…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh…  II Corinthians 12:7


Have you ever felt plagued by a “thorn in the flesh?”  Paul refers to his thorn as a messenger of Satan.  Scholars debate as to whether the thorn was a physical affliction or a difficult person.  Whatever it was, apparently it was enough of a bother that Paul asked God three times to remove it.

I’ve been fascinated to discover that so many people whom I consider real giants have “thorns” of one kind or another.  As a young person, I was sometimes intimidated in the presence of those giants, thinking them so far superior with super-hero powers and X-ray vision.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that we all tend to have “thorns,” brokenness, and areas of imperfection where God is still working and where we still need him.

Look at what God says to Paul in this passage.  Paul has desperately prayed for divine intervention, and God has refused.  He tells Paul that this thorn is for his good.  Paul has been so blessed with divine revelation that his thorn is needed to keep him balanced and free of pride.  Even so, Paul isn’t above spouting off his spiritual credentials (Phil. 3) or reminding the soldiers and sailors during the storm at sea that I told you so (Acts 23).

God told Paul that his thorn was sent to keep him dependent on his Lord and move him away from spiritual arrogance.  His inadequacy and weakness, his desperation, would cause him to cry out to God for the grace that only God could provide.  God’s grace would prove to be sufficient and his power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness.  Paul’s response?   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (II Cor. 12:9).

Can we see that these thorns are intentionally placed in our lives to create desperate dependence on a Father who is waiting to lavish grace upon us and to draw us even closer in our loving relationship with him?  Can we thank him for the thorns?  Everything God provides is given to grow us and to bring him glory.  Accept the thorns, let them be covered with grace, and allow God to weave something beautiful from them.


Father, we fear and dislike distress and any sort of suffering.  Give us your eyes to see that you have a purpose in all things.  Even the little oyster produces beauty by  embracing the irritant in its life.  Give us that kind of grace.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.  Matthew 18:21, 22  (KJV)

I don’t know about you, but injustice is the most difficult thing for me to forgive–when someone thoughtlessly (or with premeditation) harms someone else, and the injury isn’t deserved.  There seems to be a lot of injustice going around the world just now, so much so that we are all affected.

How is it possible to ever forgive the perpetrators of all the griefs that they inflict?  I absolutely cannot, but Jesus can.  I tend to look at the suffering through the lens of my own humanity.  I could never…  I would never… do so and so… forgetting that I’m already identified with all those who like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6), and that all my goodness is nothing better than dirty, filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

One of my favorite bishops says that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.  Unforgiveness gnaws away at us, diminishes our quality of life, makes us bitter, and eventually destroys us.  The spiritual cost is huge.  Jesus said, Father, “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  (Matthew 6:12 LB)  If God forgives us in proportion and in the same way as we forgive others, we could be in a lot of trouble.

So, how do we pull this off?  We do it by an act of the will.  Forgiveness is not an emotion.  It’s a behavior.  Jesus told us we would be obedient if we love him (John 14:15).  When Peter impulsively suggested that one should perhaps forgive an offense up to seven times, Jesus shocked him by saying seventy times seven.  That’s 490 times of forgiving just one offending person.

If we love Jesus, we will forgive – just as he has forgiven us.  We will decide to forgive based on Jesus’ words, not on the repentance of the other person or on his worthiness, and we find God’s grace in us empowers us to forgive.  I once heard Archbishop Tutu say that we are obligated to forgive, but the one being forgiven cannot receive forgiveness until he has repented.  It’s really not up to us to hang on to our grievances.  Jesus didn’t with us, thank God.

Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…  Ephesians 2:19

My doctor is retiring.  I saw him this week for the last time professionally, and it was a bittersweet time for me.  Dr. B saved my life.

Many years ago when I was teaching and working on a graduate degree, I had to leave school one day because of intense back ache.  Back pain was nothing new to me; I was born with a mild case of spina bifida, which tended to affect many of my activities and complicate ordinary illnesses.

