Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once talked about two kinds of faith, the “if” faith and the “though” faith. The “if” faith says “If God blesses me, I’m prosperous and healthy and happy, then I’ll trust God.”
“Though” faith is different:
Though things go wrong, though evil is temporarily triumphant, though sickness comes and the Cross looms, nevertheless I’m going to believe anyway and I’m going to have faith anyway.. Though the waters doth roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Martin Luther King Jr.
In the Old Testament, Job looked around and saw that everything had been stripped away from him. He couldn’t see the big picture. He just saw the losses stack up. Even his wife advised him to “Curse God and die.” Job’s response was “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15a).
So what kind of faith do you and I have? Can we say we have a “though” faith?
Though hate and violence rear their ugly heads in my country
Though all collapses around me
Though I get lonely and desperately want face to face people connections
Though people I love are experiencing grave difficulties
Though I lose loved ones to COVID-19
Though I fear for much of what is happening in our country.
Oh, we will grieve. We may be lonely. We may be fearful or depressed. But we still have a choice. Will we choose to trust God despite those circumstances, and as we work our way through them? Or will our faith collapse under the weight of the pressure?
This is Pentecost Sunday, the day commemorating the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ earliest followers. The Holy Spirit is referred to as Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Counselor. He is still with us. Let us trust him to help in our times of need, to give us strength to hold on, to share His love with those around us, and to trust that God is holding us when we feel we have no strength left with which to hold onto him.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
We still have His power working in us today to help us through these various challenges.
Psalm 31:14-15 tell us “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands...”
I have struggled with depression; I am grieved and angered by much of what occurs in our society; I don’t know what to expect next–do any of us? But I will choose to trust the One who holds my times in His faithful hands.
How do you hold a memorial service during a pandemic? This is a relevant question for many whose loved ones are dying either from or despite COVID-19.
My brothers and I brainstormed ideas of how we could grieve together as a family and honor our mother during this time of Shelter in Place. And we took a page from the playbooks of many churches. Through Zoom, we held a virtual memorial service for immediate family yesterday and hope to have a broader service or burial at some future date.
While we couldn’t hug, be in the same room, meet together as a family for a light meal before the service, or share stories with extended family and friends afterward, we did have a meaningful time.
I was just one part of the service, which we recorded. But here’s what I said about my beloved Mother.
After Mom’s death I found an index card in her room on which Mom had written some of her favorite verses. The scriptures I share here were among those favorites.
Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Mom lived her faith. I think of that aria we just heard her sing (“I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”) as her signature song. While she had questions and doubts at times, she loved Jesus with all her heart. She spent a lot of time reading His love letter to her, and talking with him in prayer. She beamed when she spoke about her Lord. And often when I shared a concern with her, she said, “Let’s pray about it.”
Mom encouraged others. Many of the cards she received over the years talk about her thoughtful notes, phone calls, visits. She prayed faithfully for each of her family members. And she and Dad were hospitable from as far back as I can remember. When we were still in Winnipeg they hosted parties for nurses and grad students. My little girl eyes loved to peek out of my room to see the pretty young women, all dressed up, and their handsome boyfriends.
Because Mom treasured her relationship with Jesus, she wanted others to know Him too. She and Dad worked in Bible clubs, street meetings (Mom sang and played the accordion and Dad preached), and Sunday school. The longevity of her impact is reflected by her decades-long relationship with Sylvia Sigurdson, who was a child in Winnipegosis, Canada when Mom led her to Christ. Sylvia has kept in touch with Mom these 70-odd years.
And when as a teen I doubted my salvation, Mom listened to my fears and gave me John 6:37: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” I began to rely on Jesus’ work and Word rather than on my feelings for my assurance of salvation.
Isaiah 41:10 was another favorite:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Five years ago, Mom wrote this:
“Before God revealed himself to me I was … a young girl (7 or 8). I did not have conviction of sin. Now I am … a mature, 93-year old woman who has been a Christian for 85 years. As I study God’s Word, it becomes dearer to me! I love the verses in Isaiah 41 and others that state that God chose me even before I was born! He loves me – so precious to me!”
Zephaniah 3:17 concludes:
“The Lord your God … will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Music was a vital part of Mom’s life. Hymns were a significant way God spoke to her. When I broke off an engagement eons ago, she and Dad worried about me. She wakened one morning with a song that reminded her to trust God that all would be well, and her heart was at peace.
Mom sang to us a lot as children: not only hymns, but classical songs and “Auf dem Baum ein Kuckuke sass” (the cuckoo song) which Mel, and perhaps Arnold, have sung to their children and grandchildren.
On October 25, 2012 Mom wrote:
“Today it’s 10 years since John left this earth. I have shed tears this morning and I hurt. I have the assurance of Jesus holding me fast, assurance of reunion, that John is in heaven, happy. Am so thankful for that! For over 90 years Jesus has kept, protected, loved, guided, forgiven me! He will keep doing that and I’m grateful for all his promises!”
After Dad died, and again after Jerry died, Mom and I took several out of town overnighters –to Napa, Sonoma, Winnipeg – even the Ukraine where Dad was born. Whenever we had relaxed, extended times together, whether for several hours or a couple of days, we had wonderful, deep conversations about life, love, faith, family. Oh how she loved her family!
And when Don and I started dating, and Mom had a good male friend, we double dated several times. Now that was both fun and interesting!
Mom always felt she was too serious. She wished she laughed more easily, was more fun. In these last months and years life became more difficult, communication more challenging because of her hearing and memory. But on occasion her chuckle reached her eyes so they twinkled. It was at those moments that I thought “There’s my Mom.”
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
Mom longed to go home to Jesus, and to see Dad again. She was not only ready, but eager to go. And on April 4th, her prayer was answered.
