Farther Along


story song

I borrowed a line from my son on Easter Sunday:

“The resurrection was the greatest fourth quarter comeback in history.”

If that’s the case, then the 50 days between the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was the longest post-game wrap-up ever.

Those poor disciples.

They spent most of their three year internship with Jesus a few steps behind.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t you understand?'” (Mark 4:13)

“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)

“But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him.” (Mark 9:32)

“They kept asking, ‘What does He mean?  We don’t understand what He is saying.'” (John 16:18)

For three days they hid out, fearing for their lives after the crucifixion of their Teacher.

For forty days, the resurrected Jesus popped in and out of their gatherings, alive and well and….unexplainable.

For another ten days they waited for……something.  Jesus said, “wait” so they hunkered down in Jerusalem not even knowing what they were waiting for.

Ten days.

That’s a long time for eleven men to sit around.

I hope one of them remembered Jesus’ words from their last meal with Him:

“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7)

I often feel like I’m two (or twenty) steps behind Jesus.  I wonder why He makes me wait so much.  I wish there were more explanations for the crazy things that happen in my life and in the world.

The disciples obeyed and waited and, before long, they “got” it.  That’s what it looks like to be a follower of the Risen Christ.  When I get a little farther along, more understanding will come to me, too.  I just need to keep moving along, to get a little farther than yesterday —

don’t stop, keep walking.

This week, this is my story, this is my song.

“Farther along we’ll know all about it.  Farther along we’ll understand why.  So cheer up, my brothers, live in the sunshine.  We’ll understand this, all by and by.”

“Farther Along” by Josh Garrels

farther along

What Are You Waiting For?

candle lightWhen you’ve been waiting a long time for something, and that something finally arrives, there is a sweet moment when all you can do and all you want to do is exhale, smile and say “thank you”.  I get that moment every year when the Christmas Eve service begins.  All the craziness of the season falls away and holiness finds a place, at last, in my heart.  This is what I’ve been waiting for.

A silent night, a holy night, calmness and brightness, heavenly peace.

The man I love stands before the hundreds gathered and welcomes them into the presence of God.  The choir invites us, “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”  My 5-year-old friend sits beside me at the piano — her wispy angel-voice floats through the darkened sanctuary.  “Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay…” and we are drawn so near by her sweet song.  The praise band takes up guitars and drums to announce, “We are no longer lost, for He has come down for us.  We have a Savior!”  A teenage boy reads Luke 2, reminding us of his dear grandpa who read the passage last year, but is experiencing Christmas in heaven this year.  PB sits in the rocking chair and tells us a story — no preaching, no expounding on scriptures this night.  Instead, a simple story that touches our hearts and a prayer that says all we wish we could express.

Finally, the moment arrives.  We take our candles and pass the flame down the pew. One by one, row upon row, the lights flicker in the darkness, wrapping warmth around each person.  I look at the glowing faces next to me, and remember when they were babies, children, teens —  now adults.  “With the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King…”  And I’m singing with angels.

This is what I’ve been waiting for.

Worth the Wait

We have some dear friends who are experts at waiting.  They are seasoned waiters.  They are waiting champions.  By God’s grace, the long wait is finally over.

Quint and Chelsea are a young couple who began the adoption process years ago.  Over a thousand days passed as they labored over paperwork, raised funds, and prepared their hearts to welcome a child.  It was a period of glorious highs and devastating lows.  Hopes were followed by disappointments, over and over and over.

This week, the Ethiopian government officials were satisfied, the papers were signed and baby Sammy came home.  His mommy had spent weeks in Africa, fighting for her son.  His daddy had tirelessly met each and every legal requirement.  It was a long, hard labor and delivery – which has only served to increase the intensity of the joy.

Do you think they will say Sammy was worth the wait?  Oh, yes.  Oh my, yes!  Many times over, yes!  When God’s purposes are fulfilled after long periods of wondering and struggling, there is a new awareness of how long, how wide, how deep and how high His love really is.

God is always worthy of our faithful waiting.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.     2 Thess. 3:5

*Please pray for little Sammy, as he has some health concerns that are being addressed. 

Wait For Me

smileAs a follow up to the last post on various ways to wait, I was reminded that there is another type of waiting, although rarely practiced.  Often when I pray, I have specific people and situations in mind.  But occasionally I am drawn to wait before God for no reason — just to be with Him.  The Hebrew word means “to tarry, to hang around, to loiter”.  As Jan Johnson put it, “I just look at God and He just looks at me.”*

Some days, I close my notebook of prayer requests and lay it on the floor.  I relieve myself from the pressure of trying to pray “right”.  I shift the focus off myself and my agenda, my problems, my questions.  Although it seems like a total waste of time, sitting there not saying anything, it actually takes a fair amount of concentration to keep my mind from wandering away.  But when I do settle in, there’s an uncanny sense of peace.  Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and smile at God.  And He just smiles at me.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence.”  Psalm 62:1

*”When the Soul Listens”, Jan Johnson

Waiting Room

waiting roomI think every church should have a Waiting Room.  I don’t mean like the ones in hospitals, clinics or offices; certainly not with Muzak and outdated magazines.  A Waiting Room — a place for people to go who are waiting for God to answer a prayer, to move in a situation, or ease a pain.  It would have to be an awfully big room, though, to fit us all in.  Hmm…maybe we should just use the sanctuary.  While we’re waiting, we could do a little worshipping, a little singing, share some burdens and lift each other up.  It’s better not to wait all alone anyway.  Since we’re all together, let’s have some coffee and doughnuts and visit awhile.  That’s the kind of waiting room I have in mind.  After all, we are all waiting for something, aren’t we?

