But God

Open your mouth wide

But God would feed us  August 11, 2022

Psalm 81:8-16 Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings. Oh, if you would only listen to me! . . . Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. But no, my people wouldn’t listen . . . But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock.”

This morning I made French toast with yogurt and strawberries, scrambled eggs, and sausage for my husband for breakfast. A way of making up, I suppose, for the week of dry cereal he just had while I traveled to Idaho to visit my sister Marsha and her husband Vance. Of course, if he wished, he could learn to cook! But he has too many other irons in his fire.

While I was making breakfast, I thought about this blog. Some days are French toast days. Some are cold cereal days, when other priorities of life must take precedence. Today, I think, is a cold cereal day, because I’m preoccupied with completing the manuscript for Treasure Hunt 1904. Next Monday the 15th is the deadline for turning it in to the publisher. Four days! Yikes!!

But I do want to honor the Lord today. As I prayed about my trip to Idaho, he gave me this Scripture from Psalm 81, which made me think of baby birds in a nest, trustfully opening their beaks to receive what their mother would bring them.

Shutterstock: PCHT

I wanted to be one who listened, who paid trustful attention to what the Lord was doing in Idaho and in my life and the intersection of the two for a week. I traveled with a sense of curiosity and anticipation.

Some of what God did, I expected. Like the peace and the warm welcome I feel in Vance and Marsha’s home. Their kindness and generosity. Their joy in living one day at a time despite challenging circumstances.

But God filled my mouth with surprises, too. I will treasure forever my sister’s beautiful voice soaring in worship. A dancing fountain became for me an image of the Holy Spirit’s delight in delighting us. I was able to see beauty in the desert this time I had not been able to appreciate on other visits to Idaho. Vance had given me a book to read called Desert Spirituality and Cultural Resistance by Belden C. Lane which nurtured new concepts for me about the hard times in our lives. It challenges me to pay attention, to listen, to watch for the ways our Father draws close to us when we are not distracted by all our stuff and our own “important and urgent” work. To pay more attention to his voice than to having a voice of my own—though of course, the two are intertwined.

Opening my mouth wide is not just for travel to the high desert of Idaho. It’s for Pittsburgh too.

How can it be

But God finds joy in us

2 Peter 1:16-18  For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

John 17:18, 22, 26 [Jesus prayed,] “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. … I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. … I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Shutterstock: Victoria_vector_art

Last Saturday, August 6, the Church worldwide remembered the Transfiguration of Jesus, another pivotal moment in his life when, as at his Baptism, God the Father reminded his Son that he loved him and found great joy in him.

So it seems fitting that we conclude our consideration of Peter’s writings by returning to chapter 1 of his second letter, when he recalls the impact of Jesus’ transfiguration on his own life. Peter was there! He saw the glory of the Lord revealed on that mountain. He must have recalled his own inept response, yet that was swallowed up into the wonder of this intimacy with his Lord. We saw with our own eyes … we heard … we were with him.”

After his baptism, the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert, where he was tempted. After his transfiguration, Jesus turned toward Jerusalem, where he would be killed. In both moments of his life on planet Earth, Jesus carried as an anchor in his soul his Father’s love and his own deep resonance with his Father’s joy.

One of the greatest delights of my life is to walk into the home of either of my daughters and be met with cries of “Grammy! Grammy!” Talita does a little dance. Caleb runs to show or tell me something. Liliana stretches out her arms. And my heart responds with profound gratitude. “Thank you, Lord, that through these little ones you communicate your love and joy to me. I receive it with thanksgiving and wonder.”

There’s another side, though, to August 6. It’s also the anniversary of the first bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima. Greater even than the wonder of the love of children is the mystery that God still loves and claims his children even when they destroy one another. Even when they crucified Jesus. Even then, Peter tells us, God is patient, not wanting anyone to be destroyed but rather to repent (2 Peter 3:9). On the cross, Jesus said about those who were driving those horrid nails into his flesh, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

“Tis mercy all, immense and free. … Amazing love, how can it be.”

He decides

But God isn’t slow

2 Peter 3:8-9, 13 A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed but wants everyone to repent … what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. … We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

Chapter 1 of 2 Peter gives us a pattern of godly living. Chapter 2 warns us not to follow false teachers, showing us the antithesis of godly living. Chapter 3 reminds us Jesus will return and set the world right.

It’s the hope Christians have held on to for two thousand years.

