Tag Archives: faith

Karen Bates ~ Wait for God’s Goodness

In a recent conversation, the idea being discussed centered on what it means to wait on God. One person in the group asked, “how do you know when to give up?” The other members of the group immediately looked at me. I asked, “why are you all looking at me?” Someone replied, “you are the pastor! You should have an answer.” The person scoffed when I said, “you never give up when you are waiting on God. It doesn’t matter if you are waiting on a promise, something you requested, something you need — whatever it is, if God says, wait — wait. It is important to trust God’s timing.”

That’s something I have experience with. During a season of unemployment, I knew God had promised me that I would return to work, that I was not to panic but to trust him. It was easy to trust God while I was receiving unemployment checks. But as the deadline for the checks to end neared, I tried not to panic but kept reminding God that bills were still due.

God provided — from expected and unexpected sources. One person who didn’t know me put money in my hand and said, “God told me to give this to you.” When I tried to explain, the person said I owed no explanation. “And please, do not send me a thank you note. Thank God. It is from him.” I waited until I got to my car to count the money. It was enough to cover my car payment, insurance, and gas for several weeks. And while I thanked God, I reminded God again: I need a job. After the unemployment checks ended and I still wasn’t working, I was always asking for prayer. God reminded me to stop asking and to wait.

One of my favorite verses of scripture is Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” However, that Scripture is what I quoted to other people who were waiting. My morning prayer turned into me asking God for courage to wait and to strengthen my heart to believe. When my belief in what God has promised me wanes, I often consider the father whose child was possessed by a spirit described in Mark 9. The truth is, sometimes I’m the father — “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” I don’t always know what it takes to believe God for what he has promised. Unbelief is easy; belief takes faith — and sometimes patience.

The beauty of waiting is not always evident. In the waiting, I am often consumed by thoughts about what happens if. What if God’s promise doesn’t come true? What will people think if I said God would do it and he doesn’t? What happens if? God has gently reminded me more than once that the onus for what he has promised is not on me. It is on him. God will do what he says — in his own time.

There is a beauty in waiting, but it is not shown while we wait. The beauty is revealed when you review what God has done in you while you were believing and waiting.

The father’s request — and Jesus’ promise — was healing for the boy. Even when it looked as if the boy was dead, the father continued to believe. Don’t stop believing if life was promised to a situation that appears dead. I wonder how the father felt in those moments when his son was on the ground, and some thought the boy was dead? I’m sure those moments felt like years. However, the good news is that the promise came to be: “Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” ( Mark 9:27)

As I was waiting and praying for the job, I talked to an employment counselor. The counselor said it would be at least four to six weeks before I would be working. I had been without an income for five weeks at that time. However, God’s timing is perfect. The job opportunity God had for me opened much sooner. I applied for the job during the third week of July and was working in the second week of August. Never give up on what God has promised you. Keep believing, keep the faith, keep trusting, and keep waiting. Wait on the Lord, and if you must, pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Edgar Bazan ~ Unmet Expectations

Isn’t it true that life will not always turn out the way you want?  Maybe you don’t get the promotion you think you deserve or you are struggling with your health. Maybe your marriage doesn’t turn out the way you imagined even though you feel you have worked hard for it and done everything you possibly can.

The truth is that we get disappointed when our expectations of what life is supposed to be are not met, even as we pray and pray, asking God, seeking his face, saying, “Do you even hear me? Are you with me?”

What are we to do in these situations?

Unmet expectations are one of the hardest things we have to deal with as people, and perhaps even more so as Christians. We have a tendency to write out our own life plans and then expect God to make it all happen. 

For example, consider the expectation that if we study hard in school and get a good education, we will be able to get a good job, earn good money, and then have a good life. Or if we come to church, say our prayers, serve people, and offer ourselves to God, everything will be blessed, exempting us from the bad. But life sometimes does not turn out the way we had hoped it to be.

