Just a greeting?

But Christ gives us peace

1 Peter 5:13-14 My son Mark sends you greetings. Greet each other with Christian love. Peace be with all of you who are in Christ.

Not many responded to my question about what Peter is saying to us about suffering. I hope that means you’ve been spending your time watching the January 6 hearings. I found yesterday’s particularly riveting, a great example of people in real time who have stood firm in their convictions to honor their oaths of service and preserve their integrity despite overwhelming pressure to give in to the mad claims of one person bent on his own glory, not God’s. May the Lord grant them his peace in the midst of their suffering.

But with her permission, here is part of what one friend wrote after a review of some of the suffering she has experienced or known about:

“… There are many other instances where one is left in awe at how people find ways to transfigure their suffering into something that benefits others. So, I see grace in at least these things:

* God suffers with us

* people’s faith, love and courage in trouble remain beautiful

* rescues/survival allow the stories to be told to encourage others

* the goods of beauty, love, creativity, and those who serve to alleviate suffering exist amid suffering

* people transform their pain into service

* people find God in suffering. 

“Not comfortable or easy. But “survivors” move into a different period of life where there is much ordinary delight, appreciation of God having been present, more wisdom, and a determination to enjoy and be grateful for each day of life as a great gift.  Peter seems to say, ‘the suffering is temporary and good times are coming!’”

Thank you, my friend.

Peter frames his letter with the desire for his readers to experience God’s grace and peace (1:2 and 5:14). In between his main focus is their suffering. Let’s do our own quick review of what he says. I encourage you not to just skim through this, but to take enough time to let it soak in and hearten you in whatever you are facing:

1:6 Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.

1:7 These trials will show that you faith is genuine … your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.

1:13-14 So think clearly and exercise self-control. … Live as God’s obedient children … holy in everything you do.

2:19 God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment … For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. … He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. … By his wounds you are healed.

3:8-9, 14 … Sympathize with each other. … Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. … Don’t worry or be afraid of people’s threats. Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life.

3:18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.

4:1 Since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. … Remember that those who slander you will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead.

4:12-14 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering … So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.

4:17, 19 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good than to suffer for doing wrong! … So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.

5:6-7 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

5:9 Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

5:10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. … What you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you.

There is evil in the world. There are people who care nothing about the suffering they cause others, as in the examples I cited in the last post. But God sees, cares, encourages us, walks through our suffering with us, bears our burdens, restores, supports, and strengthens us. And one day he will make everything right.

Some things Karis wrote in her journal as a teenager “stuck” in the hospital come to mind. I’ll close this post (though certainly not this topic) with this:

May 12, 1999 Oh, Lord! Sometimes I am so afraid. The doctors don’t know what to do with me, and it hurts so much! I feel like I’m running on energy not my own, like I’m walking on such thin ice. Lord—is it to be like this forever? I am not strong enough to bear it.

Sometimes, inside I am rejoicing. But it is not a smiley affair, not always. Sometimes joy can be very grave or even be there bittersweet in the midst of terrible pain.

May 19, 1999 What now? What can I do to glorify you in this prison of mine? So strange, my body: at the same time a part of me and my enemy.

Jun 1, 1999 I’ve been poked with needles until my arms are black and blue and red. I thought last night as they poked me again, “What must it have been like for Jesus, not to be pierced by loving nurses and these tiny sharp needles, but rather the soldiers, the nails…” I remember Christ and find not the strength not to complain but rather there is nothing to complain about.

Where is the grace? Tell me what you think Peter is saying.

But God’s grace can include suffering

1 Peter 5:9-12 Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. … So after you have suffered a little while, God will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation … What you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.

We’ve come to the end of 1 Peter at the same time we’re celebrating Juneteenth, an opportunity to remember and honor the hard-won end of Black enslavement in the United States.

But thinking of the horrific suffering engendered by the Civil War on both sides of the conflict, and the betrayals Black people experienced in the Jim Crow years and beyond, I find I want to argue with Peter. How can suffering be part of God’s grace?

