How can it be

But God finds joy in us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What love language do you speak?

But God has given each of us a gift, by David Kornfield

1 Peter 4:8-11 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God.

I just spent two precious hours participating in a virtual retreat with beloved friends in Brazil, a wonderful gift from God to me. I felt deeply loved through their prayer for me after I shared what God had put in my heart to speak to them.

What makes the difference between doing something for someone as a job or responsibility and doing it with positive spiritual impact? I believe the difference is whether we offer our service with love mediated by the Holy Spirit. An example comes from the experience of my friend Carol. She told a group of friends Tuesday night that she believes God has put her in exactly the right place. She has started her new job at the information desk of a large hospital this week. Already a person requested a form to tell the hospital Carol’s service to him had been exceptional.

Shutterstock: Trong Nguyen

“It’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit,” Carol told us. “I try to see each person who comes to the desk as God sees them. I’ve been amazed at what God has shown me and has filled my heart to say as encouragement to each one. Hospitals are stress-filled places. I want them to carry a sense of peace and support as they leave me.”

She then told us the story of a man who left the desk to visit his wife and returned to tell her his wife had died. “Why would a total stranger tell me that?” Carol wondered. “Only because he somehow felt the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit calming and comforting him.”

Peter’s linking of the concepts of love and gifts reminds me of Gary Chapman’s “love languages.” So I asked my husband Dave to share from a conversation he had with God about one of his growth goals, to better love the people around him. God showed him how he (God) expresses all five of Chapman’s love languages:

In my devotional life, I talk with God, and he talks with me. This calls for a sanctified imagination, but I believe it’s real. What follows is God speaking to me about His love languages.

I love you. I never get tired of telling you that. It would be tricky to try to limit my love to any given love language, but verbal love is certainly a very big part of my love! Consider how I express all five:

  1. Verbal love. “In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1). My verbal love starts there and never stops. You can track it through other key references like John 1.14-18; 5.39, 40; 2Tm 3.16-17 and Heb 4.12 for starters. Then you can pick it up in my love expressed in my creation (Ps 19.1-7), spilling over to my written Word (Ps 19.8-14; all of Ps 119!).
  2. Touch or physical love. Go through the Gospels some time and notice how often Jesus touched people physically or they touched him physically. Dozens of times! And since his Ascension, the Body of Christ is his hands and feet, touching others physically and tangibly (Mt 25.31-46).
  3. Gifts. John 3:16 declares how my love expressed itself in the greatest gift of all, which opens the door for spiritual birth and transformation (John 1.12-18). And then my love goes on to spiritual gifts – Eph 4.9-116; 1Co 12-14; Rm 12.8-16; 1Pe 4.8-11 – all of them in the context of love. And that’s only the beginning of the gifts I’ve poured out on you – physical, financial, social, spiritual, relational – so many!
  4. Service. Mt 20.25-28; Ph 2.1-9. My utter and profound commitment to being ezer [helper, a frequent descriptor of God in the Old Testament, e.g. Psalm 46:1, and of Eve in Genesis 2:18]. Serving. Elevating. Raising up. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others (Mark 10:45).
  5. Quality time. That’s what you experience with Me at the beginning of every day and in your divine encounters, in my kairos. I make everything beautiful in My time (Ec 3.11).

I am off any scale you can picture in using all five. Try finding the horizon of any of those and you will find it’s like looking at the ocean. There is a horizon, but that’s simply the limit of your vision. It doesn’t come close to reaching the end of the ocean! That’s how I am toward you in each of these five love languages.

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My (Dave’s) response to God:

Hmm, why am I not surprised, Lord? I guess the only surprise is that I haven’t seen this so clearly before. I’ll find it easier now to learn and use all five languages. Looking at you, I see how to do it. This adds depth to Your words “Walk with me and work with Me – watch how I do it!” [Matthew 11:29, The Message].

Help me today, Lord, to walk in Your love and be a conduit of Your love to each person I meet virtually, by email, WhatsApp, Zoom or in any other way, including personal connection with Deb and anyone else you bring to my home today. I pray in your holy name, so be it.

A suggestion from Dave:

Ric Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life is a wonderful forty-day devotional describing how God fulfills His purposes in each of us. Days 29-35 focus on God shaping us for His service. Day 31 in particular highlights the S.H.A.P.E. he used for each of us: Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience. You can learn more about that here.

What gift(s) have you received from God? Today is a great day to tell him thank you, and to ask him to make his gifts to you even more effective in sharing his love, through the Holy Spirit.

Radical love

But Jesus’ message is different

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate each other to love and good works.

Shutterstock: askib

The contrast between the message the guards were ordered to spread by the Jewish leaders and the message Jesus told his disciples to teach could not be more different:

The premise of the Jewish leaders: If we lie convincingly enough, we can get away with murder. Jesus’ premise: God loves you so much I was willing to lay down my life for you.

The intent of the Jewish message: to save their own skin. Jesus’ intent: to save the world.

The authority on which the orders of the Jewish leaders were based: human distortion of biblical teaching (Matthew 23:23 “You ignore the more important aspects of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”). Jesus’ authority: given him by his Father, the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over heaven and earth.

