But God

What shall I give him?

But God’s beauty shines through nature

Psalm 19:1-2 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.

When my husband Dave was five, he asked his mother as they prepared gifts for Christmas why, if it was Jesus’ birthday, they were giving gifts to each other instead of to him. She told him the gift Jesus most wanted was his heart. Dave took a while to think about this and decided that on Christmas day he would give his heart to Jesus. So every Christmas is an anniversary for Dave of the day he knew he was God’s child.

Shutterstock: pashabo

If you’re like me, you have half a dozen Advent devotional guides to inspire and challenge you. I’m enjoying one recommended by our assistant pastor, Kevin Antlitz, and gifted to us by our community group leaders, Chris and Elise Massa. It’s a book by Malcolm Guite called Waiting on the Word, A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

Today’s poem is an unexpected one called “The Moons,” by Grevel Lindop. Scroll down a bit here to read the text. There’s no apparent connection to God in this poem, but if we shift our frame, as Grevel Lindop shows us, we can imagine God as the one who calls us to see in a new way the beauty he has created.

And the poem fits Advent in another way, as we both look back to our past experiences with God, including his Incarnation, and look forward to additional revelations of his grace and truth. And offer back to him the gift he most desires from us, our hearts.

One life lesson of Chanukah, by Rabbi Evan Moffic

But Jesus is the light

John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Note from Debbie: Christians around the world lit their first Advent candles yesterday, celebrating the “New Year” of the church calendar. Believing “Christianity is Jewish,” and the Old Testament points to Jesus, I share this lovely reflection by Rabbi Moffic, author of What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Jewishness of Jesus:

The Jewish festival of Chanukah has begun. It celebrates religious freedom.

A group known as the Maccabees fought the Hellenistic King Antiochus and refused to stop worshipping in their Temple. After a fierce battle, the Maccabees won and found a hidden jar of oil in the Temple. The oil burned for eight nights.

Thus, every year, for eight nights, we light candles to celebrate our freedom. It’s a beautiful holiday.

Shutterstock: tomertu

Light One Candle

But here’s one interesting detail you might not know: Rabbis throughout history have debated the proper way to light the candles. Here’s one example.

Let’s say it is the eighth night of Chanukah. and you have lit all eight candles. Then one of the candles goes out. Can you use one of the other lit candles to light the candle that went out?

One rabbi said we should not light the unlit candle with another candle because that would diminish the flame of the lit candle. Inevitably we would spill some of the wax or the oil of the lit candle, and Jewish law says we cannot diminish any of the Chanukah lights.

But another rabbi said we can use one candle to light another because we are bringing more light into the world. In other words, a candle is never diminished when it lights another candle. Rather, its flame is enhanced.

You are the Candle

This debate is about more than Chanukah candle. It is about the best way to live.

No human being is diminished when we help another person. When we give our time or our resources, we are not losing anything. Rather, we are gaining because we are bringing more light into another person’s life, and into the life of our community.

We Gain When We Give

Human life is not zero-sum. We do not lose when we give. Just like the Chanukah candles, we gain when we give.

As we look at the Chanukah lights this year, let’s imagine we are one of those candles. And then let us ask ourselves: How can we make our flame brighter? How can we add more light to the world?

Let that be our challenge and vision for the New Year.

Build each other up, by Rachel Myers

But God’s love keeps us safe

Jude verse 20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

[A note from Debbie: After Karis died, we started collecting reminiscences people wrote about her in a memory book. In God’s exquisite timing, Rachel Myers just sent me her contribution to this book and gave me permission to share it with you as well. Holidays are challenging times for me, as I imagine they are for anyone who has lost a close friend or family member. Rachel’s thoughts came at just the right time to touch that tender part of my heart—an example for me of what Jude says, that as we build each other up, our hearts are kept safe in God’s love. Thank you, Rachel.]

When Karis passed, Debbie invited me and others she called friends to come and pick a piece of her jewelry to remember her by. I chose the most colorful one – a necklace of all sorts of tiny stones, in every shade of the rainbow. I never saw Karis wear it to my memory, but it reminds me of her because it’s so unpretentious and cheerful. My two-year-old daughter, Paige, loves to try on my necklaces and this one is a favorite of hers, too. It brings me joy to share it with her, though she doesn’t yet fully know why.

