The Waiting Game

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As I write this, I am in the middle of a rough month. Multiple friends and loved ones are facing deeply painful circumstances, and I am hurting with them. I’m praying for healing, wisdom, provision, direction… I’m also asking the Lord for encouragement, for them, primarily, but for myself as well. I don’t know yet how our Loving (but sometimes hard to understand) Lord is answering those prayers in the lives of my friends, but here are three ways he has encouraged me in just the last 24 hours.

A text: It read, “Thank you for praying for us. We will be fine!” That hurting friend’s proclamation of faith lifted my spirits.

A reunion: We went out for breakfast while out of town. The manager roamed among the tables, making sure her customers were satisfied. She paused at my table, and our eyes locked. We both froze for a moment, silent, thinking. Then we burst into hugs and tears, finally recognizing one another as dear friends who had lost touch for a decade. She gave Steve and me a brief recap of her life, ending with these words, “The last year was very difficult, but now I know why. It got me here (to a good place and a great job).”

A quote: I opened my web browser, and these words, saved in an old search, popped up, “Nothing touches the child of God without first passing through the will of God.” While I’ve been unable to find a reliable source for that quote, it’s very close to this one by Hannah Whitall Smith, “Not a trial comes except by His permission.” In other words, I believe, if we have heartache, our Lord has allowed that heartache. And if he has allowed it, surely he will see us through it.

And so, I have cried tears of both pain and of hope today. I’ve heard his still small voice say yet again, “Trust me.”

Hope

(Shared by a member of Men Living R.E.D., Northwest Bible Church, Spring, Texas.)

accident

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Although this verse is about suffering for doing good, it also applies to the way we handle difficulty. If we mope around like the world is coming to an end, who will be compelled to ask about the hope that is in us? If we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, that our joy is not in this world, we may provoke the question, “Why are you different?” Let me share a personal story —-

Back in my Texaco days, I was running a meeting and my daughter called me. I ALWAYS answer for my family – no matter what I am doing (sorry Texaco). I put the meeting on pause and answered.

My daughter had been in a minor car accident and she was pretty shook up.

I turned away from the meeting and went quickly through the Dad questions: Are you okay? Yes. Are you safe right now? Yes. Is anyone else hurt? No. Are the cars blocking the road? No.

Big sigh of relief – Okay, honey you are okay. Everything is okay. Cars are just equipment. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Do you want me to come get you? No, I can drive it home. Be careful. Sit for a few minutes and relax. I will look at it tonight. Not to worry. Everything is going to be fine. I love you.

It was over quickly, and everyone in the room could not help but hear the interchange. I told them that she was fine; it was just a fender bender. No big deal; she just needed to talk to me.

After the meeting and over the next few days, almost everyone came up to me to talk about the phone call and my handling of it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I learned that it spoke volumes about my relationship with my daughter. The Dads in the room were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the accident and inconvenience and expense. The Daughters in the room were envious that their own dads were not as understanding. They saw my relationship with my daughter as something special. All of these conversations naturally led to talking about eternal things.

Why did I tell this story? Three lessons learned:

1 – Perspective – keep your eyes fixed on the real prize – show the hope that is in you.

2 – Don’t forget that everyone is watching – especially and even more closely during the down times.

3 – As the Holy Spirit said through Peter — Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.

Is the way you’re living right now compelling any questions about HOPE?

Pennies or Heaven

sunshine unsplashed

I’ve heard two great sermons lately. Okay, I’ve heard more than two, but there are two I’d like to tell you about. They fit together well. Here’s the short version of the second one first:

We have the hope of heaven!!! (March 2016 Austin Stone) In other words, no matter what is happening right now, we can look ahead into an amazing future, one worthy of great rejoicing even on the days when our present day is full of the muck that life can bring.

We need to drop our pennies!!! (March 2016 NorthWest Bible Church) Let me tell you what I mean. A few weeks ago, my pastor said, “You can let a penny block out the sun.” Huh? Here’s how.

  • Grab a penny.
  • Go outside on a sunny day.
  • Hold the penny up close to your eye in just the right spot, and it will obscure that fiery ball.

Yes, the sun will still be there. Yes, there will still be light. But you will not be able to see the sun itself.

We sometime do that with our troubles. Both our hard times and our joyous times ought to draw us to the Lord who loves us. But do they? Sometimes. Sometimes not. In every circumstance, we can focus on God, responding with prayer and praise, or we can zero in on our circumstances alone, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on only the difficulty at hand, drawing it ever closer to our eyes. When we do that, we are letting our pennies block out the sun, the light and power of God’s presence. Yes, he’s still there. But we manage to nearly forget about him in our shortsighted obsession with our problems.

What pennies are we holding today? What brilliant sunshine are we missing? It’s time to drop our pennies and take a good long look at the sun, the son, the God who is always enough.