My mother gathered my two children and me to stay with her and my dad until this latest episode passed.  I took the pills that were my standby, but the pain increased.  After a few weeks, I was pretty much bedfast.  And then came tingling in my legs with visual and hearing impairment.

My doctor decided to hospitalize me for tests.  Batteries were run, and I tried to describe my symptoms to a noted neurologist.  Later, he called my mom to see if I was mentally stable.  When nothing of significance showed up, I was released—with intense back pain, tingling, visual and hearing impairment, and headaches.

We were praying in earnest for healing and diagnosis of the malady that for me was much more than mental instability.  All along Pastor Schwanenberg and Gloria had been visiting and praying with me.  One day they that said Dr. B, a church member, was interested in my case and wondered if my family would like him to give another opinion.  Without hesitation, we accepted his offer.

I was hospitalized again, and more tests were run.  Between tests church friends were visiting and cheering me on.  My friend, Linda, brought me a book and was with me when I received a call from my insurance agent.  I was waiting to see if coverage extended to the multiple tests and hospital stay.  I thanked my agent for calling, but somehow, without my saying a word, Linda left knowing my congenital malformation had exempted the company from covering conditions related to the back.

The next day or so, Dr. B came in with a smile.  He said they’d determined the problem; it was pernicious anemia, so called because before it was learned that vitamin B-12 injections could treat the anemia, most people who developed the disease died from it.  He began frequent injections of B-12 and within a day I was walking, and my symptoms were decreasing.

When I was released from hospital care, Papa came to pick me up.  He entered my hospital room with a smile and an envelope.  He always loved to joke, and he kept me in suspense about the contents.  Finally, Papa told me that when Linda had left the hospital, she went straight to Pastor Schwanenberg telling him about my insurance dilemma and wondering what the church could do.  By the time I was ready for release, my dad had in hand an envelope from my church with a check to pay all the hospital expenses.

Within a few days I was back at home and then back to work.  I called Dr. B’s office to see about paying his bill, which I suspected would be quite large.  Instead, the bookkeeper told me that the doctor had written it off in its entirety.  I’m not sure they make doctors like Dr. B anymore, but I am grateful that God brought this one and all those saints into my life.


Loving Father, thank you for the Church, your Body, and all the saints who bless us in so many ways.  Help me to love in deed just as I’ve been loved.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  John 13:34 NIV


Love is more than sentiment.  At its best, it’s an action verb.  Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages lists ways of showing love:  affirming, touching, giving, serving, and spending time with the beloved.  One can love without all the fuzzy emotions we sometimes equate with romantic love by simply doing those things that build up that other person and letting him or her know that he or she is special, is cared for, is thought about.


Cheerleading, forming your own one-person fan club, is a potent way of demonstrating love.  Think of all the ways we can build each other up (I Thess. 5:11) once we get out of ourselves.  And think of all the people who desperately need love.  We can praise, compliment, encourage, pray with and for, be available, do random acts of kindness, demonstrate thoughtfulness, and on and on.


But we have to move beyond our intense concern for ourselves.  I’ve discovered that the more I become aware and sensitive to the needs of others, the more obscure my own issues become.  The more I embrace others, the more joy and freedom I experience in my own life.  The more transparent I become in loving others, the more reciprocal the relationship becomes.  And healing can even take place when love flows.


Think of the transformations in which we might participate if we chose to forget about ourselves and become more interconnected to others.  Of all the unfortunate people imaginable, Job tops the list.  Having lost everything (but his critical wife) and being surrounded by unfeeling friends who only compounded his misery, we’re told that after Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes (Job 42:10) …  When Job moved beyond his own suffering to see the vacuum in his friends, he was able to pray, and God responded by working in Job’s life.


William Carey, the “father” of modern missions (18th Century) faithfully worked, carrying the Gospel to India and translating the Bible into many Indian dialects.  Many people know of Carey, but few know of his sister who was bedridden and unable to use her limbs for about 52 years.  Every day, Carey’s sister prayed for him and maintained a vibrant correspondence by writing with a pencil in her mouth.  Such was her love for her brother.


