But God said, “What have you done?”

Genesis 4:8-10 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” But the Lord said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

I “attended” two funerals yesterday, both virtually. Both deaths were from cancer. Both men were celebrated for the choices they made in life to serve not only themselves but other people, at significant cost. Both used the gifts God gave them to make a difference in the lives of the people in their spheres of influence. One was a dearly loved member of our church. We miss you, Bob.

The other, John Lewis, was elected to Congress in 1986 and re-elected sixteen times. Called the “conscience of Congress,” he served as a representative from Georgia until he died on July 17. I heard part of his funeral on the radio on Monday and watched it on YouTube with Dave last night. You can start at 1:06 to hear Rep. Lewis challenge us in his own words.

Rep. Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. He was the last surviving organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, the youngest speaker at that event which was the setting for Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech. An ordained Baptist minister committed to nonviolent change, Rep. Lewis lay down his life over and over again for the sake of achieving MLK’s vision for the “beloved community” (see https://www.gcorr.org/25-traits-of-the-beloved-community-2/).

Rep. Lewis’s story sounds very much like Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 4 and 2 Corinthians 6 and 11. He was beaten repeatedly, left for dead, imprisoned. By 1963, he had been arrested 24 times. His skull was fractured by police when he stopped to pray during his crossing of the bridge in Selma, AL in 1965, scars he bore the rest of his life. He was arrested in 2006, 2009, and 2013 for protesting peacefully. Yet he held tenaciously to his belief in nonviolence and the possibility of reconciliation.

I hope this is enough to pique your interest in learning more about this remarkable man, who has now joined the company of saints around the throne of God. A powerful part of his memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda was the special music offered by Dr. Wintley Phipps. For me, it was even more meaningful because the week before, Dave called my attention to this video, which gives background I wasn’t aware of before about the hymn Amazing Grace:

You may not agree with all of Rep. Lewis’s political positions—I don’t—but there is no doubt his life says to us, “Yes. I am my brother’s guardian. Like you, Lord—his blood cries out to me from the ground.” And watching people worship as Dr. Phipps sang in the Capitol Rotunda touched me deeply.

But God is the light by which we see

Psalm 36:7-9 How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. . . For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.

I had an awful dream last night. More about that later, and the glimmer of light God is giving me through it.

Friday evening, we had a several-hour blackout due to a storm. Suddenly it was obvious how much we depend on electrical power, not just to see what’s around us, and do things we want to do, but to communicate with other people. Dave missed a meeting with leaders from several countries. I missed some online connecting I planned to do while he was on that call.

But instead, we snuggled on the couch in the light of a single candle, enjoying an unexpected quiet space just for “us.”

Our Friday-night candle

One topic of conversation was how much we take for granted electrical power, clean water, food, etc. etc. Our friends in Venezuela are delighted when they have power for a few hours.

Another topic was a video Dave had just filmed for me, and whether I would find the courage to post it on Facebook. (I did it the next morning; you can see our best-of-seven-attempts on the All I See Is Grace page.) I needed courage because “marketing” is hard for me. My family and close friends have heard me bewail that all too often.

A tough reality for people like me: authors must sell their own books. This is true whether we publish traditionally or independently, in this market where book publishers are fighting to survive. After giving it my best in the few months after Karis, All I See Is Grace was published, I breathed a sigh of relief, said “Whew, that’s over,” and settled into my next writing project.

Last month, though, my spiritual director challenged that view, suggesting this moment, now, when not just the U.S. but the whole world is caught in pandemic and economic upheaval, when we’re feeling the stress of isolation and disruption of our routines and expectations, when we can’t visit our loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals or mourn them properly when they die, when we as a nation are grasping for new understanding of the realities of entrenched systemic racism, when “fake news” and “real news” can be hard to tell apart, when gracious public discourse seems to have all but disappeared . . . this moment is perhaps the moment Karis’s words of hope and joy and love across boundaries can encourage us to turn toward God in new and deeper ways to find the light we need.

If any of this resonates with you, you can help me by sharing the video on your own FB page, and by liking the All I See is Grace page. Even by gifting the book to people who are struggling right now.

We made the video deliberately without “God language,” hoping it could merit a viewing by a wider audience. The book, though, takes people straight to God.

All this makes sense in my mind. Ever since I posted the video, though, I’ve been on the edge of tears. And last night I had this horrible dream.

I dreamed an eighteen-wheeler pulled up in front of our house and dumped a load of large, sharp rocks on our front lawn. Like monster gravel. I ran out waving my arms in protest, yelling to say they had the wrong house, when I saw a caravan of trucks pulling up. None of my arm-waving or yelling or window-pounding made any difference. One by one the trucks pulled up and dumped their loads, until I was forced by the growing mountain of stuff back into my house. Dirt. Garbage of all kinds. Old appliances. Squashed this and rusty that. By the time they were all gone, I couldn’t see out of our windows or open the door. I was stuck inside, trapped by an avalanche of refuse.

It’s as vivid to me now in the retelling as it was in the dreaming.

Lord, what on earth . . . ?

“It’s your fear,” came his whisper. “Your fear of reliving the grief. The losses. The exhaustion. The huge emotional cost of writing the Karis book. Your fear of not having learned all you needed to learn, of not having much to contribute, of letting Karis down by not representing her life adequately. Your feelings of insecurity in U.S. culture and with technology, of not knowing the right things to do or say. Your fears of not using well the limited time you have left in the world, however long that may be. All these messy, rusty, broken-down old fears.”

