When Life Feels Like Constructing a Puzzle

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST It happens every Christmas vacation. The anticipation, the buildup, the excitement. My boys can hardly stand it. They are so excited to sleep in, have time off, and do what they want to do.  Then reality sets in. They don’t sleep in but awake at 6:30 am and are bored to tears by 8:30. Then the pestering starts. “Mom, I’m bored. What should I do?” Now, I can’t translate in any language well, but I can read pre-teen and teen boy well. They don’t really want me to tell them what to do. They know the options. They want me to tell them they can have screen time and watch television or play video games. Ugh. Raising kids in a virtual world is a daunting task. So, this year, on a whim in the aisle at Barnes and Noble, I asked my son to pick out a puzzle. It was beautiful, a picture of an idyllic Mediterranean setting. So, hoping to provide some screenless family time, we broke open the bag and started putting together the puzzle’s boarder. We have completed a few larger puzzles a before this, usually with my mother’s expert help, but I’m sorry to say that two months later, our scene is missing more than a few pieces. We are getting there, and we will finish it, but our “holiday puzzle” has sadly outlasted the holidays. A Puzzling Life Life is a bit like an unfinished puzzle. Sure, we have the promise of “everything we need for life and godliness,” but that doesn’t mean each day doesn’t require trial and error, just like constructing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. For example, sometimes a piece simply doesn’t fit where I think it should. In our recent puzzle adventure, we complained that pieces didn’t fit in spaces where it seemed they ought to fit. This is true in our spiritual lives as well. I often have specific plans and expectations for the way God should do things. More specifically, I think I know who I ought to minister to and what that ministry should look like. Often, however, God brings me a person I wasn’t expecting with a ministry opportunity I didn’t plan for at all...

When Life Feels Like Constructing a Puzzle2022-05-03T21:39:29+00:00

Immanuel: Not Just for Your Christmas Card

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST It’s that time of year when many parents of young children ask their friends this important question: “Do any of you have a shepherd’s robe or sheep costume we could borrow for a couple of weeks?” We enjoy watching our little ones dress up as Mary or Joseph, an angel or camel, and listening to the history of how Jesus came into the world. We do it to help our kids learn the story and to remind ourselves of the same. We wrap them in burlap and flowing robes to help them act out the scenes of Jesus’s birth, inviting them to enter the culture and customs of Jesus’ world. In their telling of the story, they often read a portion of Matthew 1, including these verses:  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24)  Every year we are transported back into the world of 1st century Palestine as we again hear the beginnings of the Christmas story. But is that really the beginning?  Before the Christmas Story As with much of the Bible, the scripts our children read to us are part of a story within a story— one that originated not just with the birth in a manger, but hundreds of years before. There are hints of the Christmas story throughout the Old Testament narrative, beginning even in Genesis. One of the greatest parts of the origin story for our Christmas plays starts with the prophecy Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7 in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” What might our children encounter if they entered Isaiah’s world?  More than 700 years before Mary placed Jesus in the manger, God’s people were threatened by Assyria...

Immanuel: Not Just for Your Christmas Card2022-05-04T23:30:34+00:00

Why Waiting is Good News

ASHLEY HALES|GUEST As a family, we needed to see something grow, to learn to care for green and growing things, to get our hands in the dirt. We needed a small starting place: a project that wasn’t about what we could do but what we could watch. So my husband built a custom cedar planter for our patio. Then one Saturday we loaded up our four children into the minivan and headed to the nursery. While my children wanted berry bushes and fruit trees, we settled on things that would fit in our raised bed planter: a few starter vegetables and herbs, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, basil, dill, rosemary, cilantro, and mint. We put in rocks for drainage and fresh soil. We lined up our few small plants and made holes with our shovels. We patted down the earth. My daughter eagerly hoisted the green plastic watering can and watered each plant diligently. We told our children that growing things takes time. We’d learn to care for the plants together; we’d practice patience. Within days, the cucumber vines spilled over the edge and we noticed the popping yellow flowers. A few more days and little cucumbers dotted along the edges of vines. Each morning my daughter would head to the planter, water the vegetables, and run up the stairs excitedly showing me with her fingers how much her cucumber had grown. Some mornings when we discovered the leaves turning colors or a hole in a big green leaf, her joy would be stifled for a minute but then the refrain: “But Mama, we have more cucumbers, still!” We watched and waited, and something grew from nothing. Cucumbers were a miracle and waiting for them was magical. But as we grow older, waiting feels like an inconvenience or affront. We take out our phones when we’re waiting in the grocery store aisle for two minutes. We listen to podcasts on our commute. We leaf through magazines at the doctor’s office. Waiting leaves us with a silence we don’t know what to do with. Impatience with waiting is nothing new. Like the antsy Israelites who built a golden calf because they were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, we don’t wait well. Waiting evidences our limited autonomy and knowledge. We are subject to time and to conditions beyond our control....