Imagine: already when Peter wrote this, just a few years after Jesus returned to Heaven, believers—including people who personally knew Jesus—already felt like it was taking a long time for him to come back. And here we are, almost two thousand years later, still yearning for the day we will meet our beloved Lord face to face.

But what catches my attention as I read chapter 3 is the word “repent” in verse 9, because it reminds me of Peter’s repentance and restoration after he denied Jesus. Hours before he had brashly said, “I’m ready to die for you” (John 13: 37). Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even knew me.”

Ouch.

No wonder Peter escaped into fishing. And then Jesus performed a miracle that mirrored one of Peter’s early encounters with him, with one critical difference. Compare Luke 5:5-7 with John 21:11: The first time, the nets were so full they began to tear. In writing about the second time, John makes a point of detailing that there were 153 large fish, and yet the net did not tear.

The first time Jesus performed this miracle, Peter wasn’t ready for his role as a fisher of men. Here’s The Chosen’s dramatization of this event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWGCkovAUWM

The second time, Jesus took Peter through an intriguing process of repentance and restoration, entrusting his “lambs” to Peter’s care, and gave him a new identity: a shepherd.

A friend in Brazil sent us a moving song about Peter. You’ll capture its soul by listening even if you don’t understand Portuguese. Jesus tells Peter, “I know you own your boat. But I own the sea.” And Jesus reminds Peter how to live his life: “Your knowledge will only matter if you know how to love.”

I’ve seen 2 Peter 3:9 and 15 applied to evangelism, the role of the fisherman. I think there’s more to it than that. I think they applies to each of us in the areas we each need to repent and be made whole, as we are cared for by our Shepherd. Like Peter himself.

Through the centuries, people have made predictions about Jesus’ return and have exhorted believers to prepare for that Day, sailing their boats as well as they knew how. Let’s remember: The Lord owns the sea. He decides.

And meanwhile, our instructions are clear. Make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in God’s sight. … Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord whom Peter came to know very, very personally.

All God wants is our hearts

But God condemns false teachers

2 Peter 2:2-3, 13, 18-19 Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. … Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. … They delight in deception even as they eat with you in their fellowship meals. … These people brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. … They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you [has mastered you NIV].

I’m tempted to skip this entire chapter, for fear of offending someone. But Scripture is meant to warn and teach us, as well as inform, inspire, guide, and comfort us. We can’t just pick and choose the parts we like.

And this chapter offers the counterpoint to the pattern of godliness Peter gave us in chapter 1. Those who claim to follow God, yet live according to the ungodly pattern of chapter 2, cannot be our guides, pastors, teachers, and leaders. If we follow them, we will get hurt. We may embrace their ungodly values and objectives. We too may begin to see the Kingdom of God as something to exploit for our own ends, rather than a place to learn humility and submission and joy at the foot of the cross.

Peter says false teachers are “as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind” (v. 17).
By contrast, our Shepherd leads us to springs of life-giving water and will wipe away our tears (Revelation 7:17).
Shutterstock: ILYA AKINSHIN

This chapter emphasizes God’s love of truth and integrity. He condemns those whose lifestyle of deception leads to a plethora of other sins, including sexual predation. For a word of hope to victims, see verses 9 and 10: God sees, and we can trust him to avenge suffering at the hands of these people. We don’t have to carry the heavy burden of vengeance.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in this chapter is the loss of the false teachers themselves, who if they gave themselves fully to the Lord and to his transformation of their character, could use their leadership gifts and abilities FOR God’s Kingdom instead of against it. As Casting Crowns expresses it, “All You’ve Ever Wanted Was My Heart.”

If you’ve been victimized or influenced by a “false teacher,” get help! Find a godly person to support you in breaking the chains the enemy of our souls has fastened around you through someone claiming to love God but in truth only loving him or herself. The process will be painful, but it will save your life.

Words of hope

But God’s light breaks through our darkness July 28, 2022

2 Peter 1:19-20 You must pay close attention to what the prophets wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. … Those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

Have you ever been in a dark place, and found that words of Scripture were like a light, bringing you hope? I would love for you to share that experience with But God readers, to encourage us.

I heard Elise Massa and Andy Clark’s new song, “O Gracious Light” just in time for this post. Elise and Andy collaborated at a Resound Worship Songwriters Retreat in Yorkshire, England a couple of weeks ago. If you’re a worship artist, check out United Adoration!

One such experience: Karis was in the ICU for 75 days straight in 2004-2005, not expected to live. That space became claustrophobic for me.

