Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Patience Is A Value

How many decisions have you made that you regretted? How many words have you spoken that you wish you could take back? Did you let patience run its course before you made those mistakes? If you are like me, my greatest mistakes have been accompanied by impatience.

I am always looking for connections in life. I think God is using every situation in life to make me more like Christ and to change my heart (Romans 8:28-29). Recently, I have been witnessing impatience in word and deed and have been struck by how often I have asked people to be patient. As you might assume, this has led me to wonder just how patient I am. Please do not think that I am calling you to wait to the point of inaction, but I want to ask you to do more than just count to ten before making an important decision.

Scripture says quite a bit about patience. First, Galatians 5:22 says patience is a fruit or result of the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer. In another place, 2 Corinthians 6:6, Paul says that patience is an indicator of spiritual maturity. We see first that our ability to be patient as we think about the Godliest response to a situation is a work of God and an evidence to prove that God is at work in us. Patience and wise deliberation comes form God.

Then, we read passages that advise us on what we are to do while we are thinking patiently. There is more to the story than just thinking about a problem on our own or reading a Scripture passage that deals with it. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel a plan fails, but with many advisers they succeed.” We have been created as needy people. We need God and we need other people. When facing a decision we should seek the wisdom of the spiritually mature people we know. We need to talk with people that we know have made wise and Godly decisions in life. This may not be the people that have made the most successful decisions because sometimes success in our eyes does not equal Godliness. So we must be careful in choosing those advisors, but if we are in a local church there is a good chance they are close.

Today is a day of decision. Every day is a day of decision. Some are bigger than others, but there aren't really any insignificant decisions. Will you exercise patience? Will you seek Godly counsel? May your decisions honor God and be the best for you, your family, and the world around you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Present Glory of God

She was on her fifth day of being a widow. This was probably going to be the most difficult because she was just moments away from laying her greatest earthly love to rest. I waited in the long line to try to encourage her as she stood beside her husband’s casket. After only one small sentence of introduction, she turned and placed her hand on his rigid chest and said, “This is a display of God’s grace.” In an instant I knew what she meant. I had already been told that he had become a follower of Jesus late in life. The people in that room knew this man well. They knew he loved to laugh and to work hard. They knew he was kind and caring. But she knew him best. She knew what God needed to change in him. Even more, she knew how God had changed him.

The comment left me almost speechless. Here was a widow, just moments away from the start of a heart wrenching funeral, and now I had no question as to where her mind was. In that instant my mind was changed as well. I was pulled out of that moment and sent spinning to a world that had no funeral homes or cemeteries. Somehow, though, I was seeing a sort of intersection of these two worlds.

Just recently I read a line in a book that said, “The glory of God is the presence of God.” (Ed Welch, Running Scared) Just as the experience at the funeral home had given me a jolt, this sentence had as well. I suppose I had never thought of the glory of God in that way. If this sentence is true, then the glory of God is not stored up only in Heaven. We can experience the glory of God even now because we can see His presence now.

I see the presence of God in the beautiful creation all around me. I think I see it in a thousand places. But this one surprised me. I saw the presence of God in a funeral home at what should have been one of the saddest moments of life for this widow. I saw the presence of God filling her with strength. The glory of God was on display right there in front of me because she was testifying to the very presence of God.

God, help me to live in this reality. Remind me that you are close. Let me be daily swept away by Your glory in the presence of every day life.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Growing To Give

Have you ever planted a garden? It is so interesting to watch those little seeds turn in to baby sprouts and then mature into vegetable-bearing plants. It takes months for the process and a lot of hard work, but it is amazing that one little seed can produce so many vegetables.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed. Listen to Him in Matthew 13, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32, ESV)

Do you see the process of change for the little seed? When it is grown it becomes a tree that provides rest and security for the birds. There is no doubt that we are needy people. However, there are times when we allow this neediness to spiral out of control. We use our poor condition for selfish purposes. We use it for attention or for pity. We use it to gain a benefit that we really do not deserve.

Jesus desires for the Kingdom of Heaven to become manifested in His followers. He desires for us to do everything we can to join with Him in redeeming this world as we wait for Him to take us to the New Creation. This means we need to move from the place of need to the place of generosity. To be generous means that we are to be givers.

