At Just the Right Time

Few phrases carry the relief of, “At just the right time…” You can feel the tension of waiting discharged by the recognition that things worked out according to plan. That phrase has the benefit of hindsight.

I’ll never forget sitting in class with Wes Smith at Valley Forge Christian College. He had us translate Galatians 4:4:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…”

Galatians 4:4

Wes had a way of stopping us at significant points, almost as if to say, “Do you realize what this passage says?” Through the 300-400 years between the Old and Testament, at the point of the Pax Romana, as Rome developed a road system to carry the message of Jesus, when Mary and Joseph lived; God brought Jesus to earth to rescue us.

At just the right time…

Paul, the author of Galatians, writes this letter to a group of people attempting to make the work of God happen on their own. They had substituted performance for relying on the grace of God. They had come to believe and live out a gospel of earning, which was never Jesus’ gospel in the first place.

To a people like us that can fall into the trap of thinking that earn God’s love and affection – Paul reminds the Galatians and us that, “At just the right time…Jesus came for you.”

We live most of lives in the in-between. Longing to say, “at just the right time,” but knowing that phrase stands a distance away.

Waiting on the “right time” can come in the following places:

Finishing up classes to graduate with a degree.

Faithfully serving in a role that seems like a dead end.

Doing all you can do to reconcile a relationship, but knowing the ball is their court to respond.

Packing your boxes while it takes weeks for the house to close.

These circumstances remind us how much control we really have. By manipulating the situation, we sabotage the future. By passively doing nothing, we miss opportunities. Yet, Jesus simply lays out an invitation to carry his light burden rather than us trying to take on more than we were ever meant to.

In these in-between times, we discover areas of growth. Sometimes God humbles the areas of pride. Often, we relinquish our desire to micromanage situations and people. We receive the message loud and clear the role Jesus has given us. Somewhere between all of these lessons, Jesus provides a depth of grace for others experiencing the same. We learn to listen more rather than spout our opinions and advice.

Galatians 4:4 provides us with good news. We no longer have to make the “right time” happen. If Jesus can do it through His birth, death, and resurrection, how much more can experience this in everyday life.

Bill Kirk, one of my pastors, would say, “God is seldom early. Never late. But always on time.”

At just the right time reminds of the hope we have Jesus. Not wishful thinking, but the realization the same Jesus who came at the right time to rescue us, works in the everyday circumstances of our lives. That leads us away from cynicism and closing our options. It keeps us from the idealism of making our reality sound rosier than actuality.

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Meddling through God’s Plan

Someone may have told you that God has a plan for your life. The idealist in us desires to believe that we can thrive through this world over surviving in God’s plan. The cynic in us questions whether God’s intentions supersedes our own vision for our lives.

For many of us, we live somewhere between the idealism and cynicism of God’s plan. Greatly hoping for God’s best while subtly doubting whether we know better.

Living between those two realities in our lives causes us to meddle. We attempt to negotiate God’s role and our own. By meddling, we begin to create backup plans and acts of insurance to best minimize risk. Not completing surrendering to God’s work in our lives and not completing trying to captain our boat.

I recently read to my daughter the Jesus Storybook Bible on the Israelites in the wilderness receiving the Ten Commandments. Sally Lloyd-Jones says this:

And still, God’s children didn’t trust him or do what he said. They thought they could do a better job of looking after themselves and making themselves happy. But God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.

Sally LLoyd-Jones

The Israelites all throughout the Old Testament, meddled through God’s plan. Paying lip service to God’s obedience, but then going their own way. I find myself having greater grace for the people of the Old Testament, because that’s me also.

You might wonder, how do we meddle in God’s plan for us?

We know that God provides for us, but we still hold back our time, money, and resources calling it good stewardship.

We quietly campaign to others about our rightness in a conflict, rather than pursuing reconciliation with the person we have conflict.

We procrastinate about something God and others have confirmed for us to do by welcoming every distraction.