Now, you think you are alone in this? That it all happens to you, or only to people who are not strong enough in their faith? Think twice.

The Bible is full of examples of how the people of God often have unmet expectations and how difficult it could be for them to deal with that. The story of Elijah the prophet is one of those times:

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shatteredthe rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:1-18

Who is this prophet, Elijah? Personally, I think that Elijah is one of the most interesting people in the Bible. He is one of only two men that have never known physical death (Enoch being the other). He is one of two men that appear in both the Old and New Testaments. He appeared in the time of Ahab and also with Moses on the Transfiguration mount as they spoke with Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the people thought Elijah would come and rescue him. Elijah was chosen by the apostle James to illustrate for us the might of a person of prayer.

By all accounts, he is an outstanding man of God, but in this chapter, we find him at an awkward moment, where he is neither heroic nor courageous. Instead, we see a broken human, like many of us would find ourselves at times.

Let’s see what caused Elijah to go from hero to someone who gave up and wished to die.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings are about the story of God’s people in relation to God’s covenant, about kings who kept the covenant or disregarded it altogether. King Ahab was a bad king who did not care about God’s covenant, and Elijah’s ministry took place during his reign in Israel. Ahab was self-centered, an easily influenced king who had married a pagan priestess named Jezebel. Jezebel was evil.

Elijah had become Ahab and Jezebel’s target. For them, he was no more than a troublemaker. We read,

“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”

Why would Jezebel despise Elijah so badly? They have a history together. First, Jezebel was persecuting and killing the prophets and priests of God – of whom Elijah was a part – because they were in opposition to her kingdom. And second, Elijah humiliated Ahab and Jezebel by mocking, defeating, and killing their prophets: 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19).

This defeating of the pagan prophets was a powerful display of God’s power and Elijah’s faith; it was a demonstration that Jezebel’s gods were powerless and the Lord was alive and on Elijah’s side, but it also made Elijah the primary target of this evil monarchy. He thought after winning the epic battle against the prophets of Baal and Asherah that Ahab and Jezebel would be stunned, repent, and convert from their evil, but instead comes a message from Jezebel, who said, “I swear to Baal, by tomorrow morning, you will be dead!” This takes Elijah totally by surprise; as a result, he seems to fall apart at the seams.

So we have this hero of faith, a valiant man about whom the Bible says, “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah,” a man of not only faith but also courage. However, after Jezebel sends word to find and kill him, this happens: “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life…” After the miraculous and overpowering victory over the prophets of Baal, we find this same man afraid and running for his life.

“No! This isn’t what’s supposed to happen,” we can almost see Elijah crying out in this way. He thought he was done, because things did not go the way he expected.

What’s happening here? Elijah experienced a huge letdown. Even more, he experienced it in the midst of being faithful. He was wondering what he did wrong and if he was the person that he thought he was, if he was the right person for the job. Perhaps he thought to himself, “I did something wrong; it is my fault,” or, “I have been let down by God.”

In verses 9 and 10 we can see Elijah’s struggle:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

If I were to paraphrase this, it might go, “I have given everything to God, I did my best, all that I could and it wasn’t enough. I am a complete failure.”

This is what’s going on inside Elijah’s head. He was so broken he even went so far to say, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He can’t seem to find a way out beside escaping his challenges, giving up, running away, and hiding in a cave –literally.

Can you see the drastic change? First, he defeated hundreds of evil men, and now he wishes to be dead. Isn’t this what happens to us too? The way we feel and see ourselves when we are going through struggles?

When Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah, he experienced a degree of satisfaction and contentment, and his expectations were met. But when they were not met, he experienced anger, sadness, and fear, and this happens to us too: anger because you are mad that your expectations were not met and start looking to blame someone for it, whether others, yourself, or God. Sadness, because you grieve the loss of what did not happen. And fear, because you are afraid that your expectations will continue to go unmet.

