James 4:6-7, 14-15 But he gives us even more graceto stand against evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble. So humble yourselves before God. . . Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
[Note from Debbie: Virginia was my roommate in college. She grew up in Brazil and I in Guatemala, so we talked about teaching each other our respective languages. I never imagined I would move to Brazil, though my “jungle” was the concrete one of São Paulo, 2000 miles away!]
I grew up on the Amazon in Brazil after being born in Belgium and spending my first five years in the Congo. My parents were missionaries. I followed them as children do. The Amazon is a glorious rainforest filled with beauty and danger. Beneath the tropical forest dome life explodes in unbelievable diversity and death lurks in a constant fight for survival. Death is very much a part of life. On the Amazon death is a way of life. Take your pick: starvation, malaria, snake bites, piranhas, scorpions, crocodiles, chagas or just not being able to get to a doctor. Even as a child I remember walking into a dark and smoky hut and seeing a dead body of a recently deceased villager lying on a mat. His family was grieving and the smell of death was in the air. Almost without knowing it, I understood the frailty of life as a child.
Brazilians have a phrase Se Deus quiser that reminds me of the way Southerners say “sweet.” Se Deus quiser ends many Brazilian conversations. It means, “if God wills.” Arabs have inshallah. In Latin it is Deo Volunte. Humility seems almost built into some languages. And even though “God willing” may be a rote phrase, it expresses profound truth. God is in control. We aren’t. Covid-19 has driven that point home this year.
No one is going anywhere. We’re wearing masks. Publix has markings for one-way aisles. Delta doesn’t serve coffee anymore on flights. Seeing neighbors and friends we can’t even hug. We ask if it’s ok to walk socially distanced. Grandkids are growing up and we’re not even able to experience those milestones. Where is God in all this? Are we going to end up being intubated and die? Is a loved one? It’s that fear and smell of death that keeps our minds running in circles at night.
Past generations wrestled with these anxieties as well. I’ve been reading up on the 1918 Spanish flu and wondering how believers back then dealt with death and its catastrophic impact. I wonder if they had a stronger sense of God’s will and the brevity of life. Jesus put it bluntly when he said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day had enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Or, as the Message says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
What this says to me is I need to spend more time talking to God, telling him my fears and anxieties, telling him that I don’t really feel adequate to handle today. Giving up our typical family and friend past times may be a good wake up call for the Kingdom. My anxiety over health, family and the election all need to be taken to God in prayer. The Lord is still in control. Se Deus quiser means God is moving in our midst. I need to listen attentively to God’s word and know deep down that God is still at work and that I/we are very much a part of Christ’s Kingdom purposes.
Zechariah 8:15-16 Don’t be afraid. But this is what you must do: Tell the truth to each other. Render verdicts in your courts that are just and that lead to peace. Don’t scheme against each other. Stop your love of telling lies that you swear are the truth. I hate all these things,” says the Lord.
It’s easy, I’ve found, to spout all kinds of outrage when someone pushes my buttons. I often need someone to help me correct and balance my perspective. Sometimes I don’t even know the facts. And sometimes the facts don’t support the opinions I so easily espouse.
So this Scripture hits me right between the eyes. “I hate lies. Tell the truth,” says my beloved Lord. And I can hear him saying, “In the court of your own mind, render verdicts that are just and lead to peace.”
For me, this translates into making the effort to verify facts before I express an opinion or forward or repost someone else’s opinion. It means being willing to challenge and question my own impulses and conclusions. It means seeking God’s wisdom about using my voice for justice and peace. And my silence as well.
In the last two posts, I’ve said apparently contradictory things. Speak up. Be still. How do we find the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be quiet? I would love your perspective!
I’ve found practical guidance through Braver Angels. Yesterday I participated in a training called “Depolarizing Within.” We were challenged to recognize within ourselves such attitudes as hate, disdain, pity, and disrespect, and to recognize our stereotypes. Make depolarizing distinctions:
Between positions and people
Between policies and core values
Between inconsistency and hypocrisy
Braver Angels has discovered that people’s core values across the political spectrum are often the same; it’s the ways to achieve those values (policies) that create differences. It’s possible to debate policies without deriding people.