We worry about the things we cannot control, rather than taking care of the responsibilities that God has put in front of us.

We believe that becoming more like Jesus means “knowing” more as opposed to getting in the gritty work of discipling other people.

I wonder if we will look back at our lives and see how often our minor meddles kept us back from God’s best. I wonder how much sideways energy we create by not remaining faithful to the obvious tasks God has put in front of us. I wonder how much rest we miss because we worked ourselves up on things that really don’t matter.

To all the meddlers like myself out there, I believe God has something better for us. The Gospel reminds us of the Good News of Jesus – we no longer have to meddle to gain God’s approval or make His plan happen. Meddling is the simple reminder of our smallness and God’s sovereignty over all of our lives.

How have you meddled in God’s plan? How have you lived in the tension of idealism and cynicism? What has God placed in front of you today to accomplish rather than meddling?

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

When Giving Grace Causes You Problems

Do you lean more towards giving grace than sharing truth? Last week, I shared about the problems that happen when we lean more towards truth than grace (Click here to read last week’s post).

Why is living with grace and truth so important? When John describes Jesus in John 1:14, he puts grace and truth together. Later on, in the New Testament, Paul, the writer of Ephesians, describes how the Gospel motivates us to “…speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)

Dr. Les Parrott says this in Love Like That, “Truth without love is ugly, and love without truth is spineless.”

Ultimately, Jesus provides us with a vision a healthy vision of love, grace, and truth in relationships. We will not get this right all the time. Identifying where we tend to lean in unhealthy ways can help us experience true life-change from the Gospel: in ourselves and others.

What problems arise when you over-lean on grace or love? Here are a few below:

1. Grace can prolong the problem.

When grace becomes a reason not to speak the truth, a problem can repeat itself. We can make excuses that it will take care of itself. Without acknowledging a problem, there cannot be an opportunity for growth.

2. Grace can cause passive-aggressiveness.

Operating in grace without truth can cause resentment. A person may ignore another. Ghosting takes place. Perhaps, we even add in a sarcastic comment. The question for us is; how does giving this person grace affect how I treat them?

3. Grace becomes more about people-pleasing.

What keeps us from speaking the truth? At some level, we desire for people to like us. Overextending grace can become more about us than the other person. It takes a risk to share the truth and tact to share it well.

4. Grace can lead to gossip.

Often, we think we’re acting in grace by not saying anything to the person, but have shared our frustration with others about them? Rather than keeping short accounts and confidentiality, we invite other people into the mess.

How else can unhealthy grace or love become a problem in relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

When Telling the Truth Causes You Problems

Do you tend to lean towards grace or truth? How would the people around you answer that question about you?

The writers of Scripture hold together these two paradoxes. John 1:14 describes Jesus as, “…full of grace and truth.” Later on, as Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live out the Good News of the Gospel in community with others by, “…speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15).

Grace and truth in our relationships invite us to care more about the needs of the other person than ourselves. Jesus throughout the Gospels provides us with a vibrant example of loving people in such a way that they experience both grace and truth.

Honestly, living out grace and truth does not come easy. I find at times when I lean towards truth that it causes unnecessary pain in a relationship. When I lean towards grace, I find myself wondering if I could have said something earlier.

Next week, I will share how grace becomes a problem. Today, I would like to share a few instances when truth becomes a problem:

1. Truth emerges at the wrong time.

You can speak truth and be right but have awful timing. How well does it go when you say, “I told you so.”? Offering truth in a healthy way identifies the best time for people to hear the truth. It may not always come as statements, but even questions like, “How would you handle that differently?” or “What did you learn from that?”

2. Truth motivated by frustration.

We can rehearse what we want to say to other people in our minds. Rarely is it ever a good idea to say our first draft to people. Speaking the truth out of frustration results in us getting what we want rather than bringing life to a relationship. Our words carry impact. Truth laced with unfiltered criticism and name calling causes more harm than good.

3. Truth comes in high doses.

Why would we say ten things, when two would suffice? Telling too much truth at one time can confuse others and even leave the person feeling more discouraged. Healthy truth offers clarity.