Who can we actively love today?  How can we sacrificially give our time to affirm someone?  How can we, through God’s love, leave our own cares and be cheerleaders for someone else?   The biggest cost is our own self-interest, but that begins to diminish as we get into the big world of GOD’S LOVE.  Find somebody to love.


Father, show me who needs my love and give me creative ideas for encouraging, affirming, building up, and healing.  I want to be your cheerleader.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Ephesians 3:20  (NLT)


Only those who were truly intimate knew the difficult circumstances of Ms. Edith’s marriage.  Her husband was demanding, often unreasonable, and extremely careful about money.  The grace-filled life that people saw from the outside was almost entirely due to Ms. Edith’s interior life.


She said she’d given her heart to Jesus when she was a little girl of five, and she had never taken it back.  He was her best Friend, and she learned to utilize difficulties as vehicles for spiritual growth.  The very discomforts that could have crushed a soul were transformed instead into parables for the many who sought her counsel and who turned to her for comfort in their own trials.


There was a grief, however, that burdened Ms. Edith for years:  She anguished at Christmas or birthdays or occasions for giving gifts.  The budget imposed on Ms. Edith didn’t permit her generous soul to give as she would have liked.


After years of agonizing over this seemingly impossible constraint, Ms. Edith did what she did so well.  She prayed.  She asked God somehow to allow her to give abundantly from her heart.  And then the idea came.  Ms. Edith thought of all the fabric scraps she had from years of sewing, and she began experimenting with making appliquéd pictures.  At first they were simple, but as her confidence grew, and her imagination was given free rein, her pictures became works of art.


Cleverly, Ms. Edith invited her husband to craft frames for her creations, and together their artistry became known and highly desired in their community.  Friends and family were all hopeful they would be among those receiving a Ms. Edith picture.  As her skills grew, Ms. Edith was invited to teach in a local specialty shop, and her pieces soon were bringing in fees that she could not have imagined.


The limitation that had initially brought so much grief to Ms. Edith was embraced and became the incentive for reaching inside to allow the inner beauty to be expressed through her fingers.  While few people knew the pain that had been the impetus of her gift, everyone delighted in the joy that she had wrung from her sorrow.


Loving Father, thank you for transforming sorrow and pain and suffering into things of beauty as we trust you to grace and fill and use us for your dear purposes.  May we, like the oyster, learn to embrace the irritants that they might become objects of beauty to your glory.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Evil again rocked our world as brothers and sisters across the ocean were enjoying an evening of enjoyment with family or friends. Who could have anticipated the horror that would impose itself and claim so many innocent lives?

Some of us have friends in Paris—our pastor and his wife are there celebrating their fortieth anniversary—while some feel an attachment through our centuries as allies. Certainly, we have all been touched by the gifts and joie de vivre that are paramount to French culture.

And so we mourn with those who mourn. A famous preacher of another day, John Donne, said so eloquently, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We are not distanced nor isolated from our French neighbors. We grieve with those who have lost loved ones, and we pray for those who are now companied by fear. We have walked in their shoes and understand their suffering.

We are called to be comforters. We are called to intercede—not only for the French but also for the perpetrators. May God have mercy.

Heavenly Father, you are our only hope. We ask that you would comfort and strengthen those who mourn, give guidance to those who lead, bring salvation to those who do not know you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


…by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Hebrews 5:12 (NIV)

I was somewhat amused as I saw the teacher remonstrating in the hall with her fourth-grade student. Apparently, his boyish behavior had not been deemed appropriate, and she had pulled him out of class. I chuckled as she told the young miscreant to “GROW UP.” (At nine years old, how grown up could he be?)

But just recently when I inquired about the absence of registered attendees for a Christian conference, I was not at all amused to learn that several folks had refused to come when they learned that certain other people would be there. That’s when I wanted to say, “GROW UP.”

