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.

But God’s love strengthens us, by Chris Daly

1 Corinthians 8:2 But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.

Psalm 23:6 Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.

Death’s Dark Ravine

Ilyas Orasbayev: Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s had robbed my mother of nearly everything over the last ten years of her life—speech, mobility, even her personality. But not her soul, who she really was.

Sitting by her bedside in March 2020 while she was drawing near to heaven, I began to read Psalm 23 to Mom, hoping it would be a comfort to her heart.

In my quest to let this well-loved portion of Scripture really rest with us and let the Lord speak to us through it, I read Psalm 23 to Mom, day and night, in every version of the Spanish and English Bibles I found on YouVersion. Spanish was Mom’s first language, so I had started a few years earlier to sometimes speak, play music, sing, and read to Mom in Spanish– in case it still connected with her soul.   

I began to write my own paraphrase of Psalm 23, and in looking at ten or eleven versions of the Bible, the Holy Spirit gifted me with a personalized vision of His Shepherd’s heart for me and my mother. His joy and hope gradually soaked into my deepest being. My heart was saturated, just as Jesus promises in verse five! “You honor me as Your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.”

So, in spite of exhaustion and profound grief at seeing my mother withering away in front of us, I experienced God’s presence in a way I never had before. I felt a gentle refreshing of my soul. The Lord hand-fed me with cool restorative water, and gave new life to my desiccated heart. “He leads me by quiet water, He restores my inner person.” (verse 3) 

My Shepherd opened my eyes to understand for the first time that the “enemy watching” was Satan himself. The devil was witness to the feast being spread before me, while Jesus, the Bread of Life, was feeding me Himself to strengthen and renew me.  “You prepare a feast before me, in plain sight of my enemies.” (verse 5)

“Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for You are with me…Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.“(verses 4, 6). Jesus revealed to me that His compassionate love and His goodness wererunning after me, not passively standing behind me. I had always previously pictured verse 6 to mean that His faithfulness and mercy were following me, lagging behind, casually loitering. But, no! Jesus was chasing me down with His chesed (the Hebrew word that means permanent, covenantal, faithful love), actively running with me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

It was an enormous, bleak, sometimes pitch-dark valley. But I experienced His tender companionship as a sweet and kind gift–the steadfast love of our Father. (verse 6) And now Mom is enjoying Him face to face, now and forever.

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