Yes, it is true that we will always have needs and those needs should be cared for, but do your perceived needs dominate every corner of your life? Are you always looking for the spotlight to shine on you? Do you wait for the right moment to hijack the conversation so it will revolve around you? Are your true desires that everyone would serve you at home, work, etc.?

Jesus says that maturity means we give. We give rest and comfort. We become a source of comfort and strength. Where are you in the growth process? Are you waiting for someone to pour more fertilizer on you, the little seed? Or, are you providing rest and help to those God has placed in your corner of the garden?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Full(er) Joy

There are times in life when we need to make a correction or modification to what we think or how we live. The last few months have been this sort of time for me in an area that I once spoke about boldly. The fact is not that my mind has changed completely, but I believe my thought has been expanded to be richer and more accurate.

There was a time that I would have said that you must want to go to Heaven or experience the New Creation for the singular reason of Jesus Christ being there. For instance, a quote might be, “Can you say that if no one else or nothing else was in Heaven, except Jesus Christ, you would still want to go?” Now, I do not want to change the fact that Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure of eternity. I still believe that the greatest joy we will experience will be seeing Him face to face and learning to love Him more deeply throughout eternity.

However, I now believe this mindset takes away some of the joy that God desires for us in eternity. My point is that I believe our joy will be made richer by being with other people, in addition to Christ, throughout eternity. The first factor that shifted my thinking was passages such as Philippians 2:2 and 1 John 1:4. These passages indicate that Paul’s joy and John’s joy will be fuller if they can have the confidence that the Christians they have been equipping will be faithful, will finish the race of life well, and will join them in the presence of Christ. I understand that. There are plenty of people that I have worked with over the years and I long for them to remain faithful to Christ so that we will be together in the New Creation. Sometimes just the sight of them brings tears to my eyes because I long to be with them in the presence of Christ someday. I can understand how a reunion with them in the New Creation would not take away from my love for Christ, but increase it.

A good example of this is the fact that my love for my wife does not diminish my love for my children; in fact it should cause it to become stronger. I am not filled with a limited supply of love. Really there is a domino effect of loving one person causes me to love someone else more. For instance, when I see a marriage repaired through Biblical counseling I grow to love God more because I have seen more of His grace at work. Please do not get me wrong, there are times when my love has to shift in order to please God. I must love God more and love sin less. Yet, that same equation does not fit when it comes to people that I truly love in life and can bring glory to God by loving. So, my point is that my love for Christ will not be reduced when I rejoice in seeing another person that I have dearly loved when we are reunited in Heaven. In fact, it will be made stronger because I will more fully realize that this is another life that Jesus has shown mercy and has tenderly shepherded into His presence.

Another source that has developed this idea is the book Heaven by Randly Alcorn. One specific quote there really grabbed my attention. It is found on page 329 and it is from Jonathan Edwards. Edwards says,

“Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above. There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have companionship with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy…And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!”

This longing to be with Christ and with those that I have loved only increases my intensity to be faithful to Christ so that I may be with Him (and them) for eternity. I am looking forward to the joy that will flood my heart when I am face to face with Jesus and fully understand the blessing of being reunited with people that have been significant to me and important to Christ. That joy will be even stronger because I will know more truly that these relationships are only possible because the King laid down His life for those of us that love Him.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Love Seen

Inspired by Matthew 7:15-27...

What can I do for you to see
All my love through life’s small deeds?

I can trust and hope in your great Name
And speak boldly when others bring defame

Yet, there must be more that I can do
To show my great love for You

Something more common from day to day
Simple acts along the way

You must make my mind anew
So that my thoughts are filled with You

Then my actions may show the love
That has come down from above

So You will see and know and feel
That my heart’s desire for You is real

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Wanders of Life

Aimless wanderings. Doesn’t that sound like life much of the time? Even when we have set what we think is a sure and steady course for life there is still some part of us that constantly reminds us that we are not in control of the end results. These wanderings encompass all of our being. How many questions could we generate along the lines of aimless wanderings when we examine our marriage, parenting, family life, health, finances, work, education, recreation? We could literally fill this page with questions concerning these dimensions of life as we regularly try to navigate through them. Many times we are trying to navigate through these waters even though we feel as if we are sinking in them.