I knew of Karis for a while before I had the joy of knowing her personally. I could tell by the way folks mentioned her name in conversation that she had endeared herself to many. By the time I became her friend, she had already been quite sick for a while. The season for ambitious adventures was over, but Karis’s enthusiasm and knack for building meaningful connections was probably stronger than ever.

What I remember most about our times together is her earnest kindness, gentleness, and positivity. The daily obstacles she faced just to remain alive would leave many of us in despair, but I never heard her complain, even when she was clearly in pain. She was more content to listen than to talk. She would always end our chats by asking how she could be praying for me.

Karis made the most of what she had each day: whatever strength, time, and opportunities there were to serve those around her. She was a living example of the character produced by suffering. I work in a hospital where I meet many people living with chronic illness. Those on this path can choose to either feel bitter about what they’ve lost, or to celebrate what they have. I honestly don’t know how I will handle it when I’m faced with the same decision, but I’m slowly practicing for the latter.

Karis’s example continues to encourage me to cherish the opportunities for human connection that each day brings because they are so much of what brings joy and meaning. I have learned to relish chances to go deeper in conversations with my patients and to be a blessing to them. Karis certainly knew there is so much joy in giving!

I also am working to enjoy the moments I might otherwise take for granted, like when my daughter is asking me to show her all my jewelry for the hundredth time. None of us know what the future holds for us or for our children, but I sure hope to hold what I’ve been given with my heart and hands wide open, as my friend Karis did.

Thankful for friendship, by Meredith Dobson

But God directs my steps

Psalm 37:23-24 The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

I was taken to the hospital during the first year of Covid. I had fainted at home and fallen. It frightened me and I called 911. I am 83 years old. The hospital was overwhelmed and I ended up in a room for six days lost in the confusion. During that time, for the first time in my life, I had an unmistakable Vision of God. He appeared on the wall in front of me quite clearly. He surprised me until I saw He had a message for me. He offered me His hand. I took it and listened to his directions as we went for a walk and He pointed out several things we encountered along the way. He never let go of my hand.

For several years I have been looking after a friend of mine who is 94 years old. She is a successful artist, a widow with no children and not one family member living. I had worked for her husband for 15 years and knew him to be an exceptional person of intellect and compassion. It was a privilege to work for him and I understood how they had such a successful marriage. Both were born and raised in foreign countries and came to America together in their youth.

Looking after her is a challenge. It has been a lesson to me that I am not in charge of anything. When I want to be helpful, I find I need to stand back and wait for her to tell me what she wants or what part “I” will have in anything. She is in charge even though she has trouble walking, breathing, remembering, and does not have a realistic notion of her limitations.

When I tell my friends and family about my times with her, they say things to me like “You shouldn’t do that,” or “She should be in a home,” or “You should get someone else to take care of her, you shouldn’t let her call you like that” and they are very critical. I sometimes wonder if they are right or maybe I shouldn’t tell them what it’s like. Then I thought about my time with God and I felt myself holding my own hand like God held my hand. I nod my head and know that God is with me. I know God will guide me.

Psalm 37 tells me that so long as I continue to believe, God will protect me, hold my hand and, “Yes” I belong there, helping my friend. It doesn’t matter that others might not understand. It doesn’t matter that others think I should do differently. Being with her is a privilege. I feel peace and joy when I am with her. She is grateful and so am I. I fulfill a need of hers and she fulfills a need of mine to serve one of God’s children. I don’t need for anyone but God to understand, and He does.

“Our Lord, we know that all is well. We trust Thee for all. We love Thee increasingly. We bow to Thy Will.” God Calling October 28, Glad Surprises.

But the Holy Spirit gives us love for others

Romans 15:30 Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 13:8 Pay everything you owe. But you can never pay back all the love you owe one another (NIRV).

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love.

Last week I had the opportunity to share about Karis’s experience with a group of chaplains. It brought back to me the incredible grace, friendship and love we received from people who “joined in our struggle” over the thirty years of her life. Perhaps you are one of them. Thank you. How could we have survived without you?