The heart of the Jewish message: “Maintain the status quo with us in charge.” The heart of Jesus’ message: Love God and others (Matthew 22:37-39); lay down your own life to serve others (Matthew 20:28).

Radical love. Radical service.

What does that mean to you today? I’m on a retreat with a group of lovely and strong-minded people. Many opportunities to recognize ways I’m more like the Jewish leaders than like Jesus, and to realize how generous Jesus’ love is (even for me!). Opportunities to grow!

Turn toward, not away

But Jesus predicts hardship

Matthew 24:7-14, 20, 25 Nation will go to war against nation … There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. … See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

One reason Karis cites in her journals for wanting her story told is the prevalence in some places of a “health and wealth gospel,” the idea that if you have “enough” faith, God will make you prosperous and free of suffering. A message Jesus neither modeled nor taught. Karis reacted passionately against the implied judgment of this belief on many of her friends who were neither healthy nor wealthy but lived their lives of hardship in deep faith and joy in God’s love for them, measured not in gifts of the world but in gifts of the heart.

Karis’s journals, written over twenty years in her tiny script

One time when Karis was hospitalized as a teenager, suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea and dehydration that led to several months on TPN (nutrition through her blood stream), “chained,” as she said, to an IV pump, a woman we didn’t know showed up in her hospital room. The woman told me she had crossed Brazil by bus to deliver a message from God to Karis. She then turned to Karis, who was too weak at the time to stand, and demanded she confess her sins of unbelief, get out of that bed, and live the triumphant life of faith. “You are a disgrace to the Gospel and to God,” she shouted at Karis. “Shame on you! Shame on your family, pretending to be ministers of the Lord. Look at you, wasting resources on hospitals and machines and medicines. Unbelievers! This money should go to the churches!”

She walked over to Karis and yanked her arm. “Down on your knees now, you hypocritical sinner! Confess your unbelief! Then stand up and walk and end this charade!”

By then, of course, I was loosening the woman’s grip on Karis and escorting her to the door. “I have been obedient! I have delivered God’s message! The rest is up to you!” She was still shouting as I closed the door and ran to Karis, who heaved with sobs.

Later, when she was stronger, Karis spoke to me about the woman’s visit, with an intensity I had not seen in her before. “Mama,” she said, “that woman blasphemed my Lord. I can’t bear it.” She began crying again. “It’s not what she said about me—I can handle that. I know I need to grow in faith, especially in faith to trust him when I’m weak and in pain. It’s what she said about who God is, as if he hasn’t walked with me and loved me and comforted me and provided for me with such gentle tenderness all my life. As if his words to me every day—words of love and encouragement—are not true. That hurt me to my core. Mama, please don’t let such a thing happen again. I can’t bear it. It’s like a sword piercing my heart.”

Then her smile broke out. “Maybe that woman doesn’t know about the thousands of people praying for me around the world. They can’t all be as deficient in faith as us, right?” She giggled. “Well, I’m in cahoots with God. From now on, I’m going to pray for God to heal whatever has wounded her. I’m going to pray she can know how extravagantly her Father loves her.”

Perhaps in Heaven Karis has been privileged to know the result of her prayers for this woman whose name we never learned. Lord, if she’s still alive, please care for her.

Reading Matthew 24—which sounds all too sadly familiar, doesn’t it?—this is what caught my attention. “Many will turn away from me … and the love of many will grow cold.”

Love God and love each other (John 13:34-35). Isn’t that Jesus’ central message? A direct contrast to “betray and hate each other.”

When we turn toward Jesus, our love for him and for people grows. When we turn away from Jesus, the natural consequence is hatred and slander.

Let’s turn toward Jesus. Whatever the circumstances of our lives.

The crack is how the light gets in

But God loved the world 

John 3:16-17 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son … God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

James 1:16 Every good and perfect gift comes down to us from God our Father.

When I was in high school and in awe (I still am) of my later to become sister-in-law Elaine, we had a (for me) eye-opening discussion of John 3:16-21. I was steeped in judgment—my parents judged me, my school judged me, I judged myself—always as inadequate and unworthy of love. I naturally believed God viewed me the same way. I had no concept of him as a loving Father.

Elaine showed me in these verses and John 5:24 that people’s natural state was judgment, but God had done everything necessary to change that. All we had to do to pass from death to life (John 5:24) was to accept God’s love through Jesus’ life and sacrifice in our place.

Sometimes I forget and continue to judge and condemn myself. This Advent, I’m asking God to take me to a new level of understanding of his love for me as my Father NOT based on my performance. I’m trying to listen more to his words of love and less to my own inner critic.

What about you? What do you long for from your Father in this season of gift-giving?

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in        Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

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But the Holy Spirit gives us love for others

Romans 15:30 Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 13:8 Pay everything you owe. But you can never pay back all the love you owe one another (NIRV).

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love.

Last week I had the opportunity to share about Karis’s experience with a group of chaplains. It brought back to me the incredible grace, friendship and love we received from people who “joined in our struggle” over the thirty years of her life. Perhaps you are one of them. Thank you. How could we have survived without you?

