All praise

But God names us his heirs

1 Peter 1:3-5 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

Psalm 16:5 Lord, you alone are my inheritance.

Sometimes I catch myself so looking forward to seeing Karis again and meeting our son Michael in Heaven that I have to ask myself, “Am I more excited about seeing Karis and Michael than you, Lord?”

He responds, “Don’t worry. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and! Forever!” I’m quite sure the glory of the Lord will be so overwhelming there will be no chance of lesser loves usurping his place.

Indeed, all praise belongs to him. Look at all Peter includes in these few lines as reasons for our praise. Great three-point sermon, Peter!

We have been born again. The Greek word is anagennao. It means a change from one state of being to another. It’s the word Jesus used in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 to describe spiritual rebirth. Peter uses it again twenty verses later: For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word (logos) of God (see John 1:1-5).

Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Bodily resurrection to life after having been dead (anastasis) is God’s promise to us as well. Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Bloom #6 of Dan and April’s wedding orchid’s rebirth delighted us on Karis’s birthday yesterday.

We live with great expectation. Indeed! Elpis means hope, looking forward to something with confident expectation. As each day speeds by and I see old age on the horizon (still very distant, of course), this is huge reason for praise. Our spiritual salvation—what we experience now—will one day express itself in new bodies that neither sicken nor sorrow nor age nor die.

We have a priceless inheritance. Here on earth, our bodies “keep the score” of the abuses and traumas we suffer. In Heaven, our new bodies will register the delight of unspoiled LIFE, beyond the reach of change and decay. Won’t it be fun to see the people who have gone before us as their true selves, healed from what they suffered—and inflicted on others—here on earth?!

It’s (almost) enough to be happy about growing older, if that’s what it takes to receive our inheritance.

All praise to God!

As I’ve written this post, a dear friend sits with a close friend of hers in the sacred transition space between earth and Heaven. I thought I would post again on Monday, but to honor this moment, I’ll go ahead to post it today.

And the first bloom on the other stem popped open today. I’ll dedicate this one to my friend who stands on holy ground this morning.

Walk through this week with Jesus

But Jesus says, “You did it for me” by Ed Fox, from San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala

Matthew 25:34-40 Then the King will say, “Come … For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

As we walk with Jesus through Holy Week, we can experience once again the way he identifies with us in our own much smaller suffering. As so many people are pouring out resources to care for victims of the war in Ukraine and in other places of deep need, Jesus says they are doing it for him. But first, he poured out his life for us.

Ed Fox, a childhood friend from Guatemala, responded to the last post, “Turn toward not away,” illustrating this. Thank you for sharing with us, Eddie.

Antigua, Guatemala (home of my brother Steve and Elaine) Holy Week sawdust carpets GettyImages-505656257

“This story and lesson from Karis’s and your experiences has touched me to the core. So many of the thoughts she expressed to you and in her journals are similar to my own.

My own dad experienced terrible physical and emotional suffering and anguish. He turned towards Jesus and not away. Until the day he died, I asked God to put at least some of Dad’s suffering on me, in part so he might finish the tasks God had given him as a Bible translator. He and Mom did indeed finish shortly before he passed away, and I think of your dear parents, as well, and Mary and myself, as we stumble to the finish line.

About six months following Dad’s departure to Heaven, my own chronic sufferings began and have never ended. Many friends in Guatemala consider my physical (and perhaps emotional) suffering to be a result of my own sin and shortcomings. The “health and wealth” gospel is the main thing going in many of the new Guatemalan congregations, both Evangelical and Catholic. On top of that is the reticence in Mayan culture to make public any illness or trouble in one’s own life. That has fed the idea that it is shameful or an embarrassment when one must ask for prayer. Most troubles in this life are considered to be brought on by one’s own failings and shortcomings.

My suffering, though, has drawn me much closer to Jesus. I believe Jesus has chosen me to walk with Him in His and other people’s sufferings. In turn, I have chosen, as Dad and Karis did, to walk with Jesus and do my best to encourage others along the way.

We have a choice. We can choose to suffer and walk with Jesus, or we can choose to suffer and be bitter and angry. As you say, we choose to turn towards, not away. Although God has provided me with many small encouragements and victories along the way, He has chosen not to heal me completely. I’m usually okay with that after 22 years, but not always! Mary hears my complaints nearly every day of our lives, and so does God!