Two of Karis’s precious friends, who stuck with her through thick and thin (photo near the end of her life)

As we consider our reasons for thankfulness this week, I also think of you who read and interact with this blog. Your comments and appreciation encourage me to continue, but I’m going to make a change. As an attempt at greater “searchability,” the posted title will reflect the content. “But God …” will still be the theme, but it will appear in the post itself. Feedback to this change is welcome!

One thing that will not change is my desire to post YOUR story of how God has intervened in your life. I would love, love, love for you to write and share your experience with God, to encourage other people and give him credit.

Today’s post is the last one in “ordinary time” of the church calendar, since I’ll be engaged with my gathered family on Thursday, and Nov. 28 is the first Sunday in Advent. Here and there I’ve seen references to people feeling anxious about gathering with their families this holiday season, fearing conflicts over political issues.

I find it encouraging that in this, Paul’s last reference to the Holy Spirit in the book of Romans, Paul shows us the beautiful fruit the Holy Spirit desires to grow in us, the fruit of love. We can ask the Holy Spirit to grow love in us, to increase our desire for harmony with those most important to us, our own families.

We have so much to share and to be grateful for—let’s not allow it to be sabotaged by politics! Instead, let’s listen to each other. Covid has increased many people’s feelings of loneliness, possibly people among our own families and friends.

And if you’d like a great (and entertaining) sermon about preparing our hearts for the holidays, I recommend Alex Banfield Hicks’ sermon yesterday (if it’s not up yet, it will be soon)!

Happy Thanksgiving.

But the Holy Spirit makes us holy

Romans 15:14-16 I am fully convinced that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. … I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.

1 Peter 1:16 “You must be holy because I am holy” (quoting Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2) [You must be continually be made holy.]

Revelation 22:11 Let the one who is holy continue to be holy. [Let the holy continue being made holy.]

Last week we hired two men to clean up our yard and garden and prepare it for winter. They did more in two days than I had managed to do in several weeks. I am SO relieved and grateful.

I thought of this when I read this next “Holy Spirit” passage in Romans. The decision to hire two men to help me required admitting I couldn’t do it myself. It cost us cash we wouldn’t normally spend like that. It pinched my pride. But every day, several times a day, I look outside and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’m sure our neighbors are grateful too.

Weeded, mulched, our side of the hedge trimmed, three baby trees protected from deer… Thank you, thank you, thank you!

“There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Remember Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis?

When Eustace decided he wanted to change his dragon life, he tried in every way he could to do so himself. Failing, he finally allowed Aslan to dig deeply enough to do it for him, a painful but gloriously freeing intervention that transformed him from graceless to gracious.

To better understand Paul’s wordplay, “made holy by the Holy Spirit,” I did a small study of the Greek words translated “holy.” The two words most used in the New Testament, including this phrase, come from the same root. Hagios is a description of something or someone, declaring them to be sacred, pure, blameless. It’s a state of being, not an attainment, eg. the Holy Spirit whenever he appears, and God saying, “I am holy.”

Hagiazo, by contrast, is a process; it means to make something or someone holy; to purify, sanctify, consecrate, hallow. We can’t make ourselves holy, no matter how hard or how long we try. Only the Holy Spirit can do this for us, because innately, we are not holy. We are being made holy (hagiazo) by the Holy (hagios) Spirit—and this is ongoing, as long as we live in this fallen world. Our human goodness—acknowledged by Paul in verse 14—is not adequate to the purity God desires. Only he can do that in us, as any of us who have tried to “be good” can easily acknowledge.

Because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross, we don’t have to be “good enough” to please our Father. His love for us doesn’t depend on that. But he does want us to grow in holiness and in every virtue, for the sake of his needy and broken world, for the sake of our relationships, for the sake of our own joy.

Our part is to submit to God’s work in us through the Spirit, as Eustace submitted to Aslan in Lewis’s story. As Paul told us repeatedly in Romans 8, we can do this with confidence. We can trust the Holy Spirit’s work in us, because he is pure love.

Read back over the Holy Spirit references I’ve been highlighting in these blog posts, to remind yourself how trustworthy he is. Not always to protect us from pain, because growth and change are painful. But to accomplish his purposes in us when we reach the place, like Eustace, when we desire his holiness more than we desire our own comfort; when we desperately want his healing and restoration; when we know we can’t do it ourselves and cast ourselves on his mercy and grace.