Shutterstock: rarrarorro This article describes the beautiful symbols on the Juneteenth flag.

The Civil War was an unconscionable tragedy rooted in greed, cruelty, violence, and a distorted perspective of God’s purposes and plans for his people. The war (as do all wars) engendered shattering losses of life and livelihood, families divided and decimated, resources squandered.

Today, the tragedy of war is replaying in the Ukraine. Where is the grace? What are you saying, Peter?

I read an article this morning titled “Why White Men Should Celebrate Juneteenth.” Without the Civil War, our nation would have broken into two and the double standard which fractured our nation into slave and free despite the bold statement in the Declaration of Independence of the “self-evident truth” that all men were created equal would have continued to poison our progress. As Frederick Douglass said, a healthier nation is built upon “one country, one citizenship, and one liberty for all the people.”

But did this have to come at such an immense cost? Where is the grace, Peter?

According to the UNHCR, there are over 84 million displaced people in the world. Where is the grace, Peter?

According to Safe Horizon, 24.9 million people are victims of “modern slavery” in the United States, including 3.8 million adults and 1 million children exploited by sex trafficking. Come on, Peter. You dare speak of grace?

Every year, more than ten million women and men in the United States experience domestic violence. More than 400,000 children in the US were in foster care last year. Grace??

What is Peter saying?? Please look back over 1 Peter and tell me what you think!

What does this mean to you today?

But God cares about us

1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

My dad was a Bible translator for the Nebaj Maya-Ixil people in Guatemala. He told us the story of translating this verse, 1 Peter 5:7, with the help of an Ixil assistant. Dad read to him his initial attempt and his assistant said, “No, no, you can’t say that.” So, Dad tried again. And again. Until he had exhausted all his vocabulary.

On the way to Nebaj, which is over the farthest mountain in this photo.

Then Dad had an inspiration. He went back to his original wording and asked his assistant, “If we were to say this, what would it mean to you?”

His assistant said, “Why, it would mean what matters to me, matters to God. That’s not possible!”

The god he knew was self-centered, cruel, and vindictive. He had no categories in his mind for a God of love. Eventually, he came to believe in a different God, one who knew him and thought about him with affection, who cared about him.

Dad speaking at the dedication of the Ixil translation of the New Testament in August, 2008. All of his children and 17 of his grandchildren were in attendance–you can see some of them in the photo to the left. In November, God took Dad Home.

Today, I’m asking myself and you Dad’s question: If we were to say God cares about you, what would that mean to you?

I’m entering this day with worries and cares. You too? God invites us to give our burdens to him. He’s the only one strong, wise, and caring enough to carry them.

What part of the Body are you?

But God will lift you up

1 Peter 5:2-6 Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly … Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care but lead them by your own good example. … All of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” [Proverbs 3:34]. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

1 Corinthians 12:25-26  All the members of the body care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

In an online group recently we were asked, “What part of the Body of Christ are you?” I found the responses fascinating. “Lungs: I help the Body breathe.” “Liver: I recognize and cleanse impurities.” “Shoulder: I offer comfort.” “Hands: I’m a fix-it person.”

Thursday I had the opportunity to speak to a group of Brazilian pastors online. The topic they had assigned me was “Living with grace through times of crisis.” Several dear friends were among the attendees. The pastor friend tasked with introducing me before my talk said, “Débora é tudo coração” (Debra is all heart). The example he gave? “She made cookies for me. She knew how much I liked them, so every time I was in her home in São Paulo, she would say to me, ‘You know where the cookie jar is. Help yourself.’”

Shutterstock: Sarah Marchant

Maybe my role in the Body of Christ is making cookies. Certainly, my grandchildren think that’s one thing I’m good for. I told Dave about this, and he said, “You haven’t made cookies for me for a long time!” So, before I left Friday for a weekend in-person retreat (this one in English), I made him cookies. With raisins, his favorite. I hoped he would feel my love while I was gone, while he led a virtual retreat in Spanish for leaders from five countries.