I want to leave you with a song that encourages me in my pain. Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Where do you go for refuge?

But God cannot lie  March 17, 2022

Hebrews 6:18-19 It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Jeremiah 17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

I love what this image communicates to me about resilience. I took it Monday beside our front steps.

The world is full of misinformation, and no one is smart enough or wise enough to figure it all out. So, I love this word from Hebrews. There is a place where we can relax and rest, a place to anchor our souls with confidence: God’s strong and loving heart. A place to anchor our resilience in the face of all the challenges we each face.

I want to share with you today the “But God” story of Lawrence Chewning. I don’t know him, but he’s made his story public through youtube.

And I think you’ll be encouraged with me by singing “We have an anchor” along with Loretta Adjetey from Ghana (“Lor” is her stage name). Priscilla Jane Owens, 1829-1907, wrote this song. I’ve been to Accra and have worshiped with and been blessed by the generous hospitality of Ghanaian people. Listening to Lor took me right back there. If you know any of their history, you’ll appreciate even more the beauty of this song in their context. It’s an amazing story of resilience.

A strong and comforting word

But God says to the Son, “You remain forever” March 6, 2022

Hebrews 1:10-12 God also says to the Son, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will fold them up like a cloak and discard them like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will live forever.”

This is a strong and comforting word for these days of chaos and fear and violence and tragedy and death in Ukraine and other places around planet Earth. No matter what happens, Jesus is the same. Everything else may change, but he does not. He still yearns over us with love. He still longs for us to experience abundant life. He still sustains our world by the mighty power of his command (v. 3). He still cleanses us from our sins and intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand (v. 3). He will still return to set everything right and rule with a scepter of justice (v. 8). He still hates evil (v. 9). He still pours out the oil of joy to the extent we can receive it.

A few days ago, a friend’s parents’ house burned. One day they woke up in peace and the next they woke up in a neighbor’s home, trying to make sense of what had happened to their world. Each of you can immediately think of examples in your own sphere of the fragility and unpredictability of life.

But God says, Jesus will remain forever, and he is always the same. We can anchor our souls to him.

Eternal God, unchanging, mysterious and unknown.
Your boundless love unfailing, in grace and mercy shown…

FYI: Our church is calling for a different type of fast each week of Lent. This week we are fasting from social media. So I’ll start catching up a week or so from now.

But the Holy Spirit’s power gives us confidence

Romans 15:1-5, 13 We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself … May God help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. … I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I was eleven and in the U.S. on furlough from Guatemala, our family visited my grandmother in Liberal, western Kansas. My sister Marsha and I slept on the floor of Grammy’s office. We noticed a row of boxes on the bottom shelf of her bookcase, the kind paper came in back then. Curious, we peeked inside one of them, and then the others. Each contained a neatly typed book manuscript. Every night after we were sent to bed, Marsha and I muffled our gasps and giggles over Grammy’s romantic novels, carefully keeping the pages and boxes in order. We loved her stories, even though we never ‘fessed up about our nocturnal invasion of her privacy.

Shutterstock: mpaniti

I have no idea what became of those works after Grammy died. No relatives I asked knew anything about them. I suspect whoever cleaned out her house simply through her delightful work away. How sad.

My proposal for Book One of the Cally and Charlie series, Horse Thief 1898 (see https://horsethief1898.blog) has been turned down by forty literary agents. Why? Because I don’t have an adequate platform. What does that mean? It means, for starters, I don’t have at least ten thousand followers on at least two social media platforms and on my blogs. It means I can’t guarantee selling ten thousand books myself, through speaking, writing, and book signing events, thus recouping the costs to a publisher of taking a chance on my books in a very crowded market.

Not confidence-producing, right? So, what do I do with my conviction that God wants me to write these books? Turns out, most writers I know believe that’s true for them as well. So it doesn’t mean much in the publishing industry, but it still means a lot to us.

I’ve cycled through many different ways to think and feel about this situation. About the countless hours I’ve invested in research and writing about Cally and Charlie. Oddly enough, since I’ve given up my quest for a literary agent, and plunged back into Book Two, Treasure Hunt 1904, I feel energized and hopeful again. I feel like I’m doing what God has gifted and directed me to do. I’m trusting God to show me a step at a time how to walk forward into self-publishing Horse Thief 1898 and subsequently Treasure Hunt and Facing the Faeries. We have so many more options available now than Grammy had in the 1950s and 60s.