This  prayer-hymn keeps coming back to my mind as I’ve thought about these Scriptures and have sat with him, asking him to do the work I need today in my heart-garden.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

But Jesus faithfully forgives us, by Dick Grady, President of Global Church Planting Network

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to Jesus, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

One of our GCPN partners recently shared this story:

Solomon and his team are training new believers in a region where Christians were martyred just three years ago. Apparently, one of the training participants (we will call him Mark) had a brother among those martyrs. Mark had become a follower of Jesus like his brother, so he fled to a neighboring country, fearing for his safety.

In fact, Mark had traveled back to his home region just to attend Solomon’s training, but he didn’t know two of the men who killed his brother were also attending the training.

The intense time began when he entered the room and the two men acknowledged him, Solomon said. Tears broke out from the two men as Mark fumed with anger and urgency of wanting revenge. The training was put on hold to sort out this hot issue. Mark, a man Solomon knew as peaceful, honest, and strong in faith, confessed he was filled with anger and strong will to make these men suffer just like his brother.

Solomon said it took all night to calm the group. The killers begged for forgiveness from Mark. One of the murderers made this confession:

I understand what I did was wrong. I have no excuse. I have nothing to pay equal to the loss, pain, and sufferings you have passed through. But after your brother’s death, God touched my soul as he did with you and your late brother. I believe in Jesus Christ now; I am a new man!

The killers offered Mark their own lives. After some time, Mark decided to leave the training. It was impossible to convince him to stay, one of the trainers said. He left around 3 a.m. Then at 6 a.m. he showed up again. Mark testified how God spoke to him to learn the power of the cross. Mark said Holy Jesus spoke to him and forgave him.

Solomon continued, He said he had no choice but to forgive these men and learn how to treat them as brothers.

Solomon told me that Mark sat with the men who had killed his brother and joined in the training. They all shared testimonies about difficulties they had encountered since choosing to follow Jesus.

We prepared a lot for the training, Solomon said. But we are now facilitating something we had not planned. We are allowing the Spirit to lead.

But the Holy Spirit’s power gives us confidence

Romans 15:1-5, 13 We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself … May God help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. … I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I was eleven and in the U.S. on furlough from Guatemala, our family visited my grandmother in Liberal, western Kansas. My sister Marsha and I slept on the floor of Grammy’s office. We noticed a row of boxes on the bottom shelf of her bookcase, the kind paper came in back then. Curious, we peeked inside one of them, and then the others. Each contained a neatly typed book manuscript. Every night after we were sent to bed, Marsha and I muffled our gasps and giggles over Grammy’s romantic novels, carefully keeping the pages and boxes in order. We loved her stories, even though we never ‘fessed up about our nocturnal invasion of her privacy.

Shutterstock: mpaniti

I have no idea what became of those works after Grammy died. No relatives I asked knew anything about them. I suspect whoever cleaned out her house simply through her delightful work away. How sad.

My proposal for Book One of the Cally and Charlie series, Horse Thief 1898 (see https://horsethief1898.blog) has been turned down by forty literary agents. Why? Because I don’t have an adequate platform. What does that mean? It means, for starters, I don’t have at least ten thousand followers on at least two social media platforms and on my blogs. It means I can’t guarantee selling ten thousand books myself, through speaking, writing, and book signing events, thus recouping the costs to a publisher of taking a chance on my books in a very crowded market.

Not confidence-producing, right? So, what do I do with my conviction that God wants me to write these books? Turns out, most writers I know believe that’s true for them as well. So it doesn’t mean much in the publishing industry, but it still means a lot to us.

I’ve cycled through many different ways to think and feel about this situation. About the countless hours I’ve invested in research and writing about Cally and Charlie. Oddly enough, since I’ve given up my quest for a literary agent, and plunged back into Book Two, Treasure Hunt 1904, I feel energized and hopeful again. I feel like I’m doing what God has gifted and directed me to do. I’m trusting God to show me a step at a time how to walk forward into self-publishing Horse Thief 1898 and subsequently Treasure Hunt and Facing the Faeries. We have so many more options available now than Grammy had in the 1950s and 60s.