Don’t you love those Holy Spirit moments when it’s clear the Holy Spirit directed the thought and empowered the action, simple or humble as it may be? I miss opportunities all the time because I’m too focused on my own stuff and not listening very well. But those special moments when we see the Holy Spirit at work, we do feel lifted up. And very grateful.

What role do you play in the Body of Christ? And who is part of the “flock” God has entrusted to you?

What love language do you speak?

But God has given each of us a gift, by David Kornfield

1 Peter 4:8-11 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God.

I just spent two precious hours participating in a virtual retreat with beloved friends in Brazil, a wonderful gift from God to me. I felt deeply loved through their prayer for me after I shared what God had put in my heart to speak to them.

What makes the difference between doing something for someone as a job or responsibility and doing it with positive spiritual impact? I believe the difference is whether we offer our service with love mediated by the Holy Spirit. An example comes from the experience of my friend Carol. She told a group of friends Tuesday night that she believes God has put her in exactly the right place. She has started her new job at the information desk of a large hospital this week. Already a person requested a form to tell the hospital Carol’s service to him had been exceptional.

Shutterstock: Trong Nguyen

“It’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit,” Carol told us. “I try to see each person who comes to the desk as God sees them. I’ve been amazed at what God has shown me and has filled my heart to say as encouragement to each one. Hospitals are stress-filled places. I want them to carry a sense of peace and support as they leave me.”

She then told us the story of a man who left the desk to visit his wife and returned to tell her his wife had died. “Why would a total stranger tell me that?” Carol wondered. “Only because he somehow felt the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit calming and comforting him.”

Peter’s linking of the concepts of love and gifts reminds me of Gary Chapman’s “love languages.” So I asked my husband Dave to share from a conversation he had with God about one of his growth goals, to better love the people around him. God showed him how he (God) expresses all five of Chapman’s love languages:

In my devotional life, I talk with God, and he talks with me. This calls for a sanctified imagination, but I believe it’s real. What follows is God speaking to me about His love languages.

I love you. I never get tired of telling you that. It would be tricky to try to limit my love to any given love language, but verbal love is certainly a very big part of my love! Consider how I express all five:

  1. Verbal love. “In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1). My verbal love starts there and never stops. You can track it through other key references like John 1.14-18; 5.39, 40; 2Tm 3.16-17 and Heb 4.12 for starters. Then you can pick it up in my love expressed in my creation (Ps 19.1-7), spilling over to my written Word (Ps 19.8-14; all of Ps 119!).
  2. Touch or physical love. Go through the Gospels some time and notice how often Jesus touched people physically or they touched him physically. Dozens of times! And since his Ascension, the Body of Christ is his hands and feet, touching others physically and tangibly (Mt 25.31-46).
  3. Gifts. John 3:16 declares how my love expressed itself in the greatest gift of all, which opens the door for spiritual birth and transformation (John 1.12-18). And then my love goes on to spiritual gifts – Eph 4.9-116; 1Co 12-14; Rm 12.8-16; 1Pe 4.8-11 – all of them in the context of love. And that’s only the beginning of the gifts I’ve poured out on you – physical, financial, social, spiritual, relational – so many!
  4. Service. Mt 20.25-28; Ph 2.1-9. My utter and profound commitment to being ezer [helper, a frequent descriptor of God in the Old Testament, e.g. Psalm 46:1, and of Eve in Genesis 2:18]. Serving. Elevating. Raising up. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others (Mark 10:45).
  5. Quality time. That’s what you experience with Me at the beginning of every day and in your divine encounters, in my kairos. I make everything beautiful in My time (Ec 3.11).

I am off any scale you can picture in using all five. Try finding the horizon of any of those and you will find it’s like looking at the ocean. There is a horizon, but that’s simply the limit of your vision. It doesn’t come close to reaching the end of the ocean! That’s how I am toward you in each of these five love languages.