4. Truth said without mutual trust.

Truth can trump relationship because we have not built a bridge for people to know we are for them. Also, we may speak the truth to them without fully understanding their story. Consider the person you want to speak truth — could you receive truth from them?

How else can truth become a problem in relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by unsplash-logorawpixel

Why People Roll Their Eyes at Your Ideas

When you share an idea, what happens? At times, you notice the people shaking their heads in agreement. You may hear a couple of positive, “Hmm.”

Sometimes though our ideas fall by the wayside, the people listening to you find anywhere to look except making eye contact with you. Perhaps, if we’re honest, we’re so ecstatic of our idea that we have no clue how people receive it. Then we find ourselves surprised when the criticism and challenges emerge to our ideas.

I took an inventory of my own approach to sharing ideas. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Church this, “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” (Romans 12:3)

That verse stops me because it motivates us to see how we come across intentionally and unintentionally. “Sober judgment” removes the focus on other people but asks us to search our way of communicating and motivations. If we keep running into rolled eyes by other people at our ideas, experiencing life-change in Jesus means asking ourselves, “Why?”

The Gospel moves us towards self-reflection and self-awareness. When people roll their eyes at our ideas, Jesus offers us an opportunity to mature and even to walk towards the people who dismiss our best ideas.

Here are a few reasons people roll their eyes at our ideas:

1. You have too many.

Count how many times you share a new idea. Thankfully, there are process people to help us think through to full implications. On the same token, when we share ideas some of our best teammates realize the work, it will take. Sharing too many ideas can become exhausting to the people around you.

2. You lack follow through.

You may have committed to one idea. You reached a 75% completion, only to move the next idea. The people around you will make a note. Not following through on an idea leads to the subtle questions of credibility.

3. Your idea threatens another person or a team.

You can have the best intentions and without realizing it sharing an idea off-handedly criticizes another person or even a team. Going back to Romans 12:3, people can hear ideas with the twinge of, “…thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought…” It takes time, and reflection for us see the landscape of how our ideas impact other people.

4. Your timing is off.

Consider the people receiving your idea. Did they just come from a stressful meeting? Are they feeling burnt out or exhausted from stress? Sharing an idea challenges us to put ourselves in the shoes of other people.

5. You kiboshed other’s ideas.

If we take time to look in the past, did we support the ideas of others? You may have the best idea only to realize that people have experienced hurt from you not encouraging them.

At first glance, a post like this might come across as discouraging. Consider this; you have an opportunity to grow personally and to make inroads with your coworkers, family, friends, and other teammates. Ultimately, the most significant challenges to our ideas might have nothing to do with the ideas, but we see ourselves and relate to others.

The Word I Did Not Want for 2019

Do you choose a word for the year? Since meeting my wife Robyn, we’ve adopted this practice. Selecting a word for the year provides a framework and focus for seeing the year.

Last year, I chose the word quiet. Many of my friends found this humorous since 2018 marked the year of the birth of my daughter Hayley. Interestingly, quiet became a reoccurring invitation to stop and process. Even with a newborn, you can find pockets of quiet.

We find ourselves on the cusp of 2019. I began considering the word for the year a few weeks ago. A part of me wanted to pick a “cool” word like hustle or productivity. No matter how many other words I went through, I could not escape one word.

My word for 2019 is…savor. I fought it. I live my life with a high degree of efficiency. I set my coffee maker the night before so it will automatically brew in the morning, rather than using a French press. My email strategy looks like whack-a-mole attempting to get to zero in my inbox. Those are just a few examples.

Savor challenges me and makes me hungry. Connoisseurs eat a fine piece of steak one bite at a time. The meaningful moments of the day like playing with a child, talking with a spouse, or even reading require discipline to say “no” to other things. Savor requires a singular focus without a timetable.