Matthew 15:18-28 “The words you speak come from the heart . . .” Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely. But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. She is bothering us with all her begging . . . “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.
Silence is powerful. In this case, when Jesus stayed quiet for a while, the hearts of the disciples were revealed. Jesus had just been teaching that what is inside comes out through what we say. Master teacher that he was, he used this real-life incident to vividly illustrate his point. “She is bothering us; send her away,” the disciples said. Not, “Oh, this poor girl. Her mother loves her so much. How can we help her?” In what way were they more righteous than the Pharisees Jesus had just criticized for not caring for their aging parents?
The disciples still had not learned compassion, the heart of Jesus’ ministry, the ministry they were apprenticed to learn (see Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:3, 15:32). They still hadn’t captured Jesus’ vision for the nations, not just for the Jewish people. They still hadn’t internalized the kind of love that compelled Jesus, in deep grief following the death of his cousin John, to pour himself out for the people who thronged him. “Send them away,” the disciples had said on that occasion as well–and would do again in chapter 19, when the children bothered them.
By being quiet and waiting to see how they would respond, Jesus let the disciples implicate themselves. So much more powerful than a lecture or confrontation! Matthew doesn’t give us the debrief on this story, but can you imagine the conversation after the woman left, not rejected but rejoicing?
So, I have a challenge for you and for myself: Notice what happens in the quiet spaces, when the avalanche of words stops. And write a comment. Tell us what you see.
Be still and know that I am God! I will be honored in every nation. I will be honored throughout the world. (Psalm 46:10)
Psalm 116:1I love the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplications, because He has inclined His ear to me whenever I called upon Him.
But aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from Your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10: 29-31
…This feels a little silly but I know it’s not…
I’ve been missing the ring my parents gave me for my 16th birthday for several months—my birthstone offset by two small diamonds, a pretty little thing. It’s been gone since at least January, maybe longer!!! 8 months or more!!! I felt REALLY BAD that I’d lost it, really lost it, after nearly 30 years of having and enjoying it. I turned my bedroom and house inside out looking for it while giving my house a good cleaning in May. Nothing. I thought it was lost, really lost. I prayed to God to let it re-appear somehow, or to let me know if it was gone forever. My impression from my prayers was that it was gone forever. I was a little sad, but what could I do? I gave up looking, with this sick, sad feeling in the pit of my stomach, added onto the rest of this ache from all this pandemic.
Last night, I was looking for some wrapping paper in a plastic bin under my bed where I keep the wrapping paper. When I pushed the bin back, there it was!!! I literally gasped in delight and wonder, thankfulness and awe. Poor ring must’ve been trapped under the groove in the plastic storage bin somehow for the last 8+ months!!! EVEN THOUGH I had moved my bed and those bins…TWICE!!! I’ve prayed for other things like this before, and each time I ‘find’ something, I think God decides to give whatever it is back to me, to bless me and to let me know that He cares about the things (and people!) I care about!
This time though, I was more deeply touched than usual, because this ring has such sentimentality to me being a gift from my parents for my sweet 16, and because it had been missing for so long, and because I had basically given up that I would find it. So I have this lingering, overwhelming, deep sense that I am deeply Loved, that God MADE my ring re-appear to tangibly show how much He cares for me and the things I care about, to encourage me, and to give me Hope.
God is good (and not just because He returned my ring to me!). He delights in all of us, and loves us very much, even so much as to return things (and people) to us that we’ve lost.
Here is the refrain that followed in my heart last night!
God is so good,
God is so good,
God is so good,
He’s so good, to me.
He answers prayer.
He answers prayer.
He answers prayer,
He’s so good, to me. (Velma A Ledin)
God answers prayer in the morning, God answers prayer at noon.
