But God knows our needs

Matthew 6:25-26, 32 I tell you not to worry . . . Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? . . . but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

Image from Shutterstock by Yana Markovskaya

I’ve been pondering a phrase written to me by a friend: “Selfishly, I want to be seen.”

The same day, in conversation with another friend who lives alone and is feeling the pressure emotionally of these many weeks of COVID restrictions, we recognized that there is a categorical difference between being alone and having at least one physically present person—even if that person is not easy to live with. It’s more than the need to see other people, as delightful as that is. It’s the need to be seen.

It’s not selfishness. God built into humans the need for other people. To share our joys, troubles and responsibilities. To be touched. To be heard. To be seen. About Adam, before he sinned, when his relationship with God was still intact and perfect, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

My friends’ comments reminded me of a day a few years ago when Dave and I were driving somewhere and started discussing how each of us defined love. I had not thought about it this way before, but what came out of my mouth was, “Love is being seen. I feel loved when someone sees me. My heart. My soul. When someone ‘gets’ who I am.”

And I thought of the breathtakingly lovely story recorded in Genesis 16 about Hagar, a mistreated Egyptian slave who had run away from her masters into the desert. God met her through an angel, who told her, “The Lord has heard your cry of distress.” Amazingly, Hagar was able to receive the message the angel brought her:

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are El-roi, the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.

One of the things that intrigues me about this story is that the writer of Genesis had to hear it from someone. That means Hagar related it to someone. Who was that someone? We don’t know. But it had to be someone who understood its significance to Hagar. Someone who, along with God, saw her. If Hagar was anything like me, she needed to tell someone her amazing story of encounter with God in order to validate her experience. Otherwise, it would soon become easy to doubt it truly happened. The God of the universe caring enough to find her in the wilderness and talk to her, a slave with no rights, a less-than-nobody?

Each of us, I think, has a deep need to be seen. That implies, I think, other people slowing down enough to both see God, who he is and what he cares about (“Be still and know that I am God!”) and to see each other. I want to be one of those who is both seen and can see.

But Jesus will return in the same way he went away

Acts 1:8-11 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses . . . After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching . . . Two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

John 17:11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Karis used to say her idea of heaven was having all the people she loved in one place. As time passes, more and more she is getting her wish. This week, one more of her Beloveds has joined her there. Marian Kreithen played an important role both in Karis’s life and mine, and her Homegoing has reminded me of the Father’s love and care for us through Marian and others in the small group family he placed us in during our first years here in Pittsburgh.

Karis and I didn’t know a single person in Pittsburgh when we moved here to await her intestinal transplant. To say we were stressed is an understatement. Far from home and family and friends, I don’t know how we would have survived without the small group from Ascension, our new church, that rallied around us. They listened to us and prayed for us and encouraged us through Scripture. They shared their own lives with us, giving us a new circle of friends. They visited Karis in the hospital. Often, they fed us. They helped us move from a room to an apartment, and from that apartment to a house. We came to Pittsburgh with nothing; they helped furnish both the apartment and the house, even providing us with a car. They provided hospitality when family members were able to visit. They provided a getaway place where we could rest and renew our strength and nurture our family. That place was where we went the day Karis died.

Karis asked Marian to mentor her. I’m not sure what that mentoring consisted of. I was just the driver, taking Karis to meet Marian at her house, helping her up the long sets of stairs, until Karis couldn’t do it anymore. The time came when neither Karis nor Marian (suffering from congestive heart failure) could handle those stairs, and their conversations took place by phone. Karis loved and admired Marian deeply, profiting from her faith and wisdom. And now they are together again, along with Martha, another group member who went to Heaven before Karis.

On this Ascension Day, I am grateful for a representation of Jesus’ Ascension sent by my sister-in-law Elaine. This is the earliest known surviving depiction of the Ascension, carved in ivory around 400 AD. In addition to all the other rich imagery in this carving, I love, love, love this conception of Jesus going to his Father. Not just away from, but to . . . not only leaving loved ones behind, but going to joyful reunion with his greatest love.

My sister-in-law Elaine, by the way, is sharing her rich reflections on the book of Philippians through a daily email, each one illustrated through a work of art. If you would like to receive these emails, let her know at elaineathome@gmail.com.

This image comforts me as I think about Marian, the Father’s hand stretched out to meet her. And Karis. And Kaleb. And Crysta. And Ravi Zacharias, though I didn’t know him personally. And each one of our beloveds who have joined the community of joy in Heaven.

And I’m intrigued by the thought of Jesus returning in the same way he went away, hand in hand with the Father.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne (Hebrews 12:1-2).

But Jesus gives joy

John 16:22 You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.

Don’t you love good stories?

Within a few minutes time, I read this morning brief sketches of two lives well lived.

The first is a woman named Florence, great-great-grandmother and eponym on her mom’s side of our brand-new great-niece born in the wee hours this morning. My sister, baby Flo’s paternal grandmother, shared this:

“Florence was an amazing and lovely woman who immigrated to the US from England alone at age 13 and lived into her 90s. She had quite a life story, living through both World Wars, feeding her neighbors from her victory garden, and much more.”

