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).

What socks are you wearing?

But God encourages  January 31, 2022

2 Corinthians 1:3, 4:6-7, 7:5-6 God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. … For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts … but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. … We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

Genesis 16:13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are El-roi, the God who sees me.”

At the memorial service yesterday, hidden inside my boots, there was a hole in my sock. A big one. Not at all attractive.

I may have looked decently put together, but I knew the hole was there. God knew too. He didn’t care about my sock, but he cared about what it symbolized for me, the hole in my heart. God saw. The same El-roi who appeared to Hagar in her wilderness. I feel her awe.

God, who encourages those who are discouraged, appeared to Hagar through an angel. He encouraged Paul through Titus. He comforted me yesterday through Jeanne. Her gifts of music unveiled to me the Presence of God with us, evoking the deep comfort of her ministry to us through Karis’s memorial, almost eight years ago.

In this marvelous way—tailor-made, it seemed, for me, though doubtless the beauty and power of worship touched each person there—God strengthened me to walk into this week. Joy and sorrow will blend somehow as I share in the happiness of my brother’s wedding while reliving both the grief and the solace engendered by Karis’s death.

But Jeanne’s ministry of worship yesterday also touched and softened a current grief. My dear friend Mary, whom God used to shine light into my darkness so many times through our years in Brazil, lies in a São Paulo ICU breathing through the support of a respirator, her lungs 75% consumed by Covid. Before I go to bed and first thing when I wake up, I check for news, entrusting her and her family many times a day to the mercies of God.

Yesterday, as the service guided us to think about Sharon free, well, and joyful in the presence of her Lord, I pictured Mary there with her. Both women poured out their gifts of worship and of intercession and counsel to bless and comfort and encourage many, many people. Both suffered huge losses in life; both lost dearly loved sons. Both, through the deep empathy engendered by their own suffering, shone light into the darkness of others. As Jeanne did for me yesterday, in a reprise of her ministry to me almost eight years ago.

Perhaps you have no hidden hole on your sole. Perhaps, though, you have a tattered place in your soul. Perhaps no one else knows it’s there. But God sees. He sees you. Through Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, he understands your fragility. Your fear. Your need. I pray he will touch the tender areas of your heart today with his comfort and healing and encouragement. As he did for Hagar. As he did for me.

Today, I’m changing my socks.

“… your feet shod with shalom” (Eph. 6:15)

One life lesson of Chanukah, by Rabbi Evan Moffic

But Jesus is the light

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

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

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

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

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

Shutterstock: tomertu

Light One Candle

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

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

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

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

You are the Candle

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

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

We Gain When We Give

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

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

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

But God answered, by Elaine Elliott, Antigua, Guatemala

Job 30:20; 38:1-2, 12-13 I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. … Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind. “Who is this that questions my wisdom? … Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth?” [KJV: “Hast thou commanded the dayspring to know its place?”]

Luke 1:78-79 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven [KJV “the dayspring from on high”] is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

My sister sent us home from San Diego in mid-March after my husband Steve and I had helped her recover from a health crisis. Though we had heard of Covid, arriving in the Guatemala airport to a temperature check and instructions to self-quarantine for two weeks seemed surprising.   The next day we heard that all air travel to the country would be suspended, and we went into lockdown two days later.  We arrived home just in time.

Our daughter suggested a weekly Zoom call, a lifeline to anchor our family.  Having this connection allowed us to hear about their lives, to share ours, to watch the three grandchildren grow, and to be present as our son adopted two boys.  My Bible study group started a weekly Zoom meeting, and several friends and I talked frequently as well.  On-line books, magazines, newspapers, and documentaries expanded our world. Thank you, God, for technology!

Covid confinement became my sabbatical for writing. I sent scripture reflections to family and friends, then wrote a novel about recent events in Guatemala.  Sharing my drafts became a way of connecting with friends as readers helped me with my story. 

When two close Mayan friends died, and another friend shared her grief over not being with her husband in the hospital as he died, the Covid tragedy became personal. We saw the economic devastation as people on the streets waved white flags to indicate they needed food. Added to the pandemic, two tropical storms devastated communities, making more food relief necessary. 

Our patio garden with its lavish flowers, hummingbirds, butterflies, bright fountain, and fresh grass made a welcoming outdoor space without leaving the house.  Thanksgiving dinner had all the trimmings and none of the guests.  Similarly, we spent Christmas home alone. However, the brilliance of this year’s conjunction of planets shone in the clear evening sky as a hopeful sign like the first Christmas star.  Zoom allowed us to connect with extended family, all socially distanced in my sister’s back yard.

