Anticipation

You probably all recognize these lyrics from the Carly Simon song, “Anticipation”:

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

That has been my mental theme song for the last few days as I count down to the uncertain birth-day. I’ve been physically and mentally ready for about 3 weeks now. In fact, today could be the day. I’m definitely feeling different things, new things, much less comfortable things, and it is his due date. But then again, he could be tenacious (or lazy) and hang out on the inside for another week or two. I can’t really be sure.

 

And that’s driving me crazy. I don’t like that I can’t really make any specific plans, because I never know when I’ll end up in the hospital. I don’t want to start any big projects, because they may get interrupted indefinitely. And my energy seems to decrease a little every day. (If he does stay in another week or two, they may accidentally admit me to the hospital for experimental zombie-reversal treatments instead of labor and delivery.) To add to the crazy, my hormones (oh, wondrous things, those) have decided to rebalance again, and so I find myself on the verge of a mental breakdown at least once a day. Yesterday I broke down in tears over a cell phone.

 

Yes, I admit it. I ordered a new, shiny, hopefully-not-demon-possessed cell phone, and was so excited about getting free overnight shipping. Then I woke up and realized that my beautiful new technological umbilical cord was being overnighted to my mom’s house, not mine. I would have to wait a whole day longer to get my phone. Cue the irrational, inconsolable pregnant lady waterworks. I was kind of embarrassed to be with myself, it was that silly.

 

I quickly realized that I wasn’t really crying about the phone though. I mean yes, there was the chance that my old one would go up in a puff of smoke before I got the new one, leaving me virtually cut off from the whole world (!), but it wasn’t really a big deal. No, what I was crying about was having to wait. The stress of waiting for my little guy to come had found a way through my usually calm outer shell, and I had to admit that I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I was just so tired of waiting.

 

I bet you’ve been there too. We all have to accept waiting as a part of life. God often asks us to wait for things. Sometimes it’s to build our patience and perseverance. Sometimes it’s because His perfect timing says, “Not yet.” The longer we live, the more we wait. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, does it? All we can do is what I did yesterday – cry out to God and ask for His grace, His strength in the waiting. It’s okay to tell Him that you don’t feel like you can do it much longer. It’s okay to tell Him that your patience feels like it’s about to run out. He already knows, and He very much cares. If He’s asking you to wait for something, He is also offering to sustain you in your waiting.

 

I don’t know if my little guy is going to come tomorrow, or if he’s going to wait until next week. But I do know that I can make it, however long the wait is, because I’m not relying on my own strength to get through. You’re waiting on something right now, I just don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s for that soulmate you so long for, or maybe for your own child, whether just a hope, or a wiggling, kicking reality. You might be waiting anxiously for the results of your lab exam, or your final exam. You might be waiting for a cure. You might be waiting for that job to call back, or just for something to change.

 

I know it’s hard. My waiting has a time limit, a known, happy outcome, and it’s still hard to wait, so I know that it is even harder for those of you whose times and outcomes are more uncertain. Please know that for the Father, the outcome is not uncertain, and the time is in His hands. He loves you and cares for you, and He will not make you wait forever, nor wait without a purpose. Trust Him, take heart, and look forward. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Have faith, my friends, have faith.

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Tuesday’s Truth – Handmade, Handpicked

Welcome, Friends!

 

I hope your week has been filled with opportunities to find joy. Although I complained about the weather in Kansas in my last post, I have to confess that I had a wonderful week. I particularly enjoyed spending time with my grandmother, getting her to share memories of her childhood. I highly encourage you to probe the memories of the older people in your life. And don’t just ask about the big events; get them to share stories of their siblings, pets, their favorite foods and activities. It can be a wonderful way to connect with them. I always find it fascinating to trace the story of someone’s life and see how different circumstances and experiences have shaped them into who they are now. It makes me wonder what my current experiences and surroundings are preparing me for.

 

With this already floating in my mind this week, I read Isaiah 49. Two verses jumped out at me, probably because of my recent train of thought and because of my own pregnancy. The first is verse 1, in which Isaiah states, “The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” (Isaiah 49:1)  The second is verse 5, where the author goes on to say that the Lord “formed me from the womb to be His Servant.” (Isaiah 49:5) The Lord told the prophet Jeremiah almost the same things as Isaiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

Now, clearly, we have not each been chosen to be a prophet on the scale of Isaiah or Jeremiah. But I couldn’t shake the idea that God knows us and lays out a plan for us from our very earliest moments, whether we are destined to be a great prophet, or a stay-at-home parent. My mind immediately went to other scriptures that speak to God’s knowledge of each child from before birth. David, in the Psalms, proclaims God’s active influence on the development and growth of each child, both physically and spiritually: “For it was You who created my inward parts;You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)  From there I traveled to the New Testament, where Paul tells us that as believers, “We are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

 

It’s clear that God’s work in our lives does not start at birth, it does not start when we enter school, it does not start when we choose to accept and follow Him, and it does not start when we feel we are ready. It starts before we are even the proverbial twinkle in our parents’ eyes. God doesn’t move us around like chess pieces, reacting to current events and situations, hoping that He can keep ahead of the other side. He has all the moves mapped out before a single piece is placed on the board. He has it all planned out for you, and what’s more, He handcrafted you as the specific piece you are. You are not an assembly line product, but a masterpiece made by hand, not to be sold to any customer, but to be enjoyed and loved by the Master Creator.

