But Jesus gives joy

John 16:22 You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.

Don’t you love good stories?

Within a few minutes time, I read this morning brief sketches of two lives well lived.

The first is a woman named Florence, great-great-grandmother and eponym on her mom’s side of our brand-new great-niece born in the wee hours this morning. My sister, baby Flo’s paternal grandmother, shared this:

“Florence was an amazing and lovely woman who immigrated to the US from England alone at age 13 and lived into her 90s. She had quite a life story, living through both World Wars, feeding her neighbors from her victory garden, and much more.”

Wouldn’t you love to know more about the heritage baby Flo has been gifted to live into? I hope this remarkable woman’s story will be (or already is) preserved in writing.

Incidentally, my sister added, Florence Nightingale was born May 12 two hundred years ago, another who lived her life impressively well.

Baby Flo is the last of the five little girls added to our extended family since Dec. 28! Our Talita and Liliana are numbers 2 and 4 of this abundance of blessing. The first is Jadyn and the third is Bronwyn. Imagine our family reunion a couple of years from now!

The second is a tribute to Kaleb Hochstedler, our young friend in Brazil who went to the arms of Jesus four days ago. He lived his ten years to the full. Since birth, Kaleb was noted for his tenacity and energy, traits that served him well in his fight against leukemia and then sarcoma. He was known for his joy, his delight in outdoor adventures, his imagination and creativity, and his love for God, his family and his friends. The last time he journaled, he wrote, “God will prepare the way.”

Kaleb is front left, surrounded by his parents, Delton and Fernie, and his siblings Naomi, Joshua, Priscilla and Lucas

I hope Karis got to be part of his welcome to Heaven! I can imagine the two of them concocting adventures together.

So much sadness. So many tears. So much joy. So much to learn and to share from those who have gone before us.

So I say again, “Tell your story! Write it down!” When you do, will you share it with me? And with those who read this blog?

I’m sad that I know little about the stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents. On both sides of my family, and Dave’s too, there was so much suffering they didn’t want to talk about it. And now they are gone, and with them, part of our own story, an important part we will never know and thus can’t benefit from. Both their joys and their sorrows. Their good choices and their regrets.

We won’t know, that is, until we reach Heaven, where upon seeing Jesus, all our griefs will be turned into joy.

But God raises a banner

Psalm 60:3-5 O God, you have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling. But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power.

Perhaps you think I’m going to write about the coronavirus as “the wine that sent us reeling.” Perhaps that would be appropriate. So many of our beloved ones in Latin America are being hit hard by the virus right now.

But what’s on my mind today is something with potentially greater and more long-term consequences for our country, and for the Body of Christ not just here but worldwide. So, if you have strong feelings about politics right now, I ask you to briefly set those feelings aside and take a moment to ask God to help you think carefully about what I say here.

I’m a 9 on the Enneagram, a “Peacemaker.” I don’t like conflict and confrontations. So, I don’t usually write about politics. But I received a mailing last week that upset me so much, it’s taken me several days to regain a sense of equilibrium and identify my “rallying point,” as this translation puts it, in the face of a very real attack on something fundamentally important to me and to us: how our lives represent Jesus.

Oddly enough, it’s the news this morning that the ten-year-old boy of a beloved family has gone to the arms of Jesus that is giving me the courage to write. Why? Because the freedom of the church worldwide to share the Gospel is a matter of life and death, not just on earth but eternally. I can’t compromise that freedom by sacrificing my integrity on the altar of politics.

A friend who is a seeker told me recently she was intrigued with Jesus until she saw the evangelical church align itself politically. I tried to tell her it’s Jesus himself who matters, and that the decisions of some Christians do not represent who Jesus is, one who loves all people. One who loves her. But she’s afraid now of being pulled by the church into a betrayal of her conscience.

The mailing I received helped me understand her fear. Never mind all the capital letters (as a 9, I don’t like being yelled at). Never mind the disrespect of my intellect, as easily researchable claims one after another proved to be false, exaggerated, or misleading (I did the research). Never mind the slander of public servants from the other side of the aisle, calling them “evil” and worse. Never mind the presupposition that I, as a Christian, have a moral obligation to align myself politically in only one way. And if I don’t, my faith is suspect.