God answers prayer in the evening,
To keep your heart in tune. (John W Peterson Co)
There was also this swell of verses which came to mind around this encounter with God…I hope they give you hope to not give up, even on the smallest thing, even on the deepest hope or dream or healing of that ache or relationship or lost person in your life. May you be deeply blessed by reading these verses:
The Lord, your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory (“the Mighty Warrior who saves”—NIV); He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will renew you in His love; He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. Zephaniah 3: 17 NRSV
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still. Exodus 14:14 NRSV
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:8-10 (sandwiched in between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the prodigal son <3)
Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in whom My Soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice…I am the Lord, that is My Name; My Glory I give to no other, nor My Praise to idols. See the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare, before they spring forth, I tell you of them. Isaiah 42:1-3, 8-9
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:1-8
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 2 Cor 4: 16-18
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your record? Psalm 56
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from Your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10: 29-31
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value that they? And can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to the span of your life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all His glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first of the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25-34
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
A few days ago, I commented to Dave, “No one seems to be talking about the fact that this month, on the 18th, we celebrate 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. With all the concern about voting, why isn’t anyone referencing that?” Since then, I’ve been glad to see and hear some media focus on that historic accomplishment.
Think about it, though: Only one hundred years since women were granted the vote! I find that hard to believe. Since I have always had that right, I take it for granted. My grandmother was 19 in 1920. I wish I had known enough to ask her what the passage of the 19th amendment meant to her.
But even more unbelievable for me, since I didn’t grow up in the U.S. and learned a truncated version of American history, has been finding out that the great majority of Black Americans, including, of course, Black women, have only been able to vote since President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
1965!Within my lifetime, in this “land of the free,” citizens were not permitted to vote! I have been on a steep learning curve about this and so much else I didn’t know or didn’t understand about the story of this country.
I have heard these proverbs about speaking up applied to unborn babies, and surely that is legitimate. But I don’t remember hearing them applied to people of color. Tragically, unconscionably, it has often been people who claim the name of Christ who, rather than ensuring justice, have been the ones doing the crushing—in direct opposition to Jesus, who “will not crush the weakest reed” (see post on Aug. 8). Read Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, for a start.
Women and men, each of us who has a voice: Let’s use the power of our voices not just at the polls, critically important as that is, but in our homes, our communities, our churches, to speak up when we see injustice. Our voices don’t have to be loud or raucous to make a difference, especially if what we say is matched by what we do. God loves gentleness and kindness—that’s what I find so appealing about John Woolman’s way of protesting. But our voices joined together in persistent, confident love can bring change that will gladden God’s heart.
This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things.”
Matthew 14:22-27 Immediately after this [feeding five thousand +], Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage, I am here!”
We all need these words, perhaps several times a day. Yes?
Alex, the youth pastor at our church, gave a wonderful sermon Sunday based on this passage, including the part about Peter walking on the water. Alex left us with unforgettable images:
The mountain, where heaven meets earth:
where we gain our perspective and strength through prayer,
where we can grieve, as Jesus grieved for his cousin John
The sea, where we encounter powers beyond our control:
everything that rocks our boat
But for Jesus, walking on the sea is the quickest way to reach us.
The boat, where we live our lives
often full of frustration and fear
Lord, how are you coming near to me through the chaos of these days? Let me feel the touch of your hand. Come be with me in my boat and bring peace.
You can listen to the whole sermon here, 22:40-39:49—a wonderful use of 17 minutes!
Matthew 12:15-21 Jesus healed all the sick among them, but he warned them not to reveal who he was. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him: “Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
Have you read Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card? It’s part of the Ender’s Game series but takes place about three thousand years later. The Speaker is charged with understanding and expressing the mystery and truth of a person’s life.
It’s not easy work, but our pastor is particularly good at doing this and is having multiple opportunities to use this gift, three funerals in three weeks. After dear 97-year-old Alicia’s service Thursday, I was able to watch by live stream the funeral of our son-in-law Cesar’s 50-year-old Aunt Rosina in southern Brazil. In both cases, I felt I knew the people better in some ways in death than I had in life. I expect that will be true for Jane too, next week—my friend whom I wrote about in the last post, whose service will be next Friday.
This celebration of a person’s unique impact on the world always comforts me. Doing it well honors the significance of the person to those who knew him or her.
So when I read this Scripture this morning, it struck me that by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, he was free from the restriction not to reveal who Jesus was, and chose this passage from Isaiah to crystallize for his readers (including us!) the essence of Jesus’ character. Read it over a few times. Let its loveliness sink into your heart. Are you encouraged? I am! Even more when I look back to his baptism in Matthew 3:17, and forward to his transfiguration in Matthew 17:5, two other times God the Father calls Jesus his Beloved, and the Spirit bears witness and empowers his work. A beautiful partnership.
