But God

But God’s judgment is discipline

1 Corinthians 11:31-32 If we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Hebrews 12:5-6 Have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves.”

Ephesians 5:1-2 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you moms!

Since today is Mother’s Day, I’m skipping chapter 10 and will come back to it in the next post.  The tension between judgment and discipline, and the way each is handled, seems to me an important theme for parents—dads too!

Those of us who grew up not feeling loved by our parents may have an especially hard time figuring out the judgment/discipline dynamic. I love the practical counsel offered by Cloud and Townsend in their book Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children because it focuses on love as the context for discipline. It showed me that my own choices as a mom were more important than my children’s behavior. I wish I had understood this when my children were young.

Judgment is the evaluation we make of behavior against a standard. It alerts us to the need for shaping, training, and instruction, the definition of the word paideuo used by both Paul and the writer to the Hebrews. How different that is from being told to perform a task—with little or no instruction or opportunity to practice—and then being punished for not doing it well. That was a frequent pattern in my home growing up. It does lead to self-judgment, but not in a positive sense of developing healthy internal boundaries based on knowing one can do what is expected. It makes one want to give up, because the parent is impossible to please.

Our Father/Mother* God isn’t like that. Jesus shows us what he is like. I’m enchanted with the way Jesus is depicted for us in the wonderful series “The Chosen”. Watching that may be the best Mother’s Day gift you can give yourself!

*See, for example, Psalm 27:10, Isaiah 66:13, Hosea 11:3-4, Matthew 23:37.

But God compels

1 Corinthians 9:16-17, 26 Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust…I run with purpose in every step.

Paul was compelled to preach. I feel compelled to write. What sacred trust has God given you?

“This one’s a fighter.” The veteran nurse smiled back as Karis gurgled and grinned, enjoying her bath. “That’s why she’s still alive, not all this paraphernalia. I’ve not known another baby so passionate to live. Don’t lose sight of HER in the middle of all this medical stuff.”

The nurse showed me how to navigate with soap and water between and around the ileostomy on her Karis’s tiny tummy, the Broviac catheter coiled on her chest, the naso-gastric tube emerging from her nose and taped to her cheek.

Hiding most of this under a frilly dress, and taping a matching bow to her bald head, the nurse said, “Go home to your little son. He needs you too.” She settled Karis into a stroller, grasping her IV pole with one practiced hand. “I’ll take Karis around with me to cheer up the other patients.”

At PACA, her school in Brazil, her shirt covering the central line through which she was fed every night.

LIFE in capital letters compelled Karis. On her birthday yesterday, I reflected on how apparent this was even at a few weeks old. And how her bright smile continued cheering others for the next thirty years, years the doctors told us she would never live. “Unplug everything and let her die now,” they told us. “That’s the merciful thing to do for her.”

No. God knew we needed her smile, even through the tough times and the pain. Her zest for life invigorated us. Again and again after that first time, God’s restoring touch reached down to meet her heart’s thirst for more, more of this life, more time with her Beloved, as she called those she loved (virtually everyone who crossed her path). Until finally, she said, “Father, take me Home.”

And now she is truly living LIFE. I imagine her joy and enthusiasm infecting everyone in Heaven as she welcomes more of the Beloved into her Father’s home through these Covid months. Crooning cradle songs in Portuguese over more than two thousand babies dead from Covid in Brazil, but growing up now well and strong. I see her delighting in Jane Pool’s stories and finding just the right shade to paint our dear Alicia Helmick’s nails, wearing one of a collection of brightly-colored shirts saying “Been there. Got the T-shirt.”

Comforting the hundreds of pastors from across Latin America taken as they steadfastly cared for their people: the Good Shepherd will raise up others to love their congregations and their families. Listening intently as those who found life too hard on Earth pour out their stories and find healing in the presence of the Lord . . .

She’s busy. She’s well and strong. Happy. Thrilled with LIFE.

And I miss her.

But God’s love strengthens us, by Chris Daly

1 Corinthians 8:2 But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.

Psalm 23:6 Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.

Death’s Dark Ravine

Ilyas Orasbayev: Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s had robbed my mother of nearly everything over the last ten years of her life—speech, mobility, even her personality. But not her soul, who she really was.

Sitting by her bedside in March 2020 while she was drawing near to heaven, I began to read Psalm 23 to Mom, hoping it would be a comfort to her heart.