The word savor challenges me not just for the pleasant moments, but for the arduous moments. We have the choice to complain, retreat, or demand our way. Part of savoring invites us to see every conflict, unfortunate event, and long-term drudgery as a gift from God.

We pay lip service to virtues such as gratitude, patience, contentment, and perseverance. Savor holds these virtues together with one thread – grace leads us to accept the exact present moment Jesus has us. The Good News of the Gospel means we have the necessary resources from Jesus to walk through anything. Not the dismissal of uncomfortable situations.

Savor helps us live out Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It also helps us recognize 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I find myself coming back to savor for 2019 because Jesus slows us down to ask us this question, “What if you accepted the exact situation I had you?” Not running from it, but embracing it. Not easy, but worth it.

What word have you picked for 2019? Share it in the comment section below.

Photo by Olya Myers Photography.

Ordinary Time to Advent

When can you officially start celebrating Christmas?  That question brings a varied amount of opinions on the time to put up the tree, listen to Christmas music, and purchase your peppermint mocha.

I’m coming to appreciate the Liturgical Calendar for the church more each year. Technically, Advent begins Sunday, December 2nd leading us into the Christmas season. Our church has provided the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide by Sally Lloyd-Jones for my wife, daughter, and I to go through together. We have started cutting out the ornaments and laminating them.

Ordinary Time refers to the season in the Liturgical Calendar prior to Advent or specific seasons like Lent and Easter. Often, Thanksgiving on Thursday moves us directly into the first Sunday of Advent. This year, we encounter a week of Ordinary Time between Thanksgiving and Advent (Thanksgiving on November 22, 2018, & Advent Sunday, December 2, 2018).

Kate Bowler in Everything Happens for a Reason shares about her wrestling with cancer, the gospel, and dealing with what people have advised her. She says this about Ordinary Time in her life presently with cancer:

If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was—for how I lived—I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead. I must learn to live in ordinary time, but I don’t know how.

Do you live in Ordinary Time? This week between Thanksgiving and Advent invites us to pause. We find ourselves driving the nostalgia and energy of the Christmas season while seemingly missing the present.

On the other hand, the Christmas season has become difficult for some of us. We will face the grief of missing a loved one for the first holiday. The financial stress and expectations will haunt us. I have heard people share that the dysfunction of their family becomes acutely felt.

The week of Ordinary Time is a gift for us this Christmas season. It moves us from the hoopla of the holidays to the celebration of Savior stepping down from heaven to earth. It moves us from the cynicism of our current circumstances to the reality of Jesus who has walked into our darkness with us. Ordinary Time represents the 300-400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament — a faithful Messiah in the moments of silence and the brilliance of glory.

I’m not saying to put on hold the Christmas tree, turning off the holiday songs, or giving up your peppermint mocha.

Ordinary Time calls us to see Jesus presently on the Monday before Advent. It calls us to see the people He has invited us to love today. It reminds to experience the silence and solitude of His presence before rushing to the next event.

How will you live in Ordinary Time this week? I pray that this week prepares your heart to experience the Good News of the Gospel found in Jesus.

Photo by Daniel Silva Gaxiola

Notes from Peru – Found in Translation

I will never forget last night at Alianza Miraflores, Peru.

As I shared yesterday (click here to read the post), I had the opportunity to share Alianza’s Single Adults Ministry on prayer. The ministry encompasses single adults from 25-40 years old. Their service started last night around 8:30 pm following the main service on Saturday.

Heading into the service for single adults, I had two concerns. First, would I be able to relate Matthew 6:5-13 on prayer to them in their lives? Often, in these situations, speakers lose so much in translation. Secondly, I had just felt congested the whole day. Also, you can ask my wife Robyn that 8:30 pm represents a time we transition to sleep.

Pastor Ricardo, the leader of the single adult ministry, greeted Manny, my interpreter, and me before the service. I saw a real pastor. He knew the names of people in the room. When he spoke, the single adults trusted what he said.

Prior to going up to speak, Pastor Ricardo asked the group to pray with another person. Manny and I recognized that this does not happen in America, but we wish it did. Two people were praying with each other.

