Your healing will come.

But Jesus shares his authority

Mark 6:7, 12-13 Jesus called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits [and to heal all diseases, Luke 9:1]. … So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.

I’m skipping ahead in Mark today, because of something that happened last night. We had an evening without other commitments, and Dave suggested we watch the second episode of the new Season 3 of The Chosen (we haven’t managed to accompany the episodes as they’ve been released). The episode is called “Two by Two.” It dramatizes this passage in Mark, Luke 9, and Matthew 13.

After Jesus gives his instructions to the disciples and is walking away, the “other James” follows Jesus and asks for a conversation. In Mark 15:40, this James is referred to by a word that means least, less, little, small. English versions translate this variously as James the young, the younger, the youngest, the less, the lesser, the little. In The Chosen, he is called Little James, and James the brother of John is called Big James. Additionally, Little James is cast in The Chosen as a man with a lame leg.

As I listened to the conversation between Jesus and Little James, I had goosebumps. I watched with my mouth open. Because the conversation could have been lifted straight from the pages of Karis’s journals. Clearly the script was written by someone who has been there, who has asked God the question, “Why haven’t you healed me? How can I heal others like—like this?” Jesus’s response is exactly what Karis records God saying to her, multiple times from her adolescence on.

To understand more deeply the impact of this for me, it may be helpful to know that all her life, since being born with a severe intestinal anomaly, Karis, Dave and I, and our family have been challenged by Christians who believe God only doesn’t heal because of sin and/or lack of faith. Therefore, Dave and I, and later Karis as she grew up, were exhorted again and again to confess the sin for which she/we were being punished, to confess our lack of faith, and to live our lives out of the belief she had been healed (i.e., stop seeking medical help for her, especially when her life was at risk, as “proof” of our faith). Make her get out of bed. Make her see this illness is not real; what is real is the health God promises every believer.

All of this is one of the main reasons Karis cites in her journals for wanting her story written down. She wanted believers to understand the deeper grace God offers when he chooses not to heal someone physically. “If God heals me—gives me a brand-new intestine—that story will make a big splash,” she wrote. “For a little while, many people will be excited. But quickly it will become old news. Instead, for as many days or years God gives me, I want to show people a different kind of grace—the grace that allows me to praise God even through my pain. The doors that open for me exactly because I am disabled. The compassion God has given me for all who suffer, with any kind of pain, whether physical, emotional, social, or mental. The joy greater than my circumstances that wells up from the Spirit inside me. That’s what I want people to see when they look at my life: not a ‘big splash,’ but the daily faithfulness of God, available to everyone, everywhere, in any condition of life.”

Karis’s journals, from age 9 until the week before her last coma, age 30

So, imagine how intrigued I was to hear Jesus’s words to Little James on the screen last night. You’ll find the conversation at 53:12-59:44 on Episode 2 of The Chosen Season 3, called “Two by Two.” I’ve transcribed it, but will wait until the next post to quote part of the conversation for you. I hope meanwhile you’ll take the time to watch it.

In fact, God did perform miracles in Karis’s life. Huge miracles that restored her again and again when the doctors told us (again) that this time there was no hope, from infancy on. But never “the big miracle,” the big splash. Her story is both bigger and deeper than that, to the glory of God.

At the end of the conversation, Jesus starts to walk away. Then he turns back and says to Little James, “Your healing will come. It’s just a matter of time.”

That is true for every one of us.

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?

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

But God’s grace can include suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I grow up, I want to be like Ray

But God’s discipline is good for us

Hebrews 12:10-11, 14-15 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. … Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life … Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.

While Dave and I were on vacation, we visited a man we respect and admire deeply, who mentored us before we left for Brazil in 1990 and once visited us in São Paulo. During a time of deep discouragement when Karis was a baby and the church Dave pastored seemed to be falling apart, Ray helped pick us up, dust us off, and set us back on the road toward ministry. I still remember what he said when I told him I was so hurt I didn’t ever want to hear the word “ministry” again: “You don’t have a choice, Debbie. God has called you to this. You’ll be back.”

At 85, Ray drove three hours each way on the same day through blizzard conditions to attend Karis’s memorial service. He referenced several things about that service during his time with us. Though he needs aids to keep his balance now while standing or walking—and therefore had to give up chopping wood for his stove—he can still drive, and does so regularly, to meet people for a meal, to make a hospital visit, to participate actively in his church.