What brought me to tears is that this mailing asked me to give absolute loyalty, as a Christian, to our sitting President. Think about that!

I am grieving still. Why? Because I am a Christian.  Because I am a Christian, I owe absolute loyalty only to God. Because I am a Christian, I am called to love as Jesus loved, even and especially my “enemies.” Because I am a Christian, I can’t afford to get tangled up in radical alliance with any political figure, ever. But especially not in the polarized climate of the United States today. Because I am a Christian, seeking to live and love as he did, I can’t afford to compromise in that way my ability to reach out to people whom God puts in my path.

The mailing asked me, as a Christian, whether I would be willing to do “whatever it takes” to ensure our President wins the November election. The organization’s goal is to enlist ten million Christians to this end.

“Whatever it takes”? Friends, please hear me. This isn’t “Christian.” It’s idolatry. It’s asking us to sell our souls to a political agenda.

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). I happily pay taxes, grateful for road repairs, ambulance and fire services, and so many other things the government does to make our lives livable. But my heart, my love and loyalty, my “whatever it takes” obedience, belong only to God.  

We must keep those two things separate. We must not let ourselves be seduced into betraying our first love by pledging “whatever it takes” to keep one man or woman in office. Ever. Whoever that man or woman may be at the moment. And we must not endanger the separation of church and state, an essential pillar of our democracy and of our freedom, as Christians, to share the wonderful news of Jesus’ healing love with our broken world.

I am praying, with tears, for the soul of the church, the Body of our precious Lord Jesus, who would never ask us to give unreserved loyalty to anyone except his Father.

I am praying for those in governmental authority (1 Timothy 2:2).

I am praying for myself first, and for the church, that we will keep coming back to this:

No one can tame the tongue . . . Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! . . .

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18).

But God plans wonderful joy

1 Peter 1:3-6 Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, now we live with great expectation . . . And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive his salvation . . . So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

My heart is heavy. Six friends are going through severe health challenges. One died last week, and it’s hard to think of her husband and daughter having to face Mother’s Day when their grief is so fresh. Only one of these friends’ crises may be coronavirus (testing results not yet available). Three have conditions like Karis’s.

So when I read these verses this morning, they caught my attention. I re-read them several times. And then I thought of the joy I experienced on Karis’s birthday, subject of my last post. I think God graciously gave me a taste of the “wonderful joy ahead.” A gift. Not something I could manufacture inside myself.

Gift. That’s what’s going on in this chapter too, I think. It starts with a prayer, May God give you more and more grace and peace (verse 2). God gives out of his mercy (verse 3). God protects us by his power (verse 4). God told people in advance there would be great glory for Jesus after he walked through his suffering (verse 11).  Those who preach the Good News do so in the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 12). It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen (verse 12).

All gifts, personally chosen for us and sealed with his love. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago (verse 2). The Greek word translated “knew you” is prognosis. Isn’t that cool? It means something known in advance. God’s prognosis for each of us today, including each of my friends going through particularly severe trials, is wonderful joy!

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a gift for my grandson that I knew he would love. When I picked him up last Friday, I couldn’t help saying, “Caleb, I have a surprise for you at my house!” My joy in the gift was probably as great as his. So I can picture God the Father smiling as Peter wrote the words the Spirit put in his heart. There is wonderful joy ahead . . .

I was so involved with Caleb and his gift that I didn’t think of taking a picture! But here he is with his mom and baby sister Talita. Happy Mother’s Day, Valerie!

I’m glad Peter acknowledges the suffering, and that the trials we face require endurance. We don’t have to pretend everything is OK. We don’t have to paste on fake smiles as “proof” of our faith or our maturity. But he has let us in on his surprise plan for us: There is wonderful joy ahead!

But God gives healing and joy!

Malachi 3:16-4:2 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. . . The day of judgment is coming. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

Joy.

