Now But Not Yet

At a time when large gatherings are once again being discouraged, we came up with our own small New Year’s celebration. Old and young alike commemorated the ending of the old and the beginning of the new.

Most of the littles had no idea of the change of time, the movement into a new calendar year, another beginning.

It wouldn’t matter to them anyway–it was just another day to be with family, eat too much sugar, and enjoy any reason to play games and have fun. The context for them is this moment. It is now; not what is to come.

Celebrations happen in the now–holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births. All are in the moment. The distinctiveness of a particular day is the cause for remembering. Something ignored or put off can make a person feel their special day isn’t important to us.

What’s so delightful about children is their ability to remain in the moment. I had a conversation with almost-four-year-old Cal about how much longer it will be till his birthday.

“Now?” he asked.

“No, in two weeks. Fourteen more days.”

“Is that soon?”

“Sooner than later.”

That confused him no end. “What’s later?”

I gave up. We focused instead on his party and what he wanted to do to celebrate. Definitely a pinata. What’s a party without candy spilling everywhere?

Time is a funny thing. This past year slowed in moments when infections increased, isolation was encouraged, large gatherings were to be avoided. A friend was awaiting a proposal–time was frustratingly slow. Two friends are expecting children within the next month–they’re so excited about holding their new children that time seems to have applied the brakes.

When we have special times we want to savor, those opportunities pass quickly. An anticipated wedding approaches, and the day arrives and is over before you know it. A significant birthday passes quickly. Even more difficult are the times when loved ones are sick and are given limited time because of their illness, and that time disappears too quickly. Or someone we care for is moving away and the opportunities to be with them will be limited–by time.

We wait on God to help us understand Him better. To grasp His gift of forever love and forgiveness, to learn what it means to really walk with Him. For He has made us for a purpose–to know Him and be known by Him.

“Yet God has made EVERYTHING beautiful for its own time. He has planted ETERNITY in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

God has given us an intuitive sense that there is more to us than what we see and experience here. We have the now, but the not yet is coming. The time when life, as we know it now, will end.

Dealing with the not yet is significant, for none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. We have no guarantee how many years we have. We need to make the most of now and prepare for the not yet.

Heaven. Or not.

What will you prepare for?

Is Waiting Worth It?

Life is a learning curve of waiting and watching, of being in the moment and anticipating what’s to come.

It’s not easy.

Anticipation was high for holiday celebrations this year. The grands had plans, people to see, parties to attend. We had projects to finish, ideas we’d hoped to see to fruition.

Waiting and watching are exhausting. The faces of the grands reflected that–not disappointment but the weight of anticipation finally lifting.

They were tired.

We wear ourselves out with anticipation because we think what we want, what we wait for, is central to who we are.

Is it really?

New Year’s will be here soon, and we’ll go through the next iteration of resolutions, plans, and dreams for new beginnings. Commitments to do what we’ve put off doing all year.

And will put off again.

When I make a resolution, the focus is on me–my plan, my changes, my wants. Waiting for life to be different so I can change doesn’t work well–because I don’t easily change.

Life, however, isn’t just about me. I’m not the central character of all that happens, to me or around me. I may have an influence on others, and I may impact my immediate world, but I’m not the major player; I’m a minor character in an ongoing life production that changes constantly.

So I wait. With hopeful anticipation. I can’t quit or ignore what’s happening around me; not distance myself from living in the moment; not forget to be aware of others who have a role in life as well. I need to wait, watch and be present with who is around me and what is truly happening.

I don’t need to manage my image or the situation and circumstances to make them more than they are. I don’t need to impress anyone with what I have, can do, or will become.

Living in a culture of instant gratification can be confusing and disappointing when we’re made to wait for what we hope for. But we’re in good company.

Moses waited forty years to lead the Israelites out of Egypt after taking matters into his own hands in a major fail as a leader.

Sarah waited 25 years to have the son God had promised her.

David waited fifteen years to become king after he was anointed as king of Israel.

Waiting YEARS for something I’m promised, for what I hope for, seems impossible. How did these people do it?

“We WAIT IN HOPE for the Lord; He is our Help and our Shield.”

Waiting alone is untenable. It feels impossible, especially when it seems no one else is waiting. With God walking with us, His strength and calm enable us to persevere through the process.

Everyone waits. Life isn’t instant, no matter how much we want it to be. We’ve become conditioned to quick results with our technological advancements.

Matters of the heart, of emotional growth, of internal change, take time. We need the help of the Lord to make such changes. Because He is patient with us and waits for us to have soft hearts toward Him.

I’ll bypass the resolutions and focus on today. Making the next right choice.

Waiting for what’s worth waiting for.

For Who is worth waiting for.

The Song Goes On

I heard Taylor Swift singing backup. Rounding the corner, I saw the main event.

My daughter and her daughter were enjoying a Christmas gift with great enthusiasm.

Karaoke time!

The joy and passion with which they sang were contagious. They had me moving with the beat.

The Christmas season has always been a time of songs: choirs, hymns, people singing Christmas carols as they move from home to home, Christmas pageants, and even the old standbys that speak of the whimsy of this holiday, like Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa. Sacred songs and secular classics.

When I heard my girls singing, it reminded me how much music adds to our celebrations and lives. This has been a reality for thousands of years; there are many songs written throughout the Bible that were reminders of great things that God had done, songs of remembrance and commemoration, and songs of praise. The whole book of Psalms is a book of songs–of joy, celebration, grief, and lament.

Songs express the depth of our emotions, both through the melody and lyrics. A tune can often say more to our souls because of the feelings it evokes–joy or sadness, celebration or mourning. Really good lyrics are poetry set to music, speaking of things that impact our hearts and minds.