The number of books being published these days is overwhelming. Even so, we writers keep on writing more. Like Eric Liddell, we can each say, “When I write, I feel God’s pleasure.” Though her work wasn’t known outside her small office, I suspect my Grammy felt the same way.

So I’m curious. In what ways does the Holy Spirit give you confidence and hope in the work he’s called you to do?

But God gives hope of freedom from death and decay

Romans 8:20-23 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.

In São Paulo, we lived a few blocks uphill from one of the city reservoirs, Represa Guarapiranga, a sizeable lake surrounded by grass and trees and flowers and birds. A flock of herons occupied an inlet; exotic pheasant-like birds whose name I don’t remember nested on the shore. Cows, horses and stray dogs wandered there (watch your step!). Neighborhood men and boys fished and played soccer, flew kites and maneuvered battery-powered miniature airplanes.

Hungry for green space in our industrial city of 22 million (our house had no yard), our family celebrated Easters with sunrise breakfasts at the represa and on clear nights sometimes glimpsed a few stars. We jogged there and picnicked, enjoying the gracious accent of sailboats and other craft.

Our neighbors were less sanguine about using the represa shoreline. Drugs were sold and smoked. Assaults and murders, kidnappings and rapes were too-often reported. Vagrants bathed and slept there. Soccer fields flooded during rainy season, while mosquitos thrived.

From our upstairs windows, the represa offered a soothing touch of nature amid the concrete and traffic. Such a lovely image—from a distance. Up close—hmm, not so much:

Sadly, I can’t find the photo I took of the Guarapiranga shoreline, but this gives you the idea. Shutterstock: Wipas Rojjanakard

My friend Loide, an architect who worked for the city, long nurtured a vision for our neighborhood shoreline. On a visit several years after Karis and I left São Paulo for Pittsburgh, I discovered Loide’s plans had been embraced and funded! Cultivated flora framed walking/jogging paths, exercise equipment, benches, and concrete tables with painted-on gameboards. The half-mile park hugging the shoreline of “our” represa was fenced, protected and maintained by a staff of guards and gardeners. Hundreds of people, from infants to elderly, now safely enjoyed the reclaimed space.

For me, Loide’s park, infusing hope in a setting of violence and violations, is an image of restoration—what Paul calls “a foretaste of future glory.”

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace.

But God said “Go”

Acts 9:1-5, 10-17 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers … As he approached Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting … The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision … “Go over to Straight Street … ask for a man named Saul. He is praying to me right now. “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers! … But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument … So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus … has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

I bet if I were to ask Saul (later called Paul) to tell me his God story, he would first tell me this one—in fact, Scripture records him doing so many times, to various audiences. So, what’s your God story?We delight God when we tell what he does for us. Your stories, like mine, might not be as dramatic as Saul’s, but that doesn’t matter. All stories are good ones when t tohey honor God.

So here’s my story: I grew up in a missionary family, but it wasn’t until I was six that I understood Jesus had died for me and prayed the prayer, inviting Jesus into my life. My sister Marsha told me to write the date in the front of my Bible, so I would always remember this important event.

That’s it! Not dramatic at all. But of course, that was only the beginning. Remember when I mentioned that I started talking to God all the time? That began on February 26, 1961. Young as I was, from then on, I knew God was with me. I believe the Holy Spirit communicated that to me. I believe he preserved my life the first time I seriously considered ending it at age eight and several times after. Life wasn’t easy for me or for my siblings. Our mother was mentally ill, and our father didn’t know how to deal with that and protect us kids. I despaired many times, wounded as all of us were. But God, the Source of life, defended us—not from the wounding, but from ultimate despair. I am so grateful for his care for all eight of us.

The Lord says “Go!” to each of us in different ways. Right now, he’s saying to me, “Go love your precious grandkids.” So I’m off!

At Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend

But God shares our sorrow

Acts 7:59-8:2 As the Jewish leaders stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that he died. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day … Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning. But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

Romans 8:17, 26 If we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share his suffering … But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

Covid is battering our friends across South America. Daily, it seems, we hear of another heart-rending situation involving people we know and love. So while we delight in the re-opening of our lives here in the U.S., thanks to life-saving vaccines, we’re reminded constantly that this pandemic is not over. Nor will be in the foreseeable future.