Shutterstock: Zephyr_p

My (Dave’s) response to God:

Hmm, why am I not surprised, Lord? I guess the only surprise is that I haven’t seen this so clearly before. I’ll find it easier now to learn and use all five languages. Looking at you, I see how to do it. This adds depth to Your words “Walk with me and work with Me – watch how I do it!” [Matthew 11:29, The Message].

Help me today, Lord, to walk in Your love and be a conduit of Your love to each person I meet virtually, by email, WhatsApp, Zoom or in any other way, including personal connection with Deb and anyone else you bring to my home today. I pray in your holy name, so be it.

A suggestion from Dave:

Ric Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life is a wonderful forty-day devotional describing how God fulfills His purposes in each of us. Days 29-35 focus on God shaping us for His service. Day 31 in particular highlights the S.H.A.P.E. he used for each of us: Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience. You can learn more about that here.

What gift(s) have you received from God? Today is a great day to tell him thank you, and to ask him to make his gifts to you even more effective in sharing his love, through the Holy Spirit.

Safely home

But God will both reward and judge

1 Peter 3:13-4:6, 4:14  But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. … Christ suffered … to bring you safely home to God. … Remember that they [those who slander you] will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead. … So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.

Don’t worry. Be happy! Don’t these words evoke Timon and Pumbaa sashaying through the jungle? Hakuna matata, right? What do a meerkat and a warthog, a hornbill and hyenas have to do with suffering and judgment, rewards and courage?

Shutterstock: Volodymyr Burdiak

According to the Washington Post, “’The Lion King’ is not just a great story—it’s a true story,” the story of Sundiata Keita, the Lion of Mali, founder of the Malian Empire, the largest kingdom in West Africa in the 13th century.

“In some ways, this history makes for a better story than what Disney concocted. It’s a story of a mother who protected her family by fleeing to exile. It’s the story of a disabled man who overcame tremendous physical and political challenges and triumphed by building alliances. It’s about a kingdom in West Africa that eventually became the biggest and richest empire in history, as Sundiata’s reign witnessed dominance in agriculture, gold and trade, and introduced cotton and weaving.”

Each of us is living out a story. What story are you part of? If it were cast on the big screen, what role would you play? Most importantly, do you know who is in charge and how your story will end?

Writing novels has been an amazing experience for me. I sit down to write with an overall idea of the arc of the story and of what will happen at the end. But my characters themselves tell me what happens along the way. I often tell Dave at the end of a writing session, “I was so surprised to find out that Cally … and Charlie …” Dave always wants reassurance that no matter what, the book will end well.

It occurs to me that our life is like that. We don’t know what will happen along the way. But we do know who is in charge. We know he is good. We know he loves us and is on our side. We know we can trust him. We know he has the power to bring everything around to a wonderful conclusion. Even when things get tough, even when we suffer injustice and losses, that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story looks like this:

God himself will be with his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (Revelation 21:4).

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you (1 Peter 4:19).

We all need models

But Jesus’ example applies to all of us

1 Peter 2:21, 3:1, 3:7-15 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. … In the same way, you wives … In the same way, you husbands … Finally, all of you should

… be of one mind.

… sympathize with each other.

… love each other as brothers and sisters.

… be tender-hearted and keep a humble attitude.

… not repay evil for evil.

… not retaliate with insults when people insult you.

… instead, pay them back with blessing.

That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures [Psalm 34:12-16] say, “… Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace and work to maintain it …”

In the early years of our marriage, Dave believed a good husband should fix things in his home. So, when our washing machine broke, he spent days trying to figure out what was wrong and how to repair it.

Dave is nothing if not determined, when he gets an idea in his mind. Fortunately for me, he travelled. I promptly called a repairman, and by the next day was able to tackle the mounds of accumulated dirty laundry. To my relief, Dave eventually acknowledged he was neither called nor equipped to repair washing machines, and the cost of his efforts, both to him and to me, was greater than the expense of paying for someone who knew what he or she was doing.