The number of books being published these days is overwhelming. Even so, we writers keep on writing more. Like Eric Liddell, we can each say, “When I write, I feel God’s pleasure.” Though her work wasn’t known outside her small office, I suspect my Grammy felt the same way.

So I’m curious. In what ways does the Holy Spirit give you confidence and hope in the work he’s called you to do?

But God will cover us with his feathers, by Barbara Alexander, Villers St Paul, France

Psalm 91:4, 14 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge … The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.

One day recently, during my early morning quiet time, I came upon Psalm 91:4.

Having gone through (and continuing to go through) difficult times (health issues) over the past 20 years, the image of me being covered with God’s “feathers”, and being sheltered under His wings, was of immense comfort to my soul and spirit.  After all, is He not the Infinite God – without measure, without boundaries?  How awesome His feathers!!

And when I contemplate His limitlessness, an illustration always helps me keep a more proper perspective:

Suppose I were to walk out my front door, and walk in a straight line, over buildings, in the air.  And suppose I were to keep on “walking”, over mountains, countries, oceans, and out into space, never stopping, always moving, past stars and galaxies, swirling masses of celestial bodies.   If I could do that, and NEVER stop, just keep on going, going, going – I would never get to the end of God – NEVER!  And, no matter what direction I took, – north, south, east, west – the result would still be the same: He is out there, limitless, infinite, and WAY beyond the capacity of my feeble brain to imagine!

That said, as I took the dog out for our daily “promenade” that Psalm 91:4 morning, I paused for a moment on the sidewalk.  I live in a small town in France, about 30 minutes’ drive north of Paris.  In town, the buildings/houses/fences front the sidewalk – there is no grass between the tar of the sidewalk and the walls.  Most often I find myself on a sidewalk on these outings, and that morning was no exception.

So as I paused on that morning’s walk, I was beside a building, but no eaves hung over my head.  The sky was pretty clear as I recall, blue above me with a few clouds. Usually I keep on moving when I’m out with my dog Fifi – after all, that’s the purpose of this little jaunt, to get her out so she does her stuff.  But that particular morning I guess neither of us was in a hurry, so I found myself standing still for a moment.  

All of a sudden I noticed something in my field of vision in front of me – above me – something small and white, floating lazily down, in a zig-zag fashion, floating, gently falling, slowly, softly descending to the ground. I realized it was a little feather, an inch and a quarter long, probably from a pigeon, as there are quite a few of those around, especially on the roof of the large 12th-century stone church in the center of town, close to my home.  But there were no pigeons above me as I stood there out on the sidewalk – just open sky above my head.  

Shutterstock: Siwakorn1933

So where did that feather come from?

I reached down to pick it up, noting the perfect symmetry like a leaf, the soft whiteness, the fluffy curl of the “branches.” And there, in the bright, quiet morning, it seemed God was speaking to my heart: “Yes, My child, I am covering you with My feathers – feathers of love, feathers of protection, feathers of peace.  You are in My infinite care, and always will be.  Rest, My child, REST there, and know that My Infinite care of you cannot be surpassed.  I am your Sovereign protection, over every cell of your body, every heartbeat, every breath. Rest, My child, REST.”

Needless to say, I put the feather in my pocket, took it home, and mounted it on a card, whereupon I wrote Psalm 91:4, and placed it where I would see it often.  And when I see it, the truth it represents continues to comfort and calm my soul and spirit, and remind me Who is in COMPLETE control of everything that touches my little life here on this planet Earth, which is but a pinpoint in our galaxy, which is but a pinpoint in the universe, which is totally contained by the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

So, what exactly was I worrying about just now??? :):):)

But the Holy Spirit mediates harmony

Romans 14:10-20 Why do you condemn another believer? . . . Each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other . . . For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God.

Romans 12:18 Do all you can to live in peace with everyone.

These words of Paul’s to the Romans almost two thousand years ago, could well have been crafted for us today. I’m asking myself, Am I doing all I can to live in peace? What further actions can I take?

Yesterday I listened to a Braver Angels podcast with Kirsten Powers. She offered many practical tips for grounding ourselves, setting healthy boundaries, and living in grace rather than contempt, anxiety, or anger. She also discusses what grace is not. It’s worth a listen!

Thinking of you who read this blog with thankfulness and love.