Steven Furtick speaks of this when he writes about the “expectation gap” as the space between our expectations and our actual experiences. This gap is what we suffer as frustration that is caused by unmet expectations and goes something like this: “This isn’t what marriage was supposed to look like.” “I thought this job was going to be different.” “I never thought my kids would act that way.”

We have been there, overcome with frustration and left with nothing but unmet expectations. How are we supposed to respond? Do we tough it out and get on with life? Do we just lower our expectations? Or is there another way?

This brings me to our hope: look for the provision of God in the middle of unmet expectations. God’s plan for us may not meet our finite human expectations, but it will certainly and ultimately exceed all of them.

This is exactly what God showed Elijah. The prophet couldn’t see it because of the cloud of disappointment he was under. So God showed Elijah the big picture when,

There came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [He was in a cave.] He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

Can you see this? Can you hear? God was up to something, a lot more than what Elijah had realized. God was not denying his prophet’s challenges and emotions but was telling him, “we are not done yet, I get how you feel, but see, what we are doing together is much greater than just winning a battle; it is much greater than your personal victories. We will win together … everything.”

What God is doing in our lives is much greater than an unmet expectation. When things seem impossible, with God, there is always the element of surprise, the possibility that something greater is going to happen and change everything.

Here is a profound truth: God’s thoughts, his desires for us, far exceed our wildest expectations. We need to learn to see and define our place and purpose in life from the big picture perspective as opposed to the immediate emotions and challenges we are facing. It is at this moment when we are in the midst of volatile emotions, noise, and distractions, that we hear God’s voice telling us: I am working in the background a far greater victory for you; your unmet expectations will become surpassing expectations.

My friends, our unmet expectations are not dead ends. Don’t let go of God and don’t let go of yourself. Practice a stubborn faith and hope!

And here is the key to this: our focus shouldn’t be on getting what we want from life or this world, but on living to the fullest of our potential, listening and following God. You see? There is a shift here, from, “getting what we want,” to “pursuing what God wants.”

It is not easy; in fact, it might be the hardest thing we ever do, but our love for God will be our greatest strength which will carry us through however far and however long we need to go.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Consolation and Desolation: Old Wisdom for Tired Protestants

Summer is a season for seeing people we normally don’t get to visit much: family reunions in park pavilions, vacation at a camp where we hug people we only see once a year, travel to relatives several states away.

The widespread family of faith isn’t really all that different, and sometimes when the flowering tree is in bloom and the breeze moves slowly under the weight of humidity, we bump into spiritual relatives we don’t see very often. They are strange and familiar at the same time, like an aunt you see every few years who wears different clothes than your mother or grandma but carries recognizable features, a familiar laugh, an identical profile.

Now that we’re historically removed from burning each other at the stake, for the past half-century Catholics and Protestants have been venturing into the park pavilion with nervous, eager smiles, carrying potato salad and ready to try an afternoon’s visit for brief family reunions – so to speak. No, we still don’t share the Eucharist, yes, most Protestants still have deep misgivings about the fine line of venerating Mary or asking Mary to intercede, and praying to Mary as Co-Redemptrix; and yes, many Catholics still have deep misgivings about Protestants’ tendency to swing back and forth theologically with every knee-jerk trend under the sun; but you don’t bring up famous family fights of holidays past at the one time of year everyone’s together for a few hours, and overall ecumenical efforts on the parts of Catholics and Protestants have been a very good thing indeed.

Which brings me to Ignatius on a site largely shaped by Wesleyan Methodist theology. Sometimes you bump into a distant relative and wonder how you’ve never connected before. Ignatius is that guy.

Assuming you have Google and Amazon, one can let you research a bit about him on your own time; today, large likelihood of being Protestant reader, we’ll briefly sketch an appreciative note on his concepts of consolation and desolation. Some wisdom is deep and hard and rich but at the same time feels like good old-fashioned common sense: this is that kind of wisdom.