 

Such a thought should fill you with joy and wonder. I cannot fully comprehend the idea that God made me exactly as He wanted me, and that He has some special purpose for me to fulfill. I feel rather ordinary most of the time, and even less than ordinary on occasion. And yet, if I believe what Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, and Paul say, I am unique, wonderful, special, chosen by the King of the universe for His service and pleasure. When I really believe that, I look at myself differently. Not with pride, because I can take no credit for any of it; but with thankfulness, respect and love towards the One who made me.

 

But not only do I think of myself differently, I must view others differently too. When I look at you, my child, or my neighbor, I ought to see another example of God’s master craftsmanship. I ought to regard others with respect and wonder because God created them and planned their purpose from the earliest moments. I cannot regard any person, regardless of their stage of life or their perceived abilities or inabilities, as less or more valuable than myself, because they have each been knit together by the same hands. Knowing and believing that we have been handmade and handpicked by God should color our every thought and action, whether it is in regards to ourselves, or to others.

 

Your mind may be quickly turning to issues of sanctity of life, the treatment of those with physical or mental handicaps, of the variety of prejudices we as humans may hold. And you would be right; those issues are a perfect place for this truth to inform our thoughts and actions. But to only focus on those issues would be a mistake. This truth should also influence the way we speak to our spouse and our children, the way we treat the cashier at the grocery, the way we perceive the old man in the park. God’s truths were never meant to be stored in a box and only brought out for special occasions and grand debates. They were meant to be carried with each of us, guiding and counseling us in every area as we walk through life.

 

Meditate on these verses this week. Allow them to shape and change your mind as you view yourself and those around you as God’s special, chosen ones made for a wonderful purpose.

 

Tuesday’s Truth – Stop, Look, and Listen

Hello again! It’s July already, friends, can you believe it? I know that every year we all complain that it is going by too fast, but seriously, July? It’s just not right! I hope that in this summer season, filled with all its breaks and vacations (and ironically, all its busy-ness and stress), you are taking time to be with God and listen to His voice. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of seeking God’s advice and instruction, so get ready.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading a chronological layout of the Bible. I like this layout  because it helps me see the plan of God and His history with the world more clearly. I can see the progression from one king’s sin or success to that of his sons. I like being able to put it all together. The past few days I have been reading about two very different kings. One was the infamous King Ahab of the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the other was Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah. Ahab came from a long line of kings who did everything to block God from the people, and vice versa. Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, had excellent examples in his father and grandfather, and worked diligently to keep his people true to the Lord.

In my reading lately, a certain point about Jehoshaphat kept sticking in my mind. He didn’t just obey the Law of God, get rid of idols, or ban people and practices that promoted idolatry. He also actively sought God’s advice and guidance when he had a big decision to make. Now, this is important to me, because in many ways, I don’t see Jehoshaphat as being that bright of a guy. He teamed up with one of his biggest enemies (King Ahab), and then agreed when King Ahab suggested basically using Jehoshaphat as a decoy in battle. The wisdom of Solomon was certainly not one of his characteristics. And yet, there is a promise in the Bible that we will receive wisdom when we ask God for it. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Even though this promise was made nearly 1,000 years after Jehoshaphat’s reign, the principle has always been true, and God has always made good on the promise. What Jehoshaphat lacked in wisdom, he made up for in faith.

Let’s look at two episodes from Jehoshaphat’s life which show the value he placed on seeking the Lord before making a decision. The first one comes from 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat had agreed to work with King Ahab to regain a portion of land that was important to both Israel and Judah, but had fallen into the hands of a common enemy. Jehoshaphat agree to go along with Ahab, but first he suggested that they inquire of the Lord if He wanted them to pursue this new war. Ahab agreed, except that he “inquired of the Lord” through 400 prophets who were on his payroll, and were not exactly known for being faithful to God. So of course they gave the kings the go-ahead, saying that God loved the idea and would give them great success. Jehoshaphat, though not the brightest, as we’ve seen, still smelled the fish on this one, and asked if maybe there wasn’t a real prophet of the Lord available for a second opinion. One, named Micaiah, was finally rounded up (with the warning that he should just tell Ahab that his plan was a good plan) and, at Jehoshaphat’s encouragement, actually told the truth – that they could go to battle if they wanted, but that Ahab would be killed, and his army scattered. And that is exactly what happened. Jehoshaphat made one key mistake here. He asked for the Lord’s guidance and advice, but then he still went out to battle with Ahab, and was nearly killed in the process (remember the whole decoy plan? Yes, it worked – at first.) As he was on his way home, Jehoshaphat was confronted by another prophet who strongly rebuked him for his alliance with Ahab. If we are going to seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance, we need to prepared not only to hear it, but to do it. (James 1:22)