Wouldn’t you love to know more about the heritage baby Flo has been gifted to live into? I hope this remarkable woman’s story will be (or already is) preserved in writing.

Incidentally, my sister added, Florence Nightingale was born May 12 two hundred years ago, another who lived her life impressively well.

Baby Flo is the last of the five little girls added to our extended family since Dec. 28! Our Talita and Liliana are numbers 2 and 4 of this abundance of blessing. The first is Jadyn and the third is Bronwyn. Imagine our family reunion a couple of years from now!

The second is a tribute to Kaleb Hochstedler, our young friend in Brazil who went to the arms of Jesus four days ago. He lived his ten years to the full. Since birth, Kaleb was noted for his tenacity and energy, traits that served him well in his fight against leukemia and then sarcoma. He was known for his joy, his delight in outdoor adventures, his imagination and creativity, and his love for God, his family and his friends. The last time he journaled, he wrote, “God will prepare the way.”

Kaleb is front left, surrounded by his parents, Delton and Fernie, and his siblings Naomi, Joshua, Priscilla and Lucas

I hope Karis got to be part of his welcome to Heaven! I can imagine the two of them concocting adventures together.

So much sadness. So many tears. So much joy. So much to learn and to share from those who have gone before us.

So I say again, “Tell your story! Write it down!” When you do, will you share it with me? And with those who read this blog?

I’m sad that I know little about the stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents. On both sides of my family, and Dave’s too, there was so much suffering they didn’t want to talk about it. And now they are gone, and with them, part of our own story, an important part we will never know and thus can’t benefit from. Both their joys and their sorrows. Their good choices and their regrets.

We won’t know, that is, until we reach Heaven, where upon seeing Jesus, all our griefs will be turned into joy.

But God raises a banner

Psalm 60:3-5 O God, you have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling. But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power.

Perhaps you think I’m going to write about the coronavirus as “the wine that sent us reeling.” Perhaps that would be appropriate. So many of our beloved ones in Latin America are being hit hard by the virus right now.

But what’s on my mind today is something with potentially greater and more long-term consequences for our country, and for the Body of Christ not just here but worldwide. So, if you have strong feelings about politics right now, I ask you to briefly set those feelings aside and take a moment to ask God to help you think carefully about what I say here.

I’m a 9 on the Enneagram, a “Peacemaker.” I don’t like conflict and confrontations. So, I don’t usually write about politics. But I received a mailing last week that upset me so much, it’s taken me several days to regain a sense of equilibrium and identify my “rallying point,” as this translation puts it, in the face of a very real attack on something fundamentally important to me and to us: how our lives represent Jesus.

Oddly enough, it’s the news this morning that the ten-year-old boy of a beloved family has gone to the arms of Jesus that is giving me the courage to write. Why? Because the freedom of the church worldwide to share the Gospel is a matter of life and death, not just on earth but eternally. I can’t compromise that freedom by sacrificing my integrity on the altar of politics.

A friend who is a seeker told me recently she was intrigued with Jesus until she saw the evangelical church align itself politically. I tried to tell her it’s Jesus himself who matters, and that the decisions of some Christians do not represent who Jesus is, one who loves all people. One who loves her. But she’s afraid now of being pulled by the church into a betrayal of her conscience.

The mailing I received helped me understand her fear. Never mind all the capital letters (as a 9, I don’t like being yelled at). Never mind the disrespect of my intellect, as easily researchable claims one after another proved to be false, exaggerated, or misleading (I did the research). Never mind the slander of public servants from the other side of the aisle, calling them “evil” and worse. Never mind the presupposition that I, as a Christian, have a moral obligation to align myself politically in only one way. And if I don’t, my faith is suspect.

What brought me to tears is that this mailing asked me to give absolute loyalty, as a Christian, to our sitting President. Think about that!

I am grieving still. Why? Because I am a Christian.  Because I am a Christian, I owe absolute loyalty only to God. Because I am a Christian, I am called to love as Jesus loved, even and especially my “enemies.” Because I am a Christian, I can’t afford to get tangled up in radical alliance with any political figure, ever. But especially not in the polarized climate of the United States today. Because I am a Christian, seeking to live and love as he did, I can’t afford to compromise in that way my ability to reach out to people whom God puts in my path.

The mailing asked me, as a Christian, whether I would be willing to do “whatever it takes” to ensure our President wins the November election. The organization’s goal is to enlist ten million Christians to this end.

“Whatever it takes”? Friends, please hear me. This isn’t “Christian.” It’s idolatry. It’s asking us to sell our souls to a political agenda.

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). I happily pay taxes, grateful for road repairs, ambulance and fire services, and so many other things the government does to make our lives livable. But my heart, my love and loyalty, my “whatever it takes” obedience, belong only to God.  

We must keep those two things separate. We must not let ourselves be seduced into betraying our first love by pledging “whatever it takes” to keep one man or woman in office. Ever. Whoever that man or woman may be at the moment. And we must not endanger the separation of church and state, an essential pillar of our democracy and of our freedom, as Christians, to share the wonderful news of Jesus’ healing love with our broken world.