When I gained confidence to hike outdoors with friends, we enjoyed soaking in trees, sunlight, and landscapes. Prayer, music, devotional reading and encouragement from family and friends kept us cheerful, and when tempted to become gloomy, habits of gratitude lifted us up.  I felt grateful for our good health, survival of Covid for several in the family, and for my 91-year-old mom’s vaccination.

Even in a pandemic, Easter Sunday celebrates resurrection, and I set a cheerful spring table with bright flowers and delicious food.  I had read an appropriate line from Gerard Manley Hopkins that referred to Christ in a time of shadows: “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”

Thanapon: Shutterstock

But Jesus is the light

John 9:1-5, 39-41 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins? “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” … Then Jesus told him [the man who had been born blind], “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”

From Shutterstock, Fractal Graphics #3 by NataVilman

Before I go back to the judge and judgment verses in chapter 5, I want to look at this one in 9:39. This story of the blind man Jesus healed is one of my favorites in the Bible, and John takes a whole chapter to tell it. When Karis was born with a defect in her intestines, some people asked Dave and me to examine our lives to repent of whatever sin in us had caused this. So that question, which Jesus responds to so clearly, is as relevant in our time as it was two thousand years ago. Karis believed her entire life was meant as a showcase of God’s power and love. Reading that in her journals is what motivated me to write Karis, All I See Is Grace.

The story shows the blind man growing in his understanding of Jesus, from calling him “the man they call Jesus” in v. 11, to “he must be a prophet” in v. 17, to rejection of the Pharisees’ conclusion that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath (v. 24). Verse 25 rings with courage, in contrast to the man’s parent’s trepidation: “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” I can only begin to imagine how thrilling it was for a man who had never seen anything in his life to see colors, and people’s faces (even the Pharisees’ frowning faces), and his own parents!

When the Pharisees ask the man to tell them AGAIN how Jesus healed him, he asks “Do you want to become his disciples too?” (v. 27). I think the “too” refers to himself: He wants to know the man who healed him. In verse 33 he explains to the Pharisees why Jesus must be from God. In verse 36, he exclaims, “Who is the Son of Man? I want to believe in him.” Jesus responds, “You have seen him!” And in verse 38 the man worships Jesus and calls him Lord.

That’s when we have verse 39, which the NLT translates “I entered this world to render judgment.” I think this can be translated differently, “I entered the world to be judged” or to be the object of judgment. (This is one time I disagree with the NLT, which I love—most translations say, “for judgment,” leaving unclear who is doing the judging.) Those doing the judging in this story are the man and his parents, and the Pharisees. The issue is, who is Jesus? Just a man? A sinner? A prophet? A true miracle-worker, by God’s power? Son of Man? Lord? How will the people who encounter Jesus respond to him?

That’s the central question of John’s gospel. He introduces it in chapter one and asks it again and again. No one can be neutral regarding Jesus. Is he who he says he is, or is he the biggest fraud ever? Each of us must judge him. Each of us must decide. Jesus is the light, John says (1:9). Can we see his glory, or are we blind? (1:10-14).

Hang in here with me for a moment. I have a reason for reaching this conclusion about the meaning of the word judgment in 9:39. John uses three words for judge or judgment in his gospel: krino (verb), krisis (noun), and krima (noun). He chooses the word krima only here, in 9:39. Krima is the result of a judgment that has been rendered, a decision made for or against. The man who was blind started choosing for Jesus from the beginning and grew into the clear vision he celebrated in worship. The Pharisees who thought they could see have been choosing against him since their first contact with Jesus. By their judgments, the people in this story revealed their hearts. They revealed what they could see, given their prior decisions. The difference between who Jesus was to the man who could now see and to the Pharisees could not be more dramatic. And John capitalizes on this in his delightful word plays.

One more grace note in this story: Isn’t it cool that Jesus let the blind man participate, have a role, be a partner in his healing? “I went and washed, and now I can see!” (v. 11). All his life, he’d been the object: of people’s pity, of their scorn, of their judgment of him and his family (“Who sinned…?”). Jesus gives him agency, makes him an actor, setting him up for a brand-new experience of life. How is Jesus empowering you today?