It cuts against the #blessed trend, it cuts against cynical pessimism, and it cuts against the insidious assumption that anything we experience in our life must result from our own smarts or stupidity, holiness or hollowness. It is deeply personal without being damningly individualistic.

Simply put, “For Ignatius, the ebb and flow of consolation and desolation is the normal path of the Christian life.” There will be times of consolation – when there is a sense of noticeable, personally experienced growth or blossoming, when God’s presence seems close and the means of grace seem easy and quick at hand. There will also be times of desolation – similar to the “dark night of the soul” – when, whether from wrongdoing, or attacks of the enemy, or times of struggle or challenge, God’s presence seems distant or even simply absent, when our growth seems stalled or the habits that sustain us feel unusually heavy.

Ignatius counsels that in a time of consolation, followers of Christ should practice gratitude; resist self-satisfied pride, by remembering how limited we were during seasons of desolation; capitalize on the presence or abundance of energy available; and determine not to back out on the resolutions we’re making while things are going well, when later they do not. If Ignatius had been a midwestern farmer, consolation might be described in part as, “make hay while the sun shines.”

He also counsels that in a time of desolation, followers of Christ should practice the habit of recalling God’s faithfulness in prior times of desolation; resist the temptation to see suffering as pointless; resist desolation through meditation and prayer; avoid making big decisions, “because desolation is the time of the lie—it’s not the time for sober thinking. That is, in our disheartened state, we’re more prone to be deceived”; pay attention to the spiritual insights found during desolation; and confidently look for the quick return of a season of consolation. If Ignatius had been a leader in Great Britain in World War II, desolation might be described in part as, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”

Yet Ignatius manages to avoid painting seasons of consolation and desolation as solely discerned by individualistic feelings, and gives wise counsel for how to discern when a choice, circumstance, or perspective moves us toward God and others, and when a choice, circumstance, or perspective is moving us away from God and others.

Overall, for Ignatius, Christians shouldn’t be surprised when desolation gives way to consolation, and we shouldn’t be surprised when consolation again gives way to a period of desolation; but, whether we perceive it or not at the time, God can use both to form and fashion our character and our loves, and the more prepared we are to encounter either season, the better we will endure the challenges that come with both abundance and affliction.

Do you know any tired American Protestants who might take heart from this old wisdom? It certainly has relevance for the constant question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” It has relevance for the “health and wealth” preachers. It has relevance for the “self-made man” portrayals. It has relevance for the depressive Goths tempted to believe that desolation is the season of truth, not the time of the lie. It has relevance for large church pastors who are too preoccupied with attendance, scale, and platform. It has relevance for the tired nun, the tired mom, the tired aunt. It has relevance for someone you know in your life who is going through something awful that you can’t understand.

Good things come to those who –

To those who what?

To those who wait.

“Wait,” Ignatius murmurs over a paper plate of fried chicken on a hot summer afternoon at the ecumenical family reunion. “Your time of consolation will give way – so store up now. Your time of desolation will resolve – so resist at every turn.”

(Good things come to family reunions, too.)

Sometimes, if you’re tired, finding an old relative (or a dead one) will give you some new perspective. Whether you’re in a season of consolation or desolation – thank God for Ignatius.

Andy Stoddard ~ From the Storm to the Shipwreck

Today’s reading is from Acts 27: 13-38:

When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. Since the ship was caught and could not be turned head-on into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and so were driven. We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.”

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.(We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.

We see Paul’s encouragement to his shipmates: don’t lose heart.  God has a plan, and Paul must get to Rome.  As bad as it may look or appear right now, God is not done with Paul; God wants Paul to take the Good News to all the world. So Paul keeps encouraging, keeps pushing, keeps working; Paul keeps at it.  He trusts in what God has told him.  And he uses that knowledge to encourage others.

That is good for us to hear and think about today.  We know that in the end, God wins. We know that in the end, the storm will pass, that God has a plan, that all will be well.  We know it and we really believe it.  Even if we struggle to understand or hold onto it, we know it to be true. 