In the Hebrews passage mentioned above, the writer says that Jesus, our High Priest, learned obedience by the things he suffered. He wasn’t exempted from hardships or pain or people he didn’t like because he was God’s Son. In fact, it was exactly those things that made him the perfect High Priest who is able to empathize with all our circumstances because he has been tempted just as we are—and without sinning (Hebrews 4:15) or failing out of weakness or self-indulgence or immaturity.

If we can only view those things that make us uncomfortable as opportunities to allow God’s grace to flow through us instead of running from them because we don’t like this or that, how quickly we would move forward in spiritual maturity. So what I’m really trying to say here is, “GROW UP.” (And I’m looking in the mirror.)

Father, your patience is staggering. Thank you for giving us second and third and more chances to become what you want us to be. Help us to more and more deny ourselves so that more of Jesus lives through us. AMEN.


And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath…” Deuteronomy 28:13 (KJV)

A friend asked someone, “How are you doing?” to which she responded, “Fine, under the circumstances.” At that point my friend said, “A Christian has no business being under the circumstances. In Christ we live above the circumstances.”

Often we can’t change our circumstances or our schedules or our budgets or the people in our lives, but we can allow ourselves to be changed so that in everything we live at peace and become more than conquerors. When Joseph was taken into slavery, for a long time it appeared that he was beneath, the tail. But you can’t keep a good man down. Joseph was a “goodly person,” excelled in his work, and kept his ear opened to God.

Even when falsely accused and forgotten, Joseph stayed above the circumstances. From a young, naïve, boastful boy, Joseph allowed God to use the circumstances to make him into a trusted employee, an honorable man, a wise manager, and an interpreter of dreams. Who would’ve thought? In God’s time and with his molding, Joseph was given a position that his spirit already occupied.

Naturally, Joseph’s brothers were frightened when they discovered him alive in Egypt. Not only was Joseph alive, but he was Pharaoh’s right-hand man. How they must have feared retribution when their father died, but all along Joseph understood that the circumstances had been God’s unique opportunity to raise him from the tail to the head for his purpose and greater glory.

Father, help us to grow up so that we begin to discern our circumstances as opportunities for you to do marvelous things. Help us to get over whining and complaining so that we become instruments of your glorious working, fully engaged with the process. AMEN.


[They returned,] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14: 21, 22

Thanks to those of you who prayed for me and my team on our mission to Uganda. Every connection, every meeting, every session was touched by grace. As are the people of Uganda…

Uganda is a place filled with stories, having had more than its share of violence and sorrow. One of our Ugandan teammates shared his tale of being randomly arrested by Idi Amin’s soldiers along with some of his college friends. Joseph and his buddies were rounded up and taken to a military enclosure in Kampala, the capitol. They endured humiliation when they were told to close their eyes and lie face down and then ordered to roll around in the mud for the entertainment of their tormentors. Suddenly, shots rang out, and Joseph felt the spatter of warm blood from his friend’s body, but he dared not open his eyes.

Eventually, the soldiers lost interest in this sadistic activity and then prodded the young men to crawl on hands and knees over the muddy, rough surface of the military compound. For hours Joseph and his friends crawled until their hands and knees were raw flesh while the soldiers mocked and laughed. When Amin’s men finally had their fill, the students were pushed through the gate and told to leave, as unexpectedly as their apprehension.

Had the young men been afraid? Had they felt hatred for their oppressors? Joseph told us that he was traumatized after this (and other) incidents during the reign of the mad man Amin. And he and his fellow Ugandans had even more atrocities to endure at the hands of other despots. But instead of becoming embittered, Joseph determined to grow through these experiences and became an attorney involved in advocacy, human rights issues, and a champion of families and economic development for his country. He and so many other amazing Ugandans have taken the things that would have destroyed them and turned them into a culture for helping others.

The stories are unending just as suffering and violence around our world are unending. Let us pray for those who daily experience the pain of oppressive governments, famine, disease, and afflictions even as we give thanks for God’s mercy.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Joseph’s strong witness of your faithfulness and love. We pray for all those suffering around the world from oppression and violence. May your peace and protection be given and may we be faithful in our prayers and our support. In Christ’s name I pray. AMEN.