When Karis was born on this day, May 5, 37 years ago, we chose “Joy” for her middle name with no idea how much joy she would pour into our lives and the world around her. She had a gift for finding and sharing joy.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I invite you to celebrate her birthday with us through this slide show, which Valerie put together for her memorial service in 2014.

For the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead! (Isaiah 26:19).

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart . . . For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs (Zephaniah 3:14, 17).

But God is my glory, by Rachel Becker

Psalm 3:3 But you, O Lord, are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

Written to a friend, after she reminded me that even though I can’t be WITH my community right now, they are still there for me, through giving birth and the four weeks since my baby was born.

Becky, thank you for the reminder that my community is still there.  I needed that. Thank you for being part of my community.

I’m praying for your parents, your friend with depression, your friend with traumatic brain injury. What I find encouraging in the midst of these situations is discovering the things that for each individual are making the situation tenable… The small victories that make the big distressing things bearable. God’s grace is often present in unexpected ways during illness. The reality of the unhealed things does not change the reality that God is acting on behalf of that person. It makes it no less painful but more full of goodness in the midst of the pain. Which is a relief.

A trauma psychologist named Diane Langberg once told me we need contact with delight and beauty for every bit of contact we have with horror and dismay. I’m reminded of that as I sit in my greenhouse and marvel again at how beautiful green and growing things are.

Plants and flowers keep coming back and flourishing with new life even as Covid-19 happens, and tornadoes in Tennessee and murdering rampages in Canada. Sometimes I need time to absorb the surprising reality of how much good there is in the world. How many things going right. To sit with and receive beauty even when it’s painful. To allow for wonder and awe.

I’ve been encouraged in the midst of Covid-19 by this promise in Genesis 8:22:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

So profoundly and visibly true as spring brings new life to the world completely independent of illness and social isolation! This is part of what helps me believe in resurrection power, in good ultimately triumphing, in love being more powerful than death or suffering.

A phrase from this David Crowder song https://youtu.be/GzfPHnoT0-0 has been going around and around in my head recently: “afflictions eclipsed by glory.”

A little baby is a very odd glory… Full of poopy diapers and spit up and wailing and hunger and need and yet somehow overwhelmingly awe-filled! I find that a fitting analogy for so many of the ways God brings love and life and glory… Utterly earth-bound and messy and even ugly sometimes and yet so profoundly beautiful at the same time. Amazing day by day, hour by hour to see one of these pics transform to the other…

Distress
Peace

Daily frustration, daily restoration, daily miracles. The glory of God in the contentment of a baby.

Revisiting “But God created food to be eaten with thanks” from April 21

Hey friends! It’s been bothering me that you might have interpreted what I wrote last week as criticism or judgment or misunderstanding/minimizing people’s genuine dietary health limitations or needs. I’ve discovered that food is a tricky subject! I hope this helps:

  1. The people in the story at the beginning were on this diet for fun, not for specific health reasons. They were following a plan with a specified menu for each day. It would have helped me, yes, in hosting them, to have been given a heads-up ahead of time. Right? But we had a lovely visit and love these people. They went through a month of following the diet and then went on to other food adventures. My point was Dave’s contrasting response: “Beans and rice the rest of the month? No problem!”
  2. I understand food allergies and health requirements related to diet—I cared for thirty years for a person with the most diet limitations of anyone I’ve ever met. I remember once requesting a consult with a dietician, as we were trying to avoid TPN (nutrition through her veins, which back then was more complicated than it is now). At that time Karis couldn’t tolerate fiber, fat, sugar, dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes or almost all fruits or vegetables or meats, and we were trying gluten-free to see whether that helped. She seemed to do OK with boiled chicken breast and a little bit of white rice, for a day or two anyway, and sometimes a little bit of yogurt. The dietician had nothing to suggest except liquid nutrition (we had already tried various brands; they all made Karis throw up) or a new intestine. I know Karis’s situation was extreme. My point is: I get it. Our bodies are complex! With complex interactions with food and other aspects of our environment.
  3. I’ll tell you a funny experience related to Karis and food (apparently, I could write a book about Karis and food!). Between transplants, she went fifteen months without an intestine. For those months, SHE DIDN’T HAVE AN INTESTINE! Yet during this time, I received various dietary suggestions from people of what they were sure would solve her problems, because this had worked for someone they knew who was “just like Karis.” Umm…guess what: without an intestine, a person can’t eat! Anything!