“It’s not really about the marketing, then?”

“No. You’ll have a totally different experience with sharing Horse Thief 1898. The Karis book pulls so much emotion back to the surface that it’s hard for you to maintain perspective. There’s so much of you in that book, in her story, that you feel vulnerable, out of control, unable to defend yourself. Like in the dream.”

“Oh.”

Believe it or not, this truly is a ray of light into my darkness. Because I am delighted with the Horse Thief story and would love to share it with you! And I don’t want that to be as hard as I find talking about Karis, All I See Is Grace. A long post, to say thank you to God who is walking this journey with me, and to you, who are doing so as well. Thank you.

Maybe I do need a good cry to help regain my equilibrium. Maybe in your own circumstances, you do too?

But each day the Lord pours out his love

Psalm 42:7-8 I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.

This video makes me laugh. But have you ever felt this way, like giving up on a project you’ve invested in? Or a relationship, or even life itself?

Oops–I don’t have the right level of WordPress to make this video work. Check it out on Facebook, All I See Is Grace.

This morning as I prayed for a friend with severe chronic illness, I was drawn to this artistic rendering of Psalm 42:1-5, which Val made for Karis on one of her tough days. It’s hung on our wall for years and has faded, but I think you can still read it. I need this challenge today, to remember and seek the Lord’s unfailing love, poured out for THIS day.

But God has shown us a way

Romans 3:20-22 No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law . . . We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

Our Waymaker. Miracle-worker. Promise-keeper. Light in the darkness.

John 14:21-24 Jesus replied [to the woman at the well], “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem . . . But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him in that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Worship him.

But God has shown us a way

Romans 3:20-22 No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law . . . We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

Our Waymaker. Miracle-worker. Promise-keeper. Light in the darkness.

John 14:21-24 Jesus replied [to the woman at the well], “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem . . . But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him in that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Worship him.

But God calls us into light

1 Peter 2:9-12 You are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light . . . Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Philippians 1:27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. (See also Hebrews 11:13-16.)

One of the tenets Mom lived by was, “Always leave a place better than you found it.” As kids, we didn’t appreciate the extra cleaning, weeding, or whatever she deemed necessary to leaving a place better, such as the mission housing where we stayed when we visited Guatemala City, or the Panajachel lake property belonging to another mission where we went for vacations. Nor did we necessarily like the accompanying song, “Brighten the corner where you are.”

But Mom’s maxim is striking me today as an apt expression of Christian teaching in relation to the world we live in, whatever the country or circumstances. When our brief stay on Earth ends, will we leave it better than we found it?

I’m asking this question both as an individual and as part of the great international unshakeable Kingdom (Hebrews 12:27-28), embodying Jesus, his hands and feet here until he comes back, offering to him our first loyalty. If Jesus were here, how would he view the church’s track record in the place where you live? What would he care about? I suspect our personal safety, comfort, prosperity, and “rights” wouldn’t be as high on his list as how we are caring for others, wanting to leave a better world not only for our own children and grandchildren but also for other people’s children and grandchildren.

One thing is crystal clear: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). To save, not to condemn. To love, not to hate. To welcome, not to reject. To serve. To care and heal. To understand, not to judge. His stance wasn’t popular. He was criticized even by his “own” people (Matthew 11:19). It wasn’t about being “nice.” It cost him his life.

Today, on this Fourth of July here in the U.S., I’m asking myself: How can I add light and hope, Jesus-style, rather than deepening the darkness and gloom so pervasive locally, nationally and internationally? I believe he will show me my small part, if I open my heart and listen.

You are the light of the world . . . let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).

But God supports me

2 Samuel 22:17-20, 29 The Lord reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress, but the Lord supported me. He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me. . . O Lord, you are my lamp. The Lord lights up my darkness.

 

“I have drunk your light, though darkness was poured in my cup.”

These exquisite words, penned by my friend Stacey Regan, so eloquently express my life experience that I would want them engraved on my tombstone if I were to have one (I won’t). I have been savoring them, turning them over and over in my mind ever since I read them in the song Stacey gifted to the beautiful (Un)ordinary Time devotional Elise Massa crafted for our church: https://sites.google.com/view/ascensionmusicandworshiparts?fbclid=IwAR3wozRxohJikkN8XhlXcNJuAM3WsL-_rJXJwRXHGC-BaTWe9Iee-fawK8k

Elise describes this collection here (scroll down to find the video): https://sites.google.com/view/ascensionmusicandworshiparts?fbclid=IwAR3wozRxohJikkN8XhlXcNJuAM3WsL-_rJXJwRXHGC-BaTWe9Iee-fawK8k Karis and I both got to contribute!

Who or what are my enemies, you may ask upon reading David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel. I’ll turn it around: Who or what are your enemies in this (un)ordinary time? Depression, desperation, worry about the present, anxiety about the future, grief, exhaustion, impatience, family stress from too much confinement, lack of resources . . . We do have an enemy who wants to destroy us, and he plays dirty, kicking us when we’re down. Stomping on us, sometimes. He is a thief, trying to rob our peace and our joy. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Pouring darkness into our cup.

But Jesus—oh my goodness. Tasting his Light, even in the worst of circumstances . . . Well, that’s what the Karis book tries to convey. Hope. Because Stacey’s experience, and Karis’s, and mine—it’s available to you, too. Today. To each of us as we walk, step by step, each with our own challenges, through this most unordinary time.