Christianity 201

May 12, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

We’ve linked to The Christian Examiner at Thinking Out Loud before, but never here at C201. We noted this devotional article and thought we would share it here. Better yet, read this at source — click the title below — and then navigate to their news pages for a Christian perspective on current events. Bookmark the site for frequent reference.

Wait Is a Four-Letter Word

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Wait is a four-letter word. Coincidence? I think not.

We’re all waiting on something from God: true love or a baby, a job or a cure. And the period between answers can feel like a place where dreams—and faith—go to die.

I have often thought to myself, The worst part of waiting is the uncertainty. I wish God would just give me a yes or no so I can move on with life.

Have you ever thought something like this:
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to find true love, maybe I could get busy building a fulfilling life as a single person.
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to have the career breakthrough I’ve longed for, maybe I could devote my time and energy to other things.

We tell ourselves the problem is the not knowing. Dealing with uncertainty. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t mind waiting so much if God just told us, “You’re going to get what you want in the end, but buckle up for a long ride—it’s going to take awhile.”

But who am I kidding? When I’m waiting, I want more than just a yes or no from God. It’s not enough to know if, I want to know when. I want a timeline. A fat red circle on the calendar.

I’m going to wait two years and nine months before I get pregnant, You say? Okay. I don’t love that timeline, but I can work with it. I’ll do the Pinterest thing and make a cute countdown calendar, and I’ll find a way to be happy the whole time I’m waiting.

But life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way. It is in the not knowing that God works on our heart, our faith, our character. It is in the not knowing that 2 Peter 1 and James 1 collide:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5–8

Christians are meant to grow—to become godlier, more loving, more self-controlled, better at persevering—so we don’t stagnate spiritually. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, accidentally, or overnight. Spiritual growth is a lifetime process we never outgrow. It takes conscious effort—every effort, in fact. The perfectionist in me finds this both overwhelming and comforting—overwhelming because I want to be done growing (meaning perfect) yesterday; comforting because I realize I’m not supposed to be done growing yet. Character is built slowly: step-by-step, choice by choice, even mistake by mistake, one strength building on another over time. Smack in the middle of this character-building process we find the trait we desperately need when we are waiting: perseverance. Now let’s pair this passage with what James says about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2–4

Did you catch that last phrase—”let perseverance finish its work”—as in it’s up to us to allow that work to happen so we can grow? As in trials produce perseverance, and perseverance can lead to spiritual maturity, but we have to let it happen, not fight the process? If we let Him, God can use our waiting journeys to shape us, to make us into the people He created us to be.

Knowing our weakness, knowing our need, God offers us many stories of godly people who have wrestled with waiting with varying success. People like Sarah, who received a definitive promise from God but then crumbled in the face of bleak fact: seventy-five-year-old women just don’t have babies. The good news for those of us (all of us) who wait imperfectly? Many of our fellow waiters in the Bible got second chances. (Remember Sarah’s miracle baby, Isaac?) And third and fourth and fifth chances, and on and on goes the grace of God.

Waiting seasons aren’t fun, but they are opportunities. Through our waiting seasons—yes, through the not knowing—we can build character one step at a time. Through our waiting seasons, perseverance can gradually “finish” its never-ending work in us. As waiting does its thing, and God does His, we get the chance to become our best selves, the people God designed us to be. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

October 7, 2015

The Wisdom of Margin

Today’s devotional thoughts by Alicia Bruxvoort are actually the second half of a longer piece which appeared at the devotional page of Proverbs 31 Ministries. This was a new website for us, and some of you might want to spend some time there, in which case click the title below to read the full post and then look around.

Those of you who are presently parenting children or have children in your care will especially appreciate this and may wish to read the longer version, and those of you who are past the parenting phase or never had kids will no doubt still understand the analogy.

 clock spiral
“Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
(The Voice)

…In an attempt to give my kids opportunities to learn and grow, I’d packed our days with good things — art classes and swimming lessons, church programs and playgroups. But lately, even those good things had lost their glimmer. Our schedule was full, but my heart ached with emptiness.

When we arrived at the aquatic center, I settled on the edge of the pool to watch. The instructor stood in the water and beckoned Lizzy to swim to his side.

My daughter took a deep breath, dunked her head and kicked with all her might. At first she moved toward her teacher with impressive speed, but then she began to flail. Her torso sank and she yelped in fear.

