Healing at the lake, Part 4

But God knows our story

John 21:3-6, 17, 19-22 [After Jesus’s resurrection] Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” “We’ll come, too,” [six other disciples] said.  But they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus, standing on the beach, called out, “Children, have you caught any fish?” No, they replied. Then Jesus said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat.” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. …

Psalm 32:1-2 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt!

[After breakfast] A third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” … Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved. … He asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “… What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose this particular setting for his pivotal conversation with Peter after the crucifixion and resurrection, after Peter’s denials warranted a return to the moniker “Simon”?

This miraculous catch of fish is a reprise of Luke 5, offering Peter another chance to recognize and reconnect with Jesus, and with God’s call on his life. A chance to accept forgiveness and to move beyond his failures. A chance to heal his story.

God met me as well, on ensuing visits to the lake. Fast forward from the story I told in the last post. I’m now fourteen, graduated from boarding school, fearful of the future. Sitting alone overlooking the lake, I told the Lord I wasn’t ready to leave Guatemala because I had not yet learned to love. I acknowledged my heart full of resentment and bitterness. I didn’t want to take all that with me into whatever awaited me in my new life in the United States, where my parents would send me for high school. But how could I change? I had confessed my anger and hurt, but it refused to die, rearing its ugly head on a daily basis.

Romans 12:2 was the verse I was considering: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” You’ll have to do it, Lord. I have no idea how to change the way I think. On the surface, nothing (apparently) happened. But it was a place marker, an anchor, an intention, a hope: “Someday, somehow, I will learn how to love other people.”

Shutterstock: Christopher Moswitzer

Fast forward twenty-five or so more years. A different country, a different lake, a different language. A big difference this time because I’m not alone. A dear friend is listening to my despair over Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us.”

“For most of my life,” I confessed to my friend, “I’ve begged God to teach me to love him and to love other people. But I don’t know how. I have no idea what it feels like to be a dearly loved child.”

“Then let’s ask him to show you,” she said. What followed was one of the most powerful prayer visions I have ever experienced. It healed a fracture line in my soul. It changed forever the way I knew Jesus and the way I viewed myself and other people. Literally, it saved my life. It was the beginning of learning the Romans 12:2 different way of thinking I had begged God for at fourteen.

Why did this healing take so long? Why did I have to go through so much trauma and drama between fourteen and forty? I’ll probably never know. But I’m grateful, so thankful that it did happen. It was an essential foundation stone in the healing journey that has continued through the almost thirty years since that day. 

Tomorrow Dave and I plan to board a plane for Ireland, for a “triple trip,” celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary last August, Dave’s St. Patrick’s Day 70th birthday, and researching Book 3 of the Cally and Charlie series. I have the sense—though I don’t know how, exactly—that the week in Ireland will be another significant step in the healing God continues in my life. I’ll let you know!

Healing at the lake, Part 3

But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid”

Luke 5:4-10 Jesus said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” “Master,” Simon replied, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” This time the nets were so full of fish they began to tear! … When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” … Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid.”

Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. … The life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin. … Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

The sun grew warm as I built a sandcastle with my brother and sisters. I took off my sweater and laid it on a rock. After a while, we ran to the lake to splash in the waves lapping the shore. When I returned, my sweater was gone.

Shutterstock: Pressmaster

My seven-year-old heart was terrified to tell my mother I had lost my sweater. I delayed returning to our vacation house for as long as I could. Thus I was doubly in trouble, not only for my carelessness but for not showing up in time to help with lunch. I was denied lunch and grounded for the remaining day and a half of our vacation. But what hurt most were the words my mother poured out on me, and the tone of those words. I’m not sure I learned to be more responsible. I do know my fear of her dug even deeper roots into my soul.

It’s natural for a child to project that experience of fear onto God, to assume God is like our parents or other authority figures who haven’t known how to support and encourage us. The breakthrough, healing moments (I’ll tell about one of them in the next post) come from discovery that Jesus isn’t like them. That’s what Simon learned.

“The Chosen” depicts Simon in BIG trouble over his debt to the Roman government. The miraculous catch of fish more than paid Simon’s taxes. It freed him to give up fishing and follow Jesus.

But Simon had an even bigger debt, the debt of his sin, which made him ashamed to come close to the Holy One. Dane Ortlund in his precious book Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, points out in almost every chapter that the only safe thing to do with ourselves when we recognize our sin is to go straight to Jesus. Remember the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery? (No mention is made of the man … apparently, she was committing adultery by herself.) Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Compassion. That’s what we’ll find when we go to Jesus in our sin. He weeps over the wounding that takes place within us and in others when we sin. He wants to free us from sin’s devastating impact.

Ortlund says (page 174), “His love is great because it surges forward all the more when the beloved is threatened, even if threatened as a result of its own folly.” I wish for courage this Lent, for you and for me, to trust Jesus’s heart of love, his compassion, his gentleness, his longing to connect with us, to free and heal us. Hear him say to you as he did to Simon, “Don’t be afraid.”

Connecting hearts

But Jesus prays for us

Hebrews 7:23-25 There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever … He lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf.

Lent. What is it, exactly?