One morning I read Psalm 118 in the NIV. When I reached verse 5, the light went on: When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. “Oh Lord!” I prayed. “Please, please do this for me.” And he did. He allowed the walls of that high pressure place to recede. He filled the space with light and gave lightness to my spirit. I often remembered as I re-entered the ICU C.S. Lewis’s phrase about the stable in The Last Battle, that it was bigger inside than it was outside.

The NLT renders Psalm 118:5 like this: In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. In what way or ways has the Lord set you free? Please tell us!!

Shutterstock: Stanislavskyi

I, Jesus, am the bright morning star (Revelation 22:16).

We don’t know what we don’t know

But God cleanses and heals

2 Peter 1:8-9 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from (their) old sins.

I put parentheses around “their” because this word is not there in the Greek.

Why does this matter? Because our souls are handicapped not only by our own sins, but by the sins of others against us. It’s hard to grow healthy, strong, and productive when emotional pain drains our energy from the inside.

Years of experience with soul care showed us that the major impediment to people’s growth in the qualities Peter lists in verses 5-7 is not our own sins (which many wounded people confess over and over and internalize as evidence they are “bad,”), but the unhealed damage we haven’t known how or had enough support to open to the Lord for his healing.

Trauma, stress, threat, physical or emotional pain, conflict, and fear all narrow our vision to what is immediately in front of us; what Peter calls “shortsighted.” I’m sure you’ve experienced this, as I have. We lose the benefit of perspective.  

And these things expand our blind spots. We may later think or say, “How could I have been so blind?” The soul-healing we need usually requires support from someone else. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Ask God for help and direction: “Help, Lord! Show me how to find healing!” God loves to answer this prayer. He wants us to live peacefully, joyfully, productively. Abundantly.

Gather your courage and talk with someone you trust. Dare to verbalize your anguish.

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. … Those who come in through me will find safety. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:7, 9-10).

Shutterstock: funstarts33

Follow the pattern

But God designed a pattern for godly living

2 Peter 1:5-7, 3:14 Make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with moral excellence … knowledge … self-control … patient endurance … godliness … brotherly affection … love for everyone. … And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for the day of God, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

“Make every effort”?? What are you talking about, Peter? Isn’t the Christian life all about grace?

Yes, it is. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (v. 3).

But we have to decide to accept his gifts and promises and take action empowered by the Holy Spirit. God can’t and won’t force us to do what’s best for us and for our families and our communities and cities and the world. That’s on us.

Why can’t he? Because he respects us as choosers, as agents, as actors. He’s not interested in controlling us like marionettes or puppets. He made us in his own image. He wants a relationship of love, not of oppression. He woos and invites us into joy and peace by his pleasure in us and in the people we are becoming as we grow in imitating Jesus.

Shutterstock: NatBasil NO!!! This is NOT how God relates to us!!!

Here’s a bit of insight into three of the terms Peter uses. Curious? Look up the others!

Knowledge: gnosis, seeking to know and understand; curiosity that keeps us growing. As you probably know, the Greek language has many words for knowledge. Peter specifically chose this one.

Self-control: enkrateia, right use (rather than abuse) of our powers and knowledge.

Godliness: eusebeia, caring about and doing what pleases God. We don’t have to guess at what pleases God because the Scriptures are packed full of instruction and examples. I immediately think of Barnabas, who was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith” (Acts 11:24). Since he was full of the Holy Spirit, we know the fruits of the Spirit were evident in his life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He consistently chose to think and act in ways that honored God, rather than pleasing himself or even other people.

One thing I appreciate about Peter’s list is that it helps me know who I can trust and learn from. If this pattern isn’t evident in someone’s life—even someone who claims the name of Christ—I need to guard my heart. Peter warns us in chapter 2 about those who “cleverly teach destructive heresies” and evidence “shameful immorality.” Let’s be wise and discerning, not gullible, so the way of truth will not be slandered (2:2).

Peter really, really cares about this. It matters. Do you love people more, rather than less, as a result of following this person? If not, that person is not following Christ, even if he or she claims to do so.

As I write this, I am thinking of the amazing pattern of godliness we see in the Polish churches who have sacrificially welcomed and cared for Ukrainian refugees after reading this article in Christianity Today. Will you take a moment to pray for them with me?