A delightful image makes me smile when I remember this incident. I happened to be in the basement and watched Dave climb the steps expressing his frustration with his lack of prowess with solving physical and mechanical problems by saying “Fiddlesticks! Fiddlesticks!” Behind him climbed our small son, saying “Fiddlesticks! Fiddlesticks,” his head bowed in exact imitation of his father.

When Dave and I got married, we rented space at a camp and had a three-day retreat. Friends and family members were coming in from several countries and from across the US for the wedding, and we wanted to spend time with them and provide a context for them to spend time with each other. Our parents’ generation slept in cabins, and the rest of us slept in tents.

Dave emerging from his tent on our wedding day

As part of the program, we asked my dad to lead a Bible study on marriage. Dad emphasized that as part of God’s family, Dave and I were brother and sister first, and marriage partners only second. He showed us the “one anothers” in the New Testament, including in this passage. Most marriage problems, Dad said, would not even arise if we followed the Scriptural injunctions directed to every Christ-follower, male and female, husbands and wives and everyone else.

Dad’s teaching made sense. It sounded simple.

It wasn’t.

Dave and I had a lot of growing up to do. We needed healing from past traumas. We lacked basic relational skills. We caused each other (and sadly, our kids) a great deal of pain.

Our wedding at Camp Timberlee in Wisconsin

Now though, coming up on our 45th wedding anniversary, we look back with profound gratitude on the teaching that undergirded our marriage, and the many circumstances, challenges, and friends God used to teach us to care for one another more like Jesus cared for us. Looking at Christ’s modeling of love, we can course-correct more quickly and easily than we could in those early years. Thank you, Lord!

Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. … Speak the truth in love, growing more and more like Christ. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Eph 3:17; 4:31-32).

Seventeen times!

But Christ suffered for us

1 Peter 2:21 God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you.

My husband Dave’s dad, William John Kornfield, was a decorated World War II hero. I didn’t know this until Dave’s brother Bill Jr. and his wife Jennie created a display case of Dad Kornfield’s medals and one of his buddies told stories at his funeral in November 2008 (which I missed, because Karis was critically ill sick at the time, and my dad died the same week). Dad K never made a big deal of his war experiences, so even his family didn’t know.

Dad’s medals included a purple heart, a bronze star, and sharpshooter awards

One story that was repeated to me was this:

A request was made for a volunteer to go behind enemy lines to gather information. Dave’s dad volunteered. His commanding officer made it clear that he would be risking his life, but he went anyway. He came back alive, and the next time such a call was made, he volunteered again. The third time, he was told no. No one had ever gone three times and come back alive.

“I’m ready to die,” Dad K said. “If I die, I’ll go straight to heaven. But most of my buddies aren’t ready. Let me do this.”

He went seventeen times before frostbite on his feet took him out. And was awarded a medal of valor.

Dad K in 1943

Dad K showed the same kind of gutsiness after the war, as a pioneer missionary in Bolivia. He married Dave’s mom in May, 1952, and Dave was conceived on their honeymoon. In January 1953, Bill and Gloria arrived in Bolivia, where they joined an international team in Cochabamba, where Dave was born in March. Knowing neither Spanish nor Quechua, these newlyweds and first-time parents were assigned to a small Andean village named Capinota, where they lived without running water, heat, friends, or colleagues. But Dad K always told Capinota stories with humor.

The family in 1957

Kathy joined the family fourteen months after Dave did. Then they lost a child, and finally Billy arrived. By then they had returned to Cochabamba, where Dad K directed a Bible school. They lived in the same three-story urban building that housed the denomination’s main church, a bookstore, the Bible school dormitories and classrooms, and the pastor’s apartment. The kids had nowhere to play. One of them discovered they could crawl into the attic, and they had a great time until the pastor’s wife heard and found them. She marched them into Dad K’s office to be disciplined. Dad K listened to her outrage, thanked her, and assured her he would care for the situation. After she left and he closed the door, he looked at his three children, tried to admonish them, but broke into laughter and gathered them in for a hug.

