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.

September 17, 2016

Hope in Hard Times

Today we’re returning to Michael Thompson at the blog Kindling Word. This is a longer piece that I’ve joined in progress; so click the title below to read in full.

I Hope So

… “I hope so” is a subversive phrase. In the face of the worst circumstance it expresses a rough, raw confidence that things as they are now are not at all how they will ultimately be.

The “so” part for me has gone from a period that groans in defeat, “Is this all there is?” to an ellipsis that shouts in defiance, “There is much more to come!”

Back then it was “I hope so…”

But now it is “I hope…so.”

I hope…
So discouragement never gets the final word even when routines are deadening

I hope…
So no matter what I am facing, I will not quit because failure is not final or fatal

I hope…
So I choose to see a preferable “then” in the face of what seems an impossible “now”

I hope…
So I embrace God and good and grace even when my world screams evil and injustice

I hope…SO

As Habakkuk once sang:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”    –Habakkuk 3:17-18

Hope is that “yet”.

It has become a treasure to me–recovered from the ashes of an epic life implosion. It is supremely valuable. The most critical survival skill for a soul living in between the dreaming and the coming true.

Hope is the incredibly strong, tenacious, even visceral conviction that I am

  • Defined by my Father’s affection
  • Designed to live a significant life, and
  • Destined to leave an imprint for good as my legacy.

In the face of each personal failure hope is doggedly determined to live on purpose. Underneath it is a passionate struggle to survive and succeed in the painful experiences of a world that can be harsh and unforgiving.

The Israelites of the Older Testament hated the Valley of Achor outside of Jericho because it was a constant reminder of where they had experienced their most humiliating defeat at the hands of a pathetic militia from Ai (Joshua 7). Much later in their history, God promised one of His old prophets, There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Hosea 2:15)

God was saying, “I will make the place of your humiliation the passageway to your destiny.”

Now if you see this as one more feel-good pep talk from someone out of touch with the rub and reality of life you certainly don’t know my backstory.

I have lived through the end-of-all-things-as-we-know-it stuff. Despair and I are well acquainted. Failure was my tailor and humiliation my wardrobe for years. I know what it is to stand hip deep in ocean waves and seriously contemplate letting them draw me under.

I know from deeply personal and painful experience that sometimes (often!) hope is hard. The difficulty comes from the fact that it is contrarian.

Hope says “yes” to every unquestioned and unjust “no” in life.

It confronts status quo and sabotages “just how it is”. It kicks over the injustice of money-changers in houses of love and throws incarcerating spirits of despair off cliffs in pig bellies.

Hope is a stretch because it always sees things as they are but believes them as they should be. It is hard because it yearns for what is not. …we hope for what we do not yet have… (Romans 8:25)

But hope is also easy because it is based on something unshakable…Someone eternal. God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth. (Psalm 65:5)

“My hope is built on nothing less…”

Hope is a lone tree growing in an arid desert; a beautiful flower springing from solid rock. Hope remains. Hope sustains. It is an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

Hope is a resurrection in the heart. It is life poured into dead things–oxygen for lungs that long ago ceased to breathe. It is a bittersweet longing; a life-defining ache.

Hope is desperation without despair.

This is not a pipe dream or unrealistic panacea. As David knew from his own experience, No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).

The old Apostle who had seen more pain in a few years than most of us will know in ten lifetimes, once reminded us:

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit… (Romans 5:3-5)

Like Jonah reeking of fish guts or three Hebrew boys with the hint of smoke about them, when you’ve been THROUGH exile and walked THROUGH fire and you COME OUT on the other side, you have no choice but to be a hope addict.

I am among this ragged band of survivors who wear as a badge of honor the moniker of Zechariah (9:12)Prisoners of hope.

I hope…SO!

*******

A prayer for you who struggle today: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

August 21, 2013

One Foot in Front of the Other

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Our guest today is Rick Apperson who, with his wife Sarah are missionaries in British Columbia, Canada. This appeared at his blog Just a Thought recently; to read at source click here.

ESV II King 5:13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Perseverance.

I see that word and it brings up a lot of different thoughts.

Hard work.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Falling down…a lot!
Blood, sweat and tears.
Failure…more than once.
Christianity!