The teacher lifted my trembling girl out of the water and held her steady. “Slow down,” he chided as Lizzy gulped for air. “You were moving so fast you forgot to breathe!”

The image of a fuzzy orange caterpillar flashed through my mind, and my stomach lurched with conviction. Though a haze of unsolicited tears blurred my vision, suddenly I could see clearly.

In the midst of all our hurry, I’d forgotten to leave time for our souls to breathe. We had no time for lingering on sidewalks or pausing to help a friend in need. We had no time for delighting in God’s Word or savoring a sunset. And in the words of a frenzied mom, we had no time for miracles!

Today’s key verse reminds us that life is a gift to use wisely. We’ve been created for more than just counting our days. We’ve been created to make our days count.

To merely tally time doesn’t require much forethought, but to truly live requires Spirit-inspired wisdom. Maybe that’s why the psalmist approaches God with a humble heart and implores, “Teach us to number our days …”

While the Bible doesn’t contain a template for perfect time management, this simple prayer reminds us that God alone knows the best rhythm for our lives. He knows how to direct our time without draining our souls. He knows how to establish our pace without hurting our hearts.

If we want to truly live, we must seek His vision as we set our schedules.

As we learn to number our days, we’ll have a margin for miracles … because you never know when you might stumble upon a fuzzy orange caterpillar just waiting to turn into a butterfly!

Dear Lord, teach me how to use my time so I can truly live! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Isaiah 52:12, “Go in confidence and grace — no rushing, no frantic escape. There’s no need to be anxious — the Eternal One goes before and behind you. The God of Israel paves the way with assurance and strength. He watches your back.” (The Voice)

Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.” (The Voice)

RELATED RESOURCES:
If your schedule leaves no room for lingering over caterpillars, you might enjoy Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day. In it, author Glynnis Whitwer helps you manage an overloaded schedule, so you have time for what matters most.

Visit Alicia Bruxvoort’s blog for more encouragement.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Identify someone whose heart is hurting from hurry. Do something this week to lighten her load.

Have an honest conversation with the Lord about your schedule. Ask Him to help you align your agenda with His heart.

March 30, 2013

Stuck In Saturday

 

This is based on a section of the book Plan B by Pete Wilson and appeared on his blog a couple of years ago and also at Relevant Magazine.  You can click here to read it at source.

The other day I stood in line at my local coffee house. I was in a curious mood and just watched the four or five people in front of me as we stood in this unusually slow line.  Their body language and facial expressions said it all. There were hands on the hips expressing disgust at the current inconvenience, some were rolling their eyes as they glanced up momentarily from texting on their cell phone here was the predictable looking at the watch and then looking at the line and then looking back at the watch.

Most of us do not like waiting for anything.  We live in a day of fast everything and waiting for anything seems like a major inconvenience.  I must confess I don’t like waiting either.  I don’t like standing in line for my favorite cup of coffee, flipping though magazines in the waiting room of the doctor’s office and I sure don’t like waiting in traffic.  And if I can just be honest with you, I don’t like waiting on God either.

Lewis Smedes described waiting like this: “Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.  We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’”

This is what we often see in the anatomy of hope. There is an event that takes place that sucks the life out of you.  Something goes horribly wrong:

A dream dies.
A relationship ends.
A job dissipates.
A desire is crushed.

You’re left there standing, waiting, paralyzed by hopelessness.    You start to wonder…

Did God forget his promises?
Does God know?
Does God care?

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was about noon, and the whole land became dark until three o’clock in the afternoon, 45 because the sun did not shine. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, I give you my life.” After Jesus said this, he died.

47 When the army officer there saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “Surely this was a good man!”

48 When all the people who had gathered there to watch saw what happened, they returned home, beating their chests because they were so sad. 49 But those who were close friends of Jesus, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched.

Notice how Jesus’ closest followers react.  The gospel account says they “stood at a distance and watched.”

Have you ever been so hopeless you couldn’t do a thing?  You couldn’t get mad or fight or even cry?  Have you ever felt so hopeless you didn’t have the energy or passion to even get ticked off?

I believe this is the emotional state of Jesus’ followers.  Nothing seems to be happening.  They feel hopeless, as if they’re completely alone.

Now, we know the end of this story.  We know that God was in fact doing his best work yet.  But there would be a waiting period.