The family when I met them, 1972

On this Memorial Day, I want to honor Dad K for his courage, his resilience, his sense of humor, his delight in adventure, and his deep love for Christ and for people—loves he passed on to his children and grandchildren.

Still adventuring at my age (67)! An example to follow …
Dad K with his sons and grandson on the Inca Trail at 16,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, 1992

Dave says this:

Dad suffered in various ways as a missionary. He and Mom left their parents and siblings in an era when furloughs came only every five years. Their first term they had no vehicle. They brought up my sister Kathy and me in a small rural village in which their only running water was in the stream behind their house. After four years, Dad had to leave Bolivia and his wife and three young children for six months because of illness that couldn’t be treated in Bolivia. Mission policy dictated their children go to the mission boarding school so they wouldn’t “interfere” with their parents’ work. Dad and Mom’s marriage was very challenging, yet he never complained. Indeed, when he got Alzheimer’s and lost some of his inhibitions, he would break out in a declaration of love every time his wife entered the room.

Dad suffered, but you wouldn’t know it. The suffering didn’t enter his soul. It miraculously passed over him like water over a duck’s back. Looking back now, I realize that this might be one of the greatest ways Christ revealed himself in Dad. Christ in us, our hope of glory!

Unfading beauty

But God values inner beauty

1 Peter 3:1-12 Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God. … For instance, Sarah … You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear.

1 Samuel 16:7 People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Last week, while taking a photo requested by the publisher of the Karis book in Brazil, I accidentally caught my face in an unguarded moment. When I saw it, I was dismayed and promptly deleted it. Is this what people around me have to look at? For the first time, I felt old.

Diane Morris, a friend since 1988 when she cared for missionary kids at our new mission agency, OC International, left a lovely little book with me after a recent visit. It’s called 31 Days of Encouragement as We Grow Older, by Ruth Myers. Diane told me, “It will be fun to know we’re reading the same thing!”

Tuesday’s topic was “Never Too Old to Change.” Ruth writes, “It’s never too late to grow in important ways. … We can pray, Lord, show me things you especially want me to overcome by growth in the three things so important to you—faith, hope, and love. We can pray for increased faith in God—for quiet trust in place of anxiety, fear, or an ‘I can’t’ feeling. Someone infinitely bigger than us is in control. More and more, Lord, may I choose to trust in you.”

Is anything more attractive than quiet, confident trust in our Lord? Teach me, Lord, to do what is right without fear. Increase my faith.

P.S. I wrote this post before reading about the Southern Baptist “Abuse Apocalypse,” here and in other accounts.

Without question, this fits with the theme of God looking at our hearts rather than appearances. Interestingly, I had just read two relevant chapters in Diane Langberg’s (a second Diane for today’s post!) must-read book, Suffering and the Heart of God, How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (2015). Chapter 12 is titled “Leadership, Power, and Deception in the Church and the Home”: Power has been given to us so that the world might see something of the glory of God in the flesh—full of grace and truth. That glory is evidenced in humility, love, sacrifice, and death to anything that is not like Jesus Christ. It is a hard road (p. 212).

I highly recommend Diane Langberg’s crystal-clear account of how self-deception leads to the abuse of power. In Chapter 13, “Sexual Abuse in Christian Organizations,” she says, “Some of us have faced the power of systems that name God’s name yet look nothing like him. … We forget that anything done in the name of God that does not bear his character throughout is actually not of him at all” (p. 220).

Here is how she closes the chapter:

Our God demonstrates again and again in his Word that his kingdom is the kingdom of the heart, not the kingdom of institutional structure. … God hates sin wherever he finds it and has gone to death to destroy it. Do we really think he wants us to avoid the death of an organization or institution by hiding sin, by failing to drag it into the light? He would rather see every human organization and institution fall than see such things preserved while full of sin. … When Jesus first called his disciples, to what did he call them—a profession, a creed, a task? No, he first and foremost called them to himself. I fear sometimes we have lost that call … breaking the heart of the Shepherd. He desires our primary allegiance to be love and obedience to him no matter the cost. When we pursue him above all else, the body of Christ will be the safest place on earth for the most vulnerable sheep. … May we, who are already in positions of power and influence, lead the way by falling on our faces, imploring God to make us like himself no matter the cost to our positions, our programs, our organizations, our ministries, or our traditions (pages 228-229).

