Revisiting “But God created food to be eaten with thanks” from April 21

Hey friends! It’s been bothering me that you might have interpreted what I wrote last week as criticism or judgment or misunderstanding/minimizing people’s genuine dietary health limitations or needs. I’ve discovered that food is a tricky subject! I hope this helps:

  1. The people in the story at the beginning were on this diet for fun, not for specific health reasons. They were following a plan with a specified menu for each day. It would have helped me, yes, in hosting them, to have been given a heads-up ahead of time. Right? But we had a lovely visit and love these people. They went through a month of following the diet and then went on to other food adventures. My point was Dave’s contrasting response: “Beans and rice the rest of the month? No problem!”
  2. I understand food allergies and health requirements related to diet—I cared for thirty years for a person with the most diet limitations of anyone I’ve ever met. I remember once requesting a consult with a dietician, as we were trying to avoid TPN (nutrition through her veins, which back then was more complicated than it is now). At that time Karis couldn’t tolerate fiber, fat, sugar, dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes or almost all fruits or vegetables or meats, and we were trying gluten-free to see whether that helped. She seemed to do OK with boiled chicken breast and a little bit of white rice, for a day or two anyway, and sometimes a little bit of yogurt. The dietician had nothing to suggest except liquid nutrition (we had already tried various brands; they all made Karis throw up) or a new intestine. I know Karis’s situation was extreme. My point is: I get it. Our bodies are complex! With complex interactions with food and other aspects of our environment.
  3. I’ll tell you a funny experience related to Karis and food (apparently, I could write a book about Karis and food!). Between transplants, she went fifteen months without an intestine. For those months, SHE DIDN’T HAVE AN INTESTINE! Yet during this time, I received various dietary suggestions from people of what they were sure would solve her problems, because this had worked for someone they knew who was “just like Karis.” Umm…guess what: without an intestine, a person can’t eat! Anything!

(I hope that made you smile.)

  •  I’m still grateful, given his line of work, for God’s gifts to Dave of a flexible palate and thankfulness for whatever food he is served. Including leftovers.

But God listens to our cries

Psalm 22:24 For the Lord has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.

Yesterday afternoon, God took our wonderful friend Crysta home to Heaven. She was part of our beloved intestinal transplant family, a person who reached out and loved others even when she herself was suffering. I have no idea how many cards and letters she sent to Karis over the years. We watched her little daughter grow up, and now she’s a senior in high school. She used to pop over for a Karis visit when her mom was hospitalized at the same time.

Most of the rest of us in this unique family already lost our transplanted members. We are grieving together.

I am flooded with memories. Our transplant family suffered so many losses, sometimes on the same day, or in the same week. Twice I didn’t tell Karis about a death for many weeks, because she was in such crisis herself, either in a coma or just emerging from one. She took each loss very hard, like losing a part of herself. Indeed, that’s what we all felt. And feel again today. I am remembering each person who died as if it just happened. We were able to attend the memorial services of some of them. Others were too far away, or Karis was not in condition to be able to go. I don’t know what will happen with Crysta’s death occurring during coronavirus restrictions. At the same time, I feel the Lord grieving with us. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Thank you, Lord, for not turning away from our need for your presence with us.

But God created food to be eaten with thanks

1 Timothy 4:3-7; 6:11 They will say it is wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks . . . Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. . . Be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith. Do not waste time arguing . . . Instead, pursue faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

When Dave and I were newly married, neither of us made much money. He was completing his PhD dissertation and I was in nursing school. We lived in an efficiency apartment (with our bed lofted and a sleeper sofa for guests) and pinched every penny two or three times.

One day we received the delightful news that dear friends were traveling to our town and wanted to stay with us. I prepared with joy what I thought would be a special dinner. But when I served the meal, they told me they couldn’t eat it because they were on a special diet. Armed with a list of their requirements, off I went to the grocery store to start over on dinner.