In my quest to let this well-loved portion of Scripture really rest with us and let the Lord speak to us through it, I read Psalm 23 to Mom, day and night, in every version of the Spanish and English Bibles I found on YouVersion. Spanish was Mom’s first language, so I had started a few years earlier to sometimes speak, play music, sing, and read to Mom in Spanish– in case it still connected with her soul.   

I began to write my own paraphrase of Psalm 23, and in looking at ten or eleven versions of the Bible, the Holy Spirit gifted me with a personalized vision of His Shepherd’s heart for me and my mother. His joy and hope gradually soaked into my deepest being. My heart was saturated, just as Jesus promises in verse five! “You honor me as Your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.”

So, in spite of exhaustion and profound grief at seeing my mother withering away in front of us, I experienced God’s presence in a way I never had before. I felt a gentle refreshing of my soul. The Lord hand-fed me with cool restorative water, and gave new life to my desiccated heart. “He leads me by quiet water, He restores my inner person.” (verse 3) 

My Shepherd opened my eyes to understand for the first time that the “enemy watching” was Satan himself. The devil was witness to the feast being spread before me, while Jesus, the Bread of Life, was feeding me Himself to strengthen and renew me.  “You prepare a feast before me, in plain sight of my enemies.” (verse 5)

“Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for You are with me…Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.“(verses 4, 6). Jesus revealed to me that His compassionate love and His goodness wererunning after me, not passively standing behind me. I had always previously pictured verse 6 to mean that His faithfulness and mercy were following me, lagging behind, casually loitering. But, no! Jesus was chasing me down with His chesed (the Hebrew word that means permanent, covenantal, faithful love), actively running with me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

It was an enormous, bleak, sometimes pitch-dark valley. But I experienced His tender companionship as a sweet and kind gift–the steadfast love of our Father. (verse 6) And now Mom is enjoying Him face to face, now and forever.

But God gives wisdom

1 Corinthians 7:25 I do not have a command from the Lord … But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you.

James 1:5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.

We got home yesterday from a week in Colorado for mission meetings, our first travel by plane since Covid began; eighteen months since we have seen our colleagues except by Zoom. The nineteen of us able to participate arrived in a variety of levels of stress, distress, and exhaustion, including from Covid.

Dave and I are in the middle of the pack in our mission team, called the IMT (International Ministry Team, because we all work in multiple countries). Only three or four couples are younger than we are. We benefit from the years of experience and wisdom and perspective of those who have been running this race longer than us—what a privilege! And the younger ones inspire us constantly with their different, often humorous “take” on life and world events.

One topic was resilience through this VUCA time (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). VUCA—terminology borrowed from the military—and how it can be countered by “VUCA Prime”: vision, understanding, clarity, agility. (You can find many VUCA resources on the internet.) Agility in VUCA time calls for shorter-term plans, and the ability to pivot as needed.

Trueffelpix: Shutterstock

In many of the countries where we work, VUCA is not new—it describes the everyday world of those whose resources are always in short supply. Covid is just one more factor in their precarious struggle for daily survival. And I can say that much of Karis’s life was characterized by all four VUCA characteristics. But in so many ways, the world has changed, and we don’t know yet how we’ll need to adapt.

Thus, we realized it’s more important than ever for us as a team to share with each other the wisdom and perspective God gives us. We’re better together. Dave and I came home feeling encouraged if not rested (our schedule was intense), more appreciative of the combined wisdom and strength God gives through team.

At one point our leader said, “We must be willing to experiment. Some of those experiments won’t ‘work,’ but we’ll all learn from them. Our team is a safe place where there is no such thing as failure.” I thought of Thomas Edison saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

As I regroup at home, I want that sense of safety to be true of my family and friendships as well as my mission team. So much is not under our control. I want to contribute to the security of those I love in any way I can.

But God cares about our bodies

1 Corinthians 6:13-20 You can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. But they were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead. Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? … Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God. You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Last week my daughter Valerie explained to me why she prefers working night shift in the pediatric intensive care unit. “I became a critical care nurse because I love hands-on care for people. I guess I learned that from loving Karis. The day shift is too busy. At night, the rush slows, and the unit grows quiet. At night we give our patients baths. I can wash their hair, massage their aching bodies with lotion, talk to them, pray over them, sing to them. Often family members are present, and I can show them ways to love their child through physical touch and with their voices, even when a patient is in deep coma. Karis taught us that she was more aware of what was happening to her and around her when she was in coma than even the doctors realized. This is my favorite part of nursing—a way to give back, to pass forward the care Karis received from her nurses.”