The Bible talks about perseverance and endurance often but there is a story I was reading in 2 Kings 5:1-19 that really resonated with me. Maybe it was because I am in a place where the idea of perseverance has become a reality.  We live in a world filled with pain and hardship.  In this world, we get glimmers of grace and hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

perseveranceRecently I have had to persevere through some pretty significant issues.  Like the man in the picture…it feels like a slog up a long path, one foot in front of the other.

It is how I have been living lately.

I won’t lie, I wish our problems had instant solutions.  In this fast-paced, answers now society, we don’t like waiting for anything.  Waiting for answers, healing, guidance, etc does not fit that plan.  Yet that is what God calls us to do.  To wait, to persevere.

So getting back to 2 Kings.  Naaman was a mighty warrior of some renown.  He was also a leper.  Eventually he heard about a prophet who may be able to heal him.  He traveled with many gifts and finally came face to face with Elisha.  He wanted instant answers but was told that he had to dip seven times in the Jordan River.  He got angry, not liking what he heard, and left.

Cooler heads prevailed and encouraged him to listen to Elisha.  He went to the Jordan,  dipped in seven times and came out healed!

I can so relate.

When I come to God, I don’t want delayed answers.  Like Naaman, I have sometimes gotten angry with the answers I did receive. I especially don’t like it when the answer is to persevere.

Yet God’s ways are higher than ours.  He has a plan.

I can obey or kick against it.

I want to obey.

Which means I have to persevere at times.  Times like now.  I don’t know how long it will be before we see the other side of this challenging time, but it doesn’t matter.  God is in control.

In the meantime, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep my eyes on Him!

~Rick Apperson

This is the 7th time (!) we’ve used Rick’s material or provided links to his writing. For more click here. To visit Just a Thought click here.

 

November 1, 2012

Life in the Wilderness

This post is from Claire at the blog, One Passion, One Devotion.

David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands. 1 Samuel 23:14

From the promise of kingship to the day David got the crown on his head he was in leadership training.  the wilderness may be tough and rough but it is where some of our greatest life lessons are learned.  It is the university of life.  many great people in the bible had some wilderness time before they were promoted to a position of power and responsibility.  Abraham.  Moses.  Joseph. Jacob.  Job.  John. Jesus.

Don’t underestimate or despise the wilderness season in your life.

It is essential that we “get” is that sometimes great time can pass between the call and the living that call. During this time God is shaping us and forming us and dealing with the crud within us. He is renewing our mind and making us into a vessel of honour (2 Tim 2:20-21)

Take for example Saul and David.

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. 1 Samuel 9:2

They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” 1 Samuel 10:23-24

When Saul was chosen king he was the most handsome and stand out guy in the nation. He had all the gifts and talents and personality. Samuel anointed him and he immediately began ruling as king of all of Israel. Yet he ended up failing as king and turning away from God.

“While king Saul was truly the best man Israel had to offer when they demanded a king, his heart had not been groomed through testing before he assumed the throne. As king, Saul was entrusted with a measure of anointing to lead the armies of Israel to victory and shepherd the people. Yet without the strength of character that only comes by winning private battles, these public victories exposed the previously hidden weakness of Saul’s heart towards God. That weakness, combined with his growing appetite for favor of man, led him to bring glory to himself and disobey the Lord.” Bill Johnson – Strengthen Yourself In The Lord

David however was anointed and then spent about 14 years in “training”. In those training years he endured more difficulty, persecution and rejection that many of us face in a lifetime. He probably didn’t expect it to take so long for him to be king. God didn’t want another king Saul and so took His time to mould David into a king and man after His own heart.

The wilderness always reminds me of this quote:

“But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.” ~ J.C. Ryle, Holiness

The wilderness is a place of preparation in our lives, a place of transformation.  a place where we are reliant on God and trusting Him.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.  1 Peter 1:6-7

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4

It may be a place of delay – the delay between the call and the living the call, the delay between the promise and the position.  delay has the capacity to bring up things that are hiding in our hearts that will restrict and sabotage us.  better out NOW than later!  delay reveals sin and brings it up to deal with now.  delay is a time of preparation.

There are lessons to be learned in the process, in the wilderness. Lessons about ourselves, lessons about how to work with others, lessons about how to relate to God.

God will open the right doors at the right time.

“Its not about knowing who holds the right keys but its about knowing the KEEPER of the keys”– Peter Robertson.