“David, what will we do?” I asked him after our guests left the next morning. “That one meal cost half of our food budget for the month!”

“Well, we still have the meal you prepared for them originally. And there’s nothing wrong with beans and rice! We’ll be fine. Wasn’t it great to see them and catch up with what God is doing in their lives?”

That was one of many times I have thanked God that my husband is not a picky eater. A connoisseur he is not, but it’s a great gift for a missionary to have a flexible palate. Dave happily tries anything and he’s thankful for whatever is served to him in whatever continent or country. One week in Africa he was served rice and a small smoked fish for every lunch and every dinner the whole week. Breakfast was a hunk of bread and coffee. That didn’t matter to the work he was there to partner with God in doing. He came home excited, “nourished by the message of faith” of the wonderful people there.

I’ve noticed on the internet a zillion different approaches to eating, many of them with precise specifications, not just of the food itself but of the equipment required to prepare it properly. Our missional lifestyle doesn’t usually work that way. We feel grateful to have food to eat, when so many in the world are going hungry. And we would rather put our resources to work around the world in different ways than investing in a gourmet kitchen. Eating simply, out of the abundance that God has created, for us is joy.

We know this is countercultural. We honor as well as we can people’s dietary needs and preferences when we have guests. We understand that food—what they eat and what they don’t eat—is very important to many people. I’m thankful, though, that with all the challenges we have faced, in this way life has been easy for us.

But God’s word can’t be chained, by Greg and Denyse Gripentrog

2 Timothy 2:9-10, 13 Because I preach the Good News of Jesus Christ raised from the dead, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation to those God has chosen. . . If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.

After passing the baton of the presidency of our mission organization (One Challenge International http://www.onechallenge.org) we returned to Indonesia on a retirement visa, renewable yearly for a maximum of five years. We assumed leadership of our mission teams there to free the director to invest fully in his exploding ministry. Since we had previously served many years in Indonesia, we received constant invitations all over the islands, and became very involved with the people in our neighborhood, as well.

Thus, coming to the end of our five years was bittersweet. We missed our family in the U.S., but the prospect of saying goodbye to our Indonesian “family” and mission colleagues, as well as tying up all the loose ends and passing on a complex ministry was a challenge difficult to accomplish. Our tickets “home” to Colorado were purchased for June 19.

Our neighbors became like family to us

Then—coronavirus hit. We were advised to leave Indonesia sooner. We already had tickets to participate in two leadership events in Colorado in April. So, we decided to use those tickets for leaving Indonesia, instead of waiting until June. It seemed impossible to be ready in time, but the US State Dept advised that unless we were prepared to remain as overseas residents “for an undetermined period of time,” we should return to the US “as soon as possible.” We knew the looming expiration of our visas meant we should leave.  It felt totally overwhelming, like facing a Goliath.

Except that (1) the conferences were cancelled, and then (2) our April flights were cancelled! And suddenly our situation became even more startling as we searched for flights out of the country and back to the U.S. One after another, travel options disappeared. The only viable possibility became a departure on March 28 from our nearest airport to the capital, giving us just four days to accomplish what we had hoped to do in three months!

The Jakarta airport

But God graciously gave us the resources we needed to blitz through those packed days and, exhausted, board the plane on March 29 from Jakarta for the looong set of flights to Colorado Springs. In God’s providence, we then had two weeks of quarantine to rest and begin our recovery and adaptation to life back in the United States.

This promise, But God’s word cannot be chained, comforts us as we think of all we left behind in Indonesia, whose people claim a large portion of our hearts. The seeds planted during these five years, by God’s grace, will continue to bear fruit. And that’s true even here in the U.S. Adventures await!