Why Waiting is Good News2022-05-04T23:25:06+00:00

Waiting Beyond the Waiting

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST Much of 2020 was about waiting. Waiting to see how the virus will spread, waiting to see if the kids will go back to school, waiting to see if we’ll be able to go to church in person or if we’ll have to worship in our living rooms again. The church has just made its way through another year of advent, a time when we expect to wait. We mark it and celebrate it. But now the holidays have come and gone. And unlike new years in the past, the change in our calendars this time may feel more like a mockery than a fresh start. Instead of the new or different we had hoped for, we find ourselves waiting again, enduring. The other day I was half listening to the news on the radio as I drove when I heard this headline, “It is an historic day for a woman in Great Britain, who is the first person in the world to receive a vaccine for the Coronavirus.” I listened as the woman in her 90s expressed her surprise and delight, saying she was overwhelmed at the opportunity to be the first to be immunized. And then I started crying. Living in Hope Maybe it was her sweet British accent and the gratitude in her voice. But in my body I felt profound relief. Finally help was coming. Finally the hundreds and thousands of deaths would be slowed, the hospital admissions would go down, the children would play on playgrounds again without worrying about the distance between them. I knew none of these things would happen immediately, but suddenly there was a hope in my heart that felt like life and joy, energy and motivation. This locked down, lonely, mask-wearing, death-fearing existence might be our present reality. But it would not be our future. I do not now know the date when the world will go back to normal, whatever the new normal looks like. I do not have access to the name of the last person who will die from the Corona virus. I don’t know when my husband, who is diabetic and a heart attack survivor, will be vaccinated, therefore alleviating some of the anxiety my children and I carry every day. But because I know protection for him and all of us is coming, my outlook has begun to change. The ground beneath me seems to have shifted from a downward ramp toward the unknown and scary to an upward path of hope and possibility. I do not need to know specifics for my heart to begin to relax and believe that we might make it through. Is this not the experience of the Christian life? Even when we are fully on the other side of the pandemic, there will still be loss, grief, and tragedy....

Waiting Beyond the Waiting2022-05-04T23:40:14+00:00

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness

BETHANY BELUE|GUEST My grandmother was a librarian. Each time I visited her little white house she would have a new book waiting for me. From a young age she gave me a love of story, a love of diving into someone else's thoughts and words bringing adventure to life. To this day, I love getting lost in someone else’s story. I love those beginning chapters that set up the plot, the page-turning chapters when you don’t know what’s going to happen, and then the best part: when it all comes together to a satisfying conclusion. Recently, I’ve been challenged to think about my own story. What do I see in the twist and turns, the moments of not knowing what is going to happen next, and the parts that could be considered an adventure but don’t always make sense?   A Red Carpet of Faithfulness At 29, I was a single girl living in New York City, on the cusp of a big life decision. I’ll never forget sitting in a downtown Manhattan office building with a sweet friend seeking her advice on what I should do. I wanted her to tell me exactly what to do (or maybe what not to do). She was the type of friend who could be honest with me, but in a gentle way. To my surprise, instead of telling me what I should do, she began asking questions about my life. She asked me to recount different seasons of my life when I was unsure of what to do and what led me to take the next step. She sat there quietly, just listening, and then she said something that changed my life in a significant way. In her soft voice she said, “Bethany when I hear your story, it makes me think about a red carpet. As you look back on your life, you see the red carpet being rolled out for you. However, that red carpet isn’t a carpet at all, but God’s faithfulness in your life...

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness2022-05-04T23:45:19+00:00

Five Lessons in Waiting on the Lord

I was 23 years old when I started praying daily for my husband and 33 when I met him. From the time we came home from our honeymoon, we prayed the Lord would make us parents. It wasn’t until the day before our 3rd anniversary when we finally received a positive pregnancy test. Waiting has often been a painful part of my story, but as I look back, I can see the Lord’s hand through it all. In many ways, the waiting was and is not complete, but in that sense I feel a kinship with many familiar Bible characters, and more so, the ultimate story of redemption. We are all waiting, aren’t we? How I long to wait well and in ways that honor God! When it comes to waiting well, the following are five helpful principles I’ve learned during long seasons of waiting: Be Honest with God. Your Heavenly Father knows you are in a season of waiting. He hears every cry of your heart, sees every painful tear that falls, feels every flicker of hope you feel. He knows it all, yet He longs for His children to be honest with Him, to wrestle with Him, and to continue to respond to Him in prayer, petitioning and trusting that He has not forgotten you. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “Waiting on God requires the ability to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one's thoughts.”..

Five Lessons in Waiting on the Lord2022-05-05T00:30:17+00:00

The Work of Waiting

Since returning from his sabbatical last fall, my pastor has been encouraging our church family to cultivate times of silence and solitude to be with the Lord. Our staff team has put this into action by taking a monthly day of prayer and reflection. Once each month, we devote what would normally be a workday to intentionally spending time resting with the Lord. When we first started this practice, I pondered what I could do to set this day apart. I decided to bake bread, knowing that doing so would help me to slow down and enjoy this gift of a day. I’ve tried a few different recipes now, some with more success than others. I recently received a new cookbook that included a “No-Knead” bread recipe, and I looked forward to trying it. This recipe seemed to offer all the goodness of bread-making with barely any hands-on effort or mess. “Just let time do the work!” the recipe boasted. Waiting is Work I prepped the dough the night before, since it would need 12-18 hours to rise. As the next morning dawned and I anxiously peaked at the dough (that still had hours to go), I was struck by an unwelcome reminder: waiting is work. Yes, yeast and time were doing the hard work of fermentation to make my bread dough rise, but that didn’t free me from work of my own. I had to manage my patience, wrestle with my inability to control the speed or quality of the proof, resist the temptation to just throw out the dough when I knew the chilly air of my apartment was hindering its rise. I also couldn’t just stare at the bowl of dough all day— I needed to devote my attention to other life-and-rest-giving pursuits so that I wouldn’t squander this precious day...