Two of Karis’s precious friends, who stuck with her through thick and thin (photo near the end of her life)

As we consider our reasons for thankfulness this week, I also think of you who read and interact with this blog. Your comments and appreciation encourage me to continue, but I’m going to make a change. As an attempt at greater “searchability,” the posted title will reflect the content. “But God …” will still be the theme, but it will appear in the post itself. Feedback to this change is welcome!

One thing that will not change is my desire to post YOUR story of how God has intervened in your life. I would love, love, love for you to write and share your experience with God, to encourage other people and give him credit.

Today’s post is the last one in “ordinary time” of the church calendar, since I’ll be engaged with my gathered family on Thursday, and Nov. 28 is the first Sunday in Advent. Here and there I’ve seen references to people feeling anxious about gathering with their families this holiday season, fearing conflicts over political issues.

I find it encouraging that in this, Paul’s last reference to the Holy Spirit in the book of Romans, Paul shows us the beautiful fruit the Holy Spirit desires to grow in us, the fruit of love. We can ask the Holy Spirit to grow love in us, to increase our desire for harmony with those most important to us, our own families.

We have so much to share and to be grateful for—let’s not allow it to be sabotaged by politics! Instead, let’s listen to each other. Covid has increased many people’s feelings of loneliness, possibly people among our own families and friends.

And if you’d like a great (and entertaining) sermon about preparing our hearts for the holidays, I recommend Alex Banfield Hicks’ sermon yesterday (if it’s not up yet, it will be soon)!

Happy Thanksgiving.

But God honors those who seek truth

Acts 17:10-11 [Jealous Jewish leaders incited a riot against Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, arresting Jason for hosting them.] That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea [19 miles away]. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. The people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.

Someone anonymously sent Dave and me, through our mission address, a typed set of Scriptures often used to motivate defense of the unborn. I love those verses and have used them myself not only in favor of babies in the womb but for others who can’t speak for themselves.

I’ve used them when I speak about the vision God gave our friend Janet of Michael Derek, our fourth child whom we lost to miscarriage. (That story is in chapter 20 of Karis: All I See Is Grace.) A prior vision of Michael, shared with us at his memorial service in 1987, led us to believe his special task in Heaven is to care for the babies who arrive there due to elective abortion. I love thinking Karis assists him in that sacred work.

I’m both intrigued and puzzled about what led someone to send us those Scriptures in the way they did. I would love to know! I would love for that person to share with us whatever concerns are behind their decision to communicate—what exactly?—in that way. Especially if they think we are at fault and need correction. Even more if we have offended them. Jesus teaches us, If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense (Mt 18:15). I invite you, if you’re reading this, to ‘fess up so we can talk, and learn, and grow. Let’s live in the light and have fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7). Let’s speak truth in love (Eph 4:15).

Truth. How easily it gets skewed, and muddied, and misrepresented, and misunderstood. And put into rigid boxes along with things that aren’t true or right or godly. More than ever, we must be people like the Bereans, with open minds to truth, if we are to impact our generation for our Lord.

Sometimes, I’ve found, truth dresses itself differently than we expect. And we have reason to mistrust “truth” when it is dressed in bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander, and other wrong behavior (Eph 4:31-32). Instead, Paul says, Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Truth. It matters.

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But God show us his secrets

1 Corinthians 2:7-12 The wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our Glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit shows us God’s deep secrets…so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

In the 1950s or 1960s, if you climbed into a Jeep or Carryall and drove for hours over rutted, one-track muddy roads over two ranges of mountains and then down into a verdant valley and wound through a Mayan village with dogs and half-naked children chasing after your vehicle–one of only two in that village–you would reach a small adobe house which by local standards was a mansion.

A view of the valley last time I was there (2008), the village now a small city

Inside that house, on a designated evening before Christmas, the children were put to bed early in the single bedroom which cradled them all. Under the narrow door into the living room a sliver of light shone, and mysterious sounds tantalized the children’s imaginations. For their father had rolled into the living room from its resting place in the garage the Christmas barrel, that round bastion of steel opened only once each year, on this night. Who knew what treasures were hidden inside?

Every child’s ear strained to detect some clue to what wonders were being wrapped on the other side of that door. Sure enough, gifts nested beneath the Christmas tree when they awoke, two for each child. They knew one would be something practical: socks, or underwear. But the other could be anything—a toy, a game, a puzzle—selected from the barrel especially for him or her. Those gifts were shaken, prodded, examined from all angles. The tension of anticipation grew with each day until finally, on Christmas morning, with a fire roaring in the fireplace (the only time each year Dad kindled it in the daytime), the secrets were revealed, one by one, in order of age of the four—then five, six, seven, eight children.

I can still feel the tingle of wonder at receiving something brand new, chosen just for me. My name on the package. Gifts selected (or donated to our family) years ahead of time, loaded onto the trailer we pulled behind our vehicle from Illinois or Kansas, through the agony of customs at the Mexican border, all those long sweaty miles south through Mexico and over the mountains into that Mayan village, finally to be sealed into the waterproof Christmas barrel to await their wondrous revelation.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. … For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? (v. 16)

Because of Easter, we can know. His secrets are all about love.