Since I didn’t grow up or live most of my life knowing about or practicing Lent, I’ve been asking God for a concept or image to help me understand it. In the Ash Wednesday service yesterday, we were invited to observe a holy Lent because since early times:

“ … the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need that all Christians continually have to renew our repentance and faith. … Let us now pray for grace, that we may faithfully keep this Lent.”

This morning I read chapter 8 of Dane Ortlund’s beautiful book, Gentle and Lowly, The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, which takes a deep dive into Hebrews 7:25. Ortlund describes Jesus’s heart as so warm toward us that he is constantly talking to the Father about us. “Christ does not intercede because the Father’s heart is tepid toward us but because the Son’s heart is so full toward us. But the Father’s own deepest delight is to say yes to the Son’s pleading on our behalf. … The intercession of Christ is his heart connecting our heart to the Father’s heart.”

This is beautiful. And for me to benefit from Christ’s intercession for me, I need to open my heart to his. Jesus doesn’t force his way. He gently invites me to connect with him.

So this is my image for Lent: my heart open and connecting with his, so that he can cleanse and heal and grow his beauty and grace in me.

But how do I translate that into an image for this blog? My mind flooded with the memory of a very special prayer time with a Christian therapist who helped me heal from PTSD. I found myself in a beautiful sunny meadow, romping with Jesus as a small child, maybe four or five. Just the two of us. Jesus seemed to have all the time in the world, as happy to be playing with me as I was thrilled to be with him.

At one point Jesus fell laughing to the ground, and I ran to sit beside him. A gorgeous blue butterfly settled on his shoulder. He reached out, the butterfly crawled onto his hand, and he extended it to me. “The butterfly will be scared of me and fly away,” I thought. But it didn’t. Breathless, I watched it come to me. I trembled with delight. Jesus and I played with the butterfly for a long time.

When my therapist gently touched me and brought me back from this vision, I knew I was not alone. Whatever I had to deal with, Jesus was with me.

I ran to find paper and colored pencils to try to draw the butterfly. I’m not an artist and couldn’t capture its beauty. But I believe the butterfly was (is) the Holy Spirit.

So that’s the image I’ve placed as the header for this Lenten season. A symbol for me of connection with the Trinity through the Holy Spirit who draws me into Jesus’s heart of love, and through him to the Father.

Jesus’s work on my behalf isn’t just a thing he did in the distant past. He LIVES to intercede for me. And for you. His love for us is as fervent today as the passion that took him to suffering and death. And resurrection. For our transformation.

God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).

No, don’t be quiet

But Jesus heals us so we can see

Mark 10:46-52 As Jesus and his disciples left Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. … But Jesus stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up! Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My rabbi,” the blind man said. “I want to see!” And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus.

Epiphany. A season of revelation. Of a clearer vision of Jesus.

It seems fitting that the last story in Mark before the events of Holy Week is about seeing. And that yesterday, Christians around the world considered Jesus’s transfiguration, as a portion of Jesus’s glory was revealed to his followers, Moses (representing the law), and Elijah (representing the prophets). The Father said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:1-8), then Moses and Elijah were gone, and the disciples saw only Jesus.

How have you seen Jesus during these weeks of Epiphany? Has God opened your eyes in some way? Has he spoken to you personally or acted on your behalf to change the direction things were going? What’s your story of encounter with God?

Between Epiphany and Holy Week, we walk with Jesus through Lent. Many evangelical Christians don’t have experience with observing Lent. I knew nothing about it when I was growing up. On Thursday I plan to post my current thoughts and recent experience of Lent. Perhaps you’ll want to take steps toward honoring this in-between season, observed by many in Christ’s church almost from the beginning.

Also during the weeks of Lent (Feb. 23-April 1), I want to publish your story about how you have seen God’s revelation of Jesus during Epiphany. Write it down in one page and send it to me at debrakornfield@gmail.com. Your story will encourage others and you’ll have it to refer to yourself when you need reassurance that God sees you and cares for you.

During Epiphany, we’ve been looking at the question, “Who is this man?” from Mark’s point of view. Perhaps you’d like to look back over the topics we’ve considered since January 6. Ask God to open your eyes to see what he wants to show you and to open your ears to hear the words of love he is always speaking to you.

“I want to see!” The passion and desire of a lifetime poured into Bartimaeus’s words. I love that Jesus asked him what he wanted, giving this man the opportunity to use his voice and express what had been stomped down inside him his whole life.

Do you, too, want to see? Don’t be quiet. Cry out to the Lord for his mercy and healing.

Do you practice lament?

But Jesus grieves

Matthew 23:23; 37-39 “What sorrow awaits you hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. … O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

A new month. Are we any wiser? Or just older, continuing in our same patterns of behavior as we conclude Lent and prepare for Holy Week … We still have time, time to sit before the Lord and ask him to reveal to us our own hearts and his. Time to soften our resistance to his still, small voice of love, inviting us to be freed from our selfishness and blindness. Inviting us into his care.