I am praying, with tears, for the soul of the church, the Body of our precious Lord Jesus, who would never ask us to give unreserved loyalty to anyone except his Father.

I am praying for those in governmental authority (1 Timothy 2:2).

I am praying for myself first, and for the church, that we will keep coming back to this:

No one can tame the tongue . . . Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! . . .

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18).

But God plans wonderful joy

1 Peter 1:3-6 Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, now we live with great expectation . . . And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive his salvation . . . So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

My heart is heavy. Six friends are going through severe health challenges. One died last week, and it’s hard to think of her husband and daughter having to face Mother’s Day when their grief is so fresh. Only one of these friends’ crises may be coronavirus (testing results not yet available). Three have conditions like Karis’s.

So when I read these verses this morning, they caught my attention. I re-read them several times. And then I thought of the joy I experienced on Karis’s birthday, subject of my last post. I think God graciously gave me a taste of the “wonderful joy ahead.” A gift. Not something I could manufacture inside myself.

Gift. That’s what’s going on in this chapter too, I think. It starts with a prayer, May God give you more and more grace and peace (verse 2). God gives out of his mercy (verse 3). God protects us by his power (verse 4). God told people in advance there would be great glory for Jesus after he walked through his suffering (verse 11).  Those who preach the Good News do so in the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 12). It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen (verse 12).

All gifts, personally chosen for us and sealed with his love. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago (verse 2). The Greek word translated “knew you” is prognosis. Isn’t that cool? It means something known in advance. God’s prognosis for each of us today, including each of my friends going through particularly severe trials, is wonderful joy!

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a gift for my grandson that I knew he would love. When I picked him up last Friday, I couldn’t help saying, “Caleb, I have a surprise for you at my house!” My joy in the gift was probably as great as his. So I can picture God the Father smiling as Peter wrote the words the Spirit put in his heart. There is wonderful joy ahead . . .

I was so involved with Caleb and his gift that I didn’t think of taking a picture! But here he is with his mom and baby sister Talita. Happy Mother’s Day, Valerie!

I’m glad Peter acknowledges the suffering, and that the trials we face require endurance. We don’t have to pretend everything is OK. We don’t have to paste on fake smiles as “proof” of our faith or our maturity. But he has let us in on his surprise plan for us: There is wonderful joy ahead!

But God gives healing and joy!

Malachi 3:16-4:2 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. . . The day of judgment is coming. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

Joy.

When Karis was born on this day, May 5, 37 years ago, we chose “Joy” for her middle name with no idea how much joy she would pour into our lives and the world around her. She had a gift for finding and sharing joy.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I invite you to celebrate her birthday with us through this slide show, which Valerie put together for her memorial service in 2014.

For the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead! (Isaiah 26:19).

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart . . . For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs (Zephaniah 3:14, 17).

But God is my glory, by Rachel Becker

Psalm 3:3 But you, O Lord, are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

Written to a friend, after she reminded me that even though I can’t be WITH my community right now, they are still there for me, through giving birth and the four weeks since my baby was born.

Becky, thank you for the reminder that my community is still there.  I needed that. Thank you for being part of my community.

I’m praying for your parents, your friend with depression, your friend with traumatic brain injury. What I find encouraging in the midst of these situations is discovering the things that for each individual are making the situation tenable… The small victories that make the big distressing things bearable. God’s grace is often present in unexpected ways during illness. The reality of the unhealed things does not change the reality that God is acting on behalf of that person. It makes it no less painful but more full of goodness in the midst of the pain. Which is a relief.

A trauma psychologist named Diane Langberg once told me we need contact with delight and beauty for every bit of contact we have with horror and dismay. I’m reminded of that as I sit in my greenhouse and marvel again at how beautiful green and growing things are.

Plants and flowers keep coming back and flourishing with new life even as Covid-19 happens, and tornadoes in Tennessee and murdering rampages in Canada. Sometimes I need time to absorb the surprising reality of how much good there is in the world. How many things going right. To sit with and receive beauty even when it’s painful. To allow for wonder and awe.

I’ve been encouraged in the midst of Covid-19 by this promise in Genesis 8:22:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

So profoundly and visibly true as spring brings new life to the world completely independent of illness and social isolation! This is part of what helps me believe in resurrection power, in good ultimately triumphing, in love being more powerful than death or suffering.

A phrase from this David Crowder song https://youtu.be/GzfPHnoT0-0 has been going around and around in my head recently: “afflictions eclipsed by glory.”

A little baby is a very odd glory… Full of poopy diapers and spit up and wailing and hunger and need and yet somehow overwhelmingly awe-filled! I find that a fitting analogy for so many of the ways God brings love and life and glory… Utterly earth-bound and messy and even ugly sometimes and yet so profoundly beautiful at the same time. Amazing day by day, hour by hour to see one of these pics transform to the other…

Distress
Peace

Daily frustration, daily restoration, daily miracles. The glory of God in the contentment of a baby.