We could add, I think, “or our politics.” We can’t put anything ahead of Christ in our hearts.

Healing work is an act of love, principles 6-10 by Elaine Elliott

But Jesus’ wounds heal us May 23, 2022

1 Peter 2:19-21, 24 For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient in you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. … He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [quoting Isaiah 53:4-6]

I could write a book about home health aides. Karis and I entertained each other with aide stories, many of them wonderful, and some leaving us shaking our heads. Here’s one of the latter:

It was transplant clinic day and I had multiple errands to run, so I asked our new aide to meet us in the waiting room at the hospital. She could care for Karis through the many hours we had to wait between the early blood draw and when the doctor showed up for clinic, so I could attend to my errands. I carefully explained to the aide what Karis needed, especially how important it was that she not leave her unattended, since Karis was unsteady on her feet and with her walker couldn’t navigate opening the heavy bathroom door, nor safely do all that was needed inside. “I’ll be back by 10:30,” I told her.

I buzzed through my errands and returned to the hospital earlier than I expected. The aide was nowhere to be seen and Karis was so desperate for relief she burst into tears when she saw me. “The aide left right after you did,” she told me. “I didn’t know what to do.”

We cared for her needs, which included a change of ostomy bag because the one she had was so full it was about to rupture. We had just made it back to the waiting room when the aide wandered in, chatting on her cell phone and munching fast food. When she saw me, her eyes widened, and she hastily ended her conversation. “I just stepped out for a few minutes because I was hungry,” she said.

I asked the aide to accompany me to a secluded place so we wouldn’t disturb others in the waiting room and described for her the condition in which I had found Karis and what would have happened if the ostomy bag had ruptured. I asked her why she had not followed my instructions. “But I didn’t!” she protested. “I was only gone for, like, ten minutes!”

Aides were hard to come by. Without one, I couldn’t leave Karis ever for more than a few minutes at a time. I didn’t want my relationship with this one to end before it had even begun. My spiritual director had been telling me God is easy to please because he loves us. I wanted to be easy to please too.

But Karis’s anguished face and her tears and what had almost happened, unbearable shame and mess in a public place, burned my heart.

“I’m sorry to hear you say that,” I said. “If you had told me the truth, we could have talked about giving you another chance. But I can’t entrust my daughter’s wellbeing to someone who disregards my instructions and then lies to me.”

A series of emotions crossed the aide’s face, then she said, “I understand that you are overly attached to your daughter because she’s been sick. For that reason, I have decided to forgive you for the terrible words you just said to me. But really, you need to let her grow up. Helicopter moms are not attractive.” She stood and walked away.

She decided to forgive me … ?

I called the home health agency, told them what had happened, and requested a substitute. They didn’t have anyone else, they said. It might take a few weeks for them to find another aide for us.

With the shortage of aides, did that girl get a by at the agency? Did she learn anything? I’ll never know. The experience was traumatic enough for Karis it took her a while to be able to laugh at what happened. A small illustration of Elaine’s healing principle #6:

Principle 6: Healing may take time

Among the many stories of healing in the gospels, one describes Jesus touching a blind man.  At first, the partially healed man saw people walking around, looking like trees. (Mark 8:24) The story shows that some healings take time, since Jesus’ second touch healed him completely.  Among family and friends, we have seen many healings, and most of them have taken time.  In fact, I now have a far less romanticized view of healing and realize it may take nursing care, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and patience.   Sitting patiently with someone ill, or simply prayer over a long period of time, is challenging. 