And if we know it to be true, let’s encourage each other.  Let’s encourage those in the storm.  Paul knew it would be okay because God had promised him that it would be.  He has promised us the exact same thing.  Let’s have faith.  Let’s trust.  And just like Paul, let’s encourage each other, no matter how bad the storm.

What follows encouraging each other through the storm?

In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land. Acts 27:39-44

We see that God’s word to Paul was brought true.  There were no casualties: all the people on the ship survived.  Now, they were stranded in this moment; but they were alive.  They had made it through the storm.  This was not the end of their journey and their trip was not complete. But they had made it this far.  God had kept his word.

You are not yet who you will be. 

You are still on a journey.  Your trip is not complete.  There is work left to do in your life.  There is work that God still has to do with you and through you.  Your journey is not yet complete.  As long as you are still breathing and living, God is still at work on you.

Paul had many miles yet to go, but he was in still in the middle of God’s plan. Today, seek after God’s plan and God’s way.  Even if it leaves you shipwrecked for a moment, God has bigger plans. Trust in him always; always.

Michelle Bauer ~ What It Means to Be Rooted and Established in God’s Love

What is it like to rest in God’s wide and long and high and deep love for you?  If you could choose how God expresses his love to you today, what would you ask for? Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to some early Mediterranean Christians:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3: 14-21    

God promises to strengthen us in our inner being. Take a moment to consider your inner being. What part of you – soul, spirit, mind, emotions, memories, fears, desires – would benefit from God’s strengthening? What efforts have you made to try to strengthen yourself? What have those results looked like? Talk to God about your willingness to surrender your core being to his work.

God’s strength becomes available to us when we are rooted and established in his love. In what other things are you tempted to root yourself? What in your life makes you feel secure and established? Ask the Spirit what it means to be rooted and established in God’s love and listen for the answer.

Verse 19 describes, “love that surpasses knowledge.” Where do you picture yourself on the journey of experiencing this kind of love from God? Where would you like to be? The author’s prayer is that you would be able to experience – grasp and know – this love.

God’s promise to strengthen us at the core is part of his plan to enable us to fully receive his love. How have you already experienced God’s love? What aspects do you long to experience? What parts of your heart, mind and soul would need to be strengthened in order to receive the love of God?

God is able to do, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” In what situation are you waiting for God to work? Take a moment to imagine what more would look like. How does it feel to release the plan and outcomes into his care?

Leave this time trusting that the Spirit will root and establish you in God’s love.

Aaron Perry ~ A Grief in Birth

I’ve never been pregnant. I watched my wife, a complete champion, bear three children with heroic efforts. Bearing a child means to carry the child through pregnancy to birth, when the child is born. Leading up to the birth, there are contractions. Contractions prepare the body to deliver the baby by shortening uterine muscles and dilating the cervix. As the uterus contracts and the cervix expands, the baby passes through the birth canal. But that description is deceptively simple. Like I said, it took heroic efforts.

And a midwife. By no means could I keep my wits through the process to support my wife to any great extent. I was able to boil water (stereotypes to the wind!), rub her back, cheer her on, and grab towels. But a midwife helped keep me together and coached my wife along. I’ll come back to this point.

My Dad died on October 17, 2018. It was about 30 months after a terminal liver cancer diagnosis. My Dad taught me many things; he was teaching us until the day he died. My brother, Tim, summed it well: He taught us to die slowly. By God’s grace, most of my Dad’s final 30 months were quite enjoyable. He had a good quality and quantity of life post-diagnosis. A doctor helped us to frame the situation: Dad refused to surrender to death easily and fought in such a way that he won many battles, though it was a losing war.

I am now learning to grieve. And my Dad isn’t here to teach me. I watched grief and experienced grief after the deaths of grandparents. But, like pregnancies, deaths and their grieving are unique. My Dad’s grief for his own parents was different from my own. C.S. Lewis noted after the death of his wife that he didn’t know grief felt so much like fear. The fear I have is that I won’t grieve – or that I won’t grieve well. I have had my tears, but what is grief supposed to look like? How will I know I’ve grieved?