(I hope that made you smile.)

  •  I’m still grateful, given his line of work, for God’s gifts to Dave of a flexible palate and thankfulness for whatever food he is served. Including leftovers.

But God listens to our cries

Psalm 22:24 For the Lord has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.

Yesterday afternoon, God took our wonderful friend Crysta home to Heaven. She was part of our beloved intestinal transplant family, a person who reached out and loved others even when she herself was suffering. I have no idea how many cards and letters she sent to Karis over the years. We watched her little daughter grow up, and now she’s a senior in high school. She used to pop over for a Karis visit when her mom was hospitalized at the same time.

Most of the rest of us in this unique family already lost our transplanted members. We are grieving together.

I am flooded with memories. Our transplant family suffered so many losses, sometimes on the same day, or in the same week. Twice I didn’t tell Karis about a death for many weeks, because she was in such crisis herself, either in a coma or just emerging from one. She took each loss very hard, like losing a part of herself. Indeed, that’s what we all felt. And feel again today. I am remembering each person who died as if it just happened. We were able to attend the memorial services of some of them. Others were too far away, or Karis was not in condition to be able to go. I don’t know what will happen with Crysta’s death occurring during coronavirus restrictions. At the same time, I feel the Lord grieving with us. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Thank you, Lord, for not turning away from our need for your presence with us.

But God created food to be eaten with thanks

1 Timothy 4:3-7; 6:11 They will say it is wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks . . . Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. . . Be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith. Do not waste time arguing . . . Instead, pursue faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

When Dave and I were newly married, neither of us made much money. He was completing his PhD dissertation and I was in nursing school. We lived in an efficiency apartment (with our bed lofted and a sleeper sofa for guests) and pinched every penny two or three times.

One day we received the delightful news that dear friends were traveling to our town and wanted to stay with us. I prepared with joy what I thought would be a special dinner. But when I served the meal, they told me they couldn’t eat it because they were on a special diet. Armed with a list of their requirements, off I went to the grocery store to start over on dinner.

“David, what will we do?” I asked him after our guests left the next morning. “That one meal cost half of our food budget for the month!”

“Well, we still have the meal you prepared for them originally. And there’s nothing wrong with beans and rice! We’ll be fine. Wasn’t it great to see them and catch up with what God is doing in their lives?”

That was one of many times I have thanked God that my husband is not a picky eater. A connoisseur he is not, but it’s a great gift for a missionary to have a flexible palate. Dave happily tries anything and he’s thankful for whatever is served to him in whatever continent or country. One week in Africa he was served rice and a small smoked fish for every lunch and every dinner the whole week. Breakfast was a hunk of bread and coffee. That didn’t matter to the work he was there to partner with God in doing. He came home excited, “nourished by the message of faith” of the wonderful people there.

I’ve noticed on the internet a zillion different approaches to eating, many of them with precise specifications, not just of the food itself but of the equipment required to prepare it properly. Our missional lifestyle doesn’t usually work that way. We feel grateful to have food to eat, when so many in the world are going hungry. And we would rather put our resources to work around the world in different ways than investing in a gourmet kitchen. Eating simply, out of the abundance that God has created, for us is joy.

We know this is countercultural. We honor as well as we can people’s dietary needs and preferences when we have guests. We understand that food—what they eat and what they don’t eat—is very important to many people. I’m thankful, though, that with all the challenges we have faced, in this way life has been easy for us.

But God’s word can’t be chained, by Greg and Denyse Gripentrog

2 Timothy 2:9-10, 13 Because I preach the Good News of Jesus Christ raised from the dead, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation to those God has chosen. . . If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.