Karis’s gift of one last brilliant smile

For more than thirty years, I cared for Karis’s body. This was especially true at times when she was in a coma. But the time came when I could do nothing more for her. The slightest touch bruised her as one after another of her body systems shut down. I was deeply comforted when I learned God had sent three angels to be with her and care for her, the same angels who flew with her away from that ICU bed to Heaven. You can read the story in Karis, All I See Is Grace.

Knowing God cared about her body mattered to Karis and kept her motivated when she wanted to give up. Along the way, her scarred, steroid-compromised, bruised body lost much of what the world calls beauty. God gave her a vision of her scars on Jesus’ body (that story too is in the Karis book). Our bodies are part of Christ’s. That’s true for each of us.

So, it makes sense to care for our bodies, not out of vanity but to honor Christ. Our bodies are the vehicles through which God works: our hands and feet, our voices, our energy, our hugs and smiles and tears. He even works through our brokenness and pain, as he did with Karis. Even more, as he did with Christ. His resurrected body still bears the scars of his suffering.

It was necessary for the Son to be made in every respect like us… Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:16-18

But Christ is our Passover Lamb

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting about this [a sinful situation in the Corinthian church] is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast.” Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth.

I grew up watching the magic of yeast: the dense lump of dough growing to double its size, soft and pliable. The fragrance of baking bread in our home wafted from the bathroom, because that’s where we had a cast iron stove with an oven. We had the best-smelling bathroom in the world. If our family wanted bread, we had to bake it. Same with cookies, cakes, etc. Noodles too, though they weren’t baked. For a time, my little brother’s favorite joke was, “Mom makes our cookies because she’s too lazy to go to the store.” (The nearest store was hours away.)

Our kitchen stove was made of concrete blocks with space for a fire and a griddle on top. But at some point, Dad lugged to our mountain village this stove with an oven. Its firebox required “little wood”—half the size of the wood used in the kitchen stove and the fireplace. My big brother chopped the wood in half and even the youngest toddlers helped carry “little wood” to the bathroom, while older children lugged “big wood” to the kitchen and living room.

One day a week, we made a fire in the bathroom stove. That day was bath day, baking day and ironing day, with irons heated on the stove. We didn’t have a shower; just a bathtub. I still associate taking a bath with the aroma of baking bread, enough for a week for our large family. A warm memory.

 HandmadePictures: Shutterstock

One time when we expected guests from the United States in our little home in our small village at the end of the long, twisty, bumpy road, Mom realized her yeast was long expired. But she had in her mind the kind of bread she wanted to make for our guests. She decided to put in twice—no, three times—the amount of yeast the recipe called for. The result was a disaster that our guests never knew about: the bread didn’t rise, but it was permeated with such a strong taste of yeast it was barely edible. In our house, we didn’t waste anything though. After our guests left, we all ate that awful bread until it too was gone. I don’t remember who the guests were, but I remember the terrible taste of the bread!

So, was Jesus against eating leavened bread? No, because in the Gospels he sometimes refers to the Kingdom of God as yeast (Mt 13:33, Lk 13:21). Yeast was used as an idiom to mean a change agent that is subtle and gradual, yet thorough. Put in a little, and it will spread to affect the whole. The results depend on whether the change agent is good or bad.

Paul applies the idiom to sin, so being without it is a good thing. He makes the connection to Passover bread. Matzah was called for at the Passover because there wasn’t time to wait for bread to rise (read about the first Passover in Exodus 12). He calls Jesus the Passover Lamb, sacrificed in place of the sons of Israel. When the Angel of Death saw the blood of the lamb smeared on a door, he “passed over” that home. His blood on the cross does the same for us.

Matzah ChameleonsEye: Shutterstock

In light of Christ’s sacrifice, can we indulge in sin, harming ourselves and others? No. That’s like sacrificing Jesus all over again. Purify us, Lord. Multiply in us sincere love and truth.