Broken Again

heart-401499_640My heart is breaking again, filled with fresh grief at the news of yet another friend who is facing grave illness. “Facing” really isn’t the right word. More like engulfed in it: constant pain, limited mobility, countless medical tests and consultations. As she stoically described her condition, I struggled to hold back my tears until after I hung up the phone. Then, thankful once again for a husband who will let me cry in his arms, I sobbed until I could barely breathe. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, except for the whispering of these thoughts within my soul:

  • I still believe that God is good and that he is in charge.
  • There is no good in the thought that often comes when faced with another person’s sadness, “What if that were my fate as well?” We are each given the strength we need to walk the path chosen for us. We aren’t equipped to walk another’s path. Such an illness is not my path. If it ever is, God will sustain me through it then, as he no doubt is providing for my friend right now. After all, he loves her even more than I do.

But, something has been added to my path, for now have another friend who is hurting. She needs me. For that I can count on the Lord’s supply: comfort in my grief for her, direction as to my part in helping out, and time to do that which He shows me. He is not giving me the grace to be ill, for I am healthy. He is giving me the grace to walk alongside a sick friend, which in and of itself can be very hard indeed.

Bearing one another’s burdens takes on many different meanings, according to the circumstances at hand. Always, though, the call to carry comes with the promise of our Lord’s provision. Ultimately, he is the one bearing those burdens with us. One of the ways he provides is by allowing us to share what we have learned with one another. Have you ever been called upon to help a friend in deep need, or perhaps been the one in need yourself? What did you learn that you can share with me?

A Broken World

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My friend

  • has breast cancer.
  • has been diagnosed with ALS.
  • can’t stomach food and doesn’t know why.
  • was robbed.
  • has an adult child who will not speak to her.
  • had surgery that went awry.
  • was denied parole.

This is not a multiple choice question. All these hardships have, in the last forty days, plagued people who are close to me. Why is the world so broken? Why must there be so much pain?

Of course, we know this is a fallen world, a world of sin and sorrows. Yet Paul, in his letters to the early church (where there was plenty of sin and sorrow going on) repeatedly called believers to a life of faith, trust and rejoicing.

I write plenty about faith, trust and rejoicing, but the rubber has met the road for me. My world seems to have taken on a double dose of trouble. Here are the questions going through my mind.

What does trusting look like?

Does it forbid tears? No way. Jesus wept–over the death of a man he surely knew he was about to bring back to life. And I’ve cried plenty in the last few weeks.

Does it require a happy face all the time? I am quite sure this cannot be. The Bible talks about the comfort God offers. Most people who need comfort are in pain. I believe we can hurt, ask for comfort, even be angry at the brokenness we see, and still maintain a deep inner peace and perspective. We can rejoice at the faithfulness of God and rail against the evils of the world all at the same time.

Is there a better choice than trusting? The answer to this question must also be a resounding no.

  • We know we are not in control. Neither I nor anyone I know can take away the hardships listed at the beginning of this blog.
  • We know God is in control. He made us and we are his. He is all knowing and all powerful.
  • We know our God is both wise and loving.

And so, what other course is there but to trust in God? How will things turn out when we trust him? Will all my friends’ hardships be healed? In the short run, perhaps. But then again, perhaps not.

In the long run, I am reminded of a rather random movie quote: “Everything will be okay in the end. If everything is not okay, then it is not yet the end.”[1] Or, said another way, “I’ve read the back of the book, and we win.”[2]

We do live in a broken world. I think that saddens our Lord even more than it saddens me. One day, we will find ourselves in a place where everything has been made right. In the meantime, sometimes I may cry, yet always I will trust!

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] My research attributes this quote to John Lennon, Fernando Sabino, Paolo Cocino and an unknown writer.

[2] Credited to two singing groups: Legacy Five and The Cathedral Quartet.

The Helper

The Helper

Lately, I’ve been re-reading The Helper by Catherine Marshall. I’m in a “smooth sailing” place today, but like all of us, I know a storm can brew and hit in no time flat. Who knows what my life will look like by the time you read this post? So, faith and freedom from fear can never be linked to my circumstances. That simply won’t work. Reading words of trust and encouragement written by those who’ve lived before me is powerful ammunition against anxiety. Words of faith help prepare me for the next storm before it comes.

Here’s what Catherine re-taught me about joy.

  • Real joy comes from the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. The Helper).
  • Oddly, we often experience a greater degree of joy during times of trouble. (Perhaps that’s because we turn to our Lord with greater focus then?)
  • One of the fastest ways to receive joy in adversity is to ask the Lord for his perspective on the situation. (Our Lord can handle anything, so we don’t ever have any real reason to be troubled.)
  • Christians don’t get a free pass on trouble. (Rats!) Christ said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
  • When we wallow in “what-if’s” and “self-pity” we are ignoring the Lord, turning all of our attention on ourselves.

My next foray into reading what those before me have said about our Christian walk will be The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. My copy opens with this quote from Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” That’s certainly something we all want, don’t you think?

What have you read? What words from the past are changing your future? Post them here or email me. I’d love to know!

And here’s the final installment of our three months of 1 Corinthians 13:

1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV)

“If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.