Patience


Our national body met this week in Kansas City for its 130th Annual Session. KC is less than 200 miles away and since I have some level of familiarity with the area, quite naturally I drove the distance. It was good to share fellowship with colleagues and friends from all over the country.

A pastor and friend from the DC area caught a ride with me to and from the downtown Convention Center daily since he had no car. As we were riding back to our hotels one evening, he verbalized it appeared as if I was headed in the wrong direction. In all actuality, we were taking a different route, but we were still going to our same destinations. Quietly, I ignored his concern. Finally, he repeated himself, and in a rather humorous manner I looked at my friend and gave him this somewhat typical response: “Man, I’ve got this thing!” Soon we were arriving at our destination and he conceded (with surprise and delight) he really didn’t think we were going to make it.

Reflecting on our riding exchange, I thought whenever riding in someone else’s vehicle, you simply have to trust that person to get you to your goal. Interestingly, and what he didn’t know (and I didn’t tell him) was that I had been that way before.

This reality is true of Christians. We are often concerned about whether or not the path we are taking is the right one, or the given direction we are traveling can get us to our goal. Often delays and unfamiliar scenery will challenge our comfort zones and make us quite naturally uneasy. Let me tell you, my dear brothers and sisters, don’t let these concerns worry you! We have a few comforts along this journey called faith that should put us at ease.

First, we should always remember that Someone else is doing the driving. While we at times are prone to forget (as did my friend), we must keep in mind we are simply the passengers. Secondly, He (God) knows exactly what He is doing, and too, where He is going. It may not look like it or even seem like it to us, but faith says He does. That means we’ve got to trust Him. Thirdly, even though it appears He may be (at times) ignoring us, there is one other truth we must never forget: He’s been this way before! Over two-thousand years ago, our Lord traveled this same trail. In fact, when He left, He sent us a Tour Guide (a personal Driver) to make sure we will reach our goal.

Job expressed it best at Chapter 23 and verse 10 of his journal: “But He knows the way that I take; and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”

Enjoy the ride, dear friends! God’s got this thing!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

My daughter called to check on me and to fill me in on her upcoming summer plans which will include summer school. As our conversation neared an end, I thought I was about to get away when the inevitable topic surfaced. She said kindly, “I need some money, daddy.” I smiled and told her I would take care of it, and we hung up the phone. That was Friday. On Monday, she called to see if I had taken care of it. I reassured her I had. She called a day later because the money hadn’t hit. It arrived the next day. My baby needed a blessing from her daddy and called to make her request known. Notice how I handled it! Several hundred miles away, I never even left my office, nor moved from my desk. I did not go to the bank. I did not write a check. I would not later on go to the post office, nor did I mail to her a package. I simply continued to sit at my computer and executed an electronic transaction that deposited the necessary funds into her account. It only took me a matter of minutes. I did what she asked!

Did you get it? If I—sinful me—as an earthen father, have the capacity to respond to the needs of my children by long distance (and thereby keep my word), how much more do you think our Heavenly Father is likewise able to meet the needs of His children; and also keep His word? His word says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) His word says, “…God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Yes, at times it feels like we are being neglected or somehow overlooked when it comes to our prayer requests to God. The apparent delays are unnerving and can frustrate us to no end. Rest assured, dear friends, God heard you when first you asked; and is already doing (and maybe even has already done) something about it. The angel of the Lord came to reassure Daniel of this truth (read Daniel 10: 12). In essence, the angel said, “I was on my way, but unfortunately I got held up…” (paraphrase, mine) What great comfort Daniel must have received to learn that God was faithfully working on his behalf (sending help to see about him) even though the manifestation had not been revealed!

“Keep holding on, my brothers and sisters!” Help is on the way!

Only a moment ago I stepped out of my truck and walked around to the passenger side door to retrieve my brief case and shoulder bag. When opening the door, a small meal receipt fell out and onto the church’s parking lot. Before I could pick it up, a gentle breeze lightly swept it under the vehicle and it was too far gone for me to reach. Calmly, I walked to the other side of the vehicle, backed up a bit to see if I could see it, and just stood there unmoved. After a few minutes, the receipt eased its way from under the vehicle, and I quietly picked it up. As I walked into my office, I rehearsed (in my mind) my harmless incident and clearly heard God speak.

In case you feel you have fallen short in raising or parenting your children, perhaps my innocent experience in our church’s parking lot can help. If you have dropped-the-ball or even feel as though somehow you missed-the-mark with yours (or simply wish you had done things differently), then do what I just did:

1. Notice (pay attention to) where the mishap occurred.
2. Reposition yourself so you can see the direction in which they might be headed.
3. Wait for the Wind (of the Holy Ghost) to breathe on them.