But God met me on a rooftop, by Meredith Dobson

Easter Sunday Service from a rooftop in the year 2020. What could be better! Participants all “Social Distanced” six feet apart – musicians, pastor, also one of the musicians, liturgical leader, also one of the musicians, and God! I guess God comes first, but He was all around. The backdrop was the city of Vancouver, Washington, with the Columbia River, bridges to Portland, Oregon, a few cars here and there, breezes caressing God’s messengers, and a bright sun offering wondrous lighting for the gathering. Worshipers were anonymous, sheltered in their homes as they had been instructed to do for their own protection from the Corona19 virus and the protection of their fellow human beings. No masks or gloves needed, just the freedom to welcome God and his son, Jesus into our hearts and lives.

Songs, prayers, and a message against a backdrop of such serenity and beauty were footsteps along a golden path coming, unimpeded from above along a wide open path straight into my heart. My heart was open and ready. My heart had been open for a long time but on that Easter, my heart stayed open and eager to let in the breath, the power and the Love of Jesus, our – precious Savior and Redeemer waiting for me to Surrender completely, with deep humility and shed the armor of doubt I have held for so many years as a protection against I know not what – fear of the unknown, fear of revealing my own sins. Perhaps it was the gentle warm words from the pastor, soothing voices of those sharing their music, the soundless wind, the reassuring light and the wide open, endless sky waiting for me to take that path that had been prepared for me.

I would say it was the rooftop. I would say it was the open sky. I would say it was the words of God’s messengers whether spoken or sung.  It was all of them, but much more than that, it was my readiness and willingness. Finally, the Apostle’s Creed – each word and phrase was said by family members scattered throughout the Vancouver community providing a sense of unity of the family of God. Thank you, God, and thanks to many others in my life for being patient and loving with me even while I was doubting, even while I was a sinner, even while I was self-centered and thoughtless of others. I feel eager now to take the path with Jesus beside me.

Matthew 2:16-17 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

But the Spirit says “Wait”

Galatians 5:4-6 If you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus . . . what is important is faith expressing itself through love.

After all the drama we’ve walked through with Jesus since he raised Lazarus and invoked a serious plot to kill him, this day of Passion Week, “Holy Saturday,” feels like a “nothing” day. It’s another day of winter when we’re longing for spring. It calls us to wait a while longer, when we’re eager for the joy of Easter.

The waiting reminds me of sitting in, yes, the waiting room while Karis was in surgery to remove her graft after she contracted Legionnaire’s disease. It was impossible by any standard for her to survive that surgery with her lungs consumed by pneumonia. But it would be impossible for her to live if her body had also to contend with her suppurating intestine. So, our gathered family waited. With hope against hope.

Karis coming back to us, two months after that surgery waiting day

Were any of Jesus’s friends, family, disciples waiting with hope against hope that Saturday? Did any of them remember he had told them he would rise again on the third day?

After Karis came back to us, two months after that waiting day, she was frustrated. Why had we ever doubted? Didn’t we realize God still had work for her to do here on earth? I remember staring at her, with no words to even begin to express to her the agony of day after day, hour after hour, not knowing whether she would make it through the next minute. Waiting.

Many wonderful books have been written about all God does inside us when we’re forced to wait. Turns out, it’s not a “nothing” time. It’s a time when God’s deepest work can be accomplished in us. Paul reminds us it’s not what we can do for ourselves that matters during this time. It’s what he can do in us. Our part is to turn to him in trust.

I’m excited! What will God do in me today, on this waiting day?

But God revealed his love

Titus 3:2-5 Believers must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient . . . But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

John 13:34-35 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

This is the message of Maunday Thursday. The word “maunday” means commandment. It’s the day we remember that Jesus took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. John tells the story with this preface: He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end (13:1). After he sat back down at the table, Jesus said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you . . . Love each other” (John 13:15, 34).

How did Jesus love? With humility, gentleness, kindness.

Several people in my life are showing me in this Covid-19 crisis what humble, gentle, kind love looks like. They likely have no idea that I’m watching them, because they’re not doing it to win points or for show. They have experienced Jesus’ love for them and are passing it on.

Thank you, Lord.