But God himself will cross over ahead of you

Deuteronomy 31:2-3, 6 Moses said to the people, “The Lord has told me, ‘You will not cross the Jordan River.’ But the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. . . Joshua will lead you across the river, just as the Lord promised. . . So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

When Karis was fourteen, she wrote in her journal:

March 9, 1998 Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” Oh, Lord, isn’t that one of my greatest goals?! To speak. To be heard, to have a voice in other people’s lives, to STAND FOR SOMETHING, even when I’m gone. For people to rejoice when they think of me, to say I see God in her. You have promised I will fulfill a purpose in You.

Karis in high school

If you have read Karis, All I See Is Grace, you know that when she was sixteen, God gave her a promise and a prophecy, a north star to guide her the rest of her life.

The Promise: “Seu Amado está guardado.” Your Beloved is chosen, reserved, saved, protected, hidden, or set apart—the word “guardado” in Portuguese has multiple shades of meaning.

The Prophecy: “You will be a door many nations will walk through to find Christ. You will be given a key to this door.”

Through multiple life-threatening crises, she believed she would not die until the Promise and the Prophecy were fulfilled. For example, at 21, after her first transplant catapulted her into severe rejection and overwhelming infection, she wrote:

Oct-something 2004 I won’t stay ugly. I’ll grow into some new form of beauty and wellness. Why do I know that? Why do I know I won’t die? Because there are unfulfilled promises. It’s so simple when I remember that. Surely my friends recognized Your grace in me and were enchanted by that. That is when I can enter their lives and touch and interact. That is when the knowledge that I will leave an impact is joyous.

Shortly after her graduation from Notre Dame, confined to a wheelchair because her hip had collapsed and facing surgery considered high risk for anyone immunosuppressed, she said:

May 2008 Soon I will be able to walk, and dance; this is my hope. I have Your promises to stand on. Meu amado está guardado. My life is to be somehow a door to the nations; a key will be given me. So, I will survive the hip replacement surgery. Or at the very least, You will use this short life I have lived. That seems huge enough comfort not to fear taking the next step: I shall not fear evil. Nothing bad can happen to me. Though I die, I die to You as I have lived to You.

Did God fulfill the Promise and the Prophecy? At the end of the book I discuss that question, and I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t yet read the story. But I think, like Moses who couldn’t in the end do all he dreamed of, the Karis book can be like Joshua was for Moses, helping fulfill God’s promise. Very soon, Karis’s own words will be available for Spanish and Portuguese speakers as well as English.

On my next post, I’ll tell you about recent events in the life of “Anthony,” whom Karis believed to be her Beloved of the Promise. Today, I want to tell you more about this one way I believe God is expanding the fulfillment of the Prophecy, through Karis’s words and story translated into Portuguese and Spanish. How appropriate, since Karis’s five languages were part of the “key” she was given while alive. They allowed her to communicate Christ’s love to people who, like her, gathered from all over the world in Pittsburgh hospital waiting rooms.

Here is some initial feedback from Mexicans and Brazilians who helped me with translating and editing the text of the Karis book:

Margarita: This book has enormous potential for ministry. It was a privilege to participate in its translation into Spanish.

Elisa: Every line of this book is an invitation to dive into life with courage, faith and joy, without fear. Invitation accepted!

Ari: Prepare to learn to see the world through the lens of grace. Don’t be surprised if Karis breaks your heart and makes you smile, both at the same time.

I’ve seen God “crossing over” ahead of me to bridge into these languages. He opened a door to publish with Editora Betânia in Brazil after they initially said no. He provided excellent translators and editors in both Portuguese and Spanish, and the money to pay them. Friends prayed and believed in these projects when I was discouraged.

Now, I ask you to pray with me for the Holy Spirit to personally “cross over” into the hearts of those who read the book’s message of hope and grace. That message is more relevant than ever, as people around the world struggle and suffer through the multi-pronged challenges of our days. Pray they will find, as Karis did, amid trauma, loss, and grief, the gift of God’s love:

Sep 23, 2007 My bones are decaying. And with them, I fear, my spirit. Teach me to love, Master. May they say this of me when they say nothing else, when I am gone: she loved me. God loved me through her.

Thank You, Father, for the vision You granted me of the woman breaking her perfume over Your feet. Teach me to accept the brokenness of my clay jar that used to contain so much joy and articulation and grace. Teach me to offer it up anew each morning.

And for this new vision—You with arms outstretched to hug me to Yourself, my wounds on your body . . . I will treasure it always. May it grow in me until I begin to really understand Your love for me. For the world. Your fellowship in our sufferings and the grace of our fellowship in Yours.

The Portuguese may not be published until next year. Editora Betânia hasn’t yet given me a date. But Karis, Todo lo que veo es gracia should be available on Amazon within a couple of weeks! I’ll let you know! Start thinking about who you know who speaks Spanish . . .