Every pregnancy was different. My children were all carried differently. They sat in different positions and they liked different foods; they rested and played at different times, all within my wife’s body. I recall one time when my unborn daughter (though I didn’t know the child was a girl at the time) was awake but my wife was asleep. We played a little game of tag. I would tap my wife’s abdomen and wait for the response: a kick. I would wait just a bit and then tap again. Another brief pause and then another kick. There was a little life inside my wife, completely dependent on her to survive yet with a life and will of her own.

I’m taught and I teach that grief comes in waves. It’s true; I don’t deny it. Grief often comes in force and then recedes. But (so far) not for me. I wait for the waves, but they don’t come. There are only brief laps at the beach’s edge, laps that dissipate without foam, even, into the sand. I want more.

Back to the midwife. My wife learned to handle contractions in waves: accept them as they come, breathing and staying as relaxed as possible, and, finally, letting them go. I don’t know what a contraction feels like and I don’t know what grieving—this grieving, at least—is supposed to feel like. This unique grieving has taken the form of irritability, temptation, weariness, flashes of drive and energy.

I take these experiences as contractions. You can’t stop contractions and you can’t speed them up. They come and they go. Contractions prepare the body to birth a baby. They intensify and bring urges to push; the body wants to deliver the baby. In a similar way, I want to control my grief. I want to speed up the waves. I want to be delivered of my grief.

“Heather, on the next contraction, you are going to want to push. You are going to want to push very, very badly, but I need you not to push. If you push, you are going to blast that baby right out of you.” That was some of the most memorable support the midwife gave my wife. The contractions were working, but the body was not yet ready to be delivered of the baby.

I want to blast this grief right out of me. But I can’t. At least, it will be harmful if I do. I need to hold on and let the grief come; let these grieving moments do their work until the grief is fully delivered. I need to do this without breaking trust—without giving into the irritability, the temptation, the manic drive. C.S. Lewis didn’t know grief felt so much like fear; I didn’t know grief took so much faith. 

Note from the Editor: the featured image is from the painting “Grief” by
Morteza Katouzian, 1983.

Kevin Watson ~ On Pragmatism, Integrity, and Faith

The Rev. Dr. Kevin M. Watson delivers his sermon in the William R. Cannon Chapel at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 18, 2018.

Candler School of Theology “prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. Our mission is to educate—through scholarship, teaching, and service—faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world. One of 13 seminaries of The United Methodist Church, we are grounded in the Christian faith and shaped by the Wesleyan tradition of evangelical piety, ecumenical openness and social concern.”

Edgar Bazan ~ The Rest of God

I believe that God wants us to enjoy our everyday lives.

John 10:10 says that Jesus came to us so we may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, until it overflows). But it seems that far too many people who say they believe in Jesus are not enjoying their lives.

Now, it is not only fair but it is necessary to say that life gets hard in spite of our faith. So although we believe that God wants what is best for us, we also recognize that while we are living this life, we all face challenges.

The key to dealing with the tension between what we know God wants for us and the struggles we face is to rest wholly in Jesus; to know that no matter what may come at us, we are not alone and he will always bring new life, resurrection to our brokenness and pain.

Do you believe that Jesus can bring healing and reconciliation to your life? Do you believe that he brings you rest?

Let’s look at Matthew 11:28-30 to hear what Jesus says on this matter:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is talking about two main things here: his rest and yoke.

He refers to himself as the provider of healing and redemption from the things that hurt, oppress, and possess us: that which disfigures the image of God in us. All the ugliness of the heart and mind is forgiven and transformed. Jesus speaks of this as the new birth in John 3. Paul also mentions it in 2 Corinthians 5:17 by writing, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

So when we hear Jesus talking about rest, it is not the kind that you find in a couple of weeks in the summer, in a hammock, or in bed, but it is the relief in life that leads us to experience joy and the blessings of God through a grace/faith relationship with him. This is an invitation aimed at all people to bring them to a place of belief, trust, and a deeper level of commitment in which they are to follow Jesus and become like him.