Scripture is a wonderful place to go to find answers, and to realize that we are not alone in our wanderings. For instance, Psalm 56:8 speaks of David’s wanderings. In the psalm we observe a very young David that has not been able to find rest. He has found turmoil, transition and chaos most often. He has left home to pursue giants, and to prepare for the chief role of leadership among people he dearly loves, but, instead he has found turmoil, jealousy and threats. He is literally chased into the hill country and out of Israel by the standing King, yet he cannot find solace in other countries because his winsome reputation has preceded him. In Psalm 56 he feels isolated in his aimless wanderings.

At the brink of discouragement, in a dungeon cut off and alone he writes these words to God, “You have taken account of my wanderings, put my tears in Your bottle.” In a very lonely place, something stirred deep down to remind David he was not alone. There in the darkness he recognizes that God is not far away. At the moment when he is left to hang his head and begin to wonder about his wandering, He is reminded that God has kept count of every step. God has collected every tear. It is more than God just knowing about his struggle; David finds hope when he realizes God has been involved in the struggle. God has provided strength and comfort for David during a time of turbulence. He has propelled David to keep moving forward in obedience so that His plan would be accomplished through this young life and David could know the joy of faithfulness.

Could God be shaping his character and building his faith even with this terrible struggle?

Maybe David needed that dungeon. Did I really just say that? Because when I say that I might also be saying that I might need my struggle and you might need yours. If there had been no dungeon, Psalm 56 would never have been written and we would never have known of the sweetness of God’s care. If we were not at our place of aimless wandering, we might not have the chance to learn about the compassionate Father that has been counting every step.

What are you learning in your aimless wandering?

Friday, January 04, 2008

When I Am Afraid

My wife, Monica, and I went to the Doctor's Office today. We didn't go to just any doctor, we visited the Chair of the OB/GYN Department at the Vanderbilt Clinic in Nashville, TN. We went to see this Doctor because Monica is 23 weeks pregnant with our fifth child. Our local Doctor made an appointment for us at Vanderbilt because of the mysterious death of our previous son, Benjamin, when Monica was 26 weeks pregnant. We felt quite privileged to have the opportunity to visit with this medical authority.
It was quite obvious the Doctor at the Vanderbilt Clinic studied all of the material and records that had been sent to her from our personal Doctor. She knew the information, without notes, to the point that I believed she knew more about us than we knew about ourselves. It was quite impressive. However, the journey led us to the same spot we have been sitting since April of 2006. We just don't know why Benjamin died in his 26th week of life.
We don't live in those moments very often. Please don't think that the details aren't there in extreme clarity though. Visitors, prayers, thoughts, pain, sorrow, sobs...all of the memories from the days when Benjamin's life slowly ended to the day we returned him to the dust of the ground exist in painful clarity. Like piercing daggers they come alive when we are forced into those moments.
I sat in the room with a brilliant Doctor surrounded by all of the scientific technology you could buy and a cutting edge medical education program and I found myself mentally searching for Scriptures that declare the Sovereignty of a trustworthy God. A few came to mind. When we were back home I found another: "When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God who I trust; I shall not be afraid." Psalm 56:3-4 (ESV) Isn't that beautiful? David acknowledges his fear. Yet, he declares that he will not be afraid. Instead, he will trust.
In that room at the Vanderbilt Clinic we sat at the intersection of fear and trust. We decided, by the grace of God, to travel down the highway of trust. God is sovereign. He does not waste a hurt. We will remember His Word. We will praise Him.
Just a few moments before we joined the Doctor in an examining office we enjoyed a lengthy ultra sound with a sonographer that graciously acted as a tour guide for us to look at a healthy baby boy in Monica's tummy. There were many interesting pictures along the way, but this one caught our eye. In the picture you see Jameson's hand made into a fist with his thumb sticking up. At our house this is a sign for "Good Job!" or "It's alright!"
Now, I'm not one for signs. But I'm not one for coincidences either. So, you see, I'm sort of stuck. No matter what though, I think this was God moving my thinking toward trust. One day I hope to show Jameson how God used him to encourage his Mom and Dad. Obviously, Jameson won't be able to take credit for it, but I hope we can smile, laugh and praise God together for his little gifts that help to remind us that when we are afraid we find our hope by trusting Him.