On vacation

Friends, my apologies for not posting recently. The last couple of weeks I’ve been “living” in Cally and Charlie’s world, completing the manuscript for Book 2 of the series, Treasure Hunt 1904, which is due to my publisher a month from now. This week I’m on vacation and taking a much-needed break from the internet. I’ll be back home–and back in touch–next week.

Meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying Horse Thief 1898!

Love to each of you!!

This isn’t me, but it’s how I feel in this beautiful vacation place!

Horse Thief 1898 is live!

I’ll share with you, my “But God” family, what I wrote yesterday to my extended family, with my apologies to those who are hearing this more than once.

Thanks to Joel and to Robin at EA Books for the beautiful cover!

I’m pleased to announce the “birth” of a new “child” in our family: Horse Thief 1898 isnow available on Amazon. [My nephew] Joel Griswell designed the beautiful image for the cover, and other family members have helped along the way. Thank you!

I’ve scheduled the official launch for August 15, to give me breathing room after launching the Karis book in Brazil. Before then, I hope to have at least 50 reviews on Amazon. You can help me!

1. Buy and read the book.

2. Post your review on Amazon before Aug. 15.

3. If you enjoy the story, share it with friends.

The story began on a day in August 2018 when I was staying at Uncle Gerry and Aunt Virginia’s home in Kansas City on a book tour for Karis: All I See Is Grace. On an early morning walk, I stumbled across a historic monument, the New Santa Fe Cemetery. Wandering through the old stones, I saw a grave marked simply, “Horse Thief 1898.” Later that day, driving across Kansas with our cousin Barb Jones through a pounding rainstorm, we entertained ourselves speculating on who the horse thief might have been. The story grew from there. I hope you will enjoy tracking Cally and her little brother Teddy Donnelly and Charlie Malcomson from Ireland to New York and finally, Kansas City.

While the Donnelly family is fictitious, the Malcomson family is still alive and well in Ireland. I was delighted one day to receive out of the blue an email from William Malcomson VI!! Will had somehow discovered HorseThief1898.blog and wrote to tell me the historical information on the site had helped him connect the dots back to his great-great-great-great-grandfather William Malcomson I, who is a character in Horse Thief 1898 and even more central to Book 2 of the Cally and Charlie series, Treasure Hunt 1904, which I hope to have out in time for Christmas. Will agreed to let me mention this fun connection on the cover of Horse Thief 1898. He was intrigued to learn that one of my Malcomson characters, Charlie’s brother Thomas, was a student at Oxford, because Will graduated from Oxford a few months ago. 

The experience of writing this historical fiction novel has been delightful for me, and I hope you will enjoy it.

It’s not fair!

But God promises justice and fairness

2 Peter 1:1, 4-5; 3:9-10 I [Peter] am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. … He has given us great and precious promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. … The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. … But the day of the Lord will come.

“It’s not fair!”

Six-year-old Karis banged the front door and stomped into the kitchen. “It’s not fair that the English language is so hard to spell! It’s okay for me because I already know how to read. But it’s ridiculously hard for the kids who are just learning. Who decided the f sound should be written with a gh?!”

Sent to me by Karis when she was in college.

Ten-year-old Karis wept into her pillow. “It’s not fair that so much money is being spent on me, just to keep me alive! What about the children who starve not because they can’t eat, like me, but because they don’t have food? Can’t we ask the insurance company to buy food for them instead of paying my hospital bill?”

Twelve-year-old Karis, once she was stabilized from her immediate crisis, greeted me from her hospital bed with tears running down her cheeks. “It’s not fair that you canceled our family vacation! Take the other kids and go! I’ll be fine here. I can’t bear causing them disappointment AGAIN!”

Sixteen-year-old Karis, after passing out at school from dehydration, glared at me defiantly. “I refuse to return to Hospital Einstein. It’s not fair to pay for a five-star hospital when my Brazilian friends have to go to Hospital Grajaú! Take me to Hospital Grajaú!” (This story is in Karis: All I See Is Grace.)

It’s not fair … true. The world is not fair. We have a zillion blessings others don’t have. But our Lord Jesus will return and set everything right. It’s a promise as dependable as God’s immutable integrity. It’s the solid hope we have as we mourn the corruption around us. (Whoa, Peter—are you sure you didn’t visit 2022 when you wrote chapter two?)

As I read Peter’s brief second letter, I keep remembering that these are his last recorded words. I sense his urgency, after years and years of walking with Jesus, to communicate with us, warn us, encourage us, remind us what really matters. Jesus could come back any moment! How do you want to be found when he does?

We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. So, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3:13-14).