Food for Thought
I don’t travel to new places very often; I love being at home. A couple weeks ago I broke the mold and traveled to southern California to spend time with my sister, and we spent a Saturday at Disneyland. The day was a happy whirl of rides, lines, ice cream, and warm sunshine, but around 3:30 that afternoon, when the park was at its most busy and we couldn’t walk without bumping into someone, I began to feel the effects of the crowds. As a child, I might have pitched a fit. But as such tantrums are not tolerated with adults (however much we might want to), I agreed with my sister that a half hour break in the car would be good for both of us. I recognized unmistakable symptoms of being overtired, irritable, and, in this new environment with so many unknown faces, a little fragile, too.
The next day, my sister and I visited my grandma who had recently suffered a minor stroke. My sister and I helped her from her wheelchair to the hospital bed, and she lay there helplessly, unable to use her arms to prop herself up on the bed. My sister and the nurse hoisted her up, and we stood over her, looking down. She grabbed our hands, hers still surprisingly firm and strong, and said to us, “I’m sorry you have to see me at my worst.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand, but my insides wrinkled uncomfortably as I recalled the day before, overwhelmed in the happiest place on earth, ready to burst into tears like a petulant child. My grandma’s worst didn’t seem that much different than my worst.
“Friends in Christ, every year at the time of the Christian Passover, we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life and marks the penitence of this community.”
As the sign of the cross was marked on my forehead with ashes, I was struck by the troubling paradox in the words of invitation, new life and frailty in the same breath. It’s like Lent itself, a season marked by penitence and fasting, which is puzzlingly placed at the time of year when the created world is bursting into new life. The grass becomes green again, the trees straighten towards the light, and flowers emerge from the cold ground.
I realized as I felt the ash on my forehead that my grandma and I both represented the paradox of Lent. My grandma, whose earthly body is failing, is headed for the new life that awaits us in heaven, where the earthly wear and tear fades away forever. While still young and healthy, I have my own frailty in wrestling with the sin and brokenness that are inherent to human life. And yet, the promise of new life still extends to me in the culmination of Lent, that glorious triumph of the cross of Christ. I like Disneyland and all, but surely living in the light of new life, even with the shadow of death, is the happiest place on earth.
If we’re honest, most of us would admit that one of our least favorite words is patience. In a ‘me first’ western culture we can often get what we want, when we want it. Whether it’s Burger King saying, “Have it your way” or the Staples slogan, “That was easy,” our natural desire to be selfish only seems to be magnified by the messages marketed to us on a daily basis, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the message of patience is nearly impossible to find in our culture. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, however, patience is the fruit of God’s Spirit at work within us.
It’s easy to read about the people in the Bible that God used in amazing ways and yet forget about where God showed up in the timeline of their lives. The theme of patience and endurance is one we see throughout scripture. Abraham and his wife Sarah weren’t young when they finally had the child God had promised. Joseph spent years in jail on wrong accusations before he became a powerful leader, fulfilling the dreams God had given him. Moses lived a non-descript life before God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert before God released them into the Promised Land. Even Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30 years old.
If you’ve ever been in a place in your spiritual growth or your ministry where you feel that nothing is happening, you can take great comfort that you’re in good company. God is always concerned more about our depth of character than our width of ministry. So how do you know if God is working in your life during a season where nothing seems to be happening? Jesus answers that question in the ‘Parable of the Sower’ in Luke 8.
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, ESV).
If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, hear God’s Word, and are holding it fast in your heart, then be on the lookout for seasons of patience and embrace them. As you do, be reminded that you’re walking the same spiritual road as Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, and Moses. And God used these individuals to change whole cultures.
Patience and God’s Timing
When my son was three, he and I were hanging out at home and lunch time was fast approaching. He was getting increasingly irritable and fussy, and I hadn’t quite learned how important it was to feed kids on time. He then asked me when lunch time was, and I told him I’d start making it in five minutes. Instead of saying, “Sounds good Dad,” my three-year-old son (to my ignorant surprise) proceeded to throw a tantrum that made me wonder if he had heard me say five hours instead of five minutes. As I quickly made him a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich two thoughts hit me.
First, my son didn’t have a concept of time. As an adult, waiting five minutes is nothing. For a preschooler with no concept of time, any amount of waiting is too long, whether it’s five minutes or five days.
