Tuesday, November 30, 2010

‘Tis the Season to Be Waiting

Can you remember how you felt around Christmastime as a boy or a girl? I recall the giddiness of anticipation, wondering what surprises would greet me from under the tree on Christmas morning.

The problem is, you have to wait. Even though Christmas fervor starts building immediately after the Thanksgiving turkey has been sliced and served, to young minds time passes interminably slow. We know what we want; we just want it right now.

Christmas Eve I would go to bed, wanting so much for sleep to swallow me up, knowing in slumber time would speed forward. Unfortunately, adrenalin coursing through my veins banished sleep from my head. So I waited…and waited…until at long last, weariness subdued my excitement, lulling me mercifully into somnolent release.

Perhaps Christmas no longer stirs the same anticipation for you, but it’s still true – we hate to wait. Whether it’s an important phone call, a job promotion, or a major purchase, we want it immediately. Instant gratification is king – and we’re his servants.

Years ago I was pondering an important career change, ready to move ahead. But days dragged into weeks, weeks into months. Several times I even tried to force the issue, but remained stuck where I was.

Confused, convinced God was preparing me for a new job, I turned to the Scriptures for insight, as I often do. I read Psalm 37, and you know what He told me? Wait.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…,” Psalm 37:7 said. In case I missed the point, God reiterated in verse 34: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way….” Then I remembered what He said a bit later: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10). I tried my best not to utter anything stronger than a sanctified “Oh, man!” But I had no choice; I had to wait.

As it turned out, the result was far better than I could have hoped. My heavenly Father truly knew best. He was just working out the details.

I still don’t like waiting – at traffic lights, checkout lines, even for the mail. But time has shown waiting isn’t necessarily bad. Often it enables the Lord to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

So if you’ve been waiting on something important, hang in there. Be patient. God’s probably preparing something incredible for you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanks for Everything

This week most of us will join with family and friends for another Thanksgiving Day observance. In addition to traditional feasting (and post-feasting napping), holiday parades and football games, many of us will pause to thank God for our blessings.

By “blessings,” of course, we typically think “good stuff” – good health; warm places to live; ample food; jobs; cars; money to pay bills; loved ones. But have you ever considered giving thanks for the hardships and adversities that are so much a fact of life?

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances. That, we would all agree, is easier said than done.

How can you give thanks for cancer or heart disease, being unemployed, having financial obligations that far exceed income, having a beloved relative engaged in war thousands of miles away, or some other dire situation that seems to defy resolution?

For many Thanksgiving Day isn’t all turkey and stuffing. It also involves aching hearts and hurting bodies. Yet the Scriptures direct us, according to another translation, “in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

That doesn’t mean having to be happy about adverse circumstances. If anything, we might be tempted to say, “thanks for nothing!” But the Scriptures assure us God is in control – everything is reviewed according to His sovereign, permissive will. Jesus said, “(God) causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

Looking back over my life, I now realize God used some of the worst times in my life for my ultimate best – even when that had seemed impossible.

So Thursday, when you bow in prayer, try to thank God for everything.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living for Today

Recently I was reminded of a favorite song in my youth, “Today,” recorded by The New Christy Minstrels in 1964. Its lyrics include, “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine…. Who cares what the morrow shall bring.”

Wonderful, idealistic thinking, right? Even though I loved the song, I really didn’t take it to heart. I was always looking to the future: What to study in college, who I’d marry, what kind of career I’d have. Even after getting married and finishing college, I wasn’t content with “today.” I was always looking to tomorrow – wondering about looking for a different job, setting professional goals, fretting about finances.

Thankfully, the passage of years offers perspective. It’s not just having achieved dreams and goals. It’s also a result of confronting life’s challenges and, having survived them, gaining more appreciation for the moment. Recognizing the importance, as trite as it sounds, of pausing to smell the flowers. Before long, they’re gone.

When you’re young, you can’t wait for the future; as you get older you realize the other side of eternity is much closer than you thought. Each day is a gift, a sacred treasure. As Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

At the same time the Scriptures warn against preoccupation with the unforeseen and unknowable future. Jesus admonished, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Someone has wisely observed, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. We’d be better off heeding the advice of another classic song of the ‘60s, by the Grass Roots: “don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow, hey, hey, hey…live for today.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Deleted from Expletives

All religions have acknowledged leaders: Islam has Mohammed; Buddhism has Buddha, Hinduism has Vishnu and many others; Confucianism has Confucius; Judaism has Moses; and Christianity, of course, has Jesus Christ.

But have you ever noticed of all those names, only one is used by some as profanity? When was the last time, for instance, you heard someone say, “Expletive Confucius”? Or “Blankety-blank Buddha”? Muslims so revere Mohammed, people that write or speak derogatorily about the prophet are threatened with death.

But Jesus Christ? That’s different. Often in films, sometimes on TV, frequently in books, we hear or read people using His name as an angry epithet or sometimes just part of their everyday vocabulary. I once worked for a man that included “Jesus Christ” in his sentences as casually and unashamedly as most people would say “um” or “you know.”

Why is this? Why is the name adored by countless millions throughout the world, the person declared by the Bible as the Son of God, the only one among religious icons deemed fair game for dragging through the mud?

The greatest war being waged on earth is not political, nor ideological or economic. It’s a spiritual war – a battle of eternal truth versus falsehood and deception. If Jesus actually is “the way, the truth and the life,” as He declared (John 14:6), there is bound to be resistance from those who regard that as too rigid or “intolerant.”

But this is more than a clash of viewpoints and opinions. It’s a fight that’s being directed from what the Scriptures term “the gates of hell.” And if it’s true one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11), we can expect intense spiritual opposition until then.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How’d We Get from There to Here?

Do you remember hula-hoops, Howdy Doody and Dippity-Do hair gel?

A recent e-mail awakened nostalgic memories: Waiting for the TV to warm up; milk and bread delivered to your home; the thrill of a 25-cent allowance; having your car filled up, oil checked, windshield cleaned and tires aired up, all for free at the gas station; the Lone Ranger.

I was reminded in the 1950s and ‘60s, school “weapons” consisted of peashooters, spitballs and slingshots. (In high school, once I saw someone display a switchblade but there was no threat of violence.)

A summons to the principal’s office for misbehavior was nothing – what we really worried about was our parents’ discipline when we got home. Food and medicines we bought didn’t require safety caps or hermetic seals; no one dreamed of poisoning a complete stranger.

Interesting, isn’t it? Despite huge strides in medicine, science and technology, human nature seems to have backslidden over the years. How did we get from there to here?

This complex question defies simple answers. We could blame taking prayer out of schools – “forcing God out of education,” but I doubt legislation or human whim intimidates the omnipotent God. We have, however, seen a slow drift from God-consciousness and, dare I say it, the fear of Him.

Materialism and American prosperity have shifted reliance from God to our own strength and initiative. Academia, media and government have helped erode sacred sensitivities in America – but like boiling the proverbial frog in the kettle, with deceptive slowness.

I think even churches share some of the blame, stressing God’s love - as if to make Him more palatable to the masses - while downplaying His justice and righteous judgment. As a result many people are content, as Judges 21:25 states, to do “what is right in their own eyes,” without regard to consequences. Proverbs 29:18 tells us, “Where there is no revelation (of God), the people cast off restraint.”

Some people today feel confident recent elections will help “restore America.” I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed. The Bible declares this singular “recipe for change”:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). As followers of Jesus, it starts with us.