But God’s Kingdom is not just talk; it’s power

1 Corinthians 4:12-13, 20 We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us … For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s own power.

Wow. This is where the rubber really hits the road, isn’t it? I find the only thing harder than responding as Paul models for us is doing so when the target is not me directly, but someone I love.

Recently, for example, critical things were said to my husband in a public space. The person had not come to him privately to express his concerns. Dave listened, took to heart what the person said, took the matter to the Lord, and is working diligently to make changes in his life. He let the offense roll right over him. The relationship, thank God, is intact. Which might not be the case if I had reacted the way I wanted.

Yayayoyo: Shutterstock

Because I fumed. I thought of all kinds of things I wished I had said to defend Dave. I felt hurt and disappointed in this person whom I consider a close friend. It took me a couple of days before I too took the matter to the Lord, confessed my anger and reactivity and defensiveness, and allowed him to cleanse me and restore me to peace and the ability to pray for blessing in the person’s life.

What I am deeply grateful for in this case is that I did keep my mouth shut, rather than escalating the situation and adding insult to the injury. Thank you for that, Lord. Thank you for painful experiences that have shown me the wisdom of biting my tongue until emotions are not so high and until I am in tune with the Holy Spirit.

And yes, maybe an appropriate time will come for addressing the person’s action. If so, I hope it will be characterized by blessing, patience and gentleness—which would not have been the case initially.

God’s power for living is resurrection power. Life triumphing over death. Speaking what is life-giving rather than death-dealing. The Holy Spirit makes this possible when I let him have control; when I ask him to overrule my immaturity and impulses and defensiveness.

On the cross, having been whipped, scorned, humiliated, stripped, and condemned on false charges, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). That is power. Thousands of times more potent than had he called legions of angels to deliver him. Kingdom of God power. Counter-cultural power. Counter-carnal power.

Please, Lord. Easter in me.

But God makes the seed grow

1 Corinthians 3:3-4, 6-7, 16-17, 21-23 You are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other…Aren’t you acting just like people of the world? … I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. … Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. … So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

My sister Linda has an interesting perspective of the various expressions of the Christian church. Having experienced a variety of them firsthand, she notes that each one seems to have a specific gift to offer the whole Body of Christ—like the gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, but at a denominational level instead of individual.

I love that perspective. It fits well with this third chapter of 1 Corinthians. All the fulness of the Holy Spirit was in Jesus, and when he ascended to Heaven and then sent the Spirit to the church on Pentecost, he distributed spiritual gifts—like light shining through a prism, diffracting and making visible all its beautiful colors. We need each other, because no single person, church, or denomination contains all the gifting of the Spirit. God fully lives in all of us together.

tuulijumala from Shutterstock

And here’s the truly wonderful thing: What God gives to you, he gives to me, too. What he gives to me is meant to bless you. “Everything belongs to you,” Paul told the Corinthians, and that “you” is plural. If we are jealous, critical, or rejecting of other parts of the Body of Christ, we lose a part of what God wants to give us. And when we think we are the ones who have it all, we lose too through not sharing.

I’m reminded again of the story I told in the last post. Eight children, eight fun gifts for Christmas. But many of those gifts weren’t fun to play with alone. Games and toys and puzzles are designed to be shared. And if just one or two of my sisters and I tried to play Monopoly by ourselves, we missed out on our brother Steve’s ingenuity. He always managed to make play time more fun by creating new rules and strategies. (He even got us girls to wash dishes when it was his turn, by reading Jeeves to us while we worked. Humdrum tasks filled with laughter when Steve was part of them.)

All was not joy and laughter in our home, though. We’ve all struggled with “zero-sum” thinking: there’s not enough to go around, so if I gain, you lose; if you gain, I lose. That’s a big topic for another time. But listen to what Paul says: Everything belongs to you! To all of you! All of us collectively as well as individually. There’s no need for envy or fighting or squashing you so I can get ahead or stay in power. God’s upside-down Kingdom is marked by the magic of abundance, generosity, and service, not stinginess or hoarding or manipulation. In Christ small becomes big, enough for everyone. A boy’s lunch, a widow’s penny, a flask of perfume, a man’s donkey, a mustard seed of faith, a rich man’s tomb . . . Because when given back to God, he makes our small offerings grow into something much greater than what they would be if kept to ourselves.