The Work of Waiting2022-05-05T00:42:13+00:00

Hope in Our Covenant Keeping God

It’s been several weeks of caution and seclusion. Our churches are livestreamed, our fellowship times are in digital halls, and our Bible studies are framed by computer or phone screens. There is a new normal that is still unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and we don’t know how long this altered existence will last. Scripture is full of exhortations about waiting on the Lord (Is. 25:9; Ps. 37:7; Lam. 3:26), having patience (Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:11; Jm. 5:7), and God’s care in the midst of hard times (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 36:7, 46:1, 62:8). But there is one page of the Bible that I’m finding unconventionally encouraging in these unconventional times. Unfortunately, if you use an electronic version of the Bible, you probably won’t notice it. Go grab a physical copy of the God’s Word and turn to Malachi 4. Now, turn the page. It’s blank, isn’t it? There’s a blank page, followed by a page introducing the New Testament. That blank page represents over 400 years of silence, uncertainty, and waiting. If you’re still holding a copy of the Bible, your left hand is holding around 1,500 years of covenant history. I say “covenant” history because the Bible is full of covenants that God makes with his people. Throughout that history, God kept his covenant to preserve and bless his people, even though his people disobeyed the covenant conditions. The Old Testament is an ongoing story of how God committed to his people, his people disobeying, God reestablishing the covenant, and sending covenant messengers (aka prophets) to remind his people of the terms of the covenant. There are robust themes of God’s faithfulness despite his people’s sin..

Hope in Our Covenant Keeping God2022-05-05T00:50:15+00:00

How the Resurrection Comforts us in Our Waiting

When I signed on to write this post, I had no idea the world would be in the midst of one of the hardest waits we’ve ever faced, the global pandemic of 2020. As I write, Americans are being urged to stay home from school, work, church, even from the doctor’s office. We stay home, and we wait. We wait to see if the curve will be flattened; we wait to see if the virus will strike us or our loved ones; we wait to see what will happen to the economy when it’s all over. It feels as if the whole world is trembling as it waits. And yet, even as we wait in this nerve-shattering season, because of the resurrection, we wait with hope. Unlike the first followers of Jesus on the day after his death, we know there is a better day coming. The First ‘Already/Not Yet’ Day You may have heard the phrase “the already and the not yet” in a sermon or read it in a book. The “already” refers to the fact that Jesus has “already” died for our sins and been raised to new life, that his followers have “already” known the cleansing of our sins and our adoption as God’s children. The “not yet” refers to the fact that Jesus has “not yet” returned to fully restore all of creation; indeed, we groan with all of creation for the redemption of all things (Romans 8:22-23). In this season of the “already/not yet,” we eagerly await the day when Jesus will return to fully and finally restore all broken things...

How the Resurrection Comforts us in Our Waiting2022-05-05T00:52:45+00:00

Prayer While Waiting on the Lord

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Psalm 27:14 There’s a lot of waiting that goes on in our house. One teenager waits to see if he’ll be accepted into a technical program that will greatly alter his remaining high school years and give him practical skills and knowledge that he feels are relevant to his life now and in the future. Another teenager waits to see if she’ll get a resident tutoring position at college that will greatly affect her financial situation, her commitment to living on campus, and future professional and academic possibilities. My advice to both of them is about the same: Do what you can to achieve this goal, don’t miss any deadlines, and then wait patiently. And remember that no matter what the result, God knows what’s best for you. Even if the outcome isn’t what you would have wanted right now, it’s amazing how God works behind the scenes in our lives and we sometimes realize only years later that he did, in fact, work everything for our good. They nod and say “I know.” I believe they really do know. I think they understand (as much as any of us can understand) that sometimes getting our heart’s desire at any given moment isn’t always what’s best for us in the long term, and often it’s only God who can see that distinction. But the teenagers aren’t the only ones who are waiting. I’ve been waiting, too. I’ve had some healthcare decisions to make that were unexpected and emotionally difficult. My doctor subtly encouraged a certain decision but ultimately left it up to me. I struggled and prayed and yes, Googled. Through all of this, I was leaning a certain way (not my doctor’s way), but what I was really doing was waiting. Not for the “right” decision to be revealed to me, not for an expert to come along and tell me what to do, not even for a friend to step in and give me decision-making advice or wisdom. What I was waiting for—what I was praying for—was peace...

Prayer While Waiting on the Lord2022-05-07T22:31:25+00:00
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