Following that time of prayer, Pastor Ricardo invited Manny and me up to the front. I began the message sharing about how Coca-Cola came back to Myanmar in 2013 after a 50-year absence (Click here to read the story). Just like the people in Myanmar, we desire the real and authentic thing. I believe Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount teaches us to live life in this way. How He intended it. Matthew 6:5-13 teaches us how to experience prayer as the real thing, not a counterfeit.

Manny began to read Matthew 6:5-13 in Spanish. When he got to Matthew 6:9, the whole group started saying the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. For a moment, I did not know how to respond. So many things can become lost in translation, but hearing the Lord’s Prayer remarkably connected with me. I could hear the earnestness in their voices.

The closing of the service included a time of prayer. I had invited the group to pray through the Lord’s Prayer in their own lives responding to each of the words of Jesus. When Manny and I stepped off stage, you could hear a pin drop. Then Pastor Ricardo walked up in a prayerful spirit and began guiding the group through the prayer.

You could hear a pin drop besides Pastor Ricardo’s voice. Listening to the group say the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish and watching them pray at the end gave me a little glimpse of heaven.  I never thought about it, but prayer rarely gets lost in translation.

We’re looking forward to another great day of services at Alianza.

Notes from Peru – Prayer

We arrived in Peru at 1:30 am on Friday morning. A group of us from Browncroft Community Church will spend time getting to know our sister church Alianza Cristiana de Miraflores.

During our first day, we discussed topics ranging from small groups, mentoring, Sunday services, and missions. I’m thankful for our translators Manny Marques and Beatriz Flores, who did a remarkable job helping all of us make connections on these topics.

My friend Dave Hertweck says, “We have to learn how to love the problem more than solutions.” 

Browncroft and Alianza desire to see people in the church grow in life-change in Jesus. Both churches face similar challenges such as a culture of busyness, measuring effectiveness, and ultimately helping people outside the church recognize the reality of Jesus Christ in their lives. No matter the context of the church, often we love discussing solutions rather than spending enough times processing the problem.

Interestingly, I will share with the young adult group of Alianza on prayer from Matthew 6:5-13. Many of us will jump to the Lord’s Prayer in this passage, but we cannot miss the first section of this passage. As humans, we succumb to the belief that our prayer performance and repetition of words will move God in prayer.

In all actuality, Jesus in Matthew 6:5-13 challenges us to see the “why” of what we pray rather than “what” we pray. Consider this for our own lives. We ask God for our comfort and access to control, but God desires us to have true life-change in our heart. The Lord’s Prayer models for us the priorities Jesus has for us.

Jesus in a small way teaches us about loving the problem more than the solution. We struggle to pray because our heart can become misguided. This can be true about how we lead the church, parent our children, dream about the future, manage employees, and other areas of our lives.

As we start today, I recognize the times that I love the solution more than the problem. Even this teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-13 reminds me to stop in ask for Jesus’ wisdom on the challenges in our lives.

Photo by Carlos Ruiz Huaman

A Prayer for Voting Day

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:5)

You have called us to live as citizens motivated by the gospel.
Today, we exercise our privilege and responsibility of voting.
As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, let us relate to the government, candidates, and other citizens out of love.
Let us learn how to dialogue with grace and truth on the issues that matter the most.

Forgive us for consuming strife and conflict.
Let us see our opponents as human beings created in Your Image.
May we walk the extra mile towards those who we disagree the most.
In doing so, we hope that we experience “the already, but not yet” of Your reconciliation here on earth.

Just as in ages past, we acknowledge Your sovereignty over all.
You are our Savior, who died on a cross and resurrected from the dead.
We realize we cannot ask anyone to save us outside of You.
Today as we vote, we realize our responsibility and Your rule over the outcome.

Lord, we thank You for our opportunity to vote.
Let us do so motivate out of love for You and our neighbors.

Amen

Photo by Element5 Digital

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