P.S. I wrote other thoughts about 1 Cor 3:6 on August 2, 2018. Check it out: Karis and a life-giving story from “Aunt” Claudia!

But God show us his secrets

1 Corinthians 2:7-12 The wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our Glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit shows us God’s deep secrets…so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

In the 1950s or 1960s, if you climbed into a Jeep or Carryall and drove for hours over rutted, one-track muddy roads over two ranges of mountains and then down into a verdant valley and wound through a Mayan village with dogs and half-naked children chasing after your vehicle–one of only two in that village–you would reach a small adobe house which by local standards was a mansion.

A view of the valley last time I was there (2008), the village now a small city

Inside that house, on a designated evening before Christmas, the children were put to bed early in the single bedroom which cradled them all. Under the narrow door into the living room a sliver of light shone, and mysterious sounds tantalized the children’s imaginations. For their father had rolled into the living room from its resting place in the garage the Christmas barrel, that round bastion of steel opened only once each year, on this night. Who knew what treasures were hidden inside?

Every child’s ear strained to detect some clue to what wonders were being wrapped on the other side of that door. Sure enough, gifts nested beneath the Christmas tree when they awoke, two for each child. They knew one would be something practical: socks, or underwear. But the other could be anything—a toy, a game, a puzzle—selected from the barrel especially for him or her. Those gifts were shaken, prodded, examined from all angles. The tension of anticipation grew with each day until finally, on Christmas morning, with a fire roaring in the fireplace (the only time each year Dad kindled it in the daytime), the secrets were revealed, one by one, in order of age of the four—then five, six, seven, eight children.

I can still feel the tingle of wonder at receiving something brand new, chosen just for me. My name on the package. Gifts selected (or donated to our family) years ahead of time, loaded onto the trailer we pulled behind our vehicle from Illinois or Kansas, through the agony of customs at the Mexican border, all those long sweaty miles south through Mexico and over the mountains into that Mayan village, finally to be sealed into the waterproof Christmas barrel to await their wondrous revelation.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. … For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? (v. 16)

Because of Easter, we can know. His secrets are all about love.

But Christ is wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:20, 23-25, 30 God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish … So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength … For our benefit God made Christ Jesus to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.

Church of the Ascension 2021 Station of the Cross 6 by Amy Foster. See them all.

I had read it before, for another Zoom discussion on racial reconciliation. But when my small group decided to read and discuss Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise and I read it again in the context of Lent, Jemar’s comments at the end of chapter six on the cross as the lynching tree, I felt punched in the gut. Jemar’s point is that lynching could not have continued had the white church not kept silent. I feel like Nehemiah, crying out to the Lord on behalf of his people and their sins. Thousands of people cruelly tortured for the slightest of offenses, real or imagined, their ravaged bodies hung on trees for anyone to gawk at. And the Lord’s people either participating, viewing the lynching like a spectator sport (think of the ancient Roman’s and the Coliseum), or simply doing—nothing. Oh God. Have mercy on us, your people. Sinners.

I am overwhelmed by the wisdom of the cross. I’ve often thought about it in relation to survivors of sexual abuse, for Jesus too was stripped, mocked, violated, shamed. By choice. Out of love. For us. He knows.*

He knows, too, the horror of lynching. He was lynched by an irrational, prejudiced crowd led by people wanting desperately to preserve their power. Tortured. Ravaged. Stripped. Shamed. And hung on a tree.

The wisdom of God is humility. Sacrifice. Powerlessness.

Forgiveness.

Love.

The enemy thought he had won. BUT . . . !

Understanding more about the cross makes Jesus’ resurrection even more precious. As I seek with Gerard Manley Hopkins (thank you, Elaine!) to “let him Easter” in me, “be the Dayspring to my dimness,” I don’t want to be silent about the enemy’s assaults in my own generation. Even while longing for the day when there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain, the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, I want to use my voice to say “No!” to injustice. And to say “Yes!” to the healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation the cross makes possible.

 *Diane Langberg writes eloquently about the meaning of the cross in Suffering and the Heart of God and other books and articles. The work of Be the Bridge is based on the cross. Check it out. The “colors of compromise” in Tisby’s vision are green for greed, red for blood shed in every kind of suffering, and white for complicity. Read his book. It will change you. It will Easter you.