But what does all this mean?

When Jesus says “come to me” he is offering an open invitation to everyone who hears him. For those without Jesus, it is equivalent to a call to believe in him, meaning, to repent and confess sin, to welcome healing into their lives, and to follow Jesus as new disciples. For those who are already believers, it is a call to follow him as a committed disciple; it is a call to turn their lives over to him completely.

In either case, the invitation is to be saved and to be healed, reconciled, and renewed. And then he says this: “and I will give you rest.”

This is a fascinating theological concept that we find throughout the Bible: rest.

In the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, we read about how God created everything, the heavens, the earth, plants and animals, man and woman. All these in six days. Some people may argue that these were six literal days as we know them; others would say they represent a process of millions of years, and that the language of “days” is figurative to indicate the beginning and end of each creative process. Regardless, what I want to bring to your attention is that after God created everything, on the seventh day of creation, God rested.

The Bible says that all God created was good and that God gave humanity all this goodness for them to enjoy. Creation is a reflection of God’s love and purposes. God moved creation from disorder and formlessness to a place of beauty, order, and creativity. And rest is the final gift of God to creation.

So, let me ask a theological question: are we supposed to be living on the seventh day right now? Meaning, in the rest of God? There is not an eighth day, right? Perhaps we may understand the eighth day as the day when Jesus comes back in glory. But for now, what if all this time we should be living in the time that God intended to be a time of rest for all creation?

This is not a difficult question; the answer is yes. God did not create us for misery but fruitfulness. I believe the exact words that God used were: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is a beautiful picture of God’s heart. God wanted us to enjoy life and be part of God’s creative purposes as we fill the earth and govern it. But that did not last long.

The first man and woman distrusted God and rebelled against him. They did not believe that God wanted the best for them and they decided to seek life somewhere else. Here is humanity walking away from the rest of God. Humanity was created to be partners with God, to enjoy creation alongside God and then become fruitful, but their sin brought upon themselves what Jesus describes as “heavy burdens.” Genesis 3:17 describes this saying, “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.” Of course, this does not refer only to work in a literal manner, but to our relationships, thoughts, feelings, happiness, justice, goodness. Aren’t we all scratching in this life to find rest in all the areas of our lives?

Now, there is one more passage that speaks profoundly about God’s rest, too. Hebrews 4:9-11 says,

[A] sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

This is a fascinating Scripture. I encourage you to read chapters 3 and 4 and mediate further on them. But let it suffice to say for now, that what we are reading here is a reference to how the people of Israel failed to enjoy the rest of God promised to them as the Promise Land. It clearly says two things: God’s rest is still available, it has always been since day seven of creation, but because of sin through disobedience, we do not enter it. In fact, we run away from it.

The promise of rest we read here is the same as what Jesus is saying, Hebrews says, “for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors.”

Jesus says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The implications are the same: We no longer are at war with God and each other. We no longer fight and kill each other. We no longer are slaves to sin and disobedience. We no longer are infested by fear, anger, hate, and guilt; all those things have been lifted from us, they no longer weigh us down, control us, or define us. And most importantly, we no longer are in a struggle against the voice and will of God. We are at rest in the controversy between our souls and our Savior.

We are at rest in him.

It was unbelief, a distrust that led the first man and woman to abandon God and lose the rest of God. It was unbelief, a distrust that kept the people of Israel from entering into the promised land and the rest God had promised there.

And these stories, sadly, continue to repeat themselves in every person.