There’s a lot of waiting going on in the book of Psalms. Those old Hebrew poets had a big advantage over us — they had a much wider choice of words at their disposal.  Our measly English word “wait” doesn’t come close to the array of expressions the psalm writers used.

For instance, one could wait expectantly.  It’s the picture of someone leaning forward, keeping an eye out and anticipating what is surely just around the corner.  (“Morning by morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”  Psalm 5:3)

There is hopeful waiting, which implies confidence combined with a sense that the answer may be down the road a ways.  What’s required here is sticking around long enough to see it through.  (“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:20)

Of course, there is anxious waiting, which is the one we probably practice most.  This is a whirling, trembling, worry-filled type — you know the kind.  It takes all of your energy and leaves you exhausted.  (“Be quiet before Yahweh and wait for him.  Do not fret…”  Psalm 37:7)

And then there is a special Hebrew word for when the waiting is especially long.  It means to have patient endurance, to linger before God with all the pain exposed, to depend on Him alone.  Sometimes this kind of waiting goes on for years until the longed for answer comes.  (“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1)

Waiting is part of God’s plan.  He sits by us in the Waiting Room, takes our hands and says, “I will wait with you.”

“Lord, I wait for you;  you will answer, Lord my God.”  Psalm 38:15

Paul’s Pause

pause-buttonI wish I had a pause button.  It would be handy to have a way to “check out” for a few moments during the day and not miss anything in the process.  All the activity would go into freeze mode while I catch up or take a breather.  Of course, I would like to be in charge of my pause button.  I would not be so keen on someone else having control of when the pauses come.

Periods of waiting are really just temporary pauses.  The power is still on, the disc is still in the player and in a moment, things will pick right back up where they left off.  We just need to be careful not to give up and shut down during the pauses.  God does some of His best work during lulls.

Saul was on his way to persecute Christians when the light of Christ knocked him flat.  He experienced a radical conversion and then made a complete u-turn.  Immediately, Saul began his work of building churches and writing a good portion of the New Testament.  Right?  Push pause.

After a few days, Saul-the-hunter became Saul-the-hunted. Evidently the head honchos at the synagogue didn’t like the idea of their up-and-coming persecutor going soft on them.  Saul changed his name to Paul and got outta town.  Acts 9:23 says, “After many days had gone by…”   Yeah, it was many days, all right.  Galatians 1:18 is a little more specific, “Then after three years….”

Wait a minute….. or three years.  What did the fresh convert do all that time?  Why did Paul go off to the Damascus desert and hole up for thirty-six months?  Was that really the best use of his time and talent?  There were churches to plant and sermons to preach.  The world needed his brilliance and leadership.

I don’t know what Paul did during that long pause, but it probably had something to do with re-programming his Pharisee-driven thinking.  Most likely, he studied the scriptures with unveiled eyes and sharp understanding.  He learned how to make tents so he would be able to support his own ministry.  He wrestled with guilt and found forgiveness.  Paul discovered how to abide in the life-giving freedom of the Spirit instead of the suffocating legalism of the law.  Only then was he ready to go out and change the world.

God provides built-in pauses for His people — sleeping at night, the Sabbath Day, Advent season.  If we don’t embrace these times of waiting, we won’t be ready to change our world.

Waiting with Noah

arkThere are some real champions in the Old Testament when it comes to waiting.  Maybe we could learn something from them.  If there was such a thing as a “Waiting Hall of Fame”, I’d nominate Noah to be the first inductee.  You remember Noah — the boat builder who spent forty days and forty nights on the ark during the great flood.  But that’s only part of the story.

God commanded Noah and his family to board the ark seven days before the first raindrop even fell.  That must have been a long week, sitting in a big boat in the middle of the desert.  But then came forty straight days of thunderous rain, followed by 150 days of flooding.

Most Biblical scholars believe that, all told, Noah and his family spent about 377 days on the ark.  (Read it for yourself in Genesis chapters 7 -8)  That’s over a year on a stinkin’ boat full of stinkin’ animals….and a wife (she probably didn’t smell very good either)….and three sons….and three daughters-in-law….in close quarters.  Don’t tell me Noah wasn’t crawling the gopher wood walls.  Don’t even hint that Mrs. Noah wasn’t begging her hubby to bust open those doors.  I’ll just bet those three young couples were craving a little peace and quiet away from all the animal chatter.

Even after the ark landed and the waters receded and the ground dried up, Noah stayed put for two more months.  Why?  What was he waiting for?  “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark.'”  Ah….that’s what.  He sat tight until God gave him the okay to move on out.

Some people are lag-behind types, while others tend to run ahead.  A person who understands the value of waiting on the Lord for direction is quite rare.  Maybe that’s why God declared Noah to be a righteous man and choose him to begin again.  God could trust him to wait.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  Isaiah 40:31

Wait For It

adventAdvent starts today.  Advent is a season in the church year that leads up to Christmas.  It has nothing to do with eggnog or decking the halls or shopping, although I wonder how long it will be before some retailer starts promoting an “Advent Sale”.  I can hear it now — “Biggest Sale of the Year — a great Advent-ure!”  Ugh.

According to Wikipedia, “Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.”  The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means arrival.  So we are waiting for the arrival of Jesus.  And for the past two thousand years, he’s never stood us up.  He always comes.

Waiting has never been my strong point.  God, however, is big on waiting.  Since there is so much written in the Bible about waiting, I thought I’d take a look at waiting during this season of waiting.

I just used the word “waiting” three times in one sentence.  Please forgive me.  I promise never to do that again.

Come, wait with me.