Sadly, it didn’t occur to me to take a picture with Ray while we were with him, but a quick internet search gave me this. And this about his wife Eunice, whose photos are everywhere in Ray’s living room. Ray has continued her tradition of amazing hospitality.

On the way to visit him, Dave and I laughed over some of the things Ray said over the years. Like “the grace of ice cream.” And his comment when we proudly showed him our newborn baby, “Now that’s a baby!” (He confessed all newborn babies look alike to him.) And when asked once in my hearing about women wearing makeup, he said, “If the barn door needs painting, paint it!” And “Now I can be a better Christian,” after we fed him when he was hungry.

Here’s a favorite Ray story. When their girls were small, he and his wife Eunice took their five daughters camping. On one occasion, their tent site was next to a group of young people who partied loudly far into the night, despite Ray’s request that they tone it down so his family could sleep. So, the next morning bright and early, Ray walked around their tent banging a pot with a metal spoon, yelling “Rise and shine! Rise and shine!” Within a short time, the partyers were gone.

Ray is now 92, still sharp and incisive, asking questions that reflect his long history and deep knowledge of us, but with a new gentleness. Before we arrived at his home, Dave and I thought he might be up for a two-hour visit. Four hours later, he was still going strong. We were the ones who called it, not him. What a precious, holy, encouraging time. A gift. A privilege.

Ray gave us a vision and model of holy living in retirement. He didn’t set out to do so; it just happened as he shared his life with us. His prayer every morning is, “Lord, how can I serve your people today?” And at night he asks, “So, Lord, how did I do? Did I communicate your grace to the people you sent me today? Did I listen well? Did I submit to you? Was your Spirit free to flow through me?” His own prayer of examen.

During the quiet times when Ray is not actively engaged with people, he spends most of his time praying for them. And reading. We were impressed with how up to date he was on current events, and how penetratingly he commented on issues of concern to America and the world. On Thursdays he cooks dinner for his three daughters and an “adopted” daughter who live close enough to come. He says their conversation is wide-ranging and always teaches him things he needs to learn. Thinking of him planning and cooking his love-feast for tonight makes me smile with gratitude to have experienced the overflow of Ray’s generosity in our own lives.

Ray shared many stories with us of what God taught him through his faults and failures over his many years. He told us his whole life now can be summed up in these simple words: “I bow to you, Lord of the universe, Lord of my life.”

When I grow up, I want to be like Ray.

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 God’s grace builds us up

Acts 20:28-32 [Paul saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders] So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. … Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! … And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

At the end of his teary farewell to beloved friends, Paul returns to the topic of grace—my favorite subject, my deepest longing.

Grace builds up. I want to tell you my experience at the writer’s conference listening to two different keynote addresses.

The first, to open the conference, earnestly described how terrible America is today, and who he thinks is at fault for the mess we’re in, with political references that made me think of Romans 13:7 (“Give respect and honor to those who are in authority”) only by contrast. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered.

So, I felt anxious when I saw the topic of the closing-day keynote was “Our Voice in a Hostile Culture.” If it’s more of the same, I can’t listen to it, I thought. I don’t want to leave this conference feeling upset and disappointed with the event leaders who have been so kind to me.

As I listened, though, I found myself in tears. The speaker called us to Kingdom values. We are citizens of Heaven first, and we serve a King whose nature is love, and justice, and righteousness, and mercy. We are to represent him. Our voice is to be characterized by grace:

“In all things, become love—so that if anyone thinks of love, they think of you. In all things, all the time, become love. Patiently listen. Hear what people have to say. Treat them with respect. Look for what you have in common, the ways you can connect. Have an attitude of grace. Practice grace. Pray into it. Offer vision and hope. Be compassionate. Our lives are to be a lovely fragrance attracting people to the King whose grace we ourselves have experienced …”

In the flood of comments in the chat (we were on Zoom), one person wrote, “This talk has been worth the whole price of the conference.” I agree. Of all the thousands of words I listened to over three intense days, these are the words that most impacted and encouraged me. The words that will continue to challenge me.

Lord, teach me grace. Remind me constantly of your grace in my life. Please show me today how to build up those whose lives touch mine.