Now that we have established our theological framework let’s come back to Jesus and learn about what he means when he said,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus wants to heal us and help us live in complete trust in God. In other words, he wants to position us through our faith in him to live on the seventh day of creation: the rest of God. By resting in Jesus, we begin to enjoy our life in the ways God intended for humanity to do so. This is a reality, a place, where we assume our purpose to be fruitful and enjoy life as God intended for us to do. This rest is not a rest from work—it is rest in work. It is partnering with God to do what he is calling us to do by his grace and leaving the part we can’t do in his hands, trusting him to do it.

When we do this – believe and trust God – we find enjoyment. Being good is not a task or an effort, but what we have become. Living by faith is not a struggle either—all of these are rest, finally living in the desires of God’s heart for us. And you can enter into God’s rest in every area of your life.

However, we fail to enter or remain in God’s rest due to unbelief, distrust, a hardened heart, and disobedience. And that’s where the “yoke” comes in. Jesus said, “I will give rest, but you need me to keep it. Otherwise, you will squander it as everyone else has done it when they think that can make it on their own.”

What is the yoke? In practical terms, it refers to our continual walk alongside Jesus. It is about trusting God, telling Jesus: guide my steps, set my direction. It is not about controlling you but for you to not forget that you are not alone. To keep you close. Because if you stay close to Jesus, you can listen to him better, you can see him better; you will have a supernatural sense of security and confidence because you know who you are walking with. If you are close, you will learn faster from him, and you will become stronger and wiser for life in this world.

But at the end of the day, if we truly want his rest, it is about the Lordship of Jesus over our lives. Is he our Lord? Does he influence our life?

You know, we get yoked to all kinds of bad stuff throughout our lives that have brought burdens, hurts, and brokenness of all types. Adam and Eve tried to become independent from God, and they hurt themselves. Israel, the people God chose to represent him before all the nations of the world, did the same thing. They yoked themselves to themselves. They distrusted and rejected God altogether. Let’s not make the same mistakes.

So, try now to yoke yourself to the giver of life. Let’s say with all our hearts: I surrender, I trust you God, I want what you want for me.

My friends, if you do this, if you find rest in Jesus and commit yourself to walk alongside him, he will keep you on the new things, living the new life you received in and through him, to nurture you like the new creation that you became. He will take you to places you had never imagined; places where you become who God imagined you to be so you can bear the resemblance of God in the world. You can’t become what you can’t see.

Can you see Jesus?

Have you wandered away from him?

Jesus is saying to all of us today: I want to bring you back to goodness, to be a reflection of my glory.

Otis T. McMillan ~ Faith, Defeat, & Expectation

True faith is demonstrated with obedience: what you cannot see, God does.

“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” – `Luke 17:12-141

Ten lepers sought the Lord for healing. He directed them, while lepers, to show themselves to the priest. His response seemed illogical, but they obeyed. Their act of faith resulted in their healing. What they could not see, God did.

There will be times in your walk that the Lord will direct you to take steps that appear illogical. You will not be able to imagine how your behavior will result in a positive manner. Recognizing that God sees what you cannot, demonstrate your faith with obedience.  

Even when defeat seems certain, pray: through prayer you can make a difference.

“In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:1-2

Hezekiah was told by the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die. In spite of the fact that the source of the message was the Lord, the King refused to accept it. He chose rather to pray and through his prayers the outcome was altered. Fifteen years were added to his life.

Each of us faces negative circumstances that seem to be final. When you face this type of situation you have two choices; you can accept defeat or you can pray. With the understanding that you have and the opportunity to impact the outcome, pray. Your prayers can make a difference.

Don’t limit what God has in store for you: let your faith display your expectation.

“Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.” – 2 Kings 4:3

Elisha responded to the cries of a widow whose husband left her with their two sons and a mountain of debt. After inquiring of what she had in the house, finding out she had a small pot of oil, the prophet instructed her to borrow other jars; emphasizing, not a few. She obeyed. Every pot that was borrowed was filled with the oil from the small jar.

Your faith should be displayed with expectation. As God directs you, respond with action that will bring forth abundance. Do not limit what God has in store for you.