When my sister Sharon could not walk or raise her hands after a seizure and stroke, recovery took time.  She held on in faith and kept doing the physical therapy, and within several months had become completely well.

Principle 7: Healing ministry honors Christ and is a way of following him

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them to Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Healing became an important part of their message, bringing kingdom life through their good news. Today we still deal with life-threatening illness, bacterial infections, and psychological challenges.  We can follow Jesus’ instructions and include modern methods.

My mother-in-law had a “return to life” when headed to a life of ministry in Guatemala.  The tetanus shot given her sent her into anaphylactic shock, the doctor arrived late and found she was no longer breathing.  A shot to the heart brought her back.

Principle 8: The one healed has received a gift of healing

Some have suggested that those who are healed are the ones we should say have the gift of healing.  They received something amazing they can share with others and their testimony honors Christ and may encourage faith for others.  Those who Christ or the apostles healed became important parts of the story, evidence that something wonderful is at work in the world.  In the gospels, at least 37 individuals healed become characters we do not forget. Out of 3,779 verses in the four Gospels, 727 regard healing of physical and mental illnesses, nearly a fifth of the whole, demonstrating its importance. Our stories of healing today have similar importance in sharing Christ.

Principle 9: Simultaneously ask for healing and accept the current reality

We can always ask for people to be healed—we should have no shame or embarrassment in making the request.  When we have received positive answers, we are encouraged to keep asking for the next case.  When healing has not occurred, we still trust God’s wisdom.  As the Psalmist prayed, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

This challenges us when we face chronic illness where medical research has not come up with any known cures.  In these cases, we can get discouraged and feel like it is hopeless to ask.  But faith keeps asking and stays alert for any help or aids to improvement, even small improvements.  We persist in prayer looking for breakthroughs, and as people exercise their trust in God in the middle of illness and suffering, they give him glory. 

Principle 10: Always be grateful

We can remain grateful however God chooses to act.  We remember that only one of ten lepers came back to offer thanks, but Jesus commended him. (Luke 17:17,18) We can say under the threat of suffering, If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t…” (Daniel 3:17,18) “Even if he doesn’t” answer when we want and what we want, we will still be grateful.  And, unsurprisingly, gratitude has a healing effect.

My ten principles have emerged from my experiences.  Doubtless others can improve or add or change these to create a theological explanation of healing for our time that avoids the extremes of “healing doesn’t happen” versus “healing must happen right now if we have faith—no doctors needed!”

Karis’ life illustrates the principles:  she received cutting edge medical interventions which preserved her life far beyond expectations; when her suffering reached a critical point she received her entry into heaven; thousands of people became engaged in praying for her; many joined with faith when things seemed discouraging; clearly Karis did not have any fault in having a life-threatening birth defect and her story awakened compassion; some of her hospital stays were incredibly long, but she recovered; her story is an announcement of the gospel at work in a community of believers; her life became a gift of healing, a sign of God at work; many (like myself) never gave up hoping for healing while accepting reality; and Karis expressed joy and gratitude in a way that blessed so many of us.

I now know that healing is normally not flashy.  Instead, it is based on love responding to need, something Karis’ family certainly offered her.  Over and over, we are told that Jesus was moved with compassion, and his concern led him to heal.  It was one of the strongest characteristics of his ministry. Healing work is an act of love.  It is a way of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Healing is far more about love than about power—love is at the root of this gift.  I think I liked the idea of the gift because it seemed glamorous and powerful.  Now I think of healing as humble, patient, and quiet, motivated by love.  We saw that at work in Karis’ story.

I (Debbie) will add that we saw God’s miraculous healing in Karis’s life so many times I lost count. In 2009, for example, doctors told us four times to call our family together (from Brazil, Italy, and several places in the U.S.) to say goodbye to her, because there was nothing more to do; this was the end. Each time God intervened, and Karis recovered. She was not surprised by this. “God still has work for me to do here on earth,” she said. “Why were all of you so worried? It’s nice to see you. But go back now to your own work.”