On a second occasion, it appears that Jehoshaphat had learned his lesson, and was completely prepared to seek and follow God’s wisdom and will. In 2 Chronicles 20, we learn that a large army was preparing to attack Judah. When Jehoshaphat heard who was coming, he called all the people together, went down to the temple, and prayed with all his might. He recalled to God the other times that He had defeated the enemies of His people, and he summed up his request with this statement, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (verse 12)

Like Jehoshaphat, there will be times in our lives when we are confronted with a major challenge or decision, and we may not see a clear answer right away. It is in those times that our eyes must come off of our problems, and our minds must stop spinning for solutions, and instead we must put our whole focus on God, seeking His ways. We look at what He has done in the past, what He has told us in His Word, and what He is doing in the present, and then we get a clearer picture of where He is taking us. It sounds simple, but it is not. It takes courage and faith to stop and seek God. It takes patience to wait for His answers. It takes discipline to tune our hearts to His voice.

As Jehoshaphat learned, it is worth having that courage, faith, patience, and discipline. After Jehoshaphat sought the Lord with the people of Judah, he took his army out to meet their enemies. But instead of planning battle tactics and sending out scouts, the first thing Jehoshaphat did was encourage his men to have faith, and then he led them in praising the Lord. Only after that did they set out for the battle. When they arrived, they found only the bodies of their enemies. God had heard their prayer and their praises, and had used the armies of Judah’s enemies to destroy each other. The army of Judah didn’t even have to fight, they just had to gather the spoils of war and take it home. This time, Jehoshaphat had listened to the wisdom of God and followed through, and not only was his land saved, not only were they enriched by the riches left behind by their enemies, but there was also an extended peace, because the nations around Judah feared being destroyed by God.

In our lives, we will face many situations and decisions that are more than we can handle on our own. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to handle them alone. God’s promise to give us wisdom is still just as valid as it was in the days of Jehoshaphat, and the days of James. God’s promises don’t have an expiration date. Don’t be so afraid of losing an opportunity that you miss the chance to seek the Lord. Don’t be so paralyzed by fear that you can’t get on your knees and echo Jehoshaphat’s prayer, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.”

Annie, Get Your Bible

“Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you… Anything you can be, I can be greater; sooner or later I’m greater than you.” So go the famous lines from the musical Annie Get Your Gun. A catchy tune, and also irrefutable proof that Annie Oakley and Frank Butler were Christians.  How do I know? Because no one can turn something miniscule and mundane into a fierce competition like Christians.

Just spend a few hours at a conference of senior pastors, youth pastors or Sunday school directors. What’s your attendance? How many programs do you have each week? Have you built a new “worship center”? How many missionaries do you support? How many satellite campuses do you have? Have you published a book? Do you have a 3D gaming system to get the kids interested? (I won’t even address the absurdity of that…imagine how many more continents would have been reached for Jesus if St. Paul had just had an Xbox and some plasma screens…we wouldn’t even have to send missionaries to Africa!)  It goes on and on.

The people asking these questions often don’t really care about the answers. They’re not hearing that you were called to a church with a weekly attendance of 60 and now it is up to 100. A 66% increase doesn’t make them bless the Lord for what He’s doing in your congregation.  All they really want to hear is that whatever you have is not as good as what they have. Sure, when they took over their church, there were 1,500 attendees, and now there are only 1,000, but it’s still much bigger than your church. And of course, we all know that God is far more active in a megachurch than in a small congregation. I grew up in a megachurch, and yes, God was indeed working there, but not because we had thousands of people. These days I go to a church that could fit 10 times over into the sanctuary at my childhood church.To put it another way, there are more people that attend the church of my youth than live in my entire town now.  And yet, God is incredibly active in my current church, not because we’re big, or because we’re small, but because He has a plan for us.  That’s how God works. Not by statistics, but by design.

But it’s not just pastors and churches that get involved in the holy war of Christian competition. As individual Christians we take the bait just as easily. Who is asked to sing for worship more often? Whose Bible study has more attendees? Who chairs more committees? Who is better friends with the pastor’s wife? Who is invited to golf with the elders more often? Who has better behaved children? Who has a Sunday school room named after them? Who went to a more remote location as a missionary? Who is suffering more for Jesus? And on and on.