I’m not a fan of the cars that drive by, their music on so loud that it makes me feel like I’m vibrating. Is it a statement to all the vehicles around them that they can listen as loud as they choose, and nobody can stop them? Are they genuinely enjoying what they’re hearing, or is their hearing so impaired from the high decibel levels that they aren’t able to appreciate their music selections?

William Congreve penned the statement, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast”, in his 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride”, indicating that music has the power to soften a tough heart, calm exasperated nerves, refresh wearied souls.

That’s exactly why God sings over us songs of love and delight.

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a Mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

Zephaniah was a prophet living during the time of King Josiah of Judah, and he foretold of the time when the people of Israel would be redeemed from the hands of their oppressors because God would not abandon them. They would experience consequences for their poor choices, but He would never forsake them. Even when they walked away from Him.

The songs God sings are songs of hope and deliverance, of joy and delight in us whom He has made. Too often we can’t hear them because we’re listening to the lies of the world around us, the hateful, hurtful things that weigh heavily on our hearts and make them hard.

As much as my girls took joy in their singing, the joy of the Lord for us is infinitely greater. He longs for us to know Him and the compassion of His heart for us. He sings a continual song of grace and love over us.

Will you listen?

Have You Heard What Can Be Heard?

photo courtesy of Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Most of us have no context for the work of shepherds. Pastures and grazing land aren’t common to many areas here unless it’s for cows. Green areas are often set aside for farming.

Shepherds weren’t the most popular people in town. Their jobs were mundane but necessary, and the effects of their work often caused them to be less than pleasant to be around because of the stench acquired while working. Sheep were stubborn, dirty, and self-centered; they needed to be led to food and water to survive. Shepherds were needed yet disrespected. They weren’t always men; often women and teenagers took on the responsibilities of watching the flocks.

Sheep were an important commodity for the community. They provided wool, meat, and milk, and the hilly areas around Bethlehem were perfect for grazing. The job of the shepherd was to protect and provide for their sheep, for not only were they used for food and clothing, but the lambs, if perfect, were used for sacrifices in the Temple.

Shepherds were in the fields outside Bethlehem that special night. They didn’t anticipate anything unusual; they watched carefully for wild animals or people who would steal their sheep. So when the skies lit up with the glory of the Lord and an angel messenger spoke to them, their natural response was fear.

The angel calmed them and gave them the holy message of the coming of the Messiah, the One who had been promised since the beginning of time when people wandered from a close relationship with God.

Why shepherds, such unimpressive people? Why not kings or generals or heads of industry?

The Son of God came to earth for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful. He came to provide life, protection, and peace to all who would respond to His gift. We all have equal opportunities to experience love and forgiveness.

Quite frankly, we’re a lot like sheep.

We want to do what we want, go where we choose, not think about those around us. We don’t always make it easy for others to love us. We can be prickly or pious, suspicious or careless. Even when Someone reaches out in love and compassion to us, it’s easy to doubt His sincerity, His ability to do what He says He will do.

But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He came into the world as a vulnerable baby, needing to rely on His parents for His protection and provision. He learned what it was like to be in need; He was raised in the home of a common laborer.

He was God become Man. Fully human; fully God.

When we wander into foolishness and hurt, when we’ve lost our way and feel unloved and unwanted, He seeks us out.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3

This Christmas, consider what it would be like to be loved and cared for with such compassion. Imagine being embraced by the arms of the Gentle Shepherd whose greatest desire is to love you lavishly.

Jesus is so much more than a baby.

Fa-La-La-La-Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum

In the midst of all the preparations for Christmas, one of my favorite activities is watching the grands perform in their long-prepared productions.

Not all performers are created equal.

We first watched Isley in her play as she sang and danced through four performances, playing an angel and newsie in “Yes, Virginia”. These young people were enthusiastic to showcase their hard work. Smiles radiated, songs were sung with gusto, impassioned lines were said with confidence.

Our next show was not quite as professional. The enthusiasm levels were varied; some of the performers wanted to be there, and others didn’t. Some had all their lines down pat; others glanced to the right and left, trying to keep up with what was happening.

The fun happened in the back of the room, where the preschool teachers were singing with fun and fervor, making motions big and brash, grinning ear to ear with joy as they helped their little charges perform for parents and friends.

With the older children, being part of the play was something they chose, having to try out to be part of the production. The younger ones were in a situation where all were expected to take part.

Desire makes a difference in how you show up.

The things we enjoy and are good at are often the things we choose to do frequently. The things that make us hesitant, cause fear, or make us feel uncomfortable we try to avoid.

Nobody wants to look or feel foolish.

Competence is something we strive to achieve, to be able to do something so successfully and efficiently that we become known for a particular talent. To know that we’re good at something increases our self-assurance–it gives us an identity, a reputation.

The problem is in our current culture, reputations are made and broken in moments. A wrong comment, an oversight, a mistake, and the whole world knows we failed. Such pressure can cause undue anxiety, frustration, and fear. It’s no way to live.

God gives us the freedom to not be limited by such pressure and the world’s opinions. He has shown us what is true and right, and those realities should shape who we are and what we do.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do EVERY GOOD WORK.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We may be the best in our field, known throughout the world for what we do. But if we don’t have truth and live by it, our best reputation can’t save us. Absolute truth leads us to God and His provision for our lives. What He says about us is more real than what anyone else could ever say.

So who are we?

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26

If we believe in Him, receive Him, we are delighted in and loved by Him. A gift of relationship that we can never lose.

Our reputations can’t save us.

Being loved by God can. No matter how skilled we are.

Or aren’t.