God can promote us at the right time. But I also believe He will also hold us back if we are not surrendered and transformed. God is full of grace but He is also holy. He uses flawed human beings but that doesn’t excuse compromise and a heart that isn’t fully leaning to God… God wants us to be intentionally following Him not intentionally following our own self and self desires.

The great things God will do through you are going to grow in the soil of persistence, prayer, obedience and sacrifice.  That means there will be plenty of plowing and pruning.  That’s the way living things grow, whether you’re talking about vegetables or vision. The process is a time of strengthening.  The process is the place where you lay down your pride and learn to rely totally on God.  Most importantly, the process is the way we grow to know God.  And that’s really the whole point. Steven Furtick

David’s time of wilderness prepared him to be king, the most renown king in all of Israel’s history, and most importantly, a man after God’s heart.

This is one of several posts Claire has written on the the wilderness theme as found in scripture. To see more, click here.

March 18, 2012

A Favorite Verse in Context

We’re all familiar with red-letter Bibles where the words of Christ (and God) stand out through the use of the different ink color; but recently Zondervan released an edition of the NIV2011 where verses appear in larger type sizes — there’s about eight different point size fonts — depending on their popularity in online searches at BibleGateway.com.  

This edition is called The Peoples Bible and the name is appropriate, given that it’s a kind of Peoples Choice Award of Bible verses. I suppose it’s good to see what other verses people are seeking, but there’s a danger with memory verses when they’re ripped out of the fuller context; when you’re reading the verse in jumbo type or bold face, at the expense of the context.

The blogger at 365 Days of Praising references this with regard to the popular Jeremiah 29:11; the verse which begins, “For I know the plans I have for you…”

Jeremiah 29 is a favorite, particularly verse 11, but many times verse 11 is isolated from the rest of the context.  What I find interesting about this passage is that a time of testing came first before the promise…a seventy year test.  And notice the person receiving the promise has a part to play also…praying…looking…finding.  So first the test, then the seeking, finally the bringing home of the captive…good plans from the Lord our God.  Praise Him! 

She then provides the fuller context of verses 10-14 in the NLT; I’ve underlined the details we often miss:

10 This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

March 2, 2012

Is There a Crown Waiting for You?

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24,25). “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

On Thursday, Daily Encouragement featured these verses, which I know are familiar to many of you. Stephen and Brooksyne reminded readers that,

…In this passage he is urging diligence in the Christian life in the spirit of an overcomer. He urges the Corinthian believers and us to “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” He reminds his readers of the strict training that is required for the serious contestant. 

“They do it to get a crown that will not last.” The ancient crown of victory was a laurel wreath that quickly withered and died. Even the gold medals received by the winners in the modern games will one day perish.

Today many, perhaps most, are in pursuit of the various types of temporal crowns that will not last. For the great majority the pursuit of God is placed on a back burner in life to be dealt with at some later date, if at all….

“But we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”  This crown is not for a select few; note the plural pronoun “we”.  Earlier in the passage he wrote regarding the competition in the ancient games that “only one gets the prize.”  Consider all the athletes who sacrifice many years of their time, money, and endure strict training to be in the Olympics but don’t receive a medal or may never even make it to the Olympics for that matter. 

This is not so in regard to our future crown…

I encourage you to read the entire article at Daily Encouragement.

However, tucked away as a postscript or appendix to this devotional was an excellent scripture outline on what might constitute the crown you receive. As I looked at this list, I asked myself, ‘For which of these endeavors might there be a crown with my name on it?’

You can ask yourself that same question…

Seven crowns are mentioned in the New Testament

1. The crown for those who love His appearance. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

2. The crown for those who compete according to the rules. “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).

3. The crown for enduring trials. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

4. The crown for those willing to feed the flock. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

5. The crown for those who are faithful unto death “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

6. The crown for those who win souls. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you?”  (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
  
7. The crown for those who master the old nature. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24,25).

 

 

In selecting a visual crown to illustrate these thoughts, there were a number of crown icons or simple crowns that were less opulent than the royal crowns I found online from Sweden and Denmark, but I wanted to make the point that any crown given out by God will be the finest.

February 16, 2012

Scars and Struggles on the Way

II Cor 4:8(NLT) We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

II Cor 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

 II Cor 5:1(NLT) For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

 II Cor 5: 6 (NLT) So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did you leave us on our own
God, You are faithful…
~Matt Redman