A pandemic is one thing. Suffering people deliberately inflict on each other, as Saul did to the early church, is even more painful, especially if God’s holy name is used to justify wounding and destruction. Sadly, this is nothing new. I’m grappling with bitter historical realities in my research for Treasure Hunt 1904.

But God had a plan for Saul, and we’ll get to that in the next chapter of Acts. The time came when Saul, known later as Paul, wrote, “In my insolence, I persecuted God’s people. But God had mercy on me. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was!” (1 Timothy 1:13). God offers mercy and hope of transformation to anyone willing to hear his voice of compassion. Even the perpetrators. Inexplicably, he loves our broken world.

Paul continues telling Timothy that despite human arrogance, “He alone is God” (verse 17). God’s not rattled by my sense that the world (and even the church) has gone crazy. He’s still on his throne–remember Stephen’s vision? He has a plan.

So I offer to you, Lord, my sorrow and grief, my anger at what I see as manipulative and unjust, my worry about what’s happening in the U.S. and the world, my frustration with my own limited vision and frail faith.

And now maybe I can go back to sleep.

Deer again ate my pansies–though not down to the dirt this time.

But God released him

Acts 2:23-24, 33 You nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip … Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us.

Imagine the joy, the song, the excitement! Hope renewed.

I tasted this joy so many times over the course of Karis’s life. The joy of life over death, even in the simplicity of IV fluids restoring warmth and color and consciousness to my daughter passed out from dehydration—how many times? Countless. Or seeing her rally against all odds when the doctors told us to call our family together to say goodbye.

But all that pales beside this joy, Jesus alive again! No wonder Peter was so excited he kept a crowd of thousands enthralled for a very long time, with about three thousand responding to his appeal. If you saw someone who was dead come back to life, wouldn’t you want to tell everyone about it?

Neighborhood deer ate my pansies down to the dirt. But they’re coming back! I was so excited to see this bloom today.

At the same time, we know Peter couldn’t and wouldn’t have preached this sermon had it not been for the filling of the Holy Spirit, the gift Jesus had promised his followers before he died. Right away we see some of the fruit of the Spirit in Peter. I love his quoting from Psalm 16:

I see that the Lord is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises!

My body rests in hope…

You have shown me the way of life,

And you will fill me with the joy of your presence.

How different these words are from the Peter of a few weeks before, defeated by his own betrayal of Jesus, ready to quit, to give up on Jesus’ call and return to fishing fish instead of men.

The Holy Spirit lets us know God is with us; we are not abandoned. And where the Spirit is present, there is joy, worship, hope, life—even in distressing circumstances. A joy and hope we couldn’t possibly manufacture ourselves.

Why didn’t Karis give up? Only because of the life and joy of the Spirit within her. The same Spirit in you and me, whatever circumstances we each face. Turn on praise music and dance! God is with you!

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!

1 Corinthians 15:17-20 If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead! He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

On this last day of Easter season (Pentecost is tomorrow), we come to “the” chapter about the resurrection of Jesus, 58 verses of some of Paul’s most enthusiastic defense of our faith.

Valerie quoted from verses 42-57 in her blog post Feb. 5, 2014, the day Karis died. So of course that’s the first thing that comes to my mind as I re-read this chapter. The foundation of our confidence in the transformation of Karis’s weak, broken body into a body that will never die is Jesus’ own triumph over death, and his promises that we too will be raised to unending Life—our experience here just a shadow of the real thing. It’s why we can smile as we think of Karis now, in the joy of her victory over death, made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. It’s the joy at the center of the universe, the “deeper magic,” as C.S. Lewis described it.

Paul illustrates the transformation of our bodies with the analogy of what grows from a seed that is buried

But today what is on my mind is the hope we have for the many friends dying from Covid in Latin America and Brazil, more every day. Since our work is with pastors, those are the ones we primarily hear about from the safety of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of pastors across South America, caring for their people without PPE, without vaccines, and without adequate medical care, literally laying down their lives for their sheep (John 10:11).

I want to honor them today, even as we pray for their families and congregations and friends, left behind for now. They did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die (Revelation 12:11).

Because of our confidence in the resurrection, Paul says to us, Be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (verse 58). And borrowing from chapter 16, verse 13: Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.