After passing the baton of the presidency of our mission organization (One Challenge International http://www.onechallenge.org) we returned to Indonesia on a retirement visa, renewable yearly for a maximum of five years. We assumed leadership of our mission teams there to free the director to invest fully in his exploding ministry. Since we had previously served many years in Indonesia, we received constant invitations all over the islands, and became very involved with the people in our neighborhood, as well.

Thus, coming to the end of our five years was bittersweet. We missed our family in the U.S., but the prospect of saying goodbye to our Indonesian “family” and mission colleagues, as well as tying up all the loose ends and passing on a complex ministry was a challenge difficult to accomplish. Our tickets “home” to Colorado were purchased for June 19.

Our neighbors became like family to us

Then—coronavirus hit. We were advised to leave Indonesia sooner. We already had tickets to participate in two leadership events in Colorado in April. So, we decided to use those tickets for leaving Indonesia, instead of waiting until June. It seemed impossible to be ready in time, but the US State Dept advised that unless we were prepared to remain as overseas residents “for an undetermined period of time,” we should return to the US “as soon as possible.” We knew the looming expiration of our visas meant we should leave.  It felt totally overwhelming, like facing a Goliath.

Except that (1) the conferences were cancelled, and then (2) our April flights were cancelled! And suddenly our situation became even more startling as we searched for flights out of the country and back to the U.S. One after another, travel options disappeared. The only viable possibility became a departure on March 28 from our nearest airport to the capital, giving us just four days to accomplish what we had hoped to do in three months!

The Jakarta airport

But God graciously gave us the resources we needed to blitz through those packed days and, exhausted, board the plane on March 29 from Jakarta for the looong set of flights to Colorado Springs. In God’s providence, we then had two weeks of quarantine to rest and begin our recovery and adaptation to life back in the United States.

This promise, But God’s word cannot be chained, comforts us as we think of all we left behind in Indonesia, whose people claim a large portion of our hearts. The seeds planted during these five years, by God’s grace, will continue to bear fruit. And that’s true even here in the U.S. Adventures await!

But God met me on a rooftop, by Meredith Dobson

Easter Sunday Service from a rooftop in the year 2020. What could be better! Participants all “Social Distanced” six feet apart – musicians, pastor, also one of the musicians, liturgical leader, also one of the musicians, and God! I guess God comes first, but He was all around. The backdrop was the city of Vancouver, Washington, with the Columbia River, bridges to Portland, Oregon, a few cars here and there, breezes caressing God’s messengers, and a bright sun offering wondrous lighting for the gathering. Worshipers were anonymous, sheltered in their homes as they had been instructed to do for their own protection from the Corona19 virus and the protection of their fellow human beings. No masks or gloves needed, just the freedom to welcome God and his son, Jesus into our hearts and lives.

Songs, prayers, and a message against a backdrop of such serenity and beauty were footsteps along a golden path coming, unimpeded from above along a wide open path straight into my heart. My heart was open and ready. My heart had been open for a long time but on that Easter, my heart stayed open and eager to let in the breath, the power and the Love of Jesus, our – precious Savior and Redeemer waiting for me to Surrender completely, with deep humility and shed the armor of doubt I have held for so many years as a protection against I know not what – fear of the unknown, fear of revealing my own sins. Perhaps it was the gentle warm words from the pastor, soothing voices of those sharing their music, the soundless wind, the reassuring light and the wide open, endless sky waiting for me to take that path that had been prepared for me.

I would say it was the rooftop. I would say it was the open sky. I would say it was the words of God’s messengers whether spoken or sung.  It was all of them, but much more than that, it was my readiness and willingness. Finally, the Apostle’s Creed – each word and phrase was said by family members scattered throughout the Vancouver community providing a sense of unity of the family of God. Thank you, God, and thanks to many others in my life for being patient and loving with me even while I was doubting, even while I was a sinner, even while I was self-centered and thoughtless of others. I feel eager now to take the path with Jesus beside me.

Matthew 2:16-17 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”