He is so gentle. Yet his intent to bring justice will one day be successful. Because he not only died, he came back to life. Take hope!
Matthew 9:10-13 Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus quoted to the Pharisees the Greek version of Hosea 6:6. Perhaps he thought the first part of the verse would invoke for his hearers the next phrase: “I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Know my heart of mercy. Do as I do—but it starts in your heart with a change of attitude, a change of paradigm. A different, more open way of seeing the world. Not less love for God, but more.
In response to my post about wondering how I will get through the next few weeks of political mutual destruction, my sister-in-law Elaine (see Art and Scripture on FB) recommended a very helpful little book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) by Brian McLaren—see https://brianmclaren.net/store/–scroll down just a bit.
It’s an easy read, in big print. But maybe not so easy to apply . . . I would be delighted to know your thoughts!
I’m adding to my list of suggestions for these next weeks:
2 Corinthians 2:14-15 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.
I had met Jane at church—enough to greet her. But I got to know her when I was asked to regularly pick her up for church once a month. She was a little hard of hearing, but her mind was sharp as a tack, and we had fascinating conversations going to and from church. She told me about the books she was reading, about events and people in the retirement center where she lived, about her own story—the jobs she had held, her decision not to pursue a doctorate at Pitt though she was invited by professors there to do so, her choice to worship at Ascension, her siblings and their families, her decision not to marry . . .
Jane was up to the minute with current events and shared some of her concerns with me. Once we drove by a lot where a huge old apartment building had been razed. She said, “Wouldn’t that be the perfect spot to build the new Amazon distribution center? I’m quite sure Amazon will choose Pittsburgh.” (They didn’t.) I was impressed that Jane was aware of the competition for this potential source of jobs and was able to engage with me in a discussion of the pros and cons of Amazon coming to our city.
When Karis, All I See Is Grace was published, I bought a copy for Jane. But she greeted me asking for an autograph–in the hard copy of the book she somehow obtained on her own!
Jane loved our family. She followed Dave’s ministry in detail, and always had pertinent questions to ask him. She loved nothing more than a visit from me at her retirement center—if I brought Caleb along. She was thrilled when both our daughters were pregnant at the same time.
Then she suffered a massive heart attack. When I went to visit her in the hospital, she almost leaped out of bed in her excitement. “Debbie, you’ll never guess who was just here! Mark Stevenson! Such a nice young man.” (Mark is a pastor at our church. I think he’s about my age, so perhaps Jane thought of me as young also?!) Jane proceeded to talk to me nonstop for over an hour. She would have kept going, I think, had I not needed to excuse myself.
After that heart attack, Jane was moved from her lovely apartment in the retirement center to a nursing home, where she shared a hospital-style room with a woman who was not happy she was there. In fact, hostile might not be too strong a word. When I looked at Jane, startled at what came out of the woman’s mouth, Jane laughed and said, with a little chuckle, “Perhaps in time I’ll win her over, poor dear.” She set aside the book in her lap—one of the classics; I’m sad that I don’t remember which one—to show me with delight cards and photos she had received from friends and family. When I was ready to leave, Jane said, “Don’t worry about me. I am content. Contentment is a choice. I have chosen to be content.”
Those words have rung in my mind and heart often since that day a few months ago. I didn’t imagine that would be the last time I would see Jane. But then COVID hit. We kept in touch through notes on cards, and Jane sent cards to each of my daughters when their babies were born (she had kept track of their due dates).
July 26, Jane’s 95th birthday, her COVID test came back positive. Last night God took her Home. She has left me with the scent of Christ-like fragrance, rising up to God. And the reminder that contentment is a choice.
Matthew 5: 43-48 You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” my fortune cookie tells me.
If you’re like me, you dread the next weeks, when we’ll be flooded even more than the pathetic “normal” by politicians tearing each other apart. What to do—an extended screens fast? Focus that time instead on proactive love for neighbors and friends?