We are constantly caught up in the mania of trying earn more crowns, more “Well done, good and faithful servant” accolades, store up more treasures in heaven. Because we want to be the biggest and best, even in heaven. I know it sounds a little cynical, and it seems that I am saying that all of us are only working for our own selfish gain, not for the Glory of God.I’m not.  I don’t think it’s that bad, or that cut and dried. But I do think that we have a real problem as a global church, and we need to wake up and smell the coffee.  It all boils down to some bad theology that we have let ourselves believe for more than two thousand years.

That bad theology goes like this: If God loves you, He will bless you with a big ministry, happy family, and widespread influence. If you love God, you will do your best to build a big ministry, have a happy family, and gain widespread influence. You know what HE says?  “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15) And what are His commands? Love the Lord with everything you are (Matthew 22:37) and love one another (John 13:34). That’s all. Nothing about building programs, foreign travel, or plasma screens. Nothing about trying to be better than others.

Even Jesus’ closest friends struggled with this concept. Just moments after Jesus explained his coming death and resurrection to them, they got bogged down in an argument over which one of them was the best disciple. (Luke 9:46) They came to learn, however, that God’s view of success, obedience and blessing are wholly unlike ours. We want to do what others are doing, be blessed as they are being blessed. The problem with that is that God doesn’t have the same plans for us. His plan for your life is not anything close to His plan for your neighbor, your brother, your mother or your best friend.  If He had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have stopped with Adam. But no, He has formed billions of unique people in the millennia since Creation, and has designed a completely unique plan for each one of those people. (Jeremiah 29:11) Isn’t that amazing? I have a hard enough time coming up with 7 unique dinners a week; I can’t imagine making a different life plan for each of several billion individuals.

The disciples each were given a different path to follow, even though they had all received the same command to “go and make disciples.”(Matthew 28:19) Some stayed in Jerusalem, some traveled around the Roman Empire, others may have gone as far as India and China. We know that at one point (Acts 15), Paul showed up in Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, specifically Peter and James. Paul could have felt inferior because Peter had spent several years with Jesus, or because James was brother of Jesus. Peter and James could have felt inferior because Paul had started many churches, while they just had the one, or because Paul was an apostle to the wealthy Greeks and Romans, while they were shepherding the impoverished, oppressed Jews. They could have had a veritable pastoral Olympic games. But they didn’t. They combined their strengths, sought the Lord, and worked together to advance the Gospel.

So what about us? What do we do with all of this? Well, we need to do a few different things. First, we need to realize that God has a unique plan for us, and then thank Him for it. When we wish we were someone else, or that we had someone else’s life, we are basically thumbing our nose at God and telling Him that He made a mistake when He created us. When you were born, your parents didn’t have any choice over what you would be like. They couldn’t choose your gender, haircolor, athletic ability, personality or musical talent. They might try to push you in a direction that is different from your natural interests or desires because of their own hopes for you. But God is not like that. He was able to pick every single one of your characteristics, and He put you together just the way He wants you.

Second, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. That is true across the board, more specifically, we need to stop comparing the work that God has given us with the work that He has given someone else. Your work may be caring for AIDS orphans in Africa, or it might be raising your own children in Austin. Neither one is a lesser calling. Both are about bringing children up to know and love the Lord. Your work might be to develop microfinance opportunities for women in India, or it might be to approve loans in Indiana. Either way, you are helping people improve their lives and you have the opportunity to show compassion, integrity and kindness. Your work might be teaching English in China, or you might be teaching English in Chicago. Wherever you are, you are filling minds and inspiring students, and you have the opportunity to obey God by loving them. God is not so narrowly confined that He is only served when we are working in a full-time, official ministry capacity. He is served whenever we love those around us and give Glory to Him.We must stop seeing ourselves as greater or lesser than others.

Finally, we need to seek His will for our lives. That could be a whole post (or a whole book) on its own. The short version is that we need to use our individual gifts, talents and interests to obey His command to love others. If you can’t stand children, you probably aren’t called to start an orphanage in Thailand, no matter how great the need seems. If you can’t carry a tune, God’s plan probably doesn’t involve you leading the choir. But He may be calling you to plan and host a fundraiser for that orphanage, or He may be asking you to be a part of the greeting team, because those are where your skills and interests lie. God made you as you are for His purpose and His plan. Don’t become arrogant by trying to follow your own plan, as if you know better than God. Humbly approach Him and ask Him to show you what it is that He sees as special about you, what it is that He put in you specifically so that you could serve Him. Because you are infinitely special to Him. He has never, not even once, compared you with another, and He has no intention of starting. Be free in that knowledge, free to be and do what He designed and created you for.

And in everything, have a Glad Heart!