Second, I am just like my son. Sure, I may not throw a fit if I have to wait five minutes but if something doesn’t happen on my timeline my response isn’t much more mature than his. How many times have I approached God and said, “Here’s what I need and when I need it.” The big problem here is that if God doesn’t answer my prayers on my timeline then I assume he’s just not going to answer them. But this isn’t necessarily true. While a young child has no concept of time, we as adults also don’t understand God’s concept of time because it’s eternal. He sees our needs but through the perspective of eternity. Though we don’t have an eternal viewpoint, God’s eternal viewpoint should give us comfort that God provides our needs and our answers at just the right time.
Jesus’ brother James says this about patience and God’s timing:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, ESV).
As sons and daughters of a perfect and loving God, being patient is evidence of our trust and faith in our heavenly Father. As we pray and make requests of our Father we can be confident that his timing is the best timing.
Take time to reflect on both answered and unanswered prayers. When and how did God answer those prayers?
For those prayers that have yet to be answered, ask God for his perspective and trust in his perfect timing.
By Guest Blogger: Bill Farley
The gospel is the most important tool for parenting. For many parents this statement is surprising. When most Christians hear the word “gospel” they think of soul-winning. The gospel saves unbelievers. While this is true, the gospel is much more than a message for the lost. To the apostles the gospel was the message that saved people, but it was also a comprehensive moral and spiritual map for all of life. That includes marriage, vocation, and parenting.
By the gospel I mean the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the good news about everything that God has done to save us from eternity past to eternity future. It starts with the Father’s electing love, and ends with a new heavens and a new earth.
The goal of Christian parents is to parent our children as God has parented us. More than anywhere else in the Bible the gospel unpacks how God loves, serves, and disciplines his sons and daughters. The gospel also shows us ourselves. Everything we need to know about our value to God as well as the depths of our sinfulness, God reveals to us through the gospel.
Therefore, when it comes to our children, nothing could be more important than how to apply the gospel to our parenting. The Bible contains little teaching about parenting (only 2 verses in the New Testament). That is because the gospel is the paradigm for parenting. We can derive many parenting principles from the gospel. Here are some examples.
Should we focus on protecting our children from the world or on bringing them into new birth? The Bible stresses the positive. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). Do we really believe this? If this is true, a good offense, combined with a proper understanding of new birth, is more important than protecting them from the world.
What parental virtue is most apt to attract God’s blessing? Surprisingly, it is not love, discipline or Bible study. Scripture testifies overwhelmingly that God blesses the parent that learns to fear him, and we get that fear from the gospel.
What are the characteristics of all effective disciplinarians? First, they have a clear understanding of indwelling sin. Second they are comfortable with the authority that God has given them. Third, they love their children with God’s affection. The gospel instructs us on all three.
Last, most parents experience times of crushing failure and discouragement. The gospel encourages parents with the grace that they need when they feel discouraged, defeated, or inadequate.
In summary, go deep with the gospel, and God will amplify your children’s faith through. God will bless your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They will marry believers, enjoy a vibrant faith, stay married, rejoice in the privilege of children, joyfully serve local churches, and honor their parents. What could be better than that?
Bill is the senior pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Evangelical church, which he planted with several other families in Spokane, Washington. Check out his book Gospel-Powered Parenting which is on sale this week.
There are many true things about you. You may be a student. You may be a mom. You may love someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. You may make music or lattes. Life may be incredibly difficult, or you may feel like you’re living the dream.
These things may be true—but are they the truest?
Fried chicken is food, true, and so is a kale salad. But Jesus declared that He is the truest food. See, other things may have the appearance of being able to satisfy the deep needs of our bodies and even our souls, but Jesus declares that He is even truer food and truer drink.
So even among truths, there are true things and there are truer things.
Jesus wants to get to the truer things, the things so deeply true about you that they have the power to change everything else, including the merely true things.
What if the truest thing about you can cause you to reimagine your entire life? What if the truest thing about you can drown out all the noise and speak the words that you’ve waited for your whole life?
What the Gospel demands we ask is this: what does God say is the truest thing about us?
We aren’t always comfortable asking that question, and sometimes we only pretend to ask it. We give an answer we think we ought to give, an answer that identifies us as one of the good kids or a good Christian or a good citizen. Those answers are too easy. They’re cheap. All our lives we’ve been trained to answer that question in particular ways for particular people.
We define ourselves differently to different people. I’m a good worker, a good parent, I’m a failure, I’m beautiful, I’m hideous, I’m loved, I’m not.