God still has a way of gently breathing on our imperfect efforts and returning to us what seems to have been lost. Solomon said if you train the child properly (“…in the way he should go…”) while he or she is young, the child will not depart from the path when the child becomes old (read Proverbs 22:6).

How do we know God yet breathes? It is because the Wind is still blowing!

For years now I have coined a somewhat lyrical and memorable phrase detailing what it means to be a fully liberated adult. On those occasions when I have incorporated it into a sermonic discourse, it has never failed to generate a rousing response. The statement is this: “You are not a fully liberated adult until you’re actually grown, gone, on your own, and leaving your mama and daddy’s money alone!” A few may disagree, but numerous have noted how it resonates with their own views when it comes to an excellent definition for being a true adult!”

As comical and perhaps factual as this quotation may be, it reminds us of the common quest of every growing (and groaning) teenager as they begin to know privilege, opportunity, more liberty, and some degree of independence. It seems the more they taste it, the more they want of it (and there’s nothing wrong with wanting it either). I believe, however, I can honestly say for every child-rearing adult and loving parent that no child wants to leave home any quicker (or to any degree greater) than their guardians want them to soon be on their way. In the final analysis, there is one inescapable factor we cannot ignore; “these things take time.”

As I pondered this all too familiar dilemma, the Lord pressed upon me another truth—an axiom of sorts—that is indisputably true. It is this: “In one’s quest for autonomy and a want for authority, none get to live without accountability.”

We would all do well to learn this reality. No one should seek to live without the distinct privilege of allowing another (or others) to uphold you in loving and responsible accountability. It is the only guarantor of excellence, ethics, and equality for a healthy society to exist. Lord Acton was right when he wrote, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely!” This certainly holds true when it comes to the management of our lives!

When you think about it, Jabez’s simple prayer included an insightful appeal that recognized his own need for living right in community. While he requested more real estate, resources, and responsibility, he also asked the Lord to “…keep me from evil so that I may not cause pain.” (see 1 Chronicles 4:10). He wanted God to help him manage himself so that he would not create problems for others who lived with, amid, and near him. He knew in the scheme of things he could not be successful without living responsibly and accountably around other people. Joyfully, God did exactly what he asked Him to do. He can do it for you. Just ask Him!

I have never asked God to help me be a better preacher or pastor. If only He would enable me to be a better person. That is why my desperate plea daily is simply: “Lord, help me to live right!”

How long do I have to go through this? When will my “ship come in?” Will trouble ever cease? When is it going to be my turn? Will my dreams come true? Will things ever get better? These are the universal and unrelenting concerns of so many true believers. They pray, they fast, they seek the loving intercession of others, even labor before the Lord for hours on end; and yet it seems like nothing happens. Things don’t improve or get any different, and the waiting is wearisome to endure. Here’s a real question for you? What if change doesn’t come or things don’t get better? And what if they get worse? Plainly frustrated by waiting, what is one supposed to do? How does one manage in the meantime and beyond this likely possibility?

If God does not discernibly change things for you or improve your circumstances to your delight, and obviously you can’t change them, here are some options:

1. You can start by changing YOU. There’s no need to keep beating-your-head-up-against-the-wall in frustration and disappointment. Arriving at this crucial growth position does not mean you’re happy with or appreciate your situation; instead it means you are learning to accept it. It doesn’t mean you like it; it just means you have decided to live WITH and “to live” IN SPITE of it. Sometimes things just won’t change. “It-is-what-it-is,” and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Don’t become bitter! Get better! Try hard to work on you!

2. Get involved in some area of kingdom service. One of the best ways to avoid depression and overcome the tendency to be overwhelmed by your own plight is to find eager (helpful and encouraging) involvement in another’s struggle. Ask God to reveal to you His opportunities where you can be a real and meaningful blessing to someone else who may be having a hard time. Trust me! You won’t have to look long, you won’t have to look hard, and you certainly won’t have to look far!

3. Listen and learn from both. Someone asked me recently from where I find all my stories? I told them I actually don’t have stories; all I have are experiences. And from these experiences, I am able to joyfully discover stories. How then does that happen? All I do is take the time to reflect on my experiences and process them from every possible angle. When they have “marinated” for a while, I seek God about the lesson He wants me to gain in every one of them. Some believers see life as full of obstacles; I try to see life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. Don’t miss the lesson you are supposed to learn; and don’t rest until you find it. It’s in there!

You can actually turn your negative experiences into positive energy! You can move from frustration to favor. Just ask God to help you, and before you know it you will have stumbled upon a new joy that will give you the strength you need to go on!