But Jesus touched them

Matthew 17:6-7 [At the Transfiguration] The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Last night I finished the rough draft of my first novel, Horse Thief 1898. Then I tried to sleep, but my novel-world was still too much with me. After trying to “turn over and go to sleep,” as my dad used to instruct us, I gave up and returned to my laptop and read back over the last few chapters, tweaking here, adding there, rearranging the order of events in a couple of places.

Finally, glancing at the clock, I realized I needed sleep. I decided to read a chapter of someone else’s novel, in that moment less compelling to me than my own, to get me out of the Horse Thief world. It worked well enough to get me back to bed. But then, as I tried not to touch my husband (he’s a light sleeper), touch is what I kept thinking about. How important touch is to Cally. How it hurts her to go long periods without a friendly embrace. And then—how devastating the abusive touch that upends her world. And how much, after that, she desperately needed safe touch in order to begin to heal.

Image From Shutterstock by Puppy 4

I thought too about a part of Karis, All I See Is Grace, near the end of the book. I’ve just read through the entire manuscript in Portuguese, as I prepare to submit it to a Brazilian publisher by the end of this week. Writing about the day before Karis died, I noted, After our family time with Karis, I moved her leg to make it more comfortable, and her skin split. Even the gentlest touch caused immediate bruising. I had cared intimately for this body for more than thirty years, and now my touch was no longer a blessing; it only did her harm. I could do no more for my precious girl. Father, take her home.

As I turned over (again) and tried to sleep, I breathed, Thank you, Lord, for taking her home. Jesus’ touch never causes harm. It only brings healing.

Horse Thief 1898 ends with touch. It is both the culmination of a long separation and a promise of more to come. As I tried to sleep, I found myself writing in my head the beginning of the next book in the series, which will be Cally’s healing journey. But no. I’ve promised myself I’ll catch up on other parts of my life before plunging into book 2. There are others who need Jesus’ touch, even that mediated by the imperfection of my hands.

But God calls us to unity

Ephesians 2:13-14, 4:1-3 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus . . . For Christ himself has brought peace to us. . . I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

Laughter feels so good, doesn’t it? I laughed this morning, watching this recording of the Braver Angels theme song:

In case you’re confused: they started as Better Angels, taken from a speech by Abraham Lincoln, but someone else had already claimed that name, so they switched to Braver Angels. Believing people basically want the same things despite their political affiliations, or should at least be able to talk with each other, they are working hard to bridge the divide that separates people in our present rancorous environment.

I’ve had the experience—maybe you have too?—of feeling deeply hurt by people I love who have attacked me or attacked other people I love because of something said touching politics. The attacks came with what feels more like hatred than love. Hatred is a strong word, but that’s how it has felt—that our friendship could be destroyed by a single statement of political preference or even curiosity.

These are Christian friends. How is it possible that our unity in Christ, rooted in common membership in the eternal Kingdom, can be so vulnerable to emotions connected to temporal, temporary realities? Because in the long run—in eternity—who wins this election in this country (we forget how small a part we are of the history of the world!) won’t matter in the least. But whether I have broken relationships with brothers and sisters will matter, both now and in the future.

So I’m challenged by these words written by Paul almost two thousand years ago, Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

Part of what this means to me is realizing how much our unity matters to our Lord, and being willing to do the hard work of letting the hurt go, forgiving, cherishing all I have in common with these beloved ones, and building bridges instead of walls.

Braver Angels helps by giving me perspective and giving me tools for building those bridges. Though there are many Christians involved with BA, it is a secular organization. Jesus prayed just before he was betrayed and arrested, May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me (John 17:23). Can we in the Body of Christ, called to unity, do any less?

But God favors the humble: “Se Deus quiser” by Virginia Webster

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!]

White-headed capuchin in the rain forest near Manaus, Brazil. From Shutterstock, by Alessandro Zappalorto

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.

But God says, “Tell the truth”

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.

There are many kinds of silence! It’s possible to speak volumes without opening our mouths.
Photo from Shutterstock by Studio Grand Web.

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:

  1. Between positions and people
  2. Between policies and core values
  3. 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.

https://braverangels.org/

Braver Angels training is focused toward bridging the political divide, but really, it’s applicable to any relationship.

Sometimes we need to be quiet and learn, so that when we speak, we speak truth with love and respect that can lead to peace and justice.

But Jesus gave no reply

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?

Photo from Shutterstock by kornnphoto

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)

But God hears, by Becky Kennedy

Psalm 116:1 I 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.

Photo by Becky Kennedy

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)

And,

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

…There is more, but that will have to do for now.

But God says, “Speak up”

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.

One thing I just learned: Rosa Parks used her voice to speak against sexual violence.
Photo from Shutterstock by neftali

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.”

I, the Lord, have spoken! (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid”

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?

Photo from Shutterstock by German Vizulis

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!

But Jesus warned

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.

Photo from Shutterstock by diy13

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!