Matthew 23 is a chapter we tend to skip over, except for verse 37. Jesus pours out a blistering rebuke of the leaders of his day, repeating the phrase “What sorrow awaits you” seven times. It’s an anguished cry of lament. “They don’t practice what they teach … They crush people and never lift a finger to ease the burden … Everything they do is for show …”

The last line I quoted refers back to Jesus’ “triumphal entry”–after which the Jewish leaders, indignant, began to plot how to kill him.

I find most shocking Jesus’ declaration to these leaders that they will be held responsible for the murder of “all godly people of all time,” beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel. “This judgment will fall on this very generation,” Jesus says, before launching into his lament over Jerusalem. We know he would shortly bear on the cross the penalty for all the sin committed for all time.

Can you feel his anguish over innocent people who are killed by others with evil motives? It’s the lament of the Old Testament prophets, a revelation of God’s tender heart. “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies” the Lord said through the prophet Amos after decrying those who oppress the poor and crush the needy. “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living” (Amos 5:21, 24).

And then comes the phrase Jesus appropriated: “What sorrow awaits you …” (Amos 6:1). “How foolish you are when you turn justice into poison and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness” (Amos 6:12).

Lord, you see our nation. You see all that’s going on in our broken, weary, bleeding world. And you see my heart. Take the blinders from my eyes so I can see it too. Let me find refuge beneath your wings.

How is Lent going for you?

But Jesus is our high priest

Hebrews 10:12-18 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time… For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

Philippians 1:6 God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

When I was in college in the ‘70s, some of us wore buttons that said PBPGINFWMY. Do any of you remember that? Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.

I just discovered vintage buttons are still available on the internet!

How different this is from what I understand to be “cancel culture” (feel free to correct me!), wherein a person can be condemned and ostracized if they make one mistake or commit one sin—even if they repent, confess and ask forgiveness. Especially if it’s a sin of a certain type which brands them forever as a “bad” person.

PBPGINFWMY acknowledges there is “badness,” immaturity, self-centeredness, blindness, ignorance, stupidity, and sin in each of us. The good news of the Gospel, however, tells us Jesus has provided a way forward. Though he was perfectly good, he chose to be “cancelled” so the rest of us wouldn’t have to be. He endured false accusations and paid the penalty of the judgment made against him, fulfilling the terms of the sentence once for all.

All of this so we (who are in fact guilty) can be forgiven and live in freedom. And have space and time to grow up into goodness, confident we are already accepted and dearly loved.

So, this mid-point of the season of Lent seems a good time to ask: How is Lent going for you?

If we try to do Lenten work on our own, it can be a total downer. But if we trust our High Priest and depend on the Holy Spirit and soak in the Father’s unfathomable love for us, we can experience hope and relief and gratitude and joy.

Like my friend who just received news of a clean scan, after a long, difficult fight with cancer. It wouldn’t have been a kindness for her doctor to have patted her on the back and said, “You’re OK, I’m OK.” Recognizing the cancer that was killing her, though it led to tough, painful times during treatment, was essential. This is the lifesaving, life-transforming kindness of God we can experience during Lent.

The disciplines of Lent offer us time to pay attention to areas of our lives which still need to change and mature. Recognizing and admitting them is called confession. Repentance includes choosing to do all in our power to live, think, behave, and treat others with the grace we receive through God’s forgiveness of our sins and failings. This process is called sanctification.

Making us holy is a joint effort between us and the Trinity. We humbly accept that we can’t make ourselves better. While we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, asking him to produce his beautiful virtues in our lives, Jesus, our High Priest, intercedes for us. And our Father holds us in his love.


Lenten roses in my back yard

What are you “no” to?

But Jesus said “No!”

Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 5:37 Just say a simple, “Yes I will,” or “No, I won’t.”

In her book Saving Grace (Convergent, 2021), Kirsten Powers tells her painful story of trauma recovery and ways she is learning to live by grace. In her chapter about boundaries, she says “I am a ‘no’ to contempt, cruelty, disrespect, shaming, judging, bad-faith accusations, bullying, gaslighting, demonizing, dehumanizing, lying, both-sides-ism (creating false equivalency between the behavior of different people or groups), and any and all forms of bigotry. I am a no to having conversations with people who are committed to misunderstanding me.” She continues by identifying practical ways she has learned to say “no,” so she has space in her life to say “yes” to grace.

Shutterstock: Kastoluza

Saying “no” can be painful. And we love avoiding or minimizing pain—at least I do. But in her wonderful Transfiguration sermon on Sunday, Jess Bennett linked suffering with glory, inviting us to explore that connection during this season of Lent. And Jonathan Millard in his Ash Wednesday sermon told us fasting (saying “no” to whatever enthralls us) intentionally creates space for us to draw close to God and to discover he is kind and gracious, not angry and vindictive. Jonathan challenged us to let the cravings we feel when we say “no” stir in us our longing for our Father. Most of all, fasting in secret challenges our “approval addiction,” setting us free from our desperate need for the approval and affirmation of others.

I’m working on my “no” list. Then I’ll move on to my “yes” list. Will you join me? And then use this Lent to explore ways to make your “no’s” stick?

During these forty days, I’m deep-diving into Matthew and Hebrews. So I’ll close with this encouragement from Hebrews 12:10-12:

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. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.