I love you and miss you Mom. See you soon!
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!
Should you wish to access the one hour memorial service online at your own convenience, please let me know and I will share the link with you.
2019 has been a year of contrasts, from the horrific fires and losses in California to the joy of seeing massive, snow-bathed peaks of the Canadian Rockies. From turmoil within our government, from persecution of people of faith around the world, to the joy of family love and care.
We’ve experienced the joys of first birthdays of a great grandson and a grandnephew, graduations, visits with family and friends.
We’ve experienced loss and concern for loved ones. My ninety-year old aunt fell and is in hospital in Canada–how I wish I could visit her! And I just got a message that my sister-in-law passed away.
We’ve visited family and friends across the country and traveled through the Canadian Rockies, built part of a school in Mexico, worked with third grade children in Kids’ Club, and enjoyed relaxation at the beach. I delighted in a girlfriends’ weekend as well as a meaningful reunion with women I hadn’t seen in 38 years.
We’ve had the privilege of having Mom with us for another Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite her significant loss of hearing and reduced mobility.
I’ve struggled with weight, losing, then regaining some (not all, thankfully!). My Don has remained strong and healthy although he tires more easily than before.
Through it all, God has been faithful to His promise never to leave nor forsake us; and to give us the hope of heaven, as well as a future while we are still on this earth.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
He has promised to finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6) and so, even when I stumble or fall, I am grateful for this assurance. I am His, now and for eternity.
I’m grateful for you who read and encourage me in my musings, for the privilege of writing, for the research that makes me more and more thankful for God’s faithfulness to my family through several generations as my grandfather took his family, including my father, out of the Ukraine at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was 1929, and about 15,000 Mennonites (conscientious objectors and people of faith, both anathema to the Communist machine) waited in Moscow, praying for exit visas to leave the country and retain their freedom of conscience. Of those, about 5,000, including Dad’s family, were granted visas. The rest? Sent back to their villages, executed, sent to labor camps in Siberia, families broken and separated, never to hear from or see each other again in this life.
So my wish for you is a healthy, meaningful, productive year in 2020, one in which you enjoy and rely on the promises of God; and that you and I will both deepen our walk with Him.
“… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Don and I went out of town for two days this weekend, and I had arranged for a local woman to dog-sit here at the house. However, I had left several phone messages in the past three days and hadn’t received a call back. It was noon on the day before we were to leave.
I needed to find an alternative. I called another woman who did a great job taking care of Paige for a day recently. Thankfully, she was available and delighted to have our little girl overnight. I’m thankful my alternate was available and willing!
But when Jesus came to earth, the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, God provided one way to know Him. He didn’t say, “My Son gave his life for you. Grace is freely available, along with all the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life — but if you want to find me in another way — by being as good as you can, acting loving to those around you, being philanthropic, or following some other religious teacher, that’s ok. Alternatives are good.”
Instead, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). He is the only way to the Father, God, and a relationship with Him is freely available to all who receive it. While I might try my best to live a righteous life, I’ll never meet God’s standard of holiness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to take the punishment I deserve for sin– whether that’s murder or lying or cheating or holding onto selfishness or thinking I’m better than others –on Himself and in its place, give me His righteousness, His substitutionary atonement for my sin.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17, ESV
So this Christmas, think about whether you are trying to know God by an alternate route, or by the means He provided through His Son, Jesus.
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Music has always touched my spirit. When I was a child, my mother, a soprano soloist and voice teacher, taught each of us children harmonies. My oldest brother, Melvyn, learned bass; Arnold, tenor; me, alto; and Mom sang soprano. We sang our way across the country several times.
Dad enjoyed listening. And wherever I was in the world, I knew that at Christmas Mom would be soloing on Handel’s “Messiah”; and at Easter she would sing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”
At times Arnold and I sang duets together as children. As adults, we periodically sang in trios or quartets. Music has always been a significant part of our lives. To this day, I may listen and learn through a sermon, but be emotionally touched by a song. Tears came to my eyes Sunday morning as we sang about Jesus’ coming to earth.
So you can imagine my delight as Don and I attended two musical events Saturday–the first, “Expectations,” written by Trent Smith, worship pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, our former church. It tells a contemporary version of a young woman and man, Mary and Joe, to whom an angel appeared and gave the good news that through Mary, a virgin, a Child would be born of the Holy Spirit, who would save His people from their sins. What a promise! And what a message to take in as an unmarried, righteous young woman. Would others scoff at her pregnancy and story of an angel’s visit? In faith she responded. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.'” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38)
Then at Mount Hermon, we enjoyed a Christmas concert by the Foto Sisters. These three lovely 20-something women are incredibly gifted. Along with lovely singing voices, they play the piano, viola, violin, and cello. More important, they are committed to Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh …. born of Mary, a Hebrew woman. That’s significant: Jewish heredity is tracked through the woman, giving Jesus both his humanity and title to the messianic throne as a descendant of King David. And He was conceived by God through the Holy Spirit, giving Him a sinless, holy nature — fully God, fully man.
I hope you’re enjoying the sounds of the season, and especially those that speak of the Messiah. Don and I were recently in a restaurant whose background Christmas music included some songs that were clearly Christian. We were thrilled to hear God’s truth being quietly broadcast in this venue.
So, to encourage you this Christmas season, I’ve attached a link to a youtube video of the Foto sisters singing “The Shepherd Knows Your Name”. May it touch your spirit and heart as you focus on what Jesus did for us by becoming a tiny baby, growing up to die and then come back to life, conquering death and granting us the incredible privilege of knowing God through Christ.
May your spirit be blessed this Christmas, knowing the Shepherd knows your name.