence, and lose hope in the face of death.

We were all sinners, but Christ, because of faith, took our penalty, and gave us his peace. Christians may with the world face the same tribulations, but such tribulations are no longer punishment, but a new opportunity to grow nearer to the Almighty, to purify our souls, an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.

In other words, when disaster strikes us, it is but a form of God’s love, and as Paul firmly believed, who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?… In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39).

In words for this day, Wuhan’s pestilence cannot separate us from the love of Christ. These words are so comforting for us. We have a part in his sufferings, and we have a part in his glory. Christ is with us as we face the pestilence in this city. The pestilence cannot harm us. If we die, it is an opportunity to witness to Christ, and even more to enter his glory 

Thus, my brothers and sisters, I encourage you to be strong in Christ’s love. If we more deeply experience death in this pestilence, understanding the Gospel, we may more deeply experience Christ’s love, and grow ever nearer to God.

If in reading these truths you still have no peace, I encourage you to diligently read the above cited Scriptures, call on the Lord to give you insight, until the peace of Christ reigns in your heart. You should certainly know, that this is not just a visible disaster, but even more it is a spiritual struggle, and you should firstly be waging battle for your heart, and secondarily battle for the soul of this city.

The tone and even some of the words of this letter (I quoted only a part) are similar to what we hear from pastors inside Venezuela.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. John 14:27

P.S. My daughter Rachel brought this article to my attention, about efforts to help here in Pittsburgh: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/us/pittsburgh-wuhan-coronavirus.html

But God helps me

Isaiah 50:4-7, 9 The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting. Because the Lord God helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame . . . See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side! [The ESV and other translations say But the Lord God helps me in verse 7.]

Looking for comfort this morning in light of so much tough stuff going on in the world, in the lives of dear friends, and for this week of remembering Karis’s death, the Lord took me to this passage that meant so much to Karis. It’s a Messianic psalm, brought to life personally for Karis with her vision of Jesus bearing her scars, that I’ve written about before. Karis felt shame for the ways medications and all of her medical trauma altered her appearance. She felt shame that she was not “accomplishing anything” with her life, compared to her friends at Notre Dame. She felt shame that she required so much attention, care, and resources to support her “useless life.” Sometimes it was hard for her to view all this through the lens of grace.

But the Lord, Sovereign over her life as over the universe, helped her. He spoke to her with words of comfort and direction. He is the same Sovereign Lord we can run to in our weariness and weakness and shame and distress.

This week I watched an interview of James Comey, former director of the FBI. He spoke candidly about how difficult it was for him and for his family to be the object of distrust, misunderstanding and scorn from people on both sides of the political spectrum. He and his wife Patrice deliberately chose a path away from the shaming and anger and bitterness, asking the question, “How can we respond to this situation in a way that brings life to ourselves and to others?” He has given me a real-life model I will not soon forget, as well as some great teaching about leadership. You can watch the whole amazing conversation here: https://www.better-angels.org/james-comey-on-the-better-angels-podcast/?link_id=1&can_id=5b5162cf4dd7d2f83f82112485324def&source=email-james-comey-on-the-better-angels-podcast&email_referrer=email_712487&email_subject=james-comey-on-the-better-angels-podcast

And one other thing I want to share with you this morning is Zechariah 1:12-13. Zechariah hears an angel questioning God (!): The angel of the Lord prayed this prayer: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, for seventy years now you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. How long until you again show mercy to them?” And the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Even angels question! Even the angels need comfort, and God provides it!

Often, I too ask the Lord “How long?” about one situation or another. How long until Venezuela is freed from tyranny? How long until my friend can find relief within her so-difficult family situation? How long must my friend suffer intense pain and limitations? How long until true justice rules in our country? How long until light shines into another friend’s seemingly unresolvable challenges? How long, how long . . .

The kind and comforting words the Lord is speaking to me this morning are about his sovereignty, his compassion, and about his practical help. He walks with us.

Open my eyes today, Lord, to see your face. Open my ears to hear your voice. Open my mind to understand your will and the help you are providing for TODAY. Open my heart to grow in trusting you. Open my soul to receive your comfort.