Confident He will still help you through it, I remain…

On my way to Kansas City a few days ago, I got up early to attend an eight o’clock worship celebration at a dear colleague’s church. The nearly three hour drive meant I needed to leave home while the skies were yet overshadowed with blackness. This particular Sunday morning was especially foggy, and forced me to exercise caution along the interstate trail. With only a few other motorists on the road (along with the usual big rigs zooming past), it was not the most comforting drive to make alone.

As I journeyed closer to my destination and the darkness transitioned from black to gray, it was increasingly apparent the fog was slowly lifting each mile of the way. The further I drove, the brighter heaven’s canopy became until ultimately the fog dissipated and the path at last was clear. God spoke to me about my dreary experience in the night.

Life, often, is dark and dismal; and many times it is difficult for us to navigate with ease. The life lesson from my journey is plain. Consider these the next time you can’t see clearly:

1. Know with certainty where you’re headed!
2. Proceed with extreme care and caution!
3. Keep driving until the “Son” rises!

Happy trails, my brothers and sisters; and be blessed along the way! There IS a bright side somewhere.

My son use to deliver newspapers in the wee hours of the morning. Upon leaving home one morning, he inadvertently forgot his freshly updated subscription list detailing the businesses where he was to make drop-offs. Fortunately, he got another list from his supervisor; however, it lacked the updates he had made on the original he left at home. Frustrated every step of the way (from trying to drive, and trying to remember the updates he had made on his old list), he finally parked the truck and combined both lists. He took the one he had just received, plus the new additions he had, and made one list so that he could perform his duty more easily. His experience teaches us some valuable lessons. If things are equally frustrating for you in this especially dark season, you may consider doing what he did:

1.  Admit Your Obvious Frustrations. There is nothing wrong with saying, “This ain’t working,” or “something just ain’t right,” or “I’m making this harder than it needs to be.” Before you can fix it, you’ve got to admit it.

2.  Find a Convenient Place to Park. Sometimes you need to carefully pull over, and take-a-pause-for-the-cause. Disengaging your current task may take time; but if you continue as you are, it will only waste time. Sometimes we just need to hit-the-pause-button!” If you could just pull over for a moment, it may actually help you save time in the long run.

3. Rearrange What’s Before You. He (my son) actually had everything he needed right in front of him. It only needed to be organized and prioritized. He had to “set things in order…” Similar words were told Hezekiah (by God); and Paul also said this to Titus.

4.  Re-Engage Your Assignment and Finish What You’ve Started—Only when you can pause long enough to take a look at what you’re doing wrong; and do what you can to fix it, will you be able to continue your journey and complete your assignment. Otherwise, you run the risk of further frustrating yourself (and others), and things may never get better.

Happy holidays! During these tough economic times, be encouraged to know there is “good news for the night.” It may be dark now, but perhaps you can learn from my son’s inspiring discovery. There is something we can do to make it through the night. Try the steps above and see if things will get better.

Most of us have at one point or another feared the darkness. As children, we hated to go to sleep in light of this dread. To comfort us, mom and dad bought something to help us tackle our fears. They purchased a simple gadget that was plugged into the wall socket and illumined the hallway or our room. It wasn’t a regular light bulb, yet we could still faintly see in the darkness and move around if we needed to. The comforting device was nothing but a night light. Though small, it helped us through the blackness; and before long, morning would dawn and a new day appeared. When day came, there was no longer a need for the nightlight. Incredibly, another power made its way through the night, and had mysteriously changed the horizon and enhanced our view.

This article is designed as a sort of “nightlight!” I pray it is good news for many who are afraid or may be painfully negotiating this present darkness. If you can hold on through the night, another light will appear. The sun (even the Son) is guaranteed to shine shortly. Be encouraged as you wait on Him!

Failure to get that job, being overlooked for a promotion, not getting a position for which you made application, or just being “dissed” by someone you were interested in! As difficult as any of these may be, every believer needs to learn rejection is always more than simply rejection.

Sometimes it is protection! God could be keeping you from some tragedy, imminent danger, or an eventual disaster that could be life-altering or even devastating for you or your family.

It may be correction! This can be viewed two ways. First, it could be God’s way of lovingly correcting (rebuking) our clear errant pursuits. Selfishness and personal interests certainly can blind good judgment. On the other hand, God may deny us so we can see more clearly (correctly) in light of an innocent miscalculation that may not maximize our abilities. Either way, it’s still correction.

Often it is direction! God has a way of using closed doors to steer us to other opportunities we may have been overlooking due to our passionate interests in the thing “we” wanted.