Shutterstock: sun ok

But the Holy Spirit warns

Acts 20:22-24 [Paul saying farewell to Ephesian elders] And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

Looking back this morning over the faithfulness of God through the ups and downs of our 44 years of marriage (today is our anniversary), Dave and I commented that the stage we’re in now is similar to what Paul expressed about the value of his life: both Dave and I have work we feel called and compelled to complete. His work is different from mine, but both of us want to, in our own ways, “tell others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

I’m in the middle of an online writer’s conference. Yesterday I had the chance to ask advice from a web designer. He said I was the first person who had ever given him a cogent argument for having two websites. What struck me in the conversation is that for both (“All I see is grace”) and (“A hint of magic and touches of grace”), the key word is grace. I thought this morning of the phrase from John Newton’s song, “’Twas grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

So as we observe the world around us and feel concern for our grandchildren’s future, I invite you to take a few moments to let John Newton’s powerful words penetrate your mind and anchor your soul:

Did you catch the “But God” in Newton’s lyrics? What is your But God story today?

But God removed and replaced

Acts 13:1-3, 9, 22-23, 46, 52 One day as the leaders of the church at Antioch of Syria were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” … Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit … But God removed Saul and replaced him with David … And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior … Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. … And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

My parents believed God was sending them to translate the Scriptures into one of the languages of a remote part of China. As they prepared to leave, China closed its doors, and in time, Mom and Dad went to Guatemala instead. I might have grown up in China instead of Guatemala!

As Dave and I prepared to move to Brazil, our mission asked us to consider Mexico instead. Our kids might have grown up in Mexico instead of Brazil!

We thought we would live out our lives in Brazil, seeing our grandchildren once or twice a year. Instead, because of Karis’s transplants, here we all are in Pittsburgh, where I see Caleb, Talita, and Liliana once or twice a week.

Turning points. This chapter is full of them—you’ll have to read the whole thing for yourself. Barnabas and Saul are sent out. They go. The governor of Cyprus believes in Jesus. Elymas the sorcerer is blinded. Saul’s name changes to Paul. John Mark leaves Paul and Barnabas and returns home (we learn later Paul took this very hard). The news about Jesus’ resurrection (But God raised him from the dead, v. 30) generates conflict in Antioch of Pisidia. Paul and Barnabas respond by turning from the Jews to the Gentiles, who accept the Gospel joyfully.

Shutterstock: Tang Yan Song

Paul preached about a different Saul, one whom a thousand years before God removed from being king. But in his own life, the arrogant Saul who once tried to destroy the church has been replaced by one who dedicates his whole being to build it up. Luke was a careful writer. I don’t think it’s accidental that Paul’s name change appears in the same chapter where he preaches about the replacement of the ancient Saul (representing the old system of law), with David, whose descendant Jesus introduced the age of grace. Continue to rely on the grace of God, Paul and Barnabas told the believers (v. 43).

What turning points have you experienced? How has your life been different because of them? Are you facing a moment of decision right now? Continue to rely on the grace of God.

But God extends grace

Acts 11:20-21, 28-29 Some believers who went to Antioch began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord … A prophet named Agabus predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could.

Galatians 1:15 But before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace.

Ephesians 2:8 God saved you by his grace … you can’t take credit for this: it is a gift from God.

My heart sank. “You’re kidding, right?” That’s what I thought, though I think I was a little more gracious than that to the Duquesne Incline ticket seller. It wasn’t her fault—I should have researched before spontaneously dragging my three-year-old Caleb and one-year-old Talita up all those steps from the parking lot to the next set of steps to the walkway across to the cars.

Shutterstock: James Kirkikis

The thing is, I had already dragged the kids all the way back down to the car and up again in muggy 90-degree heat after discovering I had forgotten our face masks. Little Talita was soaked in sweat, her hair a sticky mass. Caleb stared at me in unbelief when I told him we wouldn’t be able to ride the Incline after all. I hadn’t realized it was cash only, and the credit card in my pocket had zero value. Nor could I imagine making the round trip again. Obviously, I wasn’t accustomed to riding on public transit, or I would have known about the need for cash.

A woman behind us in line heard my explanation to Caleb. As I turned to start our descent to the parking lot, she said, “Wait. How much do you need?”

“Well, the kids are free. So it’s just me.”

“Five dollars, then, round trip. I can give you five dollars, so the children aren’t disappointed. Let me do this.”

“What? Are you sure? I have no way to pay you back.”

“I’m sure. Here. Enjoy the ride.” Her smile was brilliant.

Ironically, on my way to pick up the kids, I heard on NPR a conversation about research demonstrating the benefits to the giver of showing kindness to others. I hope that was true for our benefactor! What a lovely random act of kindness. Though I might not recognize her again, she will forever occupy a warm place in my heart.

It tickles me to think God experiences joy when he gives to us. In my experience that happens like, all the time. Even when I don’t notice.