It was Friday, remember, when Jesus was crucified.  But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they moved into Saturday.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk a lot about Saturday in the church.  We spend a lot of time talking about Good Friday, which of course we should.  This is the day redemption happened through the shedding of Christ’s blood.  It’s a very important day.

Nobody would argue that Easter Sunday is a day of celebration.  We celebrate that Jesus conquered death so that we can have life.  It doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday.

But we don’t hear a lot about Saturday do we?   Saturday seems like a day when nothing is happening.  In reality, it’s a day of a whole lot questioning, doubting, wondering, and definitely waiting— a day of helplessness and hopelessness.  It’s a day when we begin to wonder if God is asleep at the wheel or simply powerless to do anything our about our current problems.

While we don’t spend a lot of time talking about Saturday, I think so much of our life here on this earth is lived out feeling somewhat trapped in “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place in my life where I can embrace “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place where I can view it as a type of preparation for what I believe God might be doing in my life.

You may currently be in the midst of a horrible, out-of-control situation.  You feel as if God is not there, that there’s nothing that can be done.

But here is the message of the gospel for you while you’re stuck in your helpless, hopeless Saturday life: God does his best work in hopeless situations.

We worship a God who specializes in resurrections.  He specializes in hopeless situations.  After all, at Easter, we celebrate the fact that he conquered death— the ultimate hopeless situation— so you could have life.

His followers were dejected and dismal and hopeless— and then Jesus rose from the dead.  God did the impossible and in a matter of hours the disciples journeyed from hopeless to hope-filled; from powerless to powerful.  They saw him risen and everything changed.  The story of our salvation was born out of extraordinary uncertainty.  But that’s the way hope works.

And no, that doesn’t take away your cancer.
That doesn’t erase the bankruptcy you’re in the midst of.
That doesn’t heal your broken relationship.
That doesn’t replace your shattered dream.

But it can remind you that while life is uncertain, God is not. While our power is limited, God is limitless.  While our hope is fragile, God himself is hope.

Your world may feel chaotic, especially when you’re stuck in a Saturday struggling hopelessly and waiting desperately.

But no doubt about it, God is still in control. And one way or another, Sunday will dawn.

July 21, 2012

Don’t Hair-Trigger Respond to Your Critics

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.  ~ Matt 5: 11, 12 (NLT)

James MacDonald wrote the following for pastor and church leaders, but it really applies to anyone who dares to step out in a visible role in public ministry, which includes sharing a verbal witness with your co-worker or next-door neighbor.  In typical James MacD. fashion, he titled this: You — Shut Your Mouth!  Click the link to read on the Vertical Church blog.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

A complex issue for ministry leaders is how to process the incredible amount of feedback that comes from so many sources, both in and outside the church. It falls into some basic levels, regardless of the source:

  • General input (random and one time)
  • Persistent input (continuous on many topics, not always negative)
  • Irreconcilable disagreement without sin (Paul and Barnabas)
  • Constructive criticism (always negative, but goal is helping)
  • Destructive criticism (always negative, with goal to wound)
  • Harsh unjust criticism (intended to tear down)
  • Personal attack and character assassination (intended to destroy)

The further what you’re facing is down that list, the more this article is intended to guide you. Part of the puzzle in processing feedback requires evaluation of the person who brings it (let’s save that for another post). A.W. Tozer and many other men of God have had, throughout their ministries, a policy of ‘no attack, no defense’ when the opposition involved unjust or untrue statements from those outside of their own churches. Instead they chose silence, and I believe we should do the same.

1: When Answering Would Cause You To Sin
Every question does not need an answer. For those outside the information flow, the interrogative can be more appealing than the prerogative of love, as the former expands the ego while the latter deconstructs it. Knowing the whole story is a burden that leaders must bear in plurality, so the company or the congregation or the country does not have to carry the weight of full disclosure. In a culture where journalists dictate the information flow, we start to think getting the full scoop is the ultimate good. But seeing firsthand the failings of others without becoming disillusioned is what leaders are called to carry for the sake of all. To keep serving and loving and giving while knowing every detail of every disappointment with yourself and others is a deterrent to sanctification, not an accelerant. Parents, pastors, and all in authority learn that those they lead are better at asking questions than they are at living with the answers they often demand. If the questions are misplaced, badly motivated or beyond the petitioner’s need to know, the wisest thing to do is remain silent. If the answers requested require betrayal or gossip or casting pearls or dignifying someone’s disdain, it’s better to bite your tongue.