It could be plain objection! As tough as it is for children to hear, “No,” is a reasonable response to any legitimate request. When God says “No,” He isn’t being mean or insensitive. Song artist and late Minister, Paul Jones wrote, “…He knows what’s best for me…” (see Jeremiah 29:11)

It might just be divine selection. Perhaps what you wanted was already predestined for someone else. It may hurt, but don’t hate! Celebrate; and be encouraged! A more lucrative position—one for which you are better fit—may be just around the corner. If you can trust Him, He will prove it to you.

Finally, it is always affection! Any way you look at it, a “no” from God in no way compromises His great love for us. Sometimes rejection is another way of His showing how much He actually loves us; because He may have something very different and more suitable for us; tailored for us like a fine garment.

So you see there are many sides to rejection. There is protection, correction, direction, objection, divine selection, and always affection. In the New Living Translation at 1 Peter 4:19, it says, “So if you are going to suffer according to the will of God, keep doing what’s right; and trust yourself to the God who made you, for He will never fail you.” Remember, when you can’t trace His hand, you can always trust His heart! Just wait on Him!

Our God never makes a mistake; and He never fails!  Bless His holy name!

In less than two months, I will (Lord willing) celebrate nineteen years as a resident and servant of Omaha, Nebraska. Wow! It’s hard to believe I’ve actually been here that long. Much water has gone under the bridge; and a lot has happened in this short time. Among the many, I have grown. The Lord has used this opportunity to mature me in ways I could not have imagined. I have to say to Him often, “Thank you!” I am so grateful!

Whenever I go onto my deck on the rear of my house, I have to pass (perhaps even brush) a significant symbol on my dining room floor adjacent to the sliding door. There sits a precious peace lily I received when I came to Omaha in 1989. I call it a symbol because my secretary (Mrs. Morris) gave it to me when first I arrived as a special house warming gift to adorn my residence and to refresh my space and my spirit. During my tenure I have watched and watered it; and not without a few meaningful messages.

As a periodic itinerant, I have been away at times when I could not attend to this extremely sturdy Spathiphyllum floribundum. I have observed it towering like a champion with grace and dignity, and yet I have occasionally found it drooping in the chasm of thirst and dehydration. Amazingly, with only a little water this resilient plant has bounced back and lifted its head anew as if it only needed a little attention and care. Once, during my tenure here, I noticed the roots were extending out of the soil and I took the time to re-pot it. It was shocking at first as the plant seemed to wither for a few days, but the roots soon stabilized and my lily began to grow once again.

Recently I noticed its roots were emerging and began to ponder our positions (assignments) in ministry. Ever wonder if your roots are extending beyond your current context and it wasn’t allowing you room to grow? Have you ever felt you were environmentally challenged and not able to fully realize your own potential all because your container was too small? I’m certainly not trying to play God, but could it be time to for you to be re-planted? Are you open to being put into a “new pot” in which to start over and again begin to grow? Well, before you do anything rash, allow me to offer these considerations.

1. Make sure you are growing! There are many ways to look at this. It should be indisputably clear you have been taking good care of yourself (physically, mentally, financially, morally, etc.), and trying to improve or get better (personally, academically, professionally, and certainly spiritually). Make sure the estimation of your own growth is clear to the extent no one could compellingly challenge your assessment. Allow God to snip and cut where needed; and to pick and prune any dead (unproductive) things that may hinder your growth and healthy development. Continue to let Him work on you!

2. Pray about a fresh opportunity! Assignment and re-alignment in the body of Christ is not an exact science as some may suggest. A sure sense God is at work during these times yields both a challenge and a chance; I’m talking about an opportunity and an invitation. In my feeble estimation, you’ll never have to try and make either of these happen. If you do, you will likely risk stepping out of God’s will for your life and ministry, and may face imminent frustration and disaster.

3. Be keenly aware of your strengths and weaknesses! If you’re not a board certified, graduated-from-medical-school qualified physician, then applying for a position as the Chief of Surgery in a major hospital facility is not a realistic option. Know your gifts and abilities. Too often we prefer (and many times pursue) opportunities for which we are not personally suited or even spiritually gifted. Don’t do it! If such opportunities come to you, then that’s a totally different matter. God may yet be at work. Whatever the case, be totally honest (with yourself and with those interested)!

4. Trust God to lead you! Remember, we (ministers of the gospel) actually live, move, and have being at the will and pleasure of a wise Cosmic Horticulturist–God! Since He named and nurtured the first garden (Eden), He surely knows what’s best for each of us. In His own good time, God is still able to select the right pot, and ultimately uproot you (and with the utmost care). He will at last re-place and re-plant you exactly where He wants you. Until then, try hard to blossom where you are, and be still! In other words, don’t move until God moves you!

I think it’s time to re-pot my peace lily. As a matter of fact, I know it’s time!

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