And maybe you answer it differently when you’re by yourself, when you ask it of yourself. Dancing alone, driving alone, sit- ting at a cafe alone, tapping snooze on your alarm for the seventh time, the tenth time, because there isn’t one single reason you can come up with for getting out of bed on a sunny Saturday.
You answer it differently every time because you feel different every time you’re asked. A different person with every shifting truth.
Here’s the problem: you’re clinging to true things about your- self that simply aren’t that true. You’re elevating things that are merely true—or half-true, or true some days but not others—to the level of “truest.” I know you’re doing this—because I do it too. We all do. It’s the human condition.
Be clear: many destructive things we believe are very much true! We do fail, we did lose the money, we aren’t as beautiful, we were abused.
The problem is that we have pushed many of these merely true things down to the most fundamental layer of who we are and in so doing have built our whole lives and identities on them.
These things can be true, but we need to discover that they are not, and never will be, the truest thing.
David Lomas is the Lead Pastor at Reality/SF and the author of the book The Truest Thing About You (David C. Cook) which launches today! You can follow him on Twitter @davidlomas
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
- The Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. “
-Jesus in John 16:33 (ESV)
Since Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, every generation has been on a desperate search for hope. Hope that there is a cure, that there is a way out, that something ‘I’ can do will make all things right again. For those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus we know that He alone is our hope. It’s only through his saving grace that our desperate search for hope finds an answer.
But, here’s the thing, it’s not yet fully complete. The day of Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul references in Philippians 1:6 (see above) is yet to come. Our hope begins when we accept the gift of God’s grace and say ‘yes’ to Jesus – and it’s fully and wholly completed on Christ’s return. So what do we do in the meantime? What do we do when health fails, depression overwhelms, and the circumstances of life overwhelm us?
We still cling to hope! We still believe the promises of Jesus (see above verse) and at that moment – as the writer of Hebrews says – hope becomes our anchor. If Jesus isn’t that hope that anchors us down – then just like a ship in a storm – we become lost, aimless, and desperate. Have you ever felt like that? I certainly have and it’s in those seasons of desperation that everything the world has to offer is no more solid than sinking sand. Jesus says, we ‘will have tribulation’ but despite the hardships of life we choose hope. Hope in him and his promises – knowing he is faithful.
This is the good news the world needs to hear and we need build our lives on!
Watch the video below to hear how the reality of Jesus brought hope despite the circumstances of life. If you find yourself in a season that has tried to steal your hope check out the book 365 Days of Hope or check out other great books on hope here.
The other day my two boys – age seven and four – were playing at a playground when they both came up to me with sad and frustrated looks on their faces. They informed me that another boy had called my four year old a ‘chicken’. I could tell that my seven year old wasn’t going to let someone call his little brother a name again. I’ve always taught them that they are to use their strength only to protect and never harm someone – and this wasn’t a situation where I wanted him to clobber a kid over his little brother being called a chicken.
So I looked at my four year old and I said, “If he calls you a chicken again then flap your arms and start making some crazy chicken noises.” With amused smiles they both headed off to play again.
A short time later they returned with big smiles and told me that it had worked. The same boy called my four year old a chicken again and so my son promptly began to sound and act like a deranged playground chicken. Apparently this took any warped joy right out of the name calling and according to my boys he ran off (probably a bit weirded out) to find another kid to pick on.
So let me ask you this question.
Who’s the playground bully calling you a chicken?
It might not actually be a person. Maybe it’s a circumstance or habit. The affect is often the same though. Our reaction to tough situations is often fight or flight but what we really need to do is react in the opposite spirit.
Do you remember when Jesus was taken into the desert to be tempted? Here was Satan – a created being – trying to take down the savior of the world. What did Jesus do? He didn’t fight, he didn’t run, instead he responded in a way that baffled Satan. He used the truth of God’s word and eventually it was Satan who had to leave.
How about when Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Matthew 5:39-40
Talk about acting in the opposite spirit!
So as 2014 starts out what does acting in the opposite spirit look like for you? What’s staring you in the face that would normally cause you to give up or to fight? Maybe it needs a crazy chicken response instead.
Do you have a tough co-worker? Buy them a cup of coffee.
Are you lazy? Get up and go.
Has someone spoken a lie to or about you? Go to God’s word and let His truth work in your life.
Are you spiritually apathetic? Serve at your church or read through the Bible this year.
May the year 2014 be full of opportunities to act in unexpected ways and be amazed at the goodness of God!