“[Herod] plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.” (Luke 23:9)

2: When Refusal Turns to Reviling
When the answers don’t come in the right amount at the right time to those who demand explanation, they will sometimes become caustic. Your child will attack your withholding of explanation, your employee will question your loyalty, your friend at church will question your fidelity. Can you continue to keep your mouth shut when your heart wants so badly to set the record straight? Can you wait on God for vindication when you have the information that would silence the scoffers in a second? Can you remain quiet when the incensed strike you in anger for your silence? Can you bear the reproach rather than return fire to injure those whose words are wounding you? Jesus did.

“And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats…” (1 Peter 2:23)

3: When the Weight Seems Too Heavy
As you wait for God’s vindication you may begin to fear that you will be crushed by this burden. Is that so bad? Maybe crushing is just what the Lord has in mind for the pride that insulates our souls from greater grace. God’s sovereignty is so awesome and all-encompassing that He can capture what others meant for evil and use it for your good (Genesis 50:20). God can utilize the misplaced zeal of the ignorant and the well-intentioned crusade of the uninformed as the crushing that increases your Christlikeness. Often what we think is the worst season to endure will become the best season of our lives, if we handle it God’s way.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” (Isaiah 53:10)

4: But Jesus Was Silent and Innocent
The obvious difference is that Jesus was silent while 100% without guilt, and we never are. Jesus could give it over to the Father, knowing that His complete innocence would eventually come to light. However, only by self-deception can we view ourselves as innocent. It’s so tempting to run to the part someone else is getting wrong, or camp on the corner of a third party’s misperception—but is all the opposition without merit? Isn’t it better to find the truth that exists in almost all criticism and embrace your own responsibility? Don’t make the mistake of hiding behind the parts of the problem that flow from the faults of others. Get a mirror and focus, with the help of those you trust, upon the portion of the reviling that is legitimate. Covenant with God and those around you that collective regrets will turn out for better service to God and others in the future. A continued focus on learning what you can from your own mistakes will help suppress your desire to retaliate and keep you focused on the one person you can change, yourself.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes.” Proverbs 3:7

5: But My Silence is Making Matters Worse
Can you sit quietly even when you see people you care about get picked off in the crossfire? Shouldn’t you stand up for the innocent who get drawn into the campaign to criticize by telling the ‘whole story’? Don’t allow yourself the rationalization that you are breaking your silence so the sheep don’t get scattered. Yes, any leader should be grieved deeply to see a formerly supportive participant become disgruntled or disillusioned. As hard as it may be, though, we must look to a purpose beyond helping those who know better than to listen to self-appointed arbiters of orthodoxy, who do little more than guess and gossip. Your choice to be silent when reviled is not about the 10 that are caustic or the 100 that are curious—it’s about the 1000 that are calling out for a space and time example of how to handle injustice. Scan the horizon of our world and see how seldom those that are falsely accused hold their tongues. Hear the hurting pleas of the men in loveless marriages or the women who keep serving in humility when affection and appreciation are not forthcoming. See the overlooked, underappreciated and often maligned all around us who truly want to handle injustice as God has commanded. Those who think silence means there isn’t a good answer are naïve. Maybe something much bigger is at stake. Maybe it’s not about you or your detractors at all—maybe it is about those who are watching.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17)

6: Give it Some Time
The most important partner you have in a season of injustice is time. The season will end, the false criticism will be eclipsed by your growth in grace, the loyalty of those with all the facts and the love of those that know you best. The problem with most of us is that we want the issue settled, handled, inventoried with all blame assigned and everything back in the place it belongs for our own peace of mind. Yet Scripture exhorts, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). And while you await your appointment before God’s throne, be sure you are preparing for shock at the things you were wrong about, with a vigor at least equal to your anticipation of vindication. Sit back, listen to those closest, keep silent, and wait for the Lord.

“Avoid foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

7: Can I Ever Say Anything?
I have written a post about when to answer a fool and when not to, but the key is to answer only once and then remain silent. Silence may enrage the foolish, but it will model something important for those you are called to lead. If a fuller defense becomes essential, as in Paul’s ministry at Corinth, let others do as much of that talking as possible—you are not Paul, none of us are apostles. Beyond that, your silence helps you turn down the volume on fixing others and focus in on what God is trying to teach you. When I have gotten this wrong I have deeply regretted it, and purposed afresh to keep my focus on what God is teaching me. I am in the midst of a month largely without email or twitter or much of the internet at all. I am following no one and keeping up with nothing, except my relationship with Jesus, my family, and the wonderful leaders of our church. It has been incredibly refreshing to my soul, and the silence has given me a much clearer picture of what God is growing in me.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25-26)

~James MacDonald

scriptures: ESV

March 30, 2012

More Means of Communication Equals More Possibilities for Trouble

Today’s blog tour took me to A Spiritual Oasis which, like this one,  is also on the Christian Blog Top Sites web portal.  The most recent post there by Bill Williams was about three different things, but one of them was very similar to what we looked at yesterday: The things we say, including speech and writing.  Hmmm… is Somebody trying to tell me something?  Actually, I’ve been blessed with the ability to self-edit and be self-controlled, though I will admit to having ‘lost it’ a few times. 

At Spiritual Oasis this post was titled Three Signposts on the Road to Righteousness God Desires.

Why do we have two ears and only one mouth? Perhaps that’s God’s way of saying we should listen at least twice as much as we talk!

The Holy Spirit’s counsel provides some serious thoughts on this matter: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires, (James 1:19-20, NLT). 

The contrast is clear

Listening is a priority. Every one of us should race to listen. For those of us who are constantly rushing to do and say what matters to us, this is no small thing. Still, when it comes to our interactions with others, we are to show up early to hear what they are saying. On the other hand, tardiness is recommended when it comes to our words and wrath. Instead of rushing headlong into a verbal barrage that could easily lead to an angry outburst, we must put the brakes on. Instead of erupting in anger at what others say, we must resist the temptation to do so.

The consequences are immense

If we respond with verbal venom to the things said to us, God’s purposes are not served. If we allow anger to take root in our hearts and act accordingly, God’s will is simply crowded out of our lives. To be sure, there is no justice — no righteousness at all — in the anger of man. We cannot take the travel on the road and reach the right destination. No matter how many times we claim to be concerned about what is fair or right, if human angst animates our actions, the righteous life God desires is far, far away.

The challenge is ever-present

The world we live in is radically different from that of the Lord’s brother James. There are more ways to communicate with one another than ever before. We are exposed to more things that make us want to rant and rave than any generation before us. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some people tweet more words in a day than my great grandmother spoke in a week, maybe even a month. Still, these simple imperatives — three sign-posts leading to the righteous life God desires — are an ever-present challenge for each one of us:

  1. You must all be quick to listen.
  2. You must all be slow to speak.
  3. You must all be slow to get angry.

May God help us all heed the warning and follow the signs.

~Bill Williams

I loved the phrase “race to listen.”   And I loved the observation that there are so many different means of communication at our disposal, and so many things about which to rant and rave.   Clearly, we need this message today more than ever.

April 7, 2011

Video Devotional By Warren Wiersbe

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I thought we’d hang on to Warren Wiersbe for another day, this time looking at a couple of video devotionals at YouTube. This one is based on Psalm 30.

Here’s another one, from Psalm 33. You’ll be one of the first people to watch this…

February 8, 2011

I Hate to Wait

This article by Dave Kraft at Leadership from the Heart describes exactly where I’m at during many points of a typical day.  Dave is currently on staff at Mars Hill Seattle.

My lack of patience has gotten me into more trouble than the lack of any other character trait I can think of!

To my own detriment, I like to keep moving, get things done and see things moving forward. As I walk with God, sometimes He seems to walk awfully slow.

My daughter Anna, her husband Joel and their three children, Ella, Jude and Cameron are experiencing some challenging times at the moment. A few weeks ago she sent me this:

I know God is doing a great work in us.

I am reading this book called “CALM My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow and last night I read this part that she quoted from a man named Andrew Murray who was facing a trial:

“In time of trouble, say: First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.

“Then, say: He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.

“And, last, say: In His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows; therefore, say: I am here…

“1. By Gods appointment,

“2. In His keeping,

“3. Under His training,

“4. For His time.”

Is there something going on in your life right now that is posing a fair share of challenges for you?  By His grace and for His honor, the above can help you to trust and not hate to wait! Thanks